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Casual Connect 2014: 6 mistakes game developers make when launching a game globally (and how to fix them)

This from a session at Casual Connect Asia 2014, presented by Stephen Lee from Hong Kong-based publisher 6waves.

Some background about 6waves.

  • They started 2008
  • They are the number 1 for 3rd party game publishing on Facebook
  • Since 2008, they have launched 200 games
  • They publish games on 5 platforms, like Amazon, Android

Challenges facing game developers
Here are some of the key challenges new developers face:

  • Massive competition – there are now 1 million apps in Apple’s App store, 1 million apps in Google Play. Getting noticed is difficult.
  • Rising user acquisition costs. With more publishers launching their games for a finite gamer pool, acquisition costs per user increases, according to the law of supply and demand.
  • Shorter game life cycles, greater app/user churn. Mainly a factor due to the increased competition. Since user value = ARPU x lifetime, this will drop as the user/customer lifetime drops.
  • Limited discovery channels: Apart from the app stores,  word of mouth, top charts – app discovery continues to be a challenge for new developers, especially if they haven’t built a following yet.

Here are 5 keys to increasing your chances of success.

Key 1: Clearly define your goals
Most of developers don’t have a clear enough focus. If you’re not clear what you want, neither will the gamers and consequently your chances are success are much lower.

Here are some questions you and your team should be able to answer:

  • What’s your vision for the game? What’s the theme, gameplay like?
  • What are you bringing to the market? How much is it the same as what is already out there? What’s your game’s innovation elements?
  • What’s your expected impact to the market?

You should play to your development strengths

Once you have fleshed out the basics of the game’s direction, you should refine the vision:
Who are you targeting?
Is it a mass audience? Niche audience? Or somewhere in between?

Be sure to define your success

Set formal targets like

  • Specific KPI
  • Work out your projected chart position, category position

Also work out and be willing to adapt to a realistic timeframe for success
Investment (both time and money) are required
Be sure to factor in continuous tweaking and balancing to optimize product to make it the best you can bring to the market

Here a reality check:
Most games don’t immediately take off.
If your game publishing platform allows you to collect user feedback, use that data to continually refine your game.

If you’re following these steps, it lessens your chances of getting lost in the marketplace.
Most games launched are likely to fail and game marketplaces are filled with these “zombie games/app” (ie: not the undead, but almost behaving like it).

In summary, launch the best possible game you are capable of, making sure to think clearly about your focus.

Key 1 takeaways-
1) Your goals inform your launch strategy and tactics
2) Be sure to follow the markets and competition closely
3) Innovation and the first mover advantage are key differentiators.


Key 2: Launching your game is only the beginning

If you want to maximize the chances of a successful game launch, consider the life cycle of a game.

Doing stuff after the launch is important for your success.

Consider the importance of live ops – creating and adding new content, events, promotions to your game to keep users engaged and occupied.

Some examples of live ops:
1) Clash of Clans added a clan vs clan (ie: guild war) feature
2) Developer SuperCell did a crossover with GungHo and featured Dragonball manga/anime characters together with GungHo game characters.

Here’s an example of live ops done well: GungHo’s Puzzle and Dragons is 2 years old, yet it is showing record sales and profit, due largely to its live ops.

The topic is important for live operations to be featured in investor calls for listed developers.

The principle in live ops is pretty simple.
Invest in your players and they’ll do the same to support your efforts. Look at opportunities for crossovers and events to keep players happy and engaged


Key 3: Take more shots

The riskiest thing you can do is launch your game on a single platform, in a single language, for a single market.

Spread out your risk. Think cross platform, leverage on technologies like Unity 3D and get as many platforms as possible.

Some of the platforms you might want to consider include: iOS, Android, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, as well as specialist/proprietary platforms like Tencent, Line,.

Games which have implemented the multiscreen strategy well, enabling seamless play between platforms like Facebook, and letting players also have a similar experience on mobile, include Game of Thrones Ascent, King’s Bounty, Farmville 2.

Once players are invested, they will play wherever they can.

Going cross platform is something you should do if you have the capability.


Key 4: Think globally

Somewhat related to the previous point,
Most games launched only in English

If the English language game doesn’t get traction, the other language versions will usually never launch.

This could be a mistake.

The breakdown of mobile gaming revenue is as follows: 50% from Asia, 50% from the rest of the world.

The top grossing countries include:
1) US
2) Japan
3) UK
4) Australia
5) Germany
6) Canada
7) France
8) Italy

Creating German, French, Italian, Spanish versions of your app, could give it a second chance, even if it doesn’t make a big splash in the English market.

The top iOS games in Japan as by Japanese developers. You’ll need to localize your game if you want to appeal to Japanese gamers.

The game Wonderland Epic, based on Alice in Wonderland, underwent an extensive makeover in game art from Western to Anime/Asian art when it was marketed in Japan.

Factors like language, graphics, UI (button colour, button placement) make a big difference in how your game performs.
For example, red is an auspicious colour in Chinese culture and is used for “Ok” or confirmation buttons.
But in the West, red is typically used for stop signs.

Another example of successful localization: Boom Beach, following translation to other languages, saw revenue increase 17x, and profit increase 4x.

There can be significant revenue in other languages.
Culturiation goes a long way.

Key 5: Team up when necessary

Most developers may prefer to self publish (and keep the bulk of revenue and profit) vs working with publishers

The biggest benefit of distributing your game via a publisher include the following:
1) User acquisition from an existing playerbase
2) Ability to distirbute globally
3) Saving on your need to allocate resources for marketing, freeing up time

Allows developers to focus fully on development, instead of marketing and distribution.


Here’s a summary of the 5 keys:
1) Clarify your vision: stay focused
2) Plan for post launch – especially live ops engagement
3) Think cross platform – increase your chances of success
4) Think globally – expand your reach to more countries, more markets, more languages
5) Leverage strong partners where appropriate

21 comments on Casual Connect 2014: 6 mistakes game developers make when launching a game globally (and how to fix them)

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