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GDC Panel Recap: “How Game Developers Can Make Money on Apple TV”

by Mark Rosner on Mar 22, 2016

Last week at GDC I had the pleasure of moderating a panel, “How Game Developers Can Make Money on Apple TV,” that covered a broad range of topics relevant to tvOS developers. The panelists included Chris Akhavan, President of Publishing at Glu Mobile; Jeff Earle, CEO of MobilityWare; and Michael Ritter, SVP of Business Development at SGN.

Here are a few key takeaways from our conversation:

You have to be thoughtful about what, in terms of gameplay, actually works on this new platform and design accordingly. Not every game is going to work on Apple TV, and certainly not every existing iOS game is worth porting. When building for Apple TV, developers need to be conscious of the limitations of the controller, and of how different the experience is for one person or several people playing a game on TV rather than on a smaller mobile device. Jeff noted that single-player games like Solitaire work well because it’s just a matter of pointing and clicking, and that for MobilityWare, Solitaire has been quite successful. For groups, word games like Scrabble or trivia games work well on Apple TV, but, as Chris pointed out, two-thumb oriented shooters aren’t a natural fit. “You need to adapt your games to an experience that makes sense for someone sitting on a couch with a remote,” he said.

Developers should also consider multi-player options that rely on two or more devices — an Apple TV and iOS devices — as is the case with Crossy Road. We all agreed that at least for now, casual gaming is the way to go on Apple TV. As Michael put it, “It’s pretty obvious that Apple isn’t trying to compete with consoles. They could have built a two-button control scheme, and they didn’t.”

There are distinct advantages to being first-to-market. At AppLovin, we’ve been quite bullish about Apple TV, and we always remind developers we work with that if you get in early, when there is less competition, it’s much easier to attain and maintain a top ranking in the App Store. Others on the panel agreed that there’s a lot to be said for being carefully aggressive when taking on this new platform. As Jeff said, “If you’re not there, then you don’t have a shot at all, but someone else will. We try to maintain the first-to-market advantage.”

Certain monetization strategies are already emerging as “winners” on Apple TV. At AppLovin, we’ve already seen that non-skip, rewarded video works incredibly well on Apple TV, and Michael confirmed that this is indeed the case on SGN’s end. “We’ve had so much success with rewarded video,” he said. “It’s a really great experience when players as long as they want and then choose to watch an ad.” Jeff added that all of MobilityWare’s ads are video, and that its CPMs on Apple TV are much higher by far than they are on any other device.

Panelists also talked about how when it comes to integrating purchases, developers should avoid the microtransaction model. Purchases should more closely resemble those in a premium TV experience rather than those in an in-game economy. Developers should ensure that purchasing is very easy, with very little or no scrolling to arrive at the “purchase” button, and aim for larger purchases with lower frequency.

Developers and marketers should consider how to build community around Apple TV. We also talked a fair amount about promotional tactics, outside of paid promotion, that game developers should use to gain traction for their Apple TV products. MobilityWare, for example, is trying to raise awareness in terms of community. “The goal is to build community around Apple TV users,” Jeff said, adding that thus far much of the push, at least from Apple, has been on content rather than gaming on Apple TV. “You still have to educate users about the fact that you can download games onto the TV,” he said. “Social influencers will be important in spreading the word about how you can game on the new Apple TV.”

Obviously it’s early days, but there’s no doubt that Apple TV is a compelling platform. I myself use my Apple TV every day, and I’m convinced that we’ll only see the platform grow over the coming months and years. That said, developers should be aggressive about moving the ball forward in this particular vertical, both in terms of raising awareness among potential gamers and building games that are designed specifically for the platform. I have no doubt that by both seeding networks of users and by building terrific games that make the most of the platform’s advantages, developers who build for Apple TV will see great revenues.

Mark Rosner is AppLovin’s Chief Revenue Officer.

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