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Which marketing tactics work best for a cross-platform sports game?

Top Eleven dev Nordeus reveals its tactics
Which marketing tactics work best for a cross-platform sports game?

AppInTop is an automated mobile app marketing platform that combines the mobile traffic from 30 countries into a single interface.

Over the coming weeks, will be publishing transcripts from the most interesting discussions from the AppInTop marketing podcast.

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In the first article, AppInTop talks to Nebojša Radović, the marketing manager for Top Eleven developer Nordeus, about what marketing tactics work best for a sports game.

Top Eleven is the most played online sports game in the world with twelve million active users and five million daily active users on web, Android and iOS devices.

AppInTop What are your monthly active users and daily active users on iOS and Android?

Nebojša Radović: We usually don't disclose that. But what we can say is that both iOS and Android are growing. Web, in general, is in decline. So Android is becoming really, really big for us, especially because outside of Europe, outside of the US and in Asia, Android is really big.

In some countries like Korea, the penetration of Android devices is eighty or ninety percent. We're investing a lot of effort to improve our game and to deliver a better product on both mobile platforms.

What's the differences between the platforms?

There's a big difference between web and mobile. Web is a more viral platform than mobile, but on Android it is easier to reach more users, and to get better rankings. There are a lot of things you can do to bring more users.

iOS players are more expensive but offers better ARPDAU in key territories
iOS players are more expensive but offers better ARPDAU in key territories

iOS is a little bit more expensive to acquire the users and it is a little bit harder to grow. Maybe Android is growing faster simply because there are more devices.

You are purchasing a lot of advertising. Could you rank your paid channels in terms of their importance, volume and profitability?

Top Eleven started on Facebook in 2010. After that mobile was a logical move. Mobile was growing so we decided to go mobile. But we still appreciate Facebook because it brought us all the knowledge and all the knowhow to make a successful mobile game.

That's why we rely a lot on Facebook, even on mobile. We use the Facebook social graph to engage more people, and to help them engage with their fans. And that is why we really, really like Facebook advertising and we invest a lot in it.

Apart from that we are always testing different mobile ad networks. We are working with Google as well. There really is no silver bullet. You have to try a lot of things, to measure everything and then to get the best possible outcome.

Are you getting your money back on your investment?

Definitely, but it also depends on the country. Some countries are more expensive than others. In some countries users are more viral so they invite more people: they like to play with their friends.

When you put everything on paper and try to calculate what is the real value, then yes definitely - advertising makes sense. That's why we're doing it so much.

How does your football club partnership program work?

If you want to build a successful sports brand you have to work with football clubs. People can purchase all the official merchandise of these clubs in our game. For them, it is a statement that is really important. Players like to have Real Madrid jerseys in the game. That is their way to show their passion.

Player like to show their passion on their shirts
Player like to show their passion on their shirts

Revenue-wise, it depends from country to country but it is important to have it even though it might not be as profitable as other features.

How do you deal with rights?

We work with clubs directly, which means that the bills are settled directly with the club. There are certain rules that you have to follow. You are not really allowed to work with more than two clubs in one country, for example.

But deals are always club-specific. Sometimes it is a revenue-share. Sometimes you pay a fixed price for the rights and at the end of the year you calculate how much money was made in the game from these official items.

How do you benefit the clubs?

We try to keep this relationship very close. For example, when they release a new set of jerseys, they are promoted directly in the game. More than twelve million people are playing on a monthly basis, so the clubs benefit from that.

On the other hand, they promote us because our players can buy those items within the game. The more items are sold, the more money they are going to make, so it is in their interest to promote us. This is definitely a win-win combination and that's why we enjoy working with the clubs.

Let's talk about cross-marketing. How do you move audience from web to mobile and back?

Usually people who play the game on more than one platform are more engaged, they spend more money - they like the game more. If you are a game developer, it is important to understand that and to invest a lot of effort in this particular problem.

Top Eleven is a Facebook game. If you are using the Facebook social graph, you can recognize whether these users are using Facebook on mobile and if not, offer them to play the game on mobile.

Why is that important? For example, now everybody is going on holidays, you want people to play your game even on holiday. It is important to be able to move those web users to mobile so they can play the game every day.

On the other hand if your game is on a mobile platform, and you want to transfer the user to web, you can do that by integrating their account with Facebook and use Facebook notifications to inform them that they can also play on the web.

Facebook is really helpful in this regard and once again that is something that game developers should definitely invest more time in.

Did you do a lot of research to find out if your fans were interested in switching between mobile and web?

That was our initial idea. Top Eleven was one of the first multi-platform games out there, maybe even the first one to solve this problem in an easy way. Users could switch between the platforms just by using their Facebook accounts.

We wanted to expand our user base by allowing those who do not use Facebook to play Top Eleven. Also we wanted our core players to play the game all the time, which meant that we needed to go to mobile.

We are still trying to make more players who play mobile to play on the web, and more players who play on the web to play mobile.

Which platforms are the most important to Top Eleven? Where would you rank web, iOS, Android and Facebook?

This is country-specific. If you want to target the US you probably need to put more effort in iOS because there is a huge penetration of iOS devices in the US. People who have iOS devices are highly engaged. They spend money. For example, in the US it is really important to be present on iOS and to try to improve all your metrics on that particular platform.

“Facebook users are monetizing very well. We have players who have played the game for more than four years.”
Nebojša Radović

On the other hand, it is really important to be present on Android. Korea is a big Android country. Android is really important for us in Europe and Asia. iOS is really important in developed countries like the US, Australia, Canada, and in some countries in Europe like Germany and UK.

Mobile is definitely showing the biggest growth right now. And that is why we are investing a lot of time to improve the game on these clients.

But that doesn't mean that we do not care about Facebook. Facebook users are monetizing very well. We have players who have played the game for more than four years, and this is something that's not so easy to achieve on mobile. That is why you have to put equal effort in all three platforms and to get the most out of them.

You mentioned the US, Australia, Canada is key countries. But you don't usually equate those countries with big football fans. Why are they key markets?

They are not really key but they are really important markets for us. iOS users usually monetize better and these are big iOS countries. That is why revenue per user in these countries is really high.

The US is not a big soccer country - that is probably true. But the US has more than three hundred million people. Even if you have just ten percent of people who love football, this is still bigger than most of the countries in Europe.

If you have one million players playing soccer and you could probably find them, that is a lot of money. This is something that people don't really think about when you say, "Okay we don't want to go to the US. There are not as many soccer fans as there are in Germany."

They forget there is still a huge amount of players who like soccer and who spend money on soccer games. That is why we need to focus on these countries as well, even though they are probably not the first choice when you make a soccer game.

What are your top three revenue-generating countries?

Scandinavian countries - like Sweden, Norway and Finland - spend a decent amount of money. Then Germany, UK and Switzerland. These are the countries that usually spend a decent amount of money on games.

Asia is a different market. It is a little harder to get on that market. You need to change your game. But there is a reason why you should do that. In countries like Japan and Korea, people who play the games, they spend a lot of money.

When you went from Facebook into the mobile, did you find that phones - smaller devices other than tablet - were bringing in money?

This is my personal opinion. It is not something that everybody shared in the company, but I think that Top Eleven on Facebook is way more complex than Top Eleven on mobile. And the point when we moved to mobile, we became a little bit more casual.

So people who loved soccer and who maybe didn't understand the concept of football manager, were finally able to get to know what the football manager game is like.

You are limited when you make a game on mobile, simply because the screen is smaller. But for us it was an opportunity to get some players that couldn't play on the web because the game may have been too complex.

Thirty percent of your audience are teenagers. How does that work for you?

In this situation you have users who can't spend as much money as some older users, because they don't have their own credit cards. Sometimes they use their parents' phones, but they are really important for the engagement. You need competitive players who improve their teams.

If you belong to an older demographic and you don't have as much time as teenagers do, you are obviously going to spend a little bit more money to make your team perform better.

Older users spend more money but on the other hand younger users are more engaged. They like to share the game with other people. They like to compete with their friends. That's why they are really important for us.

You sell branding and product placement. Can you give me one successful example of branding

In-game advertising is a big thing. It would usually work on a country basis. For example, we worked with Gillette in Turkey.

And right now we're working with Google. There are some Google in-game items that you can buy - you are playing a Google Play Champion's League or your can play certain tournaments that are branded Google Play. You can put Google Play logo on jerseys.

This is something that we really like doing because it is not just putting in banners and advertising that is going to turn people off. It actually makes people engaged with the brand and that is a win-win situation for both sides.

How does it perform revenue-wise?

The problem with that particular monetization is that's a one-time thing. But it is a significant part of revenue for one or two months.

Usually you charge more than you would by doing regular in-game advertising or putting offerwalls in the game and stuff like that.

What are the top three in-app purchases that users make?

I might be wrong on this one but usually the number one is tokens to buy new players. At the beginning of every season you want to improve your squad and to do that you need to buy more players. That is by far the number one reason why people spend on any purchases.

Number two would be improving the facilities. If you want a bigger stadium and any of in-game facilities, the easiest way to build them is by buying these in-game purchases.

And the third one is the official merchandise. People really like to show that they are part of a larger group, that they are passionate about a certain subject. People love to show that they support Arsenal or Real Madrid or some other club. And this is a huge source of income for us as well.

Your international reach is amazing. Top Eleven has been translated into thirty-eight languages. Why localize the game to languages that aren't even available at the App Store?

I'm from Serbia. Serbia doesn't have an App Store. It's impossible to buy an iPhone through carriers. The only way to buy an iPhone is to go to the US and buy yourself an iPhone. And still there is 350,000 people in Serbia who have an iPhone.

Top Eleven's language support is legendary
Top Eleven's language support is legendary

That is why you need to take this into consideration when making a game. Maybe there is no Serbian App Store but on the other hand there are people who want to play games and they want to spend some money on them.

Maybe it looks like a lot of work to translate the game to so many languages. But on the other hand, when you have a translated game then people engage more around it. When you come from a country like Serbia, people really appreciate the fact that you invested some time to translate the game to make the experience feel more native and closer to what they expect.

You've got a very powerful analytics team. How do you work with them?

There is a mutual effort between the analytics team, marketing team and business development team. Suddenly you might find that there is a country where you have ten thousand players who are very passionate, and who spend a lot of money.

And we're like, "Okay what's happening here?" Then we'll talk to the analytics team. Then we - at the marketing team - figure out what is the cost of acquisition in that particular country, whether it is too high or maybe it is cheap, so we can invest more money in that particular market.

Then we talk to the business development team. They figure out what is the best way to monetize the game in that country.

We try to be as analytical as possible. For example, when we analyze, "What is happening if we invest ten percent more in a particular country? What happens to the organic traffic? Will it be increased by 10 percent or 15 percent or 5 percent?"

We always try to find these correlations and our analytics guys are really amazing at this.

When marketing a sports game, what are the top three mind frames you think a developer needs to change?

The first one: measure everything that is happening in your game.

If you are not able to measure the engagement, if you are not able to measure the percentage of organic and the percentage of paid traffic, in which case it is really hard to do anything else. Once you have cracked that, you can move forward. And that means spending more money.

If you don't have money it is really important at least to understand: what are the channels where your organic traffic comes from? What are the channels that bring the most, the best users? Once you have all the analytics processes in place, you can build a really successful game. It's a cliché but the fact is that not everybody does that.

The second one is that developers don't have a lot of money. So you want to build something and you want to reach a lot of people. That is not easy when you don't have an advertising budget.

In that case focus on virality. Implement different social networks. Improve your App Store rankings by increasing the number of reviews, to work with as many websites as you can to get featured, to get a review of your game. Bring as many users as possible in the beginning so you can see their behavior. And then once you have some budget you can invest it much smarter and to bring even more users to the game.

The last one is very ordinary but you really need to be passionate about what you do. Waking up at 6am to play your game sounds baloney as they say in the US. But you need to love the product you are building.

That is even more clichéd than "measure everything" but the best results I have produced are when I really love what I did - as it is right now. As they say, "Love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life."

This is an abridged and edited interview from the mobile app marketing podcast produced by AppInTop, the automated mobile app marketing platform.

Listen to this podcast episode or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.