I am not talking about the makers of Candy Crush Saga, though I guess I could be. Spending the day at the Mobile Games Forum in London, the most obvious observation is this: to be successful in games in 2014, you need to have either have a lot of luck or an even greater amount of money.
How much? I have heard through the grapevine that some ad campaigns are starting at $500,000. Yes, I just said $500,000. And that is just for one ad campaign at launch.
The problem is that with so many games being released, it’s very hard to be discovered. The best way is to get in the top lists of Apple’s App Store or Google Play, but once you are in that top list you’re spending a lot of the money you’re making to stay on top. Plus you’re crowding everyone else out and making it more expensive for them in the process.
It’s no coincidence that the top 10 games on Google Play today are the same as they were last year (and probably the year eafter this). Though it varies more on Apple’s Store, because Apple editorializes more (less reliant on algorithms than Google) and picks paid games to feature, it’s more expensive to buy your place on the top list at Apple because the stakes are higher.
During the morning sessions with representatives from King, Wooga, Mag Interactive, Storm 8, Miniclip, Appsfire and more, there was the inevitable discussion of what to do if you don’t have millions of dollars to blow on ads.
The top two ways you can get your app discovered for free is through word of mouth (or social activity around your app) and being featured by the App Stores themselves, Apple and Google.
The problem is that both of these methods are inevitably beyond your control. The one factor you can control is buying advertising, and for the majority of game developers, this is an impossible proposition.
Daniel Hasselberg from Mag Interactive shared his secret on how they grew their game Ruzzle without spending money — through a viral avalanche of users tweeting challenges to their followers. And Antonio Varanda from Miniclip shared that the secret to the success for their 8 Ball Pool game was cross-promotion via their multi-million user online community. Until you have a million users to start, a viral snowball effect or cross-promotional campaign can’t take place to begin with.
Not only this, but once you have the users, you have to spend ad money to retain the users. On average, a game retains 40 – 50% of its users on day 1, but only 30% on day 8 and 10% by day 30.
The winners are the companies who can afford to stay on top — The Kings, SuperCells, and increasingly, big Asian companies such as Tencent. In the end, the biggest winner may be Facebook, who everyone agrees has the best targeting and retargeting ability today to reach gamers on mobile.
The sad truth, as one of the panelist said, if you don’t have a big name or big money, the best option may be the one that developers wanted to avoid by going mobile in the first place — getting a publisher.
That, or create a fun game and pray to win the lottery.