According to a recent report from SuperData, mobile games generated $61.3 billion in revenue in 2018, compared with $35.7 billion on PCs and $12.7 billion on game consoles. And mobile/cloud gaming will almost certainly become more lucrative in the future, as games like Fortnite increase in popularity and improvements in Internet infrastructure, such as the ongoing rollout of 5G, continue. Not surprisingly, competition among game developers is heating up, as they compete for users, engagement and dollars.
With increased competition, the patience of players has significantly decreased. If problems arise during gameplay, users will simply abandon a game and/or rate and review it poorly, stunting adoption and hurting revenue. Developers need to learn to take the long view when it comes to identifying and improving performance: conduct rigorous testing prelaunch, closely monitor UX post release and proactively seek to address the root causes of problems — before too many users are impacted. Success is riding on it.
Here are four key pieces of advice for succeeding in mobile games in 2019.
Quality data is your secret weapon
App developers need to take full responsibility for the entire performance of their apps. Gone are the days of being able to point fingers at carriers, platforms or other vendors for poor user experiences. Solutions that use AI, automation and the cloud can pinpoint known (and unknown!) issues that dramatically impact game performance, and there’s no room to not know exactly what is happening inside of your app. This level of granular data allows forward-thinking developers to stay several steps ahead of the competition. Don’t get left behind.
In addition to CPU and memory stats, developers should consider using GPU stats to optimize gaming performance. Animation metrics like blur, blockiness and time difference between frames can also help a developer understand the quality of user experience. These things are often overlooked or not tracked by developers, but they make a world of difference to users.
Most modern mobile games are built using third-party game engines such as Unreal, Cocos 2D/3D, or Unity. Unfortunately, automating tests or user sessions for these game engines is difficult. Understanding the view hierarchy of gaming engine is essential to know exactly what’s happening behind the scenes. From there, developers can identify exactly what is/could impact performance and decide how to best go about optimizing performance and solving problems.
Lastly, developers need to understand the root causes of frame rate drops, which isn’t always easy. Mobile games contain a lot of moving parts — especially in the form of third-party traffic and connections. To understand a game’s performance, a developer must be able to precisely monitor everything mentioned above (video quality and frame rate, CPU usage, third-party game engine performance) plus considerations like third-party SDKs or API calls, etc. — while also understanding how each of these factors can affect the others.
Don’t get owned by load times
No one likes waiting — just ask anyone in line at the DMV. Yet every day users are forced to spend time waiting for gaming apps to load, which gets in the way of their fun and makes for a terrible user experience. Many first-person shooter games are especially guilty of this, opting to download the majority of game assets upfront and forcing the user to wait for a long time.
The good news is that a lot of long load times are highly unnecessary. Third-party SDKs, analytics and advertisements can be loaded in the background so as to not block the user. The same can be said for many game asset downloads. And at HeadSpin, we’ve seen several instances where the same asset or set of assets is downloaded multiple times, which is unnecessary and bogs down the user’s experience. All of these things should be corrected and optimized for various devices and OS to improve the user’s experience.
Don’t let fragmentation frag you
Recently many Fortnite gamers were surprised to find that they could not play Fortnight at 60 FPS on an iPhone X. Eventually, Fortnite released a 60 FPS version playable on the iPhone X, but this highlighted an issue that plagues many games. Developers should be keeping up with rapidly evolving phones and devices — but many companies don’t (or can’t).
A deep understanding of video quality and FPS drops are vital to creating a positive user experience for mobile gamers, and factors that affect fps vary greatly from device to device. Degradation in battery, CPU usage, disk, memory and other I/O usage can greatly impact frame rate — which translates to a less than optimal user experience. Being proactive about finding root causes of frame rate drops can help improve engagement and boost user retention — the lifeblood of any mobile game developer.
Make Sure You Don’t Leave Money On The Table!
According SuperData’s report, free-to-play titles amassed 80% of digital games revenue in 2018. Whether users are purchasing more lives, extra levels, enhancements to a character, or whatever else, the in-app purchase flow is a critical part of the user’s experience. A good purchase flows equal monetization. A bad experience at this critical point in the user journey can prompt a gamer to take his or her dollars elsewhere.
To make matters more complicated, in-app purchase flows are inherently complex. Are purchases made via an app store? Are they billed directly to the user’s wireless carrier? Are slowdowns coming from the client or server side? To ensure that developers are not leaving money on the table, they need to be able to test all known variables that could cause a bad in-game app purchase experience. Especially in light of recent increases in competition, developers can’t afford to leave money behind.
Manish Lachwani is the co-founder and CEO of HeadSpin and was previously the co-founder and CTO of Appurify (acquired by Google), CTO of Zynga, and Principal Architect at Amazon Kindle.