Mobile gaming is more a science than an art, and that’s a problem for some developers that are heavy on creativity and lacking in a capacity to crunch through data. That’s why one company is offering a boot camp-style crash course to help studios better understand their players.

OtherLevels is a services company for mobile developers that specializes in keeping players engaged in free-to-play games. The company does this by recognizing patterns in behavior and then targeting certain kinds of people with various types of messages to get them to return to a game they enjoy. After implementing these techniques, Fruit Ninja developer Halfbrick saw a 34 percent increase in active players and 100 percent increase in revenue for games like Jetpack Joyride. To help studios like Halfbricks (along with ZeptoLabs and online gambling site Bwin), OtherLevels has a software toolkit that and a “FastStart? program. The former is something developers can use on their own while the former has OtherLevels running a game’s leadership team through a 12-to-16-week course to help them better surface and act on important data. On top of the FastStart classes, OtherLevels can also form a lasting partnership with a developer like the one it has had for the last three and a half years with Fruit Ninja developer Halfbrick. Mobile gaming is worth $34.8 billion, and keeping engagement high is a key piece to capturing that revenue, which is why a firm like OtherLevels is thriving.

Engagement in mobile gaming is the buzzword that means a player is coming back several times a week to their favorite app. But it’s a complex idea that companies like Halfbrick spend a lot of time thinking about, according to OtherLevels managing director Brendan O’Kane.

“Halfbrick has thought about different kinds of engagement,” he told GamesBeat. “They know that they have to deal with the opted-in audience and the opted-out audience.”

In this context, opt-in refers to the player who says yes to receiving push notifications from an app. This means a game can say “Hey, you haven’t been around for a while. Come back, and we’ll give you some free coins” or something along those lines. That leaves the other kind of player who is nearly impossible to reach outside of the game. But either way, Halfbrick admits that it was not great at speaking to either of these people prior to working with OtherLevels.

“The communications we were sending through in-game channels were disparate and fragmented [prior to working with OtherLevels],” Halfbrick chief marketing officer Nicholas Cornelius claimed. “We looked to OtherLevels to help us tackle the inconsistency issues in our overall messaging strategy, chiefly to drive stronger customer lifetime value and lower our player acquisition costs.”

O’Kane says that this is where FastStart can really make a difference.

“FastStart is a very structured program,” he said. “We do extensive analytics and testing so we can have a fact-based approach to what’s going on. We’ll use techniques like control groups extensively. We track everything.”

After showing the studios how to get accurate data, OtherLevels shows them how changing certain messages can have both positive and negative outcomes. For example, if a push notification is driving a 10-percent increase in spending but producing 15 percent fewer players, it probably isn’t worth pursuing.

“We doing this in conjunction with our customers, and we’re sharing techniques and best practices,” said O’Kane. “The goal is that they can then take that, and depending on what they particularly want to do, they can pick it up and run with it and apply some of those techniques on their own.”

Sometimes studios, like in the case of Halfbrick, keep OtherLevels around in an ongoing consultancy position. This makes a lot of sense when you consider all of the variables you have to consider when trying to reengage a lost player.

“We do a lot of testing in terms of different types of messages, different cadence of messages, playing with user journeys,” said O’Kane. “Developers are always asking things like: Should we reach out after three days? Should we reach out after four? How does that vary by comparison if we have, for example, someone who’s been a high frequency user, or someone who might have been a high spending user? Perhaps they’re just tired. It’s inappropriate to go chasing them three times to jump back in. Maybe a slower cadence for a particular class of user. We do a lot of that type of testing to understand what’s going to work and what’s the best practice.”

And those are the big ideas. Most developers can probably think through a lot of those on their own. But once they see how a tiny shift in strategy can have a huge ripple effect across their entire player base, it can get overwhelming.

“So far the biggest [revelation with OtherLevels] is realizing how small changes in things like message tonality, frequency, cadence, and timing and better predictive analytics are helping us reach a stronger percentage of users per campaign,” said Cornelius

Finally, OtherLevels points out that one of the biggest challenges it has with developers is reminding them not to give up on players who don’t opt-in for push notifications.

O’Kane notes that while it’s great to have the opportunity to talk to lapsed fans, it shouldn’t come at the expense of crafting messages for people who are actively in the game. And FastStart tries to walk developers through the idea of keeping in contact with players using in-game messages.

“We often talk about ‘100 percent of audience,'” he said. “That, for us, is a reflection that you already have people engaging with you. Some of them are happy to receive messages of different types. They’ve opted in. Others aren’t. But you should look at your whole audience and build your campaigns and build your programs to work with that whole audience, not just the portion that’s ticked the box and said, I’m happy to be messaged.”

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