Is there a formula for getting in the top charts?

by Johannes Heinze on Nov 10, 2016

Earlier this month I moderated a panel at Casual Connect in Tel Aviv called “Is there a formula for success? Deconstructing games in the top charts and their techniques.” It was great to get the perspectives on leaders in the mobile gaming industry who have had a front-row seat as particular games took off, including Maxim Petrov from Zeptolab (publisher of Cut the Rope and King of Thieves), Julian Schroll of marketing intelligence platform Singular; Eric Seufert, a consultant who formerly worked at Rovio and Wooga and currently operates Mobile Dev Memo, and Daniel Kahtan of AppsFlyer. Here are a few key takeaways:

No matter what, sustainable success relies on data. Mobile games don’t rocket to the top of the charts without extremely sound data underpinning them. Data is crucial to forecasting profitability, and publishers should be sophisticated about A/B testing and calculating LTV in a way that takes into account multiple inputs using data — at a granular level and in sophisticated ways. As Daniel said, “You have to leverage the data to have as many insights as possible when turning on the tap and spending money on user acquisition.”

IP can dramatically reduce CPI across all channels. Eric argued that often now success in the charts is rooted in the combination of two things: sophisticated data usage (as indicated above) plus brand recognition via IP. Rovio, for example, has ongoing success because it has fantastic IP; it can leverage its success with Angry Birds across its entire franchise. “We could reduce CPIs by recognition of the IP,” he said, adding that that licensing IP has gone a long way toward low CPIs for the Dancing with the Stars game he’s worked on recently. In essence immediately recognizable IP reduces what he called “the cacophony of demands on people’s attention.” Zeptolab had terrific success utilizing the Cut the Rope IP and by cross-promoting among properties. It’s also possible to simply reskin an existing game with IP (e.g. the Kim Kardashian game, published by Glu, was a reskin of another Glu game.)

A hyper-sophisticated UA infrastructure can support a team that can arbitrage. Another ongoing theme in the panel: the success of publishers that have UA teams that are divided into three roles: data reporting, analysis, and campaign management. In this dynamic, the campaign managers are essentially arbitrage traders. As Eric wrote recently, it can be a real challenge to find people with the right skills and experience for UA positions, and dividing them into these three buckets works well. Max agreed: “Hire buying managers who operate and run the campaigns, dedicated analysts for each UA manager, and then a team of data scientists who can can predict the long term quality of the users in the shortest amount of time.”

Monetize in a well thought-out fashion that combines IAPs and rewarded video. One of the great things about being in this field is watching how the ad monetization economy has evolved; the winners in the charts are the games that have a figured out a balance between IAPs and video (particularly rewarded video). There’s a reason why banner ads have gone the way of the dodo: players don’t like them because they’re not relevant to them. Test and test until you find the right, smart mix between IAPs and ads. Also, as Eric pointed out, the complexity of your game’s economy affects how you market it. The more complex the economy is, the harder it is to capture the game in an ad in a way that successfully engages new users.

Obviously there are no hard and fast rules that collectively ensure that a game lands in the top of the charts. But sophisticated usage of data, leveraging recognizable IP, an advanced UA infrastructure staffed with people with the right skills and experience, and planning a monetization strategy that balances IAPs and rewarded video are all great places to start.

Johannes Heinze is managing director, EMEA at AppLovin.