The coronavirus pandemic may have halted in-person events this year, but that hasn’t stopped us from meeting! Continuing the 2020 trend of virtual panels, I recently moderated a Gamesforum Online discussion covering trends in modern mobile gaming. Naturally, we talked about the effect COVID-19 has had on the mobile industry and its employees, as well as monetization strategies, launching in a crowded market, and other challenges facing modern mobile game developers and publishers.
I was joined by mobile monetization experts from three of the most prominent mobile game publishers:
- Pete Staley, Director of User Acquisition, Jam City
- Barak David, COO, Murka
- Vladimir Funtikov, CEO, Creative Mobile
We were fortunate to have these folks from these leading game companies share their insights.
If you missed the panel, you can watch ‘Trends in Mobile Gaming Today’ in its entirety on YouTube. Or, you can read further for highlights from the discussion about today’s mobile gaming trends.
COVID-19 has its ups and downs
We’re now about seven months into the coronavirus outbreak, making 2020 one of the most difficult years in recent memory. While most have struggled with social distancing, remote working, and going stir-crazy, COVID-19 has actually been a boon to the mobile game industry — at least in the short term.
According to Barak, the first few months of the pandemic led to a mobile gaming boom of sorts. With people mostly staying indoors for months on end, mobile games provide an easy escape. This led to higher engagement, with even longtime players spending more time in-game. While Jam City didn’t see a huge difference in day-to-day activities, Pete added that organic downloads increased when the lockdowns started.
Since then, that bump has leveled off. Meanwhile, all three companies have been wrestling with working remotely. After all five of Murka’s offices across Europe temporarily closed and employees began working from home, Barak was pleasantly surprised to see increased efficiency across the board. Vladimir had been “fantasizing about a hybrid work model for years,” but before the pandemic, all of Creative Mobile’s employees were fully in the office. Unsurprisingly, when lockdown restrictions in Europe loosened in May, employees weren’t exactly rushing back to the office. The company is now considering letting their employees choose where they work.
On the flip side all three panelists lamented the loss of social interaction and spontaneous brainstorming sessions among their teams. Barak said it was harder to keep the company culture active from a distance, since much of the innovation at work came during lunch hours, coffee breaks, and other in-person opportunities that aren’t easy to replicate in a remote environment.
Pete also missed the coffee talk over at Jam City, and he’s been making sure to infuse more social chat into virtual meetings. Marketing and user acquisition are particularly brainstorm-heavy departments, so adjusting to 2020’s specific challenges is an ongoing effort.
Unsustainable expectations and iOS 14 are looming challenges
So more people are playing mobile games during the pandemic — that’s good, right? Sure, but that growth can backfire.
“2021 will be a challenging year,” as Barak put it.
Vlad promptly agreed, noting that the perception of continuous growth is “not sustainable.” Investors’ appetites in the mobile game industry are growing, but so too are their expectations. Meanwhile, the mobile game industry is becoming increasingly crowded resulting in shorter game lifespans.
Another challenge looming on the 2021 horizon is iOS 14. While Apple gave mobile developers a stay of execution on the operating system’s new privacy features, the eventual switch to opt-in IDFA permission will change the mobile marketing industry immensely. As I wrote a few months ago, “Some developers fear this update represents a seismic shift in the mobile ad ecosystem.”
As the Director of UA at Jam City, Pete is still figuring out how to “roll with that.” The IDFA — quite literally, Identifier for Advertisers — is frequently used by marketers, especially in the user acquisition process, to track users and deliver customized advertisements/ When the changes go into effect sometime next year, the IDFA will be turned off by default, cutting off access to vital, monetizable insights..
“That doesn’t necessarily mean the sky is falling,” Pete said. Though marketers will no longer be able to leverage in-app purchase history to target players, advertising costs may level off as well. Marketing could shift to a more “probabilistic” model with new data sources. Jam City is currently in the process of exploring new advertising channels, though Pete couldn’t get into specifics about that.
“The market must be balanced,” Barak added. Advertising costs cannot continue to rise without delivering results. Murka uses a dedicated data science team to predict conversions and other metrics, that may prove more important than ever in a post-IDFA world.
Knowing your players is the #1 tip for launching new games
As I mentioned, the mobile market is crowded. We’re also seeing many of the same games retain their positions on mobile stores’ top 10 and top 100 listings. Breaking through with something new is tough, and you have to know how to grab your players’ their attention.
“What are their motivations, behaviors? What are the demographics?” These are the questions mobile developers and marketers must be asking themselves. Marketers need to match their player personas with the right advertising channels, which necessitates knowing their reach and targeting capabilities.
Pete added, “Creative is one of the most powerful tools a marketer has.” Creative strategy and messaging are vital for user acquisition, as the creative message showcases a game’s value proposition.
And how about retaining those new users? “That’s the million-dollar question,” Barak responded. Games need to find the right balance between gameplay and monetization; the in-app economy is one of the most important factors in an app’s long-term success. He suggested adding new content daily, making players feel like they’re missing out every day that they’re not in the game. Vlad enthusiastically agreed with Barak, highlighting the importance of promoted battle passes, event passes, and subscriptions, which offer flexibility. “I really like the concept of games having multiple reward tracks,” Vladimir said. He also noted that communication with the player about pricing models should be clear: “Ultimately I want to be as upfront and honest and transparent about the pricing… as we can.”
Jam City has had success with the battle pass model, Pete added. Earlier this year, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery added a “Magical Milestones” pass with additional rewards and new themes every month.
“Games are always a work in progress”
As we wrapped up the panel, Pete gave us one last piece of advice for game developers and marketers: “Games are always a work in progress. Games are always ongoing. Development is ongoing.” New titles might take some time to break through the established market, but that’s okay. What’s important is listening to the audience and adapting to make the gameplay experience as enjoyable as possible.
Big thanks to Pete, Vlad, and Barak for joining me on this informative panel! If you’d like to get even more insights from these mobile industry veterans, you can watch the full panel discussion on our videos page.