Monday, December 24, 2012

Inside Social Apps Conference 2012

The Inside Social Apps is a full-day conference that was recently held in New York. There were 8 sessions total -- 6 of which were panels, one was a fire-side chat with Facebook’s David Fischer, and one was an analytic report about mobile apps. These are the key takeaways from the conference.

There was a pretty good list of game developers and game industry people who were speakers. Among them were Davin Miyoshi (GSN Digital), Doug Scott (ngmoco), John Getze (Kixeye), Mike Lee (Happy Elements),  Robert Winkler (5th Planet), Wilson Kriegel (OMGPOP/Zynga), Mike Foley (EA), Matthe Cullen (RocketPlay), Mathieu Nouzareth (FreshPlanet), John Spinale (Disney Interactive), Ben Liu (Pocket Gems), and Mike Sego (Gaia Interactive). These guys are all CEOs or VP of Marketing at their respective companies.

Facebook, iOS, Android: Which Platform(s) Hold the Most Opportunity in 2013?

  • The #1 driver to install in the iTunes App Store is SEO.
  • There are many challenges to changing platforms including the need to hire up and bring new talent, transitioning to new technologies such as Unity over Flash, going free-to-play, and fragmentation of hardware and resolutions on mobile.
  • Letterpress only uses GameCenter for its social features. It arrived and quickly died, because it was really difficult to get friends on your platform. Don't put all efforts on one social platform; you need to integrate as many as possible.
  • All apps are competing with each other in terms of user mindshare.
  • The cost of acquisition is increasing. There is, however, a six month window in 2013 for really cheap paid acquisition.
  • Microsoft is going to be a player in the space with Windows 8. Even though the technology might not be the best, history has shown that the best products never win. The most important metrics are ARPU and install base.
  • iOS has more valuable users, but Android has higher aggregate users. We need to think internationally since most of the audience exist outside the United States and outside the English language.
  • Games will usually kick off any platform ecosystem.
  • Advice to game developers: start simple and build your app with a simple architecture. The rule of thumb is that if someone sees it and asks, "What is that?" then remove it from the game. Simplify and reduce the game to its simplest form.
  • The four most important tenants of social and mobile development are install (discoverability), play (retention/engagement), share (social/virality), and pay (revenue/monetization).
Social and Mobile Game Product Design and Development
  • Your business strategy should be guided by where the users are going. FreshPlanet switched to focus only on mobile development with social components. It was very difficult, but ultimately a wise decision.
  • Facebook's audience is mostly only casual, but mobile also has midcore and hardcore gamers. There are more different types of audience on mobile.
  • All game design is observing what's going on in the industry, but you also need to bring your own creative process into the mix. Clones don't succeed. Innovation and word of mouth is the key to getting users.
  • Kongregate has real-time chat so developers get immediate feedback from their audience and it's great for clan/guild features. Facebook is lacking these features.
  • The real development happens post-launch. Developer hope to have a conversation with users for months and years. Developer can't develop in a vacuum.
  • 5th Planet has been in midcore genre for two and a half years. There's always room for good games and the platforms will upgrade to support richer experiences such as 3D and synchronous play.
  • Zynga is declining, but Wooga and King have been increasing their user base rapidly.
  • Flash was the best defacto platform for web games, but now we need AIR to develop for mobile as well. Unity is also becoming a big player in the space.
  • Mobile advertising is doing really well. Free-to-play is the way to go due to its very high distribution and its constant stream of revenue from in-app purchases.
  • There is a backlash against free-to-play games by gamers, and sometimes rightfully so, since some terribly designed free-to-play games just nickel and dime players. But gamers should think about it as paying for what you want and enjoy the most. This, in turn, will drive game design to build towards what people want and therefore, create a better game.
  • UI on mobile is an open space to explore. There must be a better way than virtual joysticks.
  • Developers need to build different experiences for tablet, mobile, and desktop.
  • Facebook connected users play twice as long and are 8 times more likely to spend money.
The Future of Mobile App Discovery & Marketing
  • The rising cost of user acquisition is a sign of industry evolution. Developers need to pay attention to how much they're willing to spend.
  • The cost of user acquisition might flush out in the future. Apple wants to control the channel more, but TapJoy wants to help developers with incentivized discovery. Research shows that incentivized discovery has 40% returning engagement compared to organic distribution's 45% returning engagement.
  • Small developers should get together and form a cross-promotion network. Gree acts like a large-scale cross-promotional network that helps small developers and do interest targeting.
  • People don't know if an app is good or not since ratings are ineffective. 95% of all app ratings are an average of 3.8.
  • What are some improvements that the App Store can make? 80% of people don't know what they are looking for since they don't know brands. We need an app search engine for casual users, better and more useful app descriptions, social app discovery, and more relevancy in their searches.
  • There are always methods to scoot up the ranks by gaming the system to get higher search results.
  • App Store icon and name of the app are very important. A/B test and evaluate all marketing materials during the beta phase to look for the highest click through rate.
  • There is a very small real-estate and very small window of time to leave an impression on the user. Results tend to homogenize from a consumer perspective. A lot of developers go for similar art styles, names, characters, and mechanics to attract users.
  • We need more app suggestions pushed to users and more categorical search relevancy. Searching "steampunk" only returns games with "steampunk" in the name, but not the entire genre and theme. The charts should also hide the apps that the users already own.
  • Charts work for app discovery but is limited. Games crowd out non-gaming apps because they're far more popular.
  • The App Store is like the grocery store. There will always be a place for marketing outside the App Store. People consume media in different ways.
Fireside Chat: Facebook's David Fisch
  • Facebook wants to help with app discovery, which is currently a big problem like Web 1.0 discovery.
  • Facebook really changed discovery. Friends were pushing content to you and friends were the best filters for good apps.
  • Facebook wants to create value to mobile developers since mobile devices are inherently social.
  • The mobile experience is much more at the moment. What you do in life happens away from your desk.
  • Device fragmentation continues to grow. We need cross-device connectivity.
  • Most people don't read reviews or look at ratings. We need recommendations based on what we like and what our friends like.
  • SongPop has built a social app on mobile and integrated the experiences through Facebook. Logged in users are 25% more engages and also spend more money on the app.
  • Facebook is a vertical platform with canvas, but also horizontal with social. Facebook is meant to be complimentary to mobile and a cross-platform social component.
Social Apps for Marketers and Brands: Maximizing Audience Engagement
  • A lot has changed in the past year -- OpenGraph, Pinterest, Instagram, SoundCloud, Tumblr, foursquare. There is a re-emphasis on creating good content. The biggest change is that Facebook started rolling out mobile marketing.
  • Have business goals before you start planning out your project. Monetization is a big goal this year.
  • Developers can't build a small one-off app. They need to be a sustainable business and there needs to be inherent value in the app itself outside of its marketing goal. There is no point in launching an app without some paid media behind it.
  • Sweepstakes, coupons, and essay contests have high participation rates, but low sharing rates. The value is to the user and they are less likely to share. Personality quizzes, however, are 5 times more likely to be shared because it allows users to display their personality.
  • We need to move out of social media bubble. There are lots of other marketing channels such as e-mail.
  • Some successful marketing campaigns -- write about how much you love your mom on Mother's Day, Oscar Meyer taste-imonials with, Washington Redskins using template gallery to build themed pages for their fans, and voting polls on Facebook and Google Plus Hangouts.
  • We need templates that a community manager can put together and launch by themselves with zero budget and less than 24 hours.
  • The universe of possibilities have increased but the fundamentals of marketing hasn't changed.
  • LinkedIn released their API. Capture social interactions and leverage that for personalized pages.
Monetizing Social and Mobile Games
  • Kixeye has been in the business of core strategy games. Their games are free-to-play, but they sell "time" and not virtual goods. They sell abilities to repair base or generate units faster.
  • Make a fun game first and think about monetization later to fit the game. Monetization solves itself if you create something fun and engaging.
  • The first company that innovates and finds a real estate builds the fanbase first.
  • Advertisement works well with many genres, but not all.
  • Monetization methods include selling impatience, gambling, betting, cosmetic items, virtual goods, premium items, virtual currency, and daily bonuses.
  • Sports betting is time-based and based on real-life events, but there are challenges of downtime. You can add casino games to play during downtime.
  • Authenticity and passion is what is key to success. It's hard to reach critical mass so leave publishing to publishers. 
  • The future of computing is mobile with the proliferation of devices.
  • It's always more valuable if you're both the developer and the publisher, because you own the IP, data, and the customers. However, it's very expensive to publish, so partner with a dedicated publisher.
  • Games are a hit driven business like the record industry. All media content is hit driven.
Investing in Social and Mobile Games
  • Zynga went from $12 to $2. Secondary markets have been flat or going down. Six months ago (Facebook, Zynga, Groupon, etc.) were successful but failed after they went public. The exit scenarios and evaluations for investment have changed in the last year.
  • Fundraising is tough for gaming companies. Signia is one of three firms that still look at gaming deals currently.
  • Supercell is making $750,000 per day with only 60 people in the company.
  • Investors are looking for games with retention, engagement, and longetivity. They are looking for people who are building a business, not just an app. They need high quality free-to-play developers who are making games as a service. The three core skills for a developer to have are discoverability, marketing apparatus (acquisition, community, retention), and monetization.
  • With a packaged product, you've already made your money upfront. Now you have to worry about getting people to actually play your game to monetize them.
  • Kickstarter and IndieGoGo requires pre-existing fame to be successful. It's not all that interesting to the industry and will not change the ways that traditional funding happens.
  • Anyone can make games now such as garage developers, but the challenge is scalability.
  • Be wary of the casino space. The major players will spend money and they are ruthless about their space.

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