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When is the best time to bring on a team?

Creating a great game is one thing, publishing and marketing it in the most effective way is quite another. With statistics showing that 99.9% of mobile games are unprofitable, the path to success is not easy. 

In previous posts, we have discussed some of the most common reasons why games fail.  One of the points raised was access to the right knowledge and insight that  is not present within the studio team. So, when is the best time to bring on external help? Should you look to bring in the experts whilst your game is in development when there is time to make important tweaks and build a long term strategy for your game? Or should you first look to prove that the game is viable and then seek out help to scale up your game in order to reach a wider, international audience?

In Development

Enlisting the help of a wider team while your game is still in development can be an effective way of gaining insight into how to fine tune your game so that you avoid any pitfalls, giving it the best chance of success when you launch. There are a number of different integrations, adaptors and core gaming modules that are typically required to launch a successful mobile game. That’s why we offer the Coda SDK, which allows developers to focus solely on gameplay. When it’s time to build out the core gaming elements, simply drag and drop what you need into your game using our UI content editor. 

By utilising the Coda SDK, you don’t need to have a deep understanding of each and every individual SDK integration, which generally leads to substantial delays in bringing your game to market. Ultimately, it enables you to speed up the process, reduce bugs, increase the quality of your game, and deliver a far better experience for your players. 

Maximising the player experience from the onset is critical to ensuring that good reviews appear on the app store.  Naturally, A/B testing will be an ongoing process, as you gain new players and figure out the specific nuances that are delivering the best results in terms of CPI, ARPU, retention and churn. That said, you should do all of your functional tests before the live testing phase, particularly when it comes to fixing bugs or issues with performance. User reviews are an important aspect of your game listing, and gaining too many negative reviews early on could adversely impact your user acquisition and download rates. 

Building on early success

Some developers and studios will have successfully navigated the launch phase and may have already experienced early success with their game. In these situations, bringing on a team post-launch can help to build on these early wins and propel an already well performing game to international heights.  Even when the signs are pointing to success, this remains a precarious position to be in, as the long term success and viability of the game rests on its future performance and the decisions taken from this point onwards.

Similar to games which are still in development, launched games are often missing vital tricks when it comes to the ongoing marketing and monetisation of their games. One of the biggest mistakes that developers tend to make is to load all of their budget into getting the game ready for launch, assuming that once the game is live and can demonstrate success, monetisation strategies will immediately kick in. The trouble with this approach is that the future of any game is completely unknown. Relying on future cash flow to continue evolving and enhancing your game is incredibly risky. That’s why it’s important to ensure that you have a longer term strategy in place which sees your budget stretch beyond the launch to cover areas such as crash testing, gaining user feedback and building a loyal customer base.

If you’ve already launched your game, working with Coda is a sure fire way to capitalise on your early wins while ensuring that your game not only performs optimally but also appeals to a much larger audience. Our team of experts and analysts can take a detailed look at your game and provide feedback on exactly what changes and adaptations you need to make, drawing on the analysis of thousands of games. Our team becomes part of your team as we combine all of our strengths and industry knowhow to give your game the very best chances of success. 

A great example of this is our recently launched game Pot Master 3D. Having already achieved early success domestically, we started working with the game’s development team to prepare for an international step up. After launching, we were delighted to see this game hit Top 5 Games in the U.S and sit at #2 in the Family genre. You can try it for free yourself on the App Store and if you’re interested in finding out more about Pot Master 3D’s success with Coda, you can read more about in our previous post.

In summary, bringing on a team either at the development stage or post launch can provide a host of benefits to smaller studios. Having access to detailed insight into the market as whole, how other games are performing, what trends are present, what is likely to lie ahead and what elements are needed to effectively monetise your game are all aspects which many developers are unlikely to possess in house but are vital to ensuring the longer term success and profitability of a game in the current, highly competitive mobile games market. 

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The emergence of HyperCompact games

Finding the perfect recipe for your next game isn’t always easy, but if it’s on trend, hits all the right notes and launches at the right time, you’ve got a far better chance of cooking up an incredibly lucrative outcome. Recognising the elements that could lead to success early in the development process is essential to ensuring that the best possible game is developed and released while demand remains high. Getting this process just right allows developers and studios to benefit from higher DAUs, impressive ARPUs and strong post-launch retention.

Trends can last a while during which time developers can ride the wave of success generated by their games and make substantial profits along the way. But what happens when the tide turns and their chosen theme begins to fall out of favour? What can they do when they’ve invested in creating a really great game, but the theme just stops being quite as ‘trendy’ as it once was? It is a case of returning to the drawing board to come up with their next big idea?

Well, not quite.

Every successful game holds within it a golden nugget, a particular aspect of the game that contributed more extensively its overall success than other factors. Finding ‘the next big game’ is not about simply replicating what has gone before, but extracting the parts which worked exceptionally well and applying them in a different or exciting way. Sometimes this involves looking beyond the physical elements that make up the game and into the behaviours, emotions and responses that are evoked by the gameplay itself. 

Let’s take Crossy Road as an example. 

Released in 2014 by Hipster Whale, Crossy Road is one of the biggest success stories in mobile gaming history, with over 50 million downloads in the first 90 days along with an impressive revenue of $10 million. At the time, Crossy Road was looking to build on the success of the monstrous Flappy Bird, but they wanted to delve further into what it was that made the game so addictive. What they found was that it was in fact the social aspect of the game that made it so popular. This was the driving force behind Crossy Road and as a result, there was  a clear focus on retention rather than monetisation. 

Speaking back in 2015, co-creator of Hipster Whale Matt Hall said, ‘We wanted to make a game that was popular, but not necessarily one that would make a lot of money per user. That was the intention. Anything that got in the way of it being popular, we threw away. If you’re investing in user acquisition, you have to make a game that earns a certain amount per user and that greatly restricts the types of games that can be made. We wanted to make something different.”  Although making money is clearly a core objective for the majority of developers and studios, this does raise the interesting point that focusing on monetisation too early on in the development of the game could distract you from those aspects which could enhance its popularity, shareability and potential to become a viral hit. 

So, once you have extracted those critical elements from previously successful games how do you decide which to incorporate into your new game design?

Well, developers have already realised the benefits that come from designing combination games which see a variety of successful mechanics included within one game. Here, developers look to incorporate several different mechanics to help the player progress through the game. The repetitive and addictive style that is at the core of all hyper casual games remains, but some variety of movement and tasks is added to keep players engaged in the game for longer. Good examples of successful combination games which are performing well at present  include Super Salon which is currently ranking at #5 for simulation games on the iOS store. 

The growth of combination games will continue to expand in the months ahead, but at Coda, we’ve taken this concept a little further to refine a new category we are calling ‘HyperCompact’. This is where we see the active merging of a specific trending theme, such as supermarket, dating or restoration, with successful mechanics that have delivered desirable outcomes in previously successful games, such as high retention or high marketability. By ‘compacting’ a current trend with specific mechanics that are designed to deliver certain outcomes, developers really can get the cream of the crop when it comes to market-leading mechanics, leading to the creation of a truly supercharged game. 

A good example of a ‘HyperCompact’ game is Date the Girl 3D. Here, we can see the exact combination of mechanics which have been applied to the specific theme of dating. The high marketability characteristics of games such as Pull the Pin, Park Master and Slap Kings appear alongside the high retention characteristics of games such as Popcorn Burst, Crossy Road and Six! 

HyperCompact games is a segment of the market which we’ll be watching with great interest over the coming months, and we’ll continue to share our findings with you as this exciting new category develops. 

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What are the chances of getting a chart topping game?

“Mobile gaming is the leading gaming platform worldwide by consumer spend and opportunities are continuing to expand in the sector – it is not a market limited to incumbents or the biggest players”App Annie – State of Mobile 2020 Report.

2020 is set to be an extremely good year for the mobile gaming industry. At the end of 2019, the mobile gaming market was worth an estimated $68.5 billion and this year, it is set to surpass $100bn across all mobile app stores. According to App Annie, mobiles games saw 25% more spend than in all other gaming combined during 2019. 

When you drill down further into the numbers, things get even more interesting. App Annie’s State of Mobile 2020 report reveals that 17% of games surpassed $5M USD in annual consumer spend during 2019 when compared to 2017. When viewed over the same period, the number of games exceeding $100M USD also saw an impressive 59% growth. 

Naturally, game developers and studios are keen to cash in during this time, but as we all know, those coveted top chart positions are incredibly difficult to achieve without a significant marketing machine driving forward aggressive paid user acquisition. The trouble for many smaller studios and indie developers is that they’re busy making good games, but the vast majority of these aren’t getting the opportunity to shine. In the pursuit of a small number of multi-million dollar revenue-generating games, some bigger publishers tend to overlook what are clearly very viable games –simply because they don’t meet their stringent benchmarks. As a result developers are missing out on those juicy marketing budgets that are guaranteed to help propel their game up the chart rankings. 

This can be a bitter pill to swallow when similar games appear to be charting well or worse, when your game is actually ranking higher! It’s fair to say that all successful games have the same basic foundations. The quality of the game has to be high, it must have strong, bright and appealing graphics, a good combination of primary and secondary mechanics and it has to have engaging game-play. Ultimately, all the ad budgets in the world can’t protect a substandard game from high churn rates, poor retention and low LTVs, so this really is the litmus test when it comes to preparing any  game for future success. 

Ultimately, If your game has good metrics – and early testing shows that it is likely to be profitable – it makes sense to pursue a route to market that will allow you to recover these profits and know that your time, effort and hard work has not gone to waste. 

It’s also important to set benchmarks for what you would consider to be a mark of success for your game, as it is likely that this will vary greatly depending on the size of your team, the number of games you’re working on, plus an array of other internal and external factors. It’s worth bearing in mind data from GameAnalytics, which revealed that the top 25% of mobile games only see an average retention rate of 4% 28 days after download. Other figures suggest that the average retention for day 1 is around 25%, falling to 11% by day 7. 

A Coda, we live and breathe gaming and as a result, we can provide developers with the right structure, toolset and industry expertise to help make your game as profitable as possible.  Achieving top charting games will always remain our goal; all of our work is channelled into helping developers and studios to create the best possible mobile games. The reality is that there’s plenty of money to be made if you get the fundamentals right and focus on getting your game in good shape. 

Competition is incredibly intense. As a small studio or indie developer, your game might not make it to the top of the charts, but with a mobile gaming economy worth $68.5 billion, the pie isn’t getting any smaller. If there’s a chance for your game to make you money, it’s worth chasing after your own slice. 

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What is trending on the app stores right now?

The demand for mobile gaming shows no sign of slowing and, with a constant flow of new games hitting the app stores, the speed at which you bring your game to market could be the difference between being the market leader or just one of many. Developers and studios are busy creating, testing and launching games at pace which is why it is essential that your next game release ticks all the boxes and gets you the critical DAU, ARPU, and CPI figures needed for a successful and viable game. 

So, what is trending right now on the app stores and how is this influencing future game development? Thankfully, our market intelligence platform reveals exactly what’s been topping the iOS charts over the past 30 days, in terms of estimated installs. 

ASMR

At the time of writing, ASMR Slicing was topping the charts with over 127,000 downloads. ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) is a growing trend  in both the iOS app store and Google Play store. This is further reinforced by statistics from App Annie which revealed that ASMR games Soap Cutting and Woodturning hit the top 5 on the global most downloaded chart in February on iOS and Google Play combined. Our own market intelligence analytics also show that the Satisfying game mechanic is a close second place to Puzzle, with just over 919,000 downloads. 

Puzzle

Our platform charts show agent Wobble Man is in second place with over 101,000 downloads. It’s primarily a puzzle game, with secondary mechanics including avoiding light, collecting currency, escaping and running. When we analyse the figures for the same period by mechanic, you can see that puzzle games remain consistently high in terms of downloads, with over 947,000. This is no surprise given the continued lockdowns being experienced across the globe and the increased desire for people to seek out challenging games to help pass the time. In fact, it was reported that Apple’s App Store in China saw a 62% jump in mobile game downloads alone in the midst of their lockdown period in February.

Combination games

The game mechanics of Hyper-Casual games tend to be very simplistic with users enjoying  a perfect blend of repetition and the right level of difficulty to keep them engaged and active.. That said, we are seeing significant growth in combination style games, where a series of proven game mechanics from formerly trending games  are integrated into newer –and currently  trending – games. A good example of this is Super Salon which is performing well on our chart. In this game players are tasked with running their own beauty salon and must complete a series of beauty treatments in order to keep their customers satisfied. The tasks involve tapping or swiping to complete the treatments, delivering a simple but addictive blend of tried and tested mechanics. Keep enough customers happy and the user will earn enough to be able to personalise their salon, further incentivising the user to remain engaged in game-play.

Simulating reality

Games which simulate reality have been trending well for some time and mimic real life activities and tasks, such as cooking, gardening and DIY.  Our chart shows that Bake it is sitting comfortably in fifth place for installs, with almost 81,000 downloads. At Coda, we’ve also been busy working on our latest game called Pot Master 3D in which players can create realistic looking pottery. We’ve also listed this as a Relaxation game and at the time of writing, it has already hit Top 5 Games in the U.S, sitting at #2 in the Family genre.

Naturally all of the figures referenced in this article involve live games and these trends will consistently change over time. The great thing about our market intelligence dashboard is that you can view a wide range of current data, including pre-launch games, new releases, top charts and trending mechanics. This insight, combined with the expert knowledge and guidance of our dedicated team ensures that you have all of the elements needed to ensure your game stands the best chance of success. 

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Why do so many gamers get market testing wrong?

You only have to take a look at the store charts to see the sheer volume of new games hitting the market at the moment. With so many people on lockdown across the world due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s worth noting the recent stats released by SuperData which reveal that spending on mobile games rose 15 percent during March to reach a whopping US$5.7 billion. With such a captive audience now is certainly a prime time to start live testing your game, but steep competition means that you really need to be analysing the right data in order to ensure you aren’t missing a trick and that your game is as successful as it can possibly be. 

If you’re ready to start testing your game, we’ve put together some of the most common pitfalls made when game developers and studios embark on market testing.

Comparing apples with pears

One of the biggest mistakes developers make is not having clear benchmarks against which to assess the success or failure of their game. Figuratively speaking, apples have to be compared with apples. Having a clear understanding of the key metrics and success criteria you should be analysing is critical so that the right conclusions can be made when it comes to making those all important tweaks and improvements to your game during the critical testing phase.

Acting on false indicators

Low CPIs are widely considered to be a valuable indicator when it comes to the long term viability and monetisation of a game, but it is important to understand the other factors that could be influencing this figure in order to really understand the bigger picture. Indeed, the current coronavirus pandemic has led to a noticeable decline in CPIs and CPMs. However, it is important to look beyond just CPI and delve deeper into the metrics that have led to that figure. Arguably factors like CTR, CVR and even IPM could prove to be more robust indicators. 

Forgetting that metrics aren’t static

Metrics are constantly changing and so the benchmarks for testing and measuring success for your previous game, or those used by your nearest competitor, are unlikely to be the same when you are ready to enter the testing phase of your new game. Smaller developers in particular often don’t have the in-house teams or resources to be able to analyse and test results against thousands of games, but that’s ultimately what is needed to be able to accurately assess the game’s performance and long term viability. That’s the great thing about working with Coda, our Market Intelligence platform provides insight into the latest  trends while our expert team shares detailed analysis and benchmarks directly with the developers and studios we work with. It’s a winning combination. 

Getting distracted by detail

As a game developer, your skills, attention and resources should be dedicated to creating successful games, but the complexities of testing mean that you can quickly find yourself drowning in the detail which ultimately takes your eye off the ball. By submitting a game to the Coda platform, we can run extensive market testing, edit your artwork or videos for optimum setup and then analyse the results in the context of thousands of games.  All the latest launches from major hyper-casual publishers and studios are tracked and analysed daily, leaving you to focus on what you do best, making great games. 

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App Store optimisation, how to make it work for you

You’ve worked hard to develop an exciting new mobile game which ticks all the boxes and has the potential to be a sure-fire hit. You’re now ready to launch your game to the masses, but the only thing standing in your way is mastering the holy grail that is app store optimisation.

For the vast majority of smaller developers, advertising their new game is unlikely to be a viable route to market. Figures suggest that the average CPI within developed countries is typically around $1, and given that it takes an average of 80,000 downloads to reach the US top 10 list on the App Store, developers would need some serious funding to opt for this route. That’s why ensuring that your game’s ASO is on point is so critical to success when you’re a smaller developer or studio. 

Whatever your studio size or experience, the aim of ASO for all game developers is to gain high visibility in the app stores by getting your app to rank higher than similar games in the search results. Given that the majority of this process is automated, you’re essentially relying on your listing resonating with whatever algorithms are currently in place to filter and rank games on the store. The trouble is that the benchmarks for ASO are constantly changing, so what might have worked for a similar game in the past are likely to no longer apply. Due to the continued fluidity in this area, the only way to make sure your game listing is performing optimally is to test, test and test again, both internally and live on the stores.

That’s easier said than done though. It can be really hard getting the right balance, if you live test too many of the wrong elements then you could negatively impact downloads. On the other hand, it is only by tweaking various aspects of the listing and analysing the results that you’ll work out the winning combination.

The sheer number of data points can be overwhelming even for the most experienced of developers. If you’ve currently reached the stage where you need to evaluate your app store listing, here is a quick checklist of factors to consider.

Icon

Having the right icon can make all the difference to whether users decide to download the app or carry on scrolling. The image should help demonstrate the core appeal of the game, so this may not be the logo itself. It’s also advisable to avoid small text or words within the icon design as this will be indistinguishable when users are browsing the store. If you are pondering over a couple of icon options, proceed to A/B testing and analyse which creates the most downloads.  It’s worth playing around to get this right, as some reports suggest a great icon can increase downloads by over 500%.

Name

The title of your game is a critical factor and it needs to be able to immediately explain what kind of game it is. Players tend to seek out particular types of games, or certain game mechanics, so it makes sense to include category or action words in the title. A great example would be our recently released ‘Words Tour: Pop Word Stacks’. It’s also worth remembering that although you can have up to 255 characters on the App store, longer isn’t always better. Sticking to the core aspects of your game is key when creating the most impactful title. 

Description

Getting the right description in place is essential to boosting visibility, but not necessarily for the reasons you think. The App store for example doesn’t factor in your description into its ranking algorithms, however it is essential for targeting those more inquisitive players who really take the time out to review the details before proceeding with a download. Whilst they may seem the more cautious player, data actually shows they are likely to have a far higher LTV. 

In contrast to the iOS App store, Google Play does take notice of the description, but you can also be penalised if your listing is too spammy, usually by overloading with keywords. Given the importance of the description in both stores, albeit for different reasons, make sure that it clearly summarises the game while including a good balance of keywords. 

Imagery

Screenshots of the game are absolutely essential and should immediately showcase the key elements and mechanics of the game. It is advisable to use your strongest images first, as most people don’t scroll through more than the first four images on a listing. Videos are an effective way to enhance this even further and can really improve download rates, however they are expensive to produce and carry a much bigger risk of turning potential users away if they don’t hit the right mark. Some figures suggest that videos can either increase or decrease app store downloads by 25%. Therefore, the vast majority of smaller developers and studios will steer away from videos and stick to some really strong hero images instead. 

Updates

Just because you’ve got everything working optimally doesn’t mean it will stay that way forever. Statistics show that conversions from a store listing tend to decline over time. It is therefore important to regularly refresh your listing with details of any major updates.

At Coda, we are committed to helping our partners to navigate the ever-changing landscape of App Store Optimisation. We understand the complexity of this process and the frustration felt by developers and studios who know instinctively that they are onto a winning new game, but don’t have the expertise or experience when it comes to effective ASO. Our sophisticated Market Intelligence platform helps to showcase best practice and our expert teams are continually evaluating, analysing and testing to make sure our partners are equipped with the best framework to launch their new game to the masses. 

Ultimately however, the overriding success factor will always be the quality of the game. If you get that right, the rest will naturally follow.

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Best Practice – How to spot gaming trends

The mobile gaming market continues to expand at great pace, fuelled in part by the prominence of smartphone usage across the world; almost every developed country surveyed by Deloitte had at least 80% smartphone penetration. Over 2.4 billion people played mobile games in 2019 and with that has come some pretty useful data on which kinds of games are proving to be the most successful. 

Increasing competition means that it’s really hard to create a successful mobile game that ticks all the boxes with players, so making sure that your game is on trend can significantly boost its chances of hitting the mark. Trends often come about from studios simply trying out new things and capitalising on those which respond well to the market. Games that can be associated with a current trend are likely to have low CPIs, favourable ARPUs and make the chances of acquiring millions of users much more likely. 

Spotting gaming trends

Satisfying games which mimic reality is a trend which has been around for a while. Some good examples of games within this trend include Woodturning 3D, Cut and Paint, Chores! Spring into Cleaning and Perfect Cream. These games take full advantage of the responsive haptic feedback enjoyed by modern phones, great graphics and realistic sounds to really boost that ‘satisfying’ feeling.

By delving into the 30 day trending mechanics as displayed in our market intelligence platform, we can see that the ‘puzzle’ mechanic remains ahead, with a growth of 5% over the last month. Unsurprisingly, people are now playing more puzzle games which generally take more time to play, have longer retention cycles and usually require more concentration. We’ve seen this trend in our own Puzzle game Balls Master, which is showing a really strong D7 retention of 30% and IAPs making up an impressive 33% of the game’s revenue.

Going against the grain

Trends are obviously important, but is there ever a time when it might work in your favour to actually go against the grain and offer something completely different? 

Sure, sometimes.

Following trends certainly has its benefits, but that doesn’t mean this is the only way to achieve success. Some of the most stand out, successful games have taken their own path or bent the overarching industry trend in a direction that worked best for them. Two examples of this are Tomb of the Mask which was a smash hit but has the most basic, 80’s style, Pac-Man-esque aesthetic to it and Archero, which blended arcade game play and hyper casual elements to create one of the biggest hits of 2019.

Ultimately, quality of the product is the most crucial aspect of the game, but trends will always help to attract more users. 

Looking to the future

Looking ahead, our predictions are that bitesize puzzle games will still hold their ground whilst crafting games with good retention metrics will continue to grow. Expect to see a boost in IAPs over the next 6 months or so as people with expendable income are less busy than usual and spend more time on puzzle games. Perhaps the super trend of the next two quarters could be the games that capitalise on the ‘mimicking reality’ and puzzle trend by merging the two.

At Coda, understanding trends is at the very core of what we do. Our free market intelligence dashboard can help you identify trends and analyse competitor activity. Our SDK handles everything related to attribution, analytics, monetisation. Integrating SDK takes just 24 hours and can literally save you weeks of integration work which is essential for effective game commercialisation. While Coda is busy covering all of these bases, you can focus your efforts on what you do best, improving the quality and viability of your games.

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Coda’s First Foray into Word Games with Launch of Words Tour: Pop Word Stacks

With much of the world now in lockdown, it is no surprise that we’ve seen a 20% rise in the popularity of puzzle games as people seek out ways to keep their mind’s entertained whilst off work. 

At Coda, we’ve been busy working on one such exciting new puzzle game, Words Tour: Pop Word Stacks, which is our first venture in the world of word games.

This brand new, addictive word-based brain training game is available in multiple languages and requires players to swipe to reveal hidden words and to crash the word stacks down in order to complete the level. The first stages are easy to negotiate, but the game gets more challenging as the player progresses through the levels, of which there are over 2000 to master.

Unlike many standard word puzzle games, this is word play with a twist. In addition to being hidden amongst other letters, words may appear backwards or may only be revealed once a stack has been crashed, allowing the correct letters to move into place. There are hints and tips along the way.There is also an option to share progress with friends via Instagram, a great option for when players are struggling to find a word and need to call in some assistance. 

When players get well and truly stuck, they can use the Spyglass, Light Bulb or shuffle to keep the game moving and can earn rewards when they find extra words. To add a bit of visual diversity as they progress through the game different background themes can be unlocked as they play. 

Despite being our first word game release, we are already seeing D1 retention of 40% and with 40% of revenue generated from IAPs, we’re excited to see how Words Tour: Pop Word Stacks will perform in the coming weeks. 

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Boosting Engagement: How to Delight Players

In an increasingly chaotic and fast paced world, casual and hyper-casual gaming provides a much needed escape for many players. Whether that is winding down from a busy day at the office, relaxing in the evening or simply passing the time in a queue, reports reveal that since January, hyper-casual games have seen an average of 17,6 million daily installs. This is equivalent to around 12.5% of total game installs. 

The current ‘lockdown’ situations taking place across the globe as a result of the novel Coronavirus are encouraging more people to download and play mobile games to help pass the time or distract their wandering minds from the stress and uncertainty of current events.  In fact, news reports suggest that mobile game downloads shot up by some 39% in February as a direct result of the Coronavirus lockdown and self-isolation. 

The ability to escape and simply switch off is all part of the attraction when it comes to hyper-casual gaming, and naturally, predictability plays a huge part in this process. That said, successful games must still be able to surprise and delight in order to keep users engaged, and for longer, otherwise they’ll simply get bored. Some have suggested following the 90/10 ratio when it comes to adding that all important twist to game design, whereby 90% of the gameplay is predictable and 10% offers something just a little bit different. Game developers are naturally keen to understand exactly what kind of twists are most welcomed by players and thanks to Coda’s free market intelligence dashboard, it has never been easier to analyse in detail these particular trends.

If you are considering how to add the crucial elements of surprise and delight to your game design, here are a few options to explore:

Add bonus level unlocks

Even with the most basic or repetitive of games, adding a little variety ensures that players don’t cross over into boredom. Bonus level unlocks are one of the easiest ways to retain engagement, giving players both an incentive to keep progressing through the game whilst also providing a brief change of scenery, both of which help to keep interest at its peak. 

Encourage players to strive for perfection

Encouraging players to feel emotions such as joy, anticipation or excitement could be the difference between them switching off and engaging in a game for hours. This can be achieved by ensuring that the highest marks or bonuses are only gained by playing in a certain sequence, time frame or order. The need to repeat the same activities over and over in an attempt to achieve a top score, or to receive a particular bonus  is a sure fire method to keep players engaged as they try to better their score with each turn. 

Switch up the game mechanics

Tap and Timing’ continues to be one of the most popular mechanics in hyper-casual games, but there are a number of elements that can be added to inject some diversity into the game including: stacking, turning, rising or falling, swerving and merging. Adding dexterity challenges is also a great way to focus attention, as what can be a relatively simple manoeuvre when performed slowly can become more tricky to achieve when players have to do it quickly or within a limited timeframe. Simplicity however, remains the name of the game, so it really is about finding that perfect sweet spot. 

Change the music or environment

A simple change to aesthetics or music tempo can help to give the impression of progression throughout the game, even if the mechanics remain unchanged, Perhaps achieving a certain score leads to a background colour change, or reaching a new level is met with different music. Such changes are subtle but allow the player to continue enjoying the game whilst gaining that much needed variety which is essential for keeping players in the game for longer. 

Even when following these best practice tips, it can still be difficult to get it just right. It is extremely rare that developers will hit the high retention metrics (ideally 40% + D1 retention) on their first attempt and there are a number of reasons why a game still fails. The most common is simply being too greedy and designing a game which forces the player to watch ads or buy coins in order to succeed. Other factors include poor development quality, repetitive or boring level progress, poor marketability and slow speed to market. Remember that competition is high and it is highly likely that someone else is working on a similar concept at the same time, so getting to market quickly is vital. 

Thankfully, Coda is on hand to help address all of these factors. Our dedicated team of data scientists and product managers can help studios to understand their game metrics more granularly and provide detailed suggestions for how to improve their game’s performance. In addition to providing a set of analyses to our partner studios which cover level metrics, churn, fail and completion rates for each level, our A/B test structure and expertise encourages partners to test and iterate more, thereby succeeding much faster.

In summary, getting the perfect mix of elements to catapult your game to dizzying heights is no mean feat and whilst there is no blueprint for guaranteed success, understanding the various internal and external factors which could influence a game’s performance is essential to making sure you put your best foot forward. 

Why in-game personalisation will take mobile gaming to new levels

Mobile gaming continues to be big business for both large and smaller game developers, with reports suggesting that the industry could be worth $76.7B in IAP and upwards of $65bn in ads by the end of 2020. Mobile apps and games are growing at 20% a year in revenue according to App Annie, with further predictions that users will collectively spend around 674 billion hours on mobile devices this year. As competition for screen time increases, developers are increasingly looking to in-game personalisation as a method for boosting retention.

The link between in-game personalisation, high retention and ARPU 

There is often a very fine line between interest and boredom, so keeping users engaged for longer is a key marker in determining the success or failure of any mobile game. Each game appeals to certain segments of players, some of which can be rather niche. Personalisation is a way of increasing the appeal of a game to a broader audience by tailoring core in-game elements to their preferences. 

Personalisation for core, mid-core and casual games

Personalisation in game play can take on a number of forms. More complicated core and mid-core games for example could have their personalisation focus on character aesthetics, such as hair colour or clothing. These types of games could also look into developing the gameplay so that users can take the story in different directions depending entirely on what they want to get out of the game. This is most often delivered via multi-pathway options where users can select from a series of predetermined routes, which in turn will create a unique progression throughout the game. 

On the more casual side of the gaming market, where titles can enjoy millions of players engaging with, and providing usage data to the game, we’re starting to see exciting applications of machine learning techniques to better engage users at an individual level but at scale. Games can automatically ‘learn’ the user’s preferences, behaviour and gaming style and adapt the game accordingly. This could include varying the difficulty of levels depending on the user’s ability or serving monetisation opportunities that users respond well to, both improving retention rates and increasing ARPU. We are already seeing machine learning playing a significant part in game development, much in the same way as Spotify, Netflix and Amazon seek to learn behaviour patterns and use the data to deliver a better experience to their users.

Personalisation is profitability

Quite simply put, a well thought out personalisation strategy can be the difference between your game being profitable or not. By tailoring the user experience to keep players immersed in the game for longer and serving them the right ads, you can increase the delta between your ARPU and your CPI. When a game requires a user to invest time, creativity, imagination and energy into creating a character, progressing through a series of levels, or following through a storyline, the users are much more connected with the journey and are more likely to continue deeper into the game. 

Personalisation is also typically needed to help attract the top spenders,  our much lauded ‘whales’. These users typically generate up to 50% of the title’s revenue despite only making up around 1%-2% of total players. They can be connected for up to 16 hours a day and can spend up to $1,000 a day making in-app purchases. 

Getting started

The first step in moving towards a more personalised gaming experience is understanding the outcomes and experiences that your target audience is likely to be looking for in a game. In the study ‘Towards a Trait Model of Video Game Preferences’, a team of multidisciplinary researchers at the University of Waterloo Games Institute identified three basic game player traits that can be utilised to make games more personalised and help keep gamers engaged and motivated. These top line traits included the level of preference for action, the aesthetic look and feel of the game, and degree of goal orientation. In addition, a range of player archetypes were identified, which included seeker, survivor, daredevil, mastermind, conqueror, socializer, and achiever. These profiles, alongside other factors such as age, gender and location all help to shape the development of the game so that it focuses on what the user most wants to experience whilst immersed in the game. 

Gaining access to the critical user data needed to help guide personalisation strategies is now easier than ever thanks to solutions such as Coda’s SDK where collected data from in-game events is sent to the Coda Platform, with always-on machine learning helping to find the best parameters for future A/B testing.  For example, Coda’s algorithms will analyse data from in-game events to suggest the best timing for interstitial ads, but ultimately is focused on improving the user experience, boosting engagement and enhancing monetisation in the long run.

Taking mobile gaming to new heights

What is clear is that data-driven personalisation is already transforming the gaming world so that it is no longer simply about a single gaming experience, but many different ones which are all shaped to meet the specific needs and interests of individual players.  Embracing and building upon the in-game personalisation opportunities that large swathes of data and machine learning create is key to game survival, given that by 2021, mobile gaming is predicted to make up around 60% of the global gaming market. Game developers who can embed personalisation into the very DNA of their mobile games will be the ones who are best positioned for future success.