Casual Connect teaches us how to developing a winning game
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Photo Credit: Rinat Korbet / Geektime

Last month’s Casual Connect conference dealt with casual and mobile games. Our visit to the conference taught us important lessons about how to get games to the top of the ratings and keep them there, and how to adapt them to specific audiences

The renowned Casual Connect gaming conference landed here last week for three days filled with lectures, stalls, and a game exhibition. Up until a year ago, you would have had to travel to Berlin, Singapore, or Amsterdam in order to attend the international conference. Starting last year, however, it began to appear here, too. The Casual Games Association initiated the conference a decade ago for the purpose of assembling all the experts in the games industry, with an emphasis on casual games (games that do not require mutual study and networking).

Judging by the Israeli version of the conference, it definitely works.

1,500 people attended this year’s conference, with half of them coming from 50 different countries just for the event. Evolve and Gorilla organized the conference. Participants included very prominent companies in the market, such as Playtika, which has become an empire in online social games; Plarium, which offers multi-player strategy games; and Tabtale, which has had over a billion installations of its children’s games on mobile. There were also some smaller companies that are demonstrating impressive growth, such as Jelly Button, with its successful Pirate Kings brand; Tactisoft, which recently raised $1 million; SideKick, which recently produced Rovil’s “Pet Monsters” game; and others.

According to Digital Games Industry Association in Israel (GameIS) chairman Nir Miretzky, 200 companies in this industry currently employ 5,000 graphic artists, programmers, and designers. He singles out two powerful recent trends in the industry: VR productions and indie games. Both of these trends were strongly represented in the indie games exhibition occupying a respectable place on the second floor of the Tel Aviv Culture Palace. A competition between all the games in the exhibition, with prizes, was held last Thursday. Among the games exhibited was Buck, whose crowdfunding campaign we previously reported. Developed by Rainfall Entertainment, Buck was a candidate for the art and plot prizes. Other Israeli candidates in the competition included Total-Viz’s “Worlds Demolisher” in the VR games category, Sheep11’s “The Office Quest” (plot category), and TateRo by the TateRo team (most innovative game category). Playtagon’s “Heroes Rage” won first prize in the audience favorite category. That’s not bad for an outstanding exhibition with games by developers from all over the world. You can read here about all the winners.

As someone attending the conference for the first time, I marveled at its high level and the opportunity to view the latest trends in the sector, get to know Israeli and international companies in depth, and see fashionable indie games I might not have experienced before. The conference focused this year on insights about the industry, tips about how to navigate it successfully, and games for children and adults. It addressed all the stages in the creation of successful games: development and design, raising money, business growth, marketing, and – with luck – a profitable exit. This is the type of conference at which you’ll hear a lot of phrases like user retention and whale acquisition (a “whale” is a player who spends a lot of money on extras, capabilities, and upgrades in games). This industry, however, is not just business and cynicism. There is also real thinking about the creation of high-quality games and audience enjoyment.

Since it’s tough to talk about three whole days filled with lectures and workshops, I’ll focus on one of the lectures that I found particularly interesting.

When a high-quality game isn’t enough

Photo Credit: Rinat Korbet / Geektime

Photo Credit: Rinat Korbet / Geektime

Anders Lykke, head of sales at German company Priori Data, is a character. He is a Dane who studied opera, was a standup comic, and owned television production companies before getting involved in technology. Priori Data specializes in providing data about the success of apps in various stores. Full disclosure, we use their data in our monthly app rating column. Anders claims that it is not enough to produce high-quality and entertaining games; you have to do preliminary market research, keep track of the data constantly, and make sure to generate a competitive advantage.

Here are some of the tips and figures he shared with us:

1. The global games market’s 2016 turnover totaled $99.6 billion. Mobile games accounted for 37% of it, generating $36.9 billion in revenue. In 2015, only one of every thousand games reached the App Store’s top 10. The way to get there, it seems, is by getting into the Featured section. 63% of all the new games that reached the top 10 were previously displayed in the Featured section. It’s not easy to do. Of the 15,000-odd new apps that were launched in one week in the Google and Apple stores, only 907 of them got more than 1,000 downloads.

2. Getting into the top 10 is not the only problem. 50% of the new free-of-charge apps entering the top 10 fall out the next day, and 90% after a week. Only 4% of the new apps stay there more than two weeks. A mere 100 companies account for 70% of the app downloads and 60% of the revenue. How do they do it? With a broad portfolio of games and an enormous marketing budget. Smaller companies usually do not conduct market research, and therefore do not achieve the same success. You can stand out by developing a strong brand or innovative technologies. Using external marketing for a game, such as YouTube or Comix, is useful in developing such a brand.

3. One way of standing out in such a competitive and dynamic market is by inducing players to invite their friends to play because they need their friends in order to continue playing and advancing. Another way – also for indie developers – is to employ growth hacking, marketing, business development, and other experts. It’s not enough to employ them; you have to give them a mandate to change the company’s direction and be part of the product design from the beginning. Experts like these can tell you how and from where players for your games are coming. A/B testing is important for knowing how to retain them.

4. The game doesn’t have to be perfect when it is launched. It is important to launch it fairly quickly in order to see whether the game has real potential or should be dropped. It does have to be enjoyable, unexpected, and special. The first week following the launch is extremely critical for the game. At this stage, you do have to understand and take care of the critical bugs.

5. Games do not exist in a vacuum. Think for a minute about a period in which essential sports events are taking place, such as the Olympics or important local events. Most likely, fewer people will be busy downloading and playing games. The dry figures can mislead you if you don’t go into them more deeply and realize all of their significance. It is also important to understand which market should be targeted. There may be a lot of downloads in one country, but you have to invest more money in getting there, and growth is slow. Another country might have good growth, but only for the leading apps. In a third country, it may be easier to reach the top 10, while paying less for each user, so we’ll go for country no. 3.

Is recruiting Megan Fox enough to make your game successful?

Anders recommends using tools like YouTube marketing to promote games, and Plarium did exactly that. Plarium Head of Mobile User Acquisition Barak Levanon talked with surprising candor about a marketing campaign in which Plarium invested major resources. They decided to create a campaign involving a high-profile Hollywood star. After some hesitation and research, they selected Megan Fox for a number of reasons. First off, she resembles a character in the game, she herself is a gamer, she previously starred in Google Trends, and the number of subscribers to her Facebook page and her popularity were high in Russia, an important geographic region for Plarium. She was also popular with the target audience for Plarium’s games, whose average age is 25+. After a month and a half of production and filming, they launched the video clips. They reached the Featured section and advertised everywhere. The number of installations in the first month was double the usual, and they made several million dollars. At the same time, the revenue from purchases within the game did not increase, and the enthusiasm faded within a short time. Plarium reached several conclusions from this:

1. Choose an actress suitable for your audience. Megan Fox does not necessarily appeal to strategy players, even though she does to the public in general.

2. The media channels used for distribution are no less important that the stars you select. In retrospect, Plarium regretted that it did not also produce television ads, and that is something that it definitely plans to keep in mind in the future.

3. It is important to also integrate the stars in the game itself, not just in the accompanying marketing materials.

What should you be thinking about when developing technology and games for children?

Photo Credit: Rinat Korbet / Geektime

Photo Credit: Rinat Korbet / Geektime

We are all disturbed by the content to which children are exposed on the internet. A riveting panel with representatives from The Little Big Partnership, Pixoneye, Bowhead Technology, and the kidSAFE Seal Program spoke about the right way to operate in this sensitive area. Pixoneye director of business operations Avishay Peres talked about his company’s product, which uses the photos on a phone (no, this is not a misprint) to understand who the customer behind your app is. He reassured those present that the data were used solely for aggregate statistical purposes.

For example, knowing how many users have dogs or children facilitates better targeting for advertisements. Bowhead Technology head of business development Asi Meskin spoke about a water bottle for children with a digital screen that uses gamification to encourage drinking water. Drinking the daily required amount of water helps develop and perfect the Tamagotchi image with which the children interact. The bottle makes it possible to characterize and study the child’s drinking patterns.

The Hello Barbie product, for example, made it possible to conduct and record a complete conversation with the child. For example, the Barbie doll could remember that the child liked riding horses, and the next time that the girl said she was sad, tell her to ride horses.

Does that sound creepy? It was creepier finding out that breaking into these devices was possible. In this case, Bowhead was concerned that information, such as the children’s names and ages, could fall into the wrong hands. The company therefore decided not to include a GPS with the bottle, and to ask only for the children’s nicknames, not their real names.

In their experience, they found that parents are willing to “contribute” more information about their child when an educational app is involved than with an entertainment app. Morris Wheeler, a partner in The Little Big Partnership consultancy firm, warned developers that just because they have the ability to develop information extracting technology does not mean that they have to do so. They should carefully consider whether this information is essential for their product to work successfully.

We are already used to providing a great deal of information on the social networks, but it looks like legislation is slowly restricting this. The legislation will change as we gain a better understanding of how dangerous the information being sought is.

As Will Smith said, when he was 12, he was an idiot with no understanding or knowledge of how to protect his privacy; fortunately, however, he did not have the tools to share it with the whole world.

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