Don’t try to be a big fish in a big pond: Why developers shouldn’t be targeting the US market (Casual Connect Kiev)

A full day of lectures and discussions at a developer-focused event like Casual Connect can touch on a lot of things.  Marketing strategies, design fundamentals, emerging trends – the topics run the gamut.  With day one of Casual Connect Kiev squarely in our rear view mirror, one topic seemed to make its way into almost every presentation I attended: developers should stop targeting the US market and start exploring other options.

From a developer’s point of view, the US market really does seem like the place to be.  It’s a little like that old diddy about New York: “If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.”  But since nearly every developer seems to feel the same way, the odds of making it there are incredibly high.  Let’s face facts – unless you’ve already made it there, the deck is stacked pretty strongly against you.

So why are you even trying?


That may sound like a defeatist attitude, but the point that everyone seemed to be trying to get across today is this: there are other markets.  Sure, they may not always be as profitable, but with lower odds, you’re bound to gain some real traction so long as you have a solid game and make some smart decisions.  Becoming #1 on the App Store in Belarus is going to be a lot easier than doing it in the United States. And being #1 is going to help you gain visibility and traction, even if it’s only one market.

Brock Pierce, the CEO of social casino maker Playsino, sees value outside of the US not just because of stiff competition, but also because of regulatory issues.  While the US might be embroiled in an endless season of change regarding the legality of real-money online gambling, there are plenty of other options out there for those in the poker and slots business.  “The only markets that are interesting to me in terms of Internet gambling today are markets that are growing at very high rates,” says Pierce.  “Emerging markets like Eastern Europe [and] Latin America.”  His opinions seem to be well backed up, too.  In a presentation from co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Games Observer Sebastian Sujuka, it seems as though casino games are often ranked in Facebook’s Top 10 for various countries around the world.


Sujuka’s presentation highlighted how valuable different markets can be for Facebook developers.  In the US, for example, all 10 games in the Top 10 are Zynga titles.  That’s not always the case elsewhere.  In Taiwan, 5 of the Top 10 games are localized to cater directly to their market.  The #1 game in Egypt is the same.  And have you ever wondered what makes SongPop so popular?  It turns out the answer is “India.”  They make up roughly half of the games users according to Sujuka.  And there’s a cricket game in India’s Top 10 too – good luck finding success with that anywhere else!  The lesson, it would seem, is “know your market.”

Some non-US markets can even be surprisingly profitable.  What would you say if I told you there was a Facebook game that was also moonlighting as a mobile game on Japan’s Yabage network (Yahoo! + Mobage)? And that this game was making more in Japan than on Facebook?  It’s called Ravenwood Fair, and according to a Casual Connect Kiev session by 6waves CEO Rex Ng, it’s monetizing 3 to 5 times better on Yabage.  “Because they [Japan] have a very high gaming culture, they monetize really well.”  In fact, Japan consumes gaming content so quickly that 6waves creates additional content prior to launch just to support the increased demand.


Being #1 in other countries can even lead to bigger success in the US.  Don’t believe me?  Maybe you’ll believe Matt Wilson.  Matt’s the former head of marketing (and current Senior Manager of Publishing) at Rovio.  He helped a company of 11 people that was on the verge of bankruptcy transform into the entertainment giant you know today. Here’s one of the tricks he used to make that happen;

“If [we] got reviewed on the only Danish-language iPhone website, the game would go Top 10 in the charts.  And then I noticed in Greece there’s only two different iPhone websites that are in Greek.  That’s where the Greek people get their information from.  They both reviewed Angry Birds in the same day [and it got us in the] Top 10.  I followed this strategy around a bunch of small territories, and we went up the charts and never dropped in any of these places.  We were building a proof of concept that we can get this game charted in a lot of territories and it stays there, [and then say] ‘Chillingo, go to Apple and get us featured.'”

Matt also had some words of advice for developers worried about localization; namely, don’t create a game that needs any.  “In Angry Birds I think there’s a total of four or five words.  We localize our App Store descriptions, and beyond that we don’t do any localization.  There’s almost no text in any of our games.”

It’s a big world out there, and there are a lot of places to sell games.  So developers – why feel tied to the US?  Stretch your legs, hop on a plane, and find your perfect market – no matter how far away it might be.

Content writer

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