Where the action and the money *really* is in mobile gaming apps

September 28, 2018

The mobile games space is a monstrous and massively competitive space. To make your mark you need to know who your rivals are—and that requires a deeper understanding of which games types are winning and what market-leading games and genres are doing to get ahead. Thanks to Nebojsha Mitrikeski, independent researcher and Game Director at Snowball Games, we have this and more. Our host Peggy Anne Salz deep dives with Neb into the data and discusses how Snowball Games is harnessing data to ensure a successful soft launch of its latest game, Yatzy Dice Clash. The core mechanic revolves around the popular Yatzy board game, but Live PvP duels and the addition of Lucky Charm Cards to boost gameplay and allow users to win more points allow Snowball Games to put Neb’s insights into action.Peggy: Hello, and welcome to Mobile Growth the podcast series, where frontline growth marketing experts share their insights and expertise so you can become a better mobile marketer. That's what it's all about and that's why I'm here. I'm your host, Peggy Anne Salz from MobileGroove where I help my clients grow their revenues and audience reach through content marketing. And on my watch, this series will introduce you to the people who know how to drive growth, either because they have an app or they advise account marketers, or they've been at one of our many events.

In this case, we have a bit of a combination of all of the above because our guest today is Nebojsha Mitrikeski. He is an independent researcher and games director at Snowball Games, but also a frequent speaker at our events. So Neb, great to have you.

Nebojsha: Yes, thanks for having me. Great to be here.

Peggy: So I introduced you primarily because I heard your amazing talk at Mobile Growth Summit in Berlin, but also because your an independent researcher, game director, how does that happen? I mean, usually, you're one or the other, but you have a passion for both. You've managed to do both. Where does that come from?

Nebojsha: Well, it comes from, primarily, it comes from necessity to do my job, do my work. And game director is basically a step up from game designer. You know, in order to design games, in order to design games that do good on the mobile games market, you have to know the market, hence, you research the market. Also, I'm a huge statistics and analytics nerd since forever, since before I was designing games, so you know, kind of those things clicked together and yeah, that's how I ended up there.

Peggy: It's a great combination to have in talent and a personality, because that's exactly what you need to make it in the game market. We're going to talk about your new game in just a moment, but I want to stay on the data because I'm a little bit like you, Neb. I'm a nerd, I'm a data nerd. It was fascinating to hear about your research, you walked through it, but most of all, because it's based on you actually playing. What did you play? You played 500 games personally?

Nebojsha: 550.

Peggy: There you go. So 550 games, you looked at all of the games to determine the real winning games types and categories. So tell me a little bit about that. I mean, it's a huge body of research. We won't go into all of it, but there are some top-line results that really, really fascinating. Let's hear a few of them.

Nebojsha: Yeah, well, the first thing that bothered me, it bothers me for years is how game genres and game categories are being used on the app stores. They're being used for marketing purposes, because it doesn't matter where you put your game. I mean, the app store won't stop you if you put your, I don't know, board game into racer category, which doesn't make sense. But if the market pulls on that category at the moment, it's a good thing to have and in general, for marketing purposes. But what you don't have is a view of what the genres and subgenres are.

So once I got the data mining of the top grossing game, I wanted to know, like what are the game mechanics and the game genres that are really doing good, because today, everywhere you search on the internet, you get just…you know, it's all the same. You get the top three performers are strategy, puzzle, and casino. And my research showed that while this is true, it's also misleading because you have large subgenres like match 3 or city builders that are doing really good but are also a very, very saturated and…especially if you are new or even in an intermediate company in the mobile games space, it's a wrong step to go there. You just can't enter that market.

Also, that's why I playtested, you know, to find out the real genres. I played just the top 300 games of all time versus the top 300 games that are newcomers, newer games that are less than 18 months old. So 50 of them overlapped, and that's how I ended up with 550 games. And what you see…

Peggy: So tell us about the categories, because what you were doing was you were sort of recategorizing the games according to what they really are because you played them. And you sort of came up with some…I want to say some new genres but new ways to categorize them and then understand, as you pointed out, which of the markets are saturated but which are the markets with opportunity. Were there surprising findings there for you?

Nebojsha: Yeah, yeah, there were. Because when you play the newcomers versus the old-timers, obviously both of them do good in the market, the newcomers reveal the future trendsetters, the games, genres that have spikes, the genres that are on the rise. So what I found out there has nothing to do with strategy, puzzle, or casino. The highest spikes were in RPG games, racing games, adventure, simulation games, and in general, narrative-heavy games. So this reveals another maturity side of the market, of the mobile market games. So because the market really grows, it has a big pull, and obviously, casual games still perform very good, but more and more, we see like titles and more maturity in the games.

This is great for the users, not so great for developers because these are types of games that require more production types. But its…users require what users require, so you just have to be aware of that point of the market.

Peggy: So what I'm hearing when I'm listening between the lines here is there are areas of opportunity that are strong narrative games and a few other categories you mentioned. I mean, are you then…is your message then to the market to say, "If you're going to come out with a new game, check out these categories because they are the blue oceans, they're the ones where it's not crowded yet, but there's a lot of opportunities." What is the advice you give based on the market trends you see?

Nebojsha: Yeah, well, the genres that I mentioned are definitely a good space to gain entry right now, because after that primary digging around the genres that I did, so after that, I kept digging further, I'm still digging further because you need to know what's the scope of this game, what kind of theme you have to have to do these games. And there are a lot of additional things and bits that need to fit together in order to, you know, pick the right game. Because the primary thing here is to pick up the right game for the market and make everyone's job down the line easier. And obviously, the game should be profitable in the end.

So definitely, those are the genres that are on the rise, the data tells me so. But also, you can also look at other genres that are totally unsaturated right now and you can also try it there. That's actually what happens with Snowball's new game. I mean, our new game that's currently in soft launch.

Peggy: That's exactly what I was going to get to. You read minds now. But first, we have to go to break, so listeners, don't go away because when we get back, we'll be talking about Snowball's game, their new game, and also their strategy that I think also reveal some best practice that you need to know, so come on back. We'll be here.

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Peggy: And we're back, we're back to Mobile Growth and my guest today is Nebojsha Mitrikeski, independent researcher, game director at Snowball Games. And now, right before the break, we were talking about one, your focus on data, but now, we're going to talk about how you put all of that into practice. You have a new game in soft launch. Tell me about the game first. What's it all about?

Nebojsha: Well, the game is called Yatzy Dice Clash and it's basically a board game, like the main core evolves around the Yatzy game, which is good, because it's a well-known game, right. It's not something to reinvent into your game. Also, there is a lot of additional stuff in there, like the game is enhanced with cards, we call them the lucky charms, with a mix of chance/luck kind of game. But it's a board game, primarily, and a family game at that.

So we tried to, like, do as many of the long-term market trends that we are seeing there happening, so we added live player versus player in there, you have progression tours, it can be a be a very competitive game, and the whole game economy around it is also pretty complex.  And yeah, basically, that's the game, as much as I can describe it in words.

Peggy: I love how you've really pulled together some of the really popular and very successful game mechanics we're seeing because you're going a lot further than what would be a board game or a game like this. You have your virtual currency, you have progression, you have mechanics. Even for the family, live PvP, as I understand as well.

Nebojsha: Yes.

Peggy: Was there any decision you had to make where you said like, "Hey, this is really popular." Because we have systems that will tell us more about popular game mechanics, but you have to make some choices. So maybe you could tell me how you made the choice to say, "Okay, this feature, not that one." Was this completely around data or what else helped you make your decisions?

Nebojsha: Well, it's around data, but also, it's a team decision, like we have a great team here at Snowball, very experienced people and we try to follow around all the time, what's happening on the market, what games do good, what games are on the rise, all that. What are the untapped spaces, where can we enter with a new kind of game? And yeah, all the decisions were decided on where we think it's going to work on the market as it is right now.

So we decided to go with live player versus player even though the session is kind of long in this game. You know, the top grossing game shave shorter sessions, usually. But in this case, we decided that that won't stop us because live PvP is a much more important feature to have.

Peggy: So tell me a little bit about your data stack here. Because you said, and correctly so, you know, this is about being data-informed in your strategy. So having the right tools makes a big difference. What are some of the data tools that you use to make your decision?

Nebojsha: Right. For marketing, they'll…and a lot more, obviously, they offer a lot more, I primarily use Apptopia, who…all of my digging, most of my speech and the steps further that I went, play testing, were based around their data. And for the data stack, currently we use the setup of AppsFlyer and Expodia [SP], so basically, all of them, I always try to read what's the newest thing. I follow all of the reports, the MAMA Boards from AppsFlyer, the Newzoo reports, Sensor Tower, everything I can get my hands on.

Like this is really important. If you're new into this space, these people are releasing reports that are usually free. And if you read a lot of them, things start to combine and you're seeing the picture there of the opportunity.

Peggy: And you put that, of course, all together with your own research into your first insights into top grossing games. What are the real genres to be watching, where's the real growth, that's volume 1. You're going to extend the work, I understand. What's next in the pipeline there?

Nebojsha: Yeah, there will be a volume 2 of that and I'm basically waiting for September to end so I can have, you know, basically the same data mining that I have and take it still further. For this one, I want 2018 months only, so it will be the first three quarters of 2018 and I will have all of the data mining that I had plus sessions, user sessions, like what's happening over there. So we're going to see differences all over, 2017 versus 2018 and what's the directions that the market moves to.

Peggy: So you know, Neb, I'm going to have you back when you're done with that, because that's going to be quite unique, as far as I can tell. I mean, I've seen some user session data, but I haven't seen it brought together with all of the other variables and trends you'll be looking at, so that's going to be quite comprehensive and I'm going to want to have a look at that. How are things going, meantime, with your soft launch? What can you tell us about it? I mean, probably the numbers you're going to keep to yourself, but maybe you can give me an idea about how things are going or some developments you're seeing you want to share?

Nebojsha: Well, it's still early. Our soft launch is divided into three phases, so we're currently in phase 1 now, which is the technical phase and that's what it is. It's for fixing bugs, seeing if something doesn't work, server side, lobby, frontend, whatever. This should end by the end of this month, and then we're entering phase 2 which will be retention. We will add more countries to it and try to get some good retention numbers. And then it will be phase 3 which will be monetization, and there will be a lot of decision making over there.

Currently, the game is based primarily on in-app purchases. It has some ads but they are not our focus. But also, the game is designed that way so we can have a more rewarded video placements and based on the numbers that we'll see, we can decide where are going to go. Should we go more ad-heavy or leave it as it is right now, on the in-app purchase side? So we'll see. We're waiting for those numbers.

Peggy: It's also got a broad audience, so there's a lot of opportunities there because we reward video works with a broad audience. It's just a great monetization mechanic is what I'm understanding. So that fact that your game has a broad appeal is actually a plus, probably.

Nebojsha: Yeah, yeah, definitely. Reward videos are like…they have become a part of what game design is, where to put them, how to placemark with them, how not to frustrate the user, how not to give too much with them, not to break the economy of the game. All of these things matter in a long-term, your game.

Peggy: Well, in the meantime, between now and your next report and maybe some learnings you can give us about reward video. There's some time in between there and I'm sure our listeners are saying to themselves, "Hey, I want to at least keep track of what Neb's up to. I want to know about the data. I want to read what you're doing." How can they best keep up to date with what you're up to, Neb?

Nebojsha: Probably Apptopia blog, my findings usually go there. And you know, speaker conferences, of course. But anyway, they can, like, hit me up on LinkedIn and I'll send them my slide deck. I mean there's a lot more talk around the slide deck, but the basic info is there.

Peggy: Absolutely, and I have to say, full disclosure, I did interview you for the Apptopia Blog. Great interview and I'll put that in the show notes as well, I mean, that's what really kicked this off. I was so impressed. In the meantime, I'll wait to connect with you again soon, Neb, and thanks for joining me today, on Mobile Growth.

Nebojsha: Thanks, it was my pleasure.

Peggy: And thanks for everyone else for listening to this episode of the Mobile Growth Podcast. A quick reminder to visit mobilegrowthsummit.com for a complete list of our upcoming events, and hopefully somewhere I'll see as well, Neb. And don't forget to use the very special promo code MGSPODCAST30 for 30% off of your offer. We hope to see you there and we encourage you to check out this and every other episode in our series posted on mobilegrowthsummit.com and on SoundCloud and coming soon to more channels, providing you more ways to listen in. So watch for that and we'll watch for you. We'll see you soon.



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