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Casual Connect 2017: Making games that last and finding success with a small team

by Lewis Leong on Aug 17, 2017

This year’s Casual Connect conference brought together the brightest minds in mobile gaming to share advice and best practices. Studios big and small converged to give their unique perspectives about the current state of mobile games. Today, we’ll be learning from a company with 16 years of experience.

Chris Akhavan, CRO of Glu, a veteran of the mobile games industry, had a fireside chat with Dean Takahashi of VentureBeat about the company’s successes and lessons learned.

Making games last

One of the most interesting things that Akhavan revealed was that over time, Glu learned to create games that last for years, rather than creating a bunch of titles, only for them to be abandoned shortly after. “We used to launch 17 to 20 games per year, but we’re now focused on a core suite of titles that will be played for years,” said Akhavan.

Glu isn’t the only one moving toward creating lasting games—there has been an industry shift toward creating mobile games with high user retention. By focusing on user retention, companies have a better chance of converting long-time players into paying customers. One way to retain users is to make sure players actually have a deep emotional connection with the characters in your game.

However, that’s not to say that other mobile gaming genres like hyper-casual can’t be successful. With hyper-casual, the gameplay is super simple, making games approachable to all and retain users via addictive gameplay, short sessions, and new content.  

“Don’t just greenlight [a game] from a PowerPoint,” cautions Akhavan. “You need to make sure [your game] is actually on track throughout concepting, prototyping, and beta testing.” Sometimes a game that looks good on paper may not play well and probably shouldn’t have been greenlit in the first place.

Success is possible with small teams

Although Glu is a huge development studio, it only has 10 people doing user acquisition (UA) for 8 titles. This means smaller development studios shouldn’t be deterred by seemingly monumental costs when it comes to UA.

One area where Glu found success was in optimizing its UA campaigns by developing an internal tool called GUTS (Glu User Tracking System). GUTS allows Glu to automate smaller tasks so that its UA managers to focus on high-level strategy. Doing UA with a small team is possible, as long as you employ your staff and resources efficiently.

While it may be tempting to use influencer marketing for your UA strategy, it doesn’t always work, according to Akhavan. “Influencer networks don’t work,” he said. Instead of looking for an influencer network, developers should find small groups of influencers to promote their games since they will have actual knowledge about how the game works.

Data and testing drives success

Whether you’re a small indie studio or a veteran of the industry, efficiently using your resources is key to success. You don’t need a huge team doing UA, as long as you’re smart about hiring the right people and streamlining processes. But perhaps the biggest takeaway is to always be willing to test and adjust to changing markets. Because the mobile gaming industry has moved toward creating mid-core and core games that last for years instead of churning out titles, it’s more important than ever to focus on user retention and converting loyal players into paying customers.

For more Casual Connect 2017 coverage, make sure to read our panel recap about when and how to do global user acquisition and EA’s panel about the continuing growth of mobile. Check back soon for more panel recaps and analysis.

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Lewis Leong is AppLovin's Content Marketing Manager.

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