Over the last 15 years, mobile gaming has become a growth engine, driving huge gains in audience and revenue. At GamesBeat Summit 2023, leaders from Activision, Playtika and Jam City joined forces to talk about how — and why — the landscape continues to evolve. The rise of triple-A titles on mobile, new marketing challenges as data privacy laws change, and increasingly high consumer expectations are forces to be reckoned with — how can mobile developers prepare now to future-proof their strategy for the next decade?
Here are some of the highlights of the discussion — for more, don’t miss the full panel here.
Player acquisition costs are rising
Privacy initiatives have changed in the app stores, and user acquisition has felt the impact. Developers need to consider new approaches and new ways to capture player attention. How do you grow demand and interest, and convince people your game is worth getting excited about?
It requires a lot of organic energy and momentum right out of the gate, but that’s expensive, said Chris Plummer, Activision’s Senior Vice President and Co-Head of Mobile.
“That also increases the friction for new entrants, with what it takes to actually unseat these very deeply entrenched leaders in our space,” he added. “So if you’re entering the space, not only do you have to change your marketing mix, but you also have to have a better game with some innovation that’s going to draw their attention.”
Jam City’s Lisa Anderson, EVP, Studio Operations, noted that UA spends on the app platforms don’t go nearly as far as they used to. To stretch those dollars, she said it’s crucial to understand how to leverage SKAN, to start, but they’ve invested in a lot of proprietary platforms and tooling to boost that work, offer forecasting and modeling, to help stabilize a little bit of a downturn in the last couple of years she explained.
At Playtika, they’re leveraging AI and probabilistic models to help understand and address the market, said the company’s COO, Shlomi Aizenberg. They’re also investing in their games as brands, investing in offline activities, and investing in non traditional UA channels to reach new audiences. But the loyal, long-term gamers cannot be left behind.
“We’re obviously investing a lot in our core audience and making sure that we’re still putting some focus on retention, on engagement, on progression,” he said. “And at the end of the day, the cohorts that have been around for so long, matter even more than before.”
The challenges and benefits of outside IP
User acquisition can be dramatically ramped up for games with outside IP, Anderson said.
“Trying to leverage those opportunities of synergy, especially for the organic installs, is a huge benefit, especially if you have games that are tied to major IP and they’re running an event or there’s something major happening,” she said. She pointed to the way they’ve been able to tie Disney Emoji Blitz! to the 100th Disney anniversary in an organic, synergistic way.
But if you don’t have your own outside IP, you can develop a proprietary brand that players grow deeply connected to, Aizenberg said.
“What we learned over the past three, four years, is that we’re actually developing our own games to have an IP,” he said. “So if we take a game such as Bingo Blitz, that’s been around for 13 years, the leading game of its category, what we discovered is that our players and the community around it are so emotionally connected to the game and to the characters and to the brand.”
Targeting new markets around the world
Targeting new markets is one of the best ways to build an audience. Plummer said it’s less about what region is the hot new market — they’re targeting the places where they see deep engagement and great retention with their other brands, and leaning into them. For instance, ramping up investment in Call of Duty on mobile in markets where the game is popular on other platforms.
Localization is key, Anderson said. Great IP and great experiences always stand out, but a new market means an opportunity to ensure you’re culturizing a game in a way that allows players to really appreciate it in the way that they truly enjoy games, but without impacting the DNA of the game.
It’s also about understanding the diversity of your player base.
“For Call of Duty, we’ve really focused on just trying to be more inclusive when we think about our global audience,” Plummer said. “It’s a multiplayer experience. It’s a social experience when people are all playing together. So it’s more about how can everybody partake, and through content and events, we can deliver something that’s unique to a specific region, but allow everybody access to it if they want.”
Tapping players and creators as brand ambassadors
Tapping brand ambassadors, both at home and around the world, is essential for success in every market, Anderson said, and your players are your biggest fans.
“We have pretty extensive, what we call insider groups, for all of our different major forever franchises, and we really leverage them in a way to be able to see new ideas, new features, new storylines that we’re thinking about,” she said. “And even sometimes when there’s something that they don’t like, they let you know about that as well.”
With Call of Duty, the players are sometimes putting in full-time hours, and so their insights are invaluable, Plummer says — they’re as big an expert on the game as the developers are. And then once a game is in pre-release or live lifecycle, you can tap into that expertise.
“These can be some of your best kind of voice amplifiers when you’re trying to get out there and break through the noise and get the nuances across to audiences who wants to be really engaged,” he said
“We’ve had some successful features that were really a result of feedback that we’ve heard from our players,” Aizenberg added. “And once you have a game that’s been around for so long, the sky’s the limit in terms of what you can do with the insights and commitment, the connection.”
Does generative AI have a role in mobile game development?
Generative AI is making headlines, some of them ominous. But it also has its place in a mobile studio, the panelists agreed.
“People with tools can make games more efficiently,” Plummer said. “So I welcome tools from the calculator to my smartphone and generative AI and any other kind of AI that is going to also provide tools over time that help us make better games.”
Playtika is taking the technology in the broader context, Aizenberg said.
“We look at it in a holistic way, where, how can we actually digitalize and automate a lot of the components that are part of having a game that is being played by millions for so many years, with so many layers of content,” he explained. “So for us, it’s more of a digital transformation, and as a game operator being able to provide our teams better tools to run the game and focus on creativity and innovation rather than on just ongoing mundane tasks that are just part of running a large-scale game.”
Don’t miss the full panel, free on demand right here!