Games developers are in a tricky position when it comes to mobile.
While it is clearly one of the biggest growth areas for gaming, the lack of direct to consumer routes available mean that content owners are heavily reliant on marketplaces to distribute their apps. As a result, developers are limited to the restrictions of what they can and cannot access on consumers’ devices, which has potentially led to the quantitative, scatter-gun approach to consumer marketing which mobile gaming has received a lot of criticism for.
To truly engage with mobile audiences it’s important for content owners to know their customers and to do this they need access to data. This is why it’s important that games developers start looking to develop direct relationships with telcos and mobile device OEMs.
If you think back before the age of the smartphone, mobile gaming was pretty much limited to what was on your device when you bought it. There were no app stores or content marketplaces to distribute games, apps, video and music, and the games which came with a mobile device were either developed in-house or made exclusively for an OEM. If you wanted Snake 2, you bought yourself a Nokia 3310. It was a simple time.
Nowadays, things have changed a lot. The only apps which come preloaded onto a device are those which are stipulated by the operating system (i.e. Chrome browser on Android phones) or installed by the OEM (i.e. Samsung Health on the Samsung Galaxy series). For everything else, users can hop onto a single marketplace to download whichever game, app, video or music they want. The user experience varies but generally speaking each app store will have suggested apps, most popular lists and paid advertisements for games.
As a game developer, just getting a game listed on the app store means a number of hoops to jump through. From limitations on data access and customer acquisition to restrictions on monetisation payment methods, marketplaces’ method of delivering a consistent and safe experience is to have complete control over the way users engage with apps on their devices. While it is important to keep mobile user data safe, this shouldn’t just be the responsibility of the organisation which has created the operating system or marketplace. Is it truly the case that Apple, Google and Microsoft have less commercial interest in the data than a games developer?
For content owners it’s not just bad news, however, and we are already helping a number of developers and media companies to forge direct to consumer relationships through mobile. The data which brands need to be able to really understand and engage with a mobile audience cannot be secured through traditional marketplaces so we’ve had to look outside of that structure. The most secure method of doing this is by using alternative pathways into the device, which can be created through direct relationships with mobile network operators and device manufacturers.
It’s not just customer data which alternative distribution methods help either. Microtransactions are an important aspect of many successful mobile games like Candy Crush and Pokémon Go. If a customer has alternative ways to pay for items, features, levels or power-ups they are more likely to do so, which has a positive impact on the lifetime value of customers, particularly for games that use a freemium model.
Unfortunately for games developers, it is very difficult to have any control over which payment methods are available to their customers. Take direct carrier billing (DCB) as an example. With DCB, consumers are invoiced for the transaction directly onto their phone bill so they don’t need to use their credit or debit card. This is a particularly popular choice in emerging markets where more people have a smartphone than a bank account. This may be a preferred option for a games developer, however while they may be able to offer this to customers on a certain network in a specific country, they may not be able to do the same somewhere else. The ability to develop and implement different ways of paying for these transactions can only be achieved through direct relationships with OEMS and telcos.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons that games developers should be considering an alternative distribution strategy comes down to the sheer volume of installs they can have overnight. The Samsung Galaxy S7 sold 13.3million units during the first half of 2016, a total which only the most popular mobile games would expect to attract for downloads. If a games developer is able to create content exclusively for an OEM or Telco, the audience they can potentially reach without any marketing spend is huge.
When it comes to distribution it’s clear that marketplaces will always have their place. The majority of developers can continue to use them as convenient and easy ways to distribute and monetise their content. For the big players in the mobile gaming space though, they should at least be considering alternative distribution methods, and they should look towards aggregators, like DOCOMO Digital, to help them develop the direct relationships with telcos and OEMs which are needed to make it happen.
Watch DOCOMO digital founder and CEO, Hiroyuki Sato in his video interview here, as he explains how content owners can strike strategic partnerships with operators to help them monetize their mobile content.