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Mobile Gaming USA Recap: Succeeding as an Indie Developer


Mobile Gaming USA wrapped up yesterday where more than 200 developers and publishers from the gaming industry gathered to identify opportunities for distribution, monetization, acquisition, app discovery and more. Attendees and speakers included leaders from Wooga, Animoca, GREE, CrowdStar and other mobile gaming aficionados. Our own Jason Hitchcock, Head of App Advertising, sat on a Budget Buster panel alongside representatives from Fiksu, Kiwi, Medio and One Spear Entertainment to discuss how indie developers can be successful in today's crowded app markets.

The panel was focused on combating the skyrocketing costs of user acquisition while working with a small budget. Moderator Eros Resmini led the discussion which seemed to to focus on 2 key elements around user acquisition:

1. Know your users

2. Build a great game that is viral at its core.

Seems obvious, but how do you succeed at doing both?

To start, knowing who your users are begins with tracking and analytics. Understanding where your users are coming from, where they are leaving (and when), doing cohort analysis, A/B testing like crazy and knowing what the profile, behavior and usage of your high LTV users look like is invaluable. Doing this on a small budget, or no budget, can seem daunting. But, there's hope! Tools like Kontagent and Flurry can help you better understand your users for little to no cost, and provide clean and comprehensive dashboards for their clients.

Defining your optimal user, and the parameters that make them optimal, provides you with a profile of who you are looking for. Then you can begin to leverage multiple channels to acquire users whether those be social, paid, app store optimization or advertising. Ad networks like us work closely with developers to understand where their high LTV users are coming from, then optimize the campaign to only target those types of users. It's the age old 'quality vs quantity' approach.

The real success in growth as a game developer ultimately lies in building an amazing game that is inherently viral. Virality should be at the core of every developer, designer and product team. Often times it is an afterthought. A post-development add-on that is ultimately slapped on without much intention. But, to be is to believe and virality should be a part of the team culture.

Building virality into the game means that you incorporate viral loops, competitions, sharing and invitation capabilities, customization options and social integration. Product teams should take a psychological approach to game design, understanding where users are experiencing excitement, frustration, anger or desire for more. Combining the very personal user experience with actual app mechanics behavior provides tremendous value to developers.

Additional recommendations included having clearly defined objectives, so clear that they are displayed in plain sight on a whiteboard or posters in your work space. Also, understanding that true growth is in the long tail users, not the whale tail users that come from short 'burst' type campaigns. These are designed to shoot apps up the charts, landing a place in the top 5 ranking. Glen Kiladis from Fiksu made a great point when he said, 'Discoverability goes beyond burst campaigns. Think of it like a shooting star.' Being successful is about sustained ranking. A better objective is to combine a burst campaign with one that is more sustained. It could be to reach the top 20 for an extended period. Then, you can leverage social sharing and game mechanic features to engage and organically grow your user base. In short: set your target goal, determine app store competitiveness at the time of launch, and split your budget between burst and sustained acquisition. Then, leverage and understand your high LTV users from these sources and focus your efforts on engaging them.