If you want insights on how to monetize mobile and social games, go to Facebook.
That makes sense, as social company gets to see not only the performance of the network’s games but also the results of what happens when developers use Facebook ads to reach new mobile gamers.
We caught up with Dan Morris, head of strategic partnerships for games at Facebook, and Vishu Gupta, engineering manager at the company, at last week’s f8 conference in San Francisco for a discussion about monetizing mobile games and the latest platform changes that will help both game developers and players. Their tips may surprise you. But it’s based on both intuition and data, and the combination of these doesn’t lie.
Here’s an edited transcript of their advice.
GamesBeat: Dan, can you summarize what your monetization talk is about? What are some of your tips for monetizing games?
Dan Morris: The talk is called “The Seven Deadly Sins of Monetization.” It’s our effort to take platform-level insights about how games monetize well and how other people fail to monetize well, and produce real actionable advice for developers about how to make more money on the platform.
GamesBeat: What are some of those insights?
Morris: It’s meant to be easy. We want even relatively small companies to benefit. We have advice about the kinds of data to look at that they might not look at now. Tools to segment their audience in a more intelligent way. Just basic advice, but what’s good about it is we’re showing a lot of data across the ecosystem. The data tells the story of how many people are missing these opportunities. Here’s a chance to sound the alarm and let people know they may be missing some tricks.
GamesBeat: Does it apply to both Web and mobile?
Morris: This specific data we’re sharing is about our desktop platform. But there’s a lot of great insights into free-to-play games, how they work and how they monetize. I think they’ll be leveraged on a lot of different screens.
A great example is just A-B testing. Sometimes a counterintuitive approach to A-B testing can really work. The example we show is from Wooga. Wooga did a really inspired A-B test where they added a step to the flow of a discount offer. Normally you’d think that’s a no-no. Adding steps to a transaction tends to be a bad thing. But they added a quiz where users had to earn the offer. It turned out to be fun. As they ran the A-B test, the slightly longer version was more fun for users. It converted three times as well.
That’s the kind of insight that’s not going to be obvious to people, but when we show examples like this, we think people will be thinking more creatively about how to test.
GamesBeat: Would you call that gamification of an offer?
Morris: Yeah, you probably could, to overuse everyone’s favorite overused word.
GamesBeat: How would you come up with that idea?
Morris: That’s the beauty of what we’re trying to do with the talk. In isolation, you’re not going to come up with many of the ideas we’re going to share. What’s great is we can look across the whole platform and see all the good ideas at work. We’re trying to extract some common laws and some common advice from that. It’s mostly just a chance to share some of the great thinking that free-to-play game developers do as a population, so that everyone can get a bit better at this.
GamesBeat: Game companies are taking advantage of Facebook on mobile in a big way. Are there some lessons they’ve all gotten out of this that also come back as tips for monetization here? It’s a great way to target gamers, it seems.
Morris: The great advantage of Facebook, no matter what platform you’re on, is the audience we have and the level of detail we have about the audience. There are great opportunities, and they’re being capitalized on right now by a lot of smart companies to do focused user acquisition with us. It’s paying off. The nice thing is, it’s paying off now, and it’s still early in our discovery about everything that’s possible.
We have the ability to search for what we call lookalikes, segments of our user base that share a lot of data similarity to the people who are enjoying your game right now. By searching for those lookalike groups, you can find a very receptive audience for advertisements and engagement offers. Using that kind of audience data in a smart way is paying off for mobile game developers right now.
GamesBeat: Are pretty much all the game developers getting on board with this? Or is this also relatively early as far as them learning about these opportunities?
Morris: What’s early is the depth of sophistication for this system. But even now, it’s extremely effective. We’re getting a larger and larger percentage of game developers’ advertising budgets, because the tool works for them, even right now. It’s a great technique. When we talk to all the big mobile game developers, they’re spending a lot of time and effort to take fullest advantage of this.
GamesBeat: Do you have some other tips that are almost as good?
Morris: My main advice to mobile game developers right now would be to test and explore our mobile app install ads channel. There are many, many variables you can test against. There are lots of different sets of data you can target. I’ve seen some very innovative work that’s generated big returns on the marketing investment. It’s a great place to experiment.
GamesBeat: It sounds like King’s strategy was to iterate as much as possible on the desktop, on Facebook. Then, once they figured it out, it would take that game over to mobile.
Morris: They’ve not been shy about saying so publicly, which we’re obviously delighted about. They took advantage of the very open, fluid platform we run on desktop to tune their game in real time. They didn’t have to wait weeks for an app update. They were able to really nail it, and then deploy those changes on mobile to great effect. That’s a great feature of our platform.
GamesBeat: On desktop in general, it seems like there’s still a large base of gamers.
Morris: It’s a 250 million-strong audience. It’s been largely static. Revenue has actually grown. We’re in rude health in the desktop gaming business.
GamesBeat: Vishu, tell us about the original App Center and how you’re going to improve it.
Vishu Gupta: We launched the App Center a couple of years back. Before that we had a destination where people could go look for apps, but two years ago for the first time we added game genres and game detail pages on the App Center so that people looking for specific kinds of games could have a more reasonable browsing experience.
GamesBeat: Before App Center, what would have been harder for people to do?
Gupta: One thing that wasn’t there, we had a section for games, but you couldn’t filter that further into strategy games or puzzle games. Game categories were one thing. Another thing, the recommendation system was something we designed for the first time for App Center. The previous version was very, very basic. App Center was the first time we had a reasonable recommendation system that learns based on what other people are playing, to recommend the right games for you.
Over the last couple of years, the App Center has done really well. It’s one of the biggest sources of installs on Facebook Canvas. One thing we’ve found that we could improve on, though, was to make the experience more personalized. When you land on App Center now, most of the content you see – even the recommendation lists – will be personalized to your tastes, rather than a generic sort of list. That should be a big improvement. We haven’t started rolling it out, but we plan to start next week or so.
The second thing we’re investing in by building out this thing is just the speed of the UI. We’re building it on top of React, which is one of the things we open-sourced a little while back. That should be a much better experience. All the studies have said that faster UX increases engagement. We hope that happens here as well. In general, this redesign is a chance to test new and different things for the App Center. We have a bunch of new ideas.
GamesBeat: Do you call that A-B testing, or do you call it something else?
Gupta: There’s an A-B testing aspect to it, and then there’s just regular new product experiences as well. We launch something new and see whether people like it or not. One of the things I didn’t mention already that we’re doing, when you click on a game on the App Center, instead of navigating you to the app retail page, we just have a big pop-up that shows up, which is much faster. It still contains all the information you need to have to decide whether you want to play the game or not. It highlights videos or game trailers, if the game has uploaded those things. We launched game trailers a few months back on the current App Center and we’re highlighting them more now.
GamesBeat: So there are things here for both app developers and consumers.
Gupta: Yeah. In the long run, they’re aligned. For developers, usually they’re in tune with the user and vice versa. This will enable developers to showcase their content. A game with a high-quality trailer in the App Center will likely do better compared to one that doesn’t. It gives developers more power to influence a person’s decision by giving them good information about the game.
If a developer uploads the right content, the right assets to the App Center, it’s better for them, and obviously as a user I want more information about a game before I decide to play. It’s definitely right thing for everyone using the App Center.
GamesBeat: Is the App Center something that you’d take over to mobile, or do you think that there are other solutions that would work better on mobile?
Gupta: We currently have a place where people can look at recommendations on mobile. We’re thinking about how to introduce more game content on to other users.
GamesBeat: Is there any other major activity happening in games on the platform side?
Gupta: The three main things I’m bringing up in my talk regarding game discovery—number one, how to get game discovery through friends. The best dynamic is people inviting their friends to play a game. How can Facebook enable that? We have a request product, which we’re starting to invest more in. We announced a new version of request at GDC. It gives more game contacts to people so they can make a more informed decision about playing a game or not. We have an iteration of that to support turn-based gaming.
The second thing is developer-driven distribution. If developers want to target a certain type of user through our apps channel, what amount of information, what amount of targeting can we make available to them? We’re continuing to iterate on that in terms of paid distribution. Third, we have people looking for specific games themselves. App Center and other recommendations in this area, across web and mobile, are things we’re continuing to invest in.
One thing that we really believe in is cross-platform gaming. We want to enable all those things I just talked about across all the different platforms, so it doesn’t matter which one you’re on and which one your friend is on. You can play games with them irrespective of platform, so long as the game developer wants you to.
GamesBeat: Are there any standout game experiences that you’re seeing on the platform these days?
Gupta: I’m more of a casual gamer. The biggest thing I see on my feed right now is people sharing scores from the games they’re passionate about. People are using Facebook to talk about games that they like. That’s something we want to continue to support. Share Dialog and things like that, that we’re investing in across platforms, aren’t just for gaming, but they’re helping with that dynamic as well.