Optimizing Game Design for Ad Monetization

cinderella story 650

The mobile game industry has exploded since the launch of the App Store in 2008 with countless new titles appearing every day and ample opportunity for strong advertising revenue. However, not everyone has succeeded in making a profit from their marketing efforts. Sure, Words with Friends, Solitaire, and Candy Crush Saga have done it, but many developers fail to see a strong return on their investment. Here are some tips to consider and how to choose the right type of ad formats for your game.

(more…)

The Biggest Trends in Social Gaming Right Now

Plarium
Led by the growth of mobile devices, social gaming is one of the most engaging and popular activities across all screens. In fact, according to a report conducted by Newzoo, players around the globe spend one billion hours daily playing games. To put that into perspective, that’s more than five times the amount they spend on YouTube or Facebook.

Another report, this time from Flurry, an apps analytics and ad tools marketplace for developers, shares that the average U.S. consumer spends two hours and 42 minutes a day on mobile devices; 86 percent of that time is spent in apps and 14 percent is spent browsing the Web. Gaming commands roughly 32 percent of consumers’ app time.

Looking ahead, analysts are already predicting that mobile gaming will generate upwards of $100 billion in revenue by 2017. But just how is social and mobile gaming growing at such a swift pace? Below are a few of the biggest trends and tactics being utilized to keep players locked on, and engaged with their social games. (more…)

Q&A: What Does it Mean to be a Mobile Gamer?

Gamers

Are gamers all hyperactive teenagers, or are they just the main characters from “The Big Bang Theory?” Game Insight project manager Denis Levchik discusses what it truly means to be a mobile gamer in terms of age, gender, engagement, and game preference.

Q: Who is the average mobile gamer?

(more…)

5 Reasons for Mobile Gaming Companies to Attend Tech Events

indy-cat-650-2

For game companies, major events seem cut-and-dried: GDC, E3, consumer shows like GamesCom or PAX.  But with all the major tech events that take place in the Bay Area, it can be very tempting to blow most, if not all, off. Events like the Crunchies, Launch Festival, and SXSW are mainly for nongaming tech firms, right? Wrong. Here are five reasons why major tech conferences are now more relevant for mobile gaming firms than ever:

(more…)

Guest Post: Top 5 Reasons ‘Stealth Mode’ Will Kill Your Startup

Editor’s Note: This guest post comes from game design consultant Adrian Crook, a producer and designer with credits on over two dozen games spread across a variety of platforms, including classic consoles like the Sega Genesis and modern mobile games for iOS. In 2006, he was named Producer of the Year by the Canadian New Media Awards. You can find out more about Crook’s consulting agency here and the original text of his article, “Top 5 Reasons ‘Stealth Mode’ Will Kill Your Startup,” here.

By now I thought it was abundantly evident why your startup should never be in “stealth mode.” But just this afternoon, while on a call with a potential investor/advisor, I heard of yet another person who was still in stealth mode. So this must still be “a thing” for entrepreneurs.

It shouldn’t be. Yes, stealth mode sounds cool, but it hurts you more than it helps you. Here’s why:

1) Nobody wants to steal your idea.
There’s nothing more hilarious to me than when a startup CEO asks me to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) before they reveal their grand idea. In reality, the most powerful force keeping me from stealing your idea is not an NDA, but my belief that my idea is better than your own. Most people are violently assured they have the right ideas – in fact, this reality distortion field is common among CEOs. So stop believing someone will drop everything to rip off your idea – they’re probably only thinking “I hope she’s not doing MY idea!”

2) Most people will never even hear of your startup.
Starting tomorrow, “unstealth” your startup and start spamming your social networks with App Store and landing page links as much as humanly possible. The fact is most of your intended audience (investors, customers, etc) will still never be even faintly aware of your existence. We’re all simply too self-absorbed or well-insulated to receive everything you’re broadcasting. To this day I still get Facebook friends surprised to learn I’ve moved to another country… over two years ago.

3) You leave stones unturned.
Mention your idea to someone even in passing, at the end of an email, on chat – anywhere. Don’t pass up the chance. You never know what they know or who they know or what you’ll learn as a result. Every day I am shocked at how effective this is: new leads are surfaced, competitors I didn’t know about are mentioned, or someone expresses a whole new way to view our product that hadn’t even occurred to me yet. If I had kept my mouth shut about our startup, I’d truly be “eating my own dog food.” In the same way one drinks the Kool-Aid.

4) Opportunity often takes a long time to knock.
So when you put off spreading the word about your startup, you also put off initiating the gestation period for opportunity. Practically speaking, VC investment alone can take 6-9 months to find and close, but if you wait until you need it, those nine months will seem like forever. But other types of opportunity take time to materialize too. One day your friend’s mind wanders and he comes up with the perfect person for you to talk to at ESPN. Or a former co-worker could have put you into their Q3 roadmap if he had known in Q1. Start seeding opportunity too late and you’ll run out of time before its first flowers bloom.

5) Get honest feedback when you can use it.
By telling your friends and colleagues what you’re up to, you get to hear some (very) honest feedback when you need it most – in the early stages, when course-correction costs you much less. Your friends will be candid, which helps you refine your pitch or product offering so it makes sense. And your colleagues, often strongly motivated to find the “gotchas” in your idea, will give you a good sense of the obstacles you might face getting investor or customer buy-in.

Obviously there are some people you might not want to tell, pre-launch. If someone is strongly in the competitor or potential competitor camp and the risk of telling them likely outweighs the benefit, perhaps skip that person for now. But try to avoid censoring yourself in any other way. As I said before, some of the most serendipitous connections or ideas have come from conversations that I thought would never lead to anything, startup-wise.

Be willing to have those conversations, to listen fully and to disclose as much (or a bit more) as you feel comfortable. Being unguarded about your concerns and your thought process is an excellent way to tacitly invite your conversation partner to help solve your problem. But when you attempt to appear like you’ve already got everything buttoned down, you leave little room for contribution.

And now back to working on PlayRank, our second screen sports product that launches this January. Have I told you about that yet…?

Thanks for reading,

Adrian Crook
CEO, PlayRank
Founder, AC+A

Guest post: How much does the #1 game on the iOS store earn in a day? $199k (I think)

Editors note: The following guest post was written by Ethan Levy, co-founder of Quarter Spiral a new game publishing startup, and takes an educated guess at how much money the top games in the iTunes store make. His math makes sense and is within the range we’ve heard about from various industry sources. Levy is a 10-year veteran of the video games industry, having recently worked at BioWare’s San Francisco studio as producer for Dragon Age Legends.

Having a #1 grossing app on the iPhone or iPad is the dream of every game developer who ever downloaded a copy of xCode. Few games reach this lucrative goal and information on the top spot’s true value is a closely guarded secret. Even if you are lucky enough to achieve the #2 spot on the chart, there is no ceiling on what the #1 spot could possibly be worth.

My best guess? In the United States, an average day in the top grossing position for the iPhone means $199,245 in gross revenue. iPad $55,789. After Apple takes its cut, this is about $139.5k and $39.1k respectively.

How did I, who has never personally sold a game on the iOS store come to this conclusion? Follow me on an assumption laden journey as I show how I arrived at these figures. (more…)

Guest post: How Zynga can turn its fate around in the next 6 months

[Editor's note: The following article comes from CEO and founder of YetiZen Sana N Choudary. It suggests how Zynga can improve its position by improving its relationship with developers. YetiZen, is a cornerstone of the game development community that organizes the wildly popular San Francisco Game Developer’s Workshop series and runs the only games exclusive accelerator program. Recently YetiZen launched the YetiZen Innovation Lab, 20,000 square feet of a games community center in the heart of San Francisco which is focused on empowering all aspects of the games community. To learn more about the YetiZen Innovation Lab, its events and free coplay opportunities please visit http://yetizen.com/innovation-lab/]

Unless you have been living under a rock you have seen the doom and gloom stories of Zynga—low Wall Street confidence, falling stock price, demotion and resignation of major executives and the list goes on. Industry veterans say it’s because Zynga has been focusing on tactics and metrics rather than creativity and innovation. Game designers say the non-gamer turned gamers have finally realized Zynga is giving them glorified slot machines filled with clicking grinds and meaningless rewards and that just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Meanwhile, Zynga’s fast follows have become faster–new skins of games launched by other developers with higher production quality, fancier sounds and shorter times before the player hits a paywall. All its games are based on doing that which has helped them succeed in the past—a zealous focus on traffic arbitrage, retention and monetization and iterating based on the metrics that measure them.

It is this metrics drive that helped it win against Playdom and Playfish by establishing and maintaining the strongest customer acquisition strategic position. Unfortunately for Zynga this strategy only contributes to company growth when you are expanding the pie by adding new non-gamers into the gamer mix. Many thanks to Tadhg Kelly for his detailed post describing Zynga’s current state of affairs.

To continue to grow, a new strategic position must be found and a metrics only approach cannot help provide insight into what that would be. This is because the insights that metrics provide are limited to what they have been designed to measure. They never help you ask new qualitative questions that the data does not reflect and in the famous words of Einstein: “Not everything that counts can be measured. Not everything that can be measured counts.”

So how does Zynga find its new strategic position? After all they do have a large player base that believes and trusts in the Zynga brand to bring in new game experiences. The answer is the infusion to the company of new DNA primarily of developers who are focused on new game play innovation. To do this Zynga would have to do things very differently than what they are used to.

Invest in makers of innovative game franchises

Here is a list of Zynga’s acquisitions this year.

If you look closely at size of company, the number of games launched and their performance you will start seeing a trend. With the exception of one, all the acquisitions were talent acquisitions of teams bought in to scale up existing Zynga tech infrastructure. The one exception to this was OMGPOP, bought for Draw Something’s userbase as it was the same demo as Zynga’s existing mobile games.

None of these acquisitions were of studios bought for their ability to innovate on new ways to compete or make new types of games that meet underserved customer demos or unmet needs—the ingredients of truly innovative successful game IPs.

Those types of studios exist and despite the rocky investment climate for game studios* many of them have not only survived but thrived. They have passionate players playing the game for much longer lifetimes than the Zynga games (I have seen upwards of 9 month lifetimes in several games recently).

To get a choice to select from the best–Zynga should strategically invest in innovative franchise game creators that have shown some traction in initial user uptake and monetization at low or no distribution budgets. It should then leave these studios to create for 6-8 months on its own with little Zynga interference. At the end of this time any studio that has successfully created new innovative IPs even if it does not match Zynga’s demo should than be acquired to run an internal studio focused on fully leveraging that market.

Fix reputations problems in parallel to win win publishing deal offers

Zynga has become more active with publishing recently. From those who have entered these deals I have only heard good things. Unlike some of the Draconian “kill all other options for startup deals” offered by companies like 6waves, Zynga deals have been pretty fair—they do not own IP, do not require exclusive right of first refusal on sequels or future IPs. In short, they are letting your first born stay with you.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of small to mid-sized developers (the truly innovative of the bunch) will never approach Zynga for publishing deals. A quick survey to YetiZen’s San Francisco Game Developer Workshop community which has over 5000 members came back with 61 percent of developers claiming they will never consider working with Zynga in any capacity.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Lets face it developers love digging on Zynga. Let’s stick it to the man! That being said, Zynga has had questionable practices in the past affecting developers. News travels fast in the developer community and reputations become entrenched.

At the end of the day most large publishers have the exact same key selling point to developers—a large distribution base. Some like Zynga have it and others buy it. What distinguishes publishers is reputation and personal relationships. Instead of believing this bad reputation is not a real issue and their fair deals will pave the way to bringing more developers to work with them, Zynga must really begin repairing its relationships with game developers.

The best way to do this is showing support for education in the game developer ecosystem. Sure at first developers will take pug shots but if Zynga consistently educates the market on what it has learned in launching various successful titles developers will start trusting it more, allowing it to adequately canvas the market for strong IPs it can publish.

Social Gaming Infrastructure: Winning with Flash

Editor’s Note: The following article comes from Gary Orenstein, VP of Products, Fusion-io. It addresses how using flash memory with server architecture can help game developers manage traffic growth at a comparatively low cost.

With social gaming applications exploding overnight as companies pop up and become smash hits, the industry has never been hotter. Numerous studies have confirmed this trend, showing mobile and online gaming could grow into a $44 billion market by 2014, which would represent 50 percent of global video game revenue. In today’s device-driven world, even adults can’t resist the addictive diversion offered by video games, with 53 percent of U.S. adults saying they regularly play video games of some kind.

With more adults than ever becoming gamers, and 46 percent of adults owning smartphones, it makes sense that the social gaming market would be expanding, but this growth is not without its challenges. As games go viral, keeping up with growth while still providing a high-performance experience for customers can be difficult. And while many gaming services are free, poor performance can cause gamers to move on to another free service, meaning companies cannot afford to play games with their servers.

Keeping server sprawl under control while remaining profitable is the back-end quandary facing all online companies, and it is exacerbated when a game’s popularity explodes. At a game’s peak, it can require several hundred added servers each day to keep up with growth. In 2010, Zynga reported that it adds up to a thousand servers a week to keep up with the demand for all its games. Overall costs are multiplied by increased energy consumption used to power and cool hardware. With billions of dollars on the line, and some social gaming companies reporting to be processing one petabyte of new data every day, finding a solution to manage this growth is imperative. 

Incorporating flash memory into server architecture can provide the low latency performance necessary to keep up with the rapidly changing performance demands of social gaming. Flash can be used as a cache for commonly accessed data, providing much larger capacities compared to DRAM. Storing all the application data directly on the server on flash is the most efficient way to deliver content to happy gamers by providing the necessary bandwidth to eliminate lag and facilitate online interaction.

One company experiencing trouble keeping up with server sprawl in its virtualization datacenter implemented a flash memory solution to eliminate bottlenecks in its Massively Multiplayer Online Gaming (MMOG) database. Before turning to flash, the company’s growing number of servers began to strain its business model. In Figure 1, you can see that by combining application and database servers, while placing I/O intensive virtual machines (VMs) on flash, the company was able to improve performance density by more than five times.

While non I/O intensive VMs were left on disk, flash was able to provide consistent performance, even throughout peak playing times, allowing the company to guarantee high service levels to all applications under any load.

An online casino gaming software company experienced trouble when site traffic had more than doubled over a 12 month period, with further growth expected in the future. The company determined that a flash-based solution would provide the necessary performance to keep up with its customer growth. When architecting its solution, the company moved all its active data to flash, along with short-term backup – leaving its SAN to house its long-term backup files.

With this solution, back-up and check DB run times were improved by 10 times, from about four hours to 25 minutes. Figure 2 reviews the new and simplified architecture that made this solution possible.

Flash can deliver such performance because it provides terabytes of persistent memory right within the server. Connecting flash directly to the CPU through the PCIe slot allows flash to act as a new memory tier. This architecture allows flash to deliver the high throughput performance during peak access times and the flexibility to scale linearly as the customer base grows – something social gaming companies need to keep up with a game on its way to going viral.

Using flash as a new memory tier can also help companies maximize tight budgets by reducing data center footprint and cutting energy costs. One Japanese social gaming company used flash memory to improve performance per rack unit by 80 times. This was accomplished by reducing 36 1U servers to 9 1U servers, while still achieving a performance improvement of 4x (Figure 3). Not only does this reduce the data center footprint, save energy and improve user experience, it also provides system capacity to meet future performance demands.

Ultimately, system performance has the ability to make or break a social game. Today’s players expect a seamless experience when they play, and when millions of dollars in resources have already been invested in creating the next big social game, developers should ensure they are prepared to meet the data demands generated by hit titles. Flash, if implemented in the proper way, has the ability to meet these performance demands without breaking budgets.

Gary Orenstein has served in leadership roles at numerous data center infrastructure companies. Prior to Fusion-io, he was the vice president of marketing at MaxiScale, focused on web scale file systems and acquired by Overland Storage. Prior to MaxiScale, he was the vice president of marketing and business development at Gear6, focusing on storage and web caching. He also served as vice president of marketing at Compellent which went public in 2007, and was a co-founder at Nishan Systems, which was acquired by McDATA/Brocade.

Wooga: Building a Successful Social Game by Combining Metrics With Emotion

[Editor's note: In the article below, Wooga product lead Stephanie Kaiser provides an in-depth look at her team's development of successful Facebook game Monster World. Kaiser has also been speaking about her experience at Casual Connect in Seattle this week and in Hamburg earlier this year (you can find slides and video from that presentation here). This article is also being published in the latest edition of the Casual Connect magazine.]

Some games don’t become instant hits right after launch. Such was the case with Monster World, a farming game developed by wooga and launched in April 2010. wooga is the 2nd largest developer of social games on Facebook. And Monster World is wooga’s most successful title today, growing virally and monetizing well with over 1.6 million daily active users.

With this in mind, I will describe some lessons learned during the development of the game, structured along the four topics: engagement, virality, monetization and non-metric related factors. But be forewarned: As you gain insights into relevant key performance indicators, you will more than likely fall in love with at least one of wooga’s monster characters.

Engagement

After launching the game in April 2010, Monster World was not an immediate success, but we were able to enhance the game step by step. Looking at the post-launch growth chart, our release cycles become very visible. Every Tuesday we are launching a new version of the game. And each Tuesday’s enhancements can be seen in the growth curve of the game.

We began by improving features related to engagement, reasoning that without high user engagement, any enhancement to virality and monetization would be useless.

The KPIs related to engagement are one-, three-, and seven-day retention and a game’s sticky factor (monthly active users divided by daily active users). Besides that, we dissected each step of the beginner’s tutorial and observed how many users reached steps one, two, three, and finished the tutorial. By undertaking A/B tests, we enhanced specific steps of the tutorial to help as many users as possible enter progressively higher levels within the first session.

In an A/B test, we send a percentage of our users to one version of the game including a feature we intend to test and the others enter a version of the game excluding this feature (the control group). By analyzing the relevant performance indicators afterwards, we are deciding to continue developing one of the tested versions. These tests need to be undertaken simultaneously in order to keep outside factors (such as weather or Facebook downtimes) from influencing the results.

For example, we tested a version of the tutorial that forced the user to perform exactly the action the tutorial character Mr. Tentacle suggests. Meanwhile, other users saw a version that left the decision to follow directions open to them. In the latter, Mr. Tentacle is still visible and giving tips, but any action was voluntary.

The result was pretty surprising. We had always thought that users would prefer freedom of choice. But looking through the results, we had to accept that users wanted to be guided. A lot more users got to the end of the tutorial when they were guided through it, so we selected that version for all users.

Features don’t get into the game simply because someone thinks they’re cool’; they get in only if they are proven by metrics. A very good example is the “Monster Choose,” which was initially the first screen in the game. Looking back at it today, I still think the screen looks quite nice. But after analyzing the numbers we had to acknowledge that we were losing too many users at this step. Surprisingly, there was no effect on user retention if users were not offered the opportunity to choose their monster anymore. So we cut the feature.

Because we had built quite a large user base (already around 300.000 daily active users at the time), we gained highly reliable data from A/B tests. Consequently, those tests became one of our favorite optimization instruments.

Along with cutting and enhancing existing features, we added new ones aimed at raising our users’ engagement like adding in a missions system. By giving users tasks to complete, they started to return to the game more often to fulfill the quests that were assigned to them.

After working on the tutorial and the missions week after week, the game began to grow virally. The users’ engagement was much higher than it was at the launch of the game and we could move on by enhancing and developing virality features.

Virality

Viral channels on Facebook change frequently. They are not what they were a year ago, and a superficial look could lead you to the conclusions that developers are suffering from the changes Facebook has made. But if you look at these changes in more detail, you’ll see that the changes were good from a user’s perspective. And since Facebook and social game developers are both trying to engage and retain users, you would have to acknowledge that ultimately the changes were good for developers also.

More than a year ago, users were able to send out unlimited feedposts from the games they were playing. Many users considered the feedposts spam, which in turn created a negative image for social games. And unhappy users are not sticky.

Feedposts today are only shown to those users that have registered with a game. This change ensures that the content in the users’ stream stays relevant. Relevance as the selection criteria in an always overloaded stream of news. With this change feedposts turned from a viral to a retention feature. As a new viral channel, Facebook has changed the way requests are shown and implemented in the platform. User to user requests are now counted and shown as a red number over the globe icon in the top Facebook menu bar. Requests can be sent to a user’s entire friends list, including those that do not play the game yet. With these functionality changes requests are a strong viral channel today.

Every viral feature needs to be socially acceptable. Therefore, any interaction between users in a game needs to be “share-worthy” and “click-worthy.” If a feedpost is share-worthy, the user is more likely to share it amongst their social circle. It needs to include a relevant message for the sender.

A good example is the Robert feedpost in Monster World. Robert is the customer robot standing at the gate to a user’s garden, asking the user to sell a specific set of plants to him. He pays well. This creates the incentive for users to post a help inquiry to their friends. Any friend clicking this post is sending a plant to the user, who can now finish the deal with Robert faster, gain points and level up earlier. This post is, in that sense, share-worthy.

The counterpart of being shareworthy is being click-worthy which relates to the receiver. Any clickable post that appears in a user’s stream with the intention of being clicked by them should be click-worthy. To generate this click-worthiness we changed all of our posts to include an in-game reward for the receiver. Whenever the receiver clicks a feedpost, he gets a gift, such as coins, some XP, etc. With this change, our response rate on feedposts jumped up.

In addition to these changes, we introduced new features that were intended to impact the game’s virality of the game. One very successful example was the introduction of the monster baby. Users become more engaged with a game once they start to have a strong emotional attachment to the characters in the game. The sad, lost monster baby caused people to feel a certain need to help.

The baby would cry constantly until the user would agree to build the toy the baby was demanding. To build the toy the user needed a certain quantity of varied materials. Those materials could either be found by harvesting plants (this is quite rare), by asking friends for help (through a feedpost) or by purchasing them. In that sense the baby added a social barrier to the game. The number of feedposts being sent increased rapidly when the baby feature was launched. No one could stand to watch the crying thing.

After completing the first toy, the baby would move into a user’s garden and start living there. From then on, it would ask for food and love at least once a day. And if it didn’t get what it wanted, it would start crying again. If users treat their baby well, however, they earn a daily bonus.

Recently we had a visitor at our wooga office in Berlin for a usability test. He was an avid player of Monster World and told us the game was part of his life. He had heard rumors that the baby would die if weren’t fed or hugged once a day. I personally love this rumor, although we would never let the baby die. Our Monster World is a very friendly one.

When Facebook changed the rules of their virality channels we switched from using feedposts to sending requests in order to use the full viral potential. Requests can be sent to all friends, not just the ones playing the game already and therefore invite new possible game users.

Monetization

After optimizing Monster World for maximum engagement and virality, we started to look further into the topic of monetization. By analyzing the number of buyers and their actual purchases, we discovered the obvious: consumables are monetizing much better than purely decorative items. They create a constant purchase cycle because consumables are used up as they are traded for game advantages.

In Monster World one type of consumables is the magic wand. Magic wands can be used in the game to either revive plants or to skip-over their growth time and harvest them immediately. In the real world our magic wands would equal fertilizer. Today wooga is the biggest seller of virtual magic wands in the world.

After understanding the importance of consumables, we added another one to the game: woogoo. Just recently have a series of new features that relate to woogoo been added into the game. We introduced Roberta, a character who has a constant demand for various products that cannot be manufactured without woogoo. Users can gain woogoo by selling to Robert, by harvesting, by asking their friends (via requests) or by buying it.

The game’s inherent woogoo supply is balanced to be below sufficient, but still the user has a chance to get woogoo without paying for it. It is just never enough. To fulfill all of Roberta’s demands or for example to use the auto-harvester the user needs more woogoo, than he finds by harvesting. He will always be able to sell some products to Roberta, but if he wants to sell more, he needs to either be viral or pay..

Consumables in that sense either help the user to progress faster in the game or allow him to prolong the playing sessions.

The Report Guy

As stated above, to enhance a game like Monster World you really need to know your metrics and need to analyze them on a daily basis. We are in the privileged position to look into the KPIs of over 1.2 million users daily and we do. An in-house reporting tool, built by wooga, is offering us a valuable insight into our games. Our “report guy” sends out automated report mails on defined KPIs, that we are interested in tracking daily.

Aside from all the metrics, there is a whole universe of non-metric related factors that have helped us to make Monster World a successful game.

Usability testing

From the very beginning of the development we invite people outside of our project teams to participate in usability tests at wooga. My first test on Monster World was done on a paper prototype, with a pen, which served as a mouse. I showed the prototype to possible users and asked them to use the pen and “click” as if it were a computer screen. The page behind the click would be the next step in the user flow and was also prepared as a paper prototype. By testing early and often, we tried to avoid conceptual mistakes at a very early stage, before we even began development.

During the development of click-prototypes, we started to test with real computers. Most of the time, we would just watch our test users. Not answering their questions or directing them would help us a lot in understanding the current iteration’s design flaws. The well known: “We listen to our users!” is changed to ”We look at our users.”

We test our games every two weeks. Product staff is always in attendance. Right after a test the “watchers” immediately discuss their findings and decide upon priorities for the next development cycle. We regularly invite everyone from the team to join a test. For developers and graphic people in particular, those sessions give a very deep insight into the world of user behavior.

Release Cycles

We work in weekly release cycles using a mixture (or, as we say: the best) of Kanban and Scrum. Every Tuesday we release a new version of the game on Facebook. The next development cycle begins on Tuesday and continues until that Friday. Over the weekend we refresh our minds and prepare to fix the bugs found in the new version that Monday.

These short release cycles are tough, and every team member must work in a very disciplined manner to avoid delays caused by inter-team dependencies.. But it pays off. We move fast, but we are still flexible enough to change priorities on a daily basis. Once a feature is finished, we usually release it while still maintaining the weekly cycle on top of that. Therefore, if someone in the team has an idea (or a finding of a usability test) today, it can be included in the next version—if its priority is high enough. In my experience, this direct impact on a game really motivates everyone on the team.

Localization

We localize our games in seven languages: English, Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, Turkish and German. From the early days of development onwards, we support different languages in the game via XML. Supporting accents is as important as the solution to the problem that some languages just need more space than others. Consequently, no text is embedded in images. wooga offers localized customer support, localized fan pages and virtual goods localized within the game. For example, during the soccer world championship last year, we had French, Italian and Spanish tricots hanging on washing lines in the game.

Emotions

As stated previously, users will be more engaged more in a game if they build a relationship with its characters. We focus a lot on all the little details in the game that make Monster World very loveable. The robot in Monster World is called Robert. Robert stands in the users’ garden waiting to make a deal. While he is waiting, he jumps rope, plays on his PSP, and flirts with Roberta. Users can visit their friends’ gardens and invite Robert to enjoy a bottle of oil. If Robert has too much oil, he gets drunk and will pay the user’s friend more coins in their next deal.

There are a variety of monsters in the Monster family, including the monster baby mentioned previously. Whenever we tested the baby with women in usability tests, they just went crazy when the baby appeared. Who can resist the happiness that comes after building a brand new rocking horse for a baby?

The Team

wooga is organized into dedicated game teams, with one product lead. All team members—developers, graphic designers, project managers and additional product managers—are dedicated resources that work on just one game. Each team has an individual office room which establishes a concentrated working environment with very short communication distances.

wooga was lucky enough to find a group of people wherein every single person is committed to building the best products they can imagine. With the love and dedication of every single monster on our team, we were able to work through the still ongoing optimization process of our game and transform it into a real Monster World.

Stephanie Kaiser is the Product Lead of Monster World at wooga (world of gaming), a top 15 social game on Facebook with over a 1,6 million daily users and over 8 million monthly active users. She is responsible for the design and development of Monster World, leading a team of 15. Prior to joining wooga, Stephanie worked as a Product Manager at Jamba/Jamster and as Manager of Product Development at MTV Networks where she was responsible for the development of clubnick.de, a subscription-based learning platform for children. Stephanie attended the Humboldt University Berlin (French Philologies and Information Science). She has a passion for dance and robots.

IP Aggregators Aim to Connect Brands and Developers

[Dan Jansen is Founder and CEO of Virtual Greats, an "IP aggregator" company that specializes in organizing partnerships between brands and social game developers to provide what we term "light" level brand integration in our ongoing article series on the subject. In this guest post, Jansen explains strategies for choosing to offer either branded virtual goods (BVG) or integrated virtual goods (IVG) to make money.]

Companies like Virtual Greats broker deals between intellectual property holders and game developers to drive revenue for the brand by selling BVGs. We believe this is an emerging multi-billion dollar product category that most brands have not entered. While General Mills and McDonalds have gotten attention through their recent Zynga promotional campaigns, most brands have only begun to consider advertising in the space, let alone selling; and though an entirely new revenue stream is great, the gross margins available in this category are even better than what most brands realize in their physical products. With minimal marginal cost and almost infinite shelf space (i.e. server capacity), gross margins can exceed 90%. One of our best selling items cost approximately $200 to develop, and we have sold more than $80,000 worth of the item.

While in-game virtual items may appear similar, there are two different economic models behind them: branded virtual goods are purchased by the user, while integrated virtual goods are funded by the brand and offered for free to the user. This is analogous to the television model where some of the stations are “free,” or ad supported, and some of the stations are consumer funded (i.e. pay TV for premium content on cable or satellite). Using targeted partnerships, BVGs allow brands to unlock value and capture dollars previously uncollected or unrealized. While all brands may not be appropriate for BVGs, there are still thousands of brands that have yet to realize a new audience and consumer base in social games.

Bridging the Gap between Brands and Developers

This concept moves brands from a traditional advertising model to a consumer-funded model by turning brand’s advertising costs into a new revenue stream. Instead of brands advertising their goods, they are sold as BVGs in the social media marketplace while still achieving many of the promotional goals for free. While this model is still “light” integration, it approaches the partnership from a revenue creation point-of-view and a different source of funding (i.e. consumer paid).

Because of the massive fragmentation of the social media market, licensed IP aggregators are able to bring scale to both the brand and game developer. IP aggregators like ourselves are trying to help a brand sell itself to multiple game developers at once, and help a developer to find licensed IP from brands to include in a game. This is especially useful for developers who are trying to get access to entertainment and consumer brands.

The Business of Branded Virtual Goods

Business models vary, but the business of branded virtual goods partnerships can be structured as flat rate fees or revenue shares. In the consumer-funded model, the end user is paying for the BVG and from these funds the IP holder takes a percentage. In the brand holder funded model, the brand advertiser pays, and the end user receives a free asset. Typically, the goal for this particular model is for the brand to create awareness for its product and not to generate revenue. This is an important distinction and the business model used will depend on the brand and the brand’s primary end goal: directly drive revenue (use consumer funded model/paid for BVGs) or drive awareness to achieve other promotional goals (use brand funded model/free BVGs).

All BVG campaigns are highly customized and collaborative between the brand and platform, with both parties focused on the goal of generating user engagement to lead to additional revenue and brand recognition/awareness. This collaboration helps determine which brand assets would be most attractive to platform users and how to maximize user response. Typically, assets are designed by host platforms, based on current looks and imagery to best incorporate the true style of the brand. From a brand’s perspective, they want mass distribution and exposure to create additional revenue. Authenticity and a high level of integration are paramount when designing a successful BVG for both the brand and the platform.

Activations in the virtual goods marketplace are most profitable, if the consumer is able to integrate the brand into their social media or game playing experience. For example, if a pair of branded Skechers shoes can help an avatar get fit/change body shape, there is a compelling reason to purchase that asset versus a regular pair of shoes. The brand goal is to use the virtual good’s functionality to support the brand promise from the real world. In general, some asset types typically sell better than others; for example, we find that hats are more popular than hoodies. Our data also shows counter-intuitive findings like more expensive items selling better than less expensive ones. We find that bundling items is also a powerful sales driver.

Measuring campaign results from both the brand and platform perspective can vary greatly, however most are judged on revenue, new user acquisition, conversion of non-buyers to buyers, growth in average price points, and other levels of engagement. In our experience at Virtual Greats, there is value for all parties and our partners frequently renew, with our average platform conducting several campaigns each year. One of our leading fashion brands is launching its seventh release in one game alone.

Case Study: Garfield Goes to Brazil

Brands need to understand that this is also a global market with fewer restrictions given the lack of physical product. As an example of a successful brand integration with a social media platform, Virtual Greats brought the classic cartoon character Garfield into the popular social game Vila Magica published in Brazil on Orkut by Latin American social gaming giant Mentez.

Together, we devised an asset list and product line that reflects the best game use experience, but adheres very closely to the authentic Garfield look and style. What followed was a youth focused line of Garfield hats, shirts, and even furniture items. While Virtual Greats created product ideas with Mentez, Garfield helped refine the proposed BVGs to ensure authenticity and keep consistent with the brand so that Brazilian Garfield fans bought in.

Virtual Greats was able to launch Garfield assets with Mentez within a few weeks of Mentez’s request for the brand. With price points for this particular brand ranging from $0.15 – $1.50 in Brazil, close to one million units have already been sold during this campaign. The Garfield assets are still live on Mentez and available for purchase.

The Facebook Factor

In addition to the numerous social media platforms in the U.S. and abroad, Facebook continues to be a dominant force within the industry. Brands have been very successful on Facebook and are making tremendous use of the platform for marketing purposes. However, the Facebook canvas does not easily allow for an individual brand to sell its own BVGs because Facebook no longer sells virtual goods outside of its games and apps, as opposed to advertising, which Facebook does sell directly.

In response, many brands must scale their own campaigns outside of Facebook by creating customized integration across multiple platforms at the same time in order to achieve scale in this fragmented space. This is not like traditional media where the same thirty second spot or print ad can be rolled out across numerous outlets as each activation should be customized to a specific look and feel or game mechanics. At times a brand’s assets can be repurposed with logos being swapped out and replaced with existing assets, however, so more time and investment is not necessarily required to diversify platform options for users.

Beyond Light Integration

Light integration means more than just placement of a BVG within a game. It is a revenue driving opportunity; in addition to the brand awareness impact any particular asset creates. We see continued growth in this sector on both consumer-funded BVGs and brand-funded IVGs. Both models are thriving and can be mutually reinforcing. The science of integrating brands into social games on this level is making a match between the platform and the brand and then focusing on creating a compelling BVG that is functional, relevant and popular.

Get the latest news in your inbox
interested in advertising with inside social games?

Social Media Jobs
of the Day

Social Media Manager

Model Behaviors
Dallas, TX

Marketing Coordinator

Education Learning/Social Network
Princeton, NJ

Social Media Coordinator

Credit Union National Association
Washington, DC

Sr. Account Executive - Digital Partnerships

ALC, Inc.
NYC. Tarrytown. or Princeton, NY

Featured Company

Join leading companies like this one and recruit from the nation's top media job seekers on the Mediabistro Job Board. Every job post comes with our satisfaction guarantee. Learn More
 

Our Sponsors

Mediabistro A division of Prometheus Global Media home | site map | advertising/sponsorships | careers | contact us | help courses | browse jobs | freelancers | content | member benefits | reprints & permissions terms of use | privacy policy Copyright © 2014 Mediabistro Inc. call (212) 389-2000 or email us