App store discoverability has changed drastically since launch.
Mobile pioneers will happily recount the days when simply being one of the few apps available was enough to generate organic installs through word of mouth and the natural lift of a rapidly growing smartphone community.
By those standards, today’s app store is almost unrecognizable. With thousands of apps published every day, discoverability is a challenge. For many developers, securing feature support from platform providers is a make-or-break part of achieving mobile success.
In an article for MobileFreeToPlay.com, mobile design consultant Adam Telfer explains that “Launching a game without spending $400K+ in performance marketing or getting a prominent featuring by Apple is a death sentence for your game.... Don’t expect to get noticed unless you seriously invest in your discovery.” Telfer paints a grim picture for mobile development hopefuls, explaining that, “If you are a newcomer to the space thinking that there is still a chance to win, then you’re too late… The winners of mobile have been decided: they have the money, the long funnel, and the users to be able to dominate the top grossing charts.”
Up until recently, this certainly seemed to be the case. The only way for developers to earn meaningful returns on their efforts without investing a small fortune in paid acquisition was to hope Apple and/or Google found their product innovative enough to feature. For better or worse, this environment allowed platforms to play kingmaker for years.
Recent trends, however, suggest that may be changing.
Arguably invented by the now Ubisoft-owned Ketchapp, hyper-casual games have upset the app store status quo. They’ve managed to supplant the small, largely unchanged collection of titles that long held the top chart spots by laying claim to unprecedentedly granular portions of leisure time through approachability and concision. What’s most interesting about this entire disruptive phenomenon is the fact that they managed to do so without relying on conventional mobile publishing strategies.
Mobile publishers have traditionally relied on disciplined soft launch cycles in order to achieve success. “When a studio is confident in their polished products, they would approach Apple and Google to showcase their app and hope for a feature.” Explains Tom Kinniburgh, a freelance mobile gaming consultant. “At the same time, they might allocate a large marketing budget and test multiple ad variants in order to be confident in having the largest splash possible.” Even burst campaign strategies depend on the initial organic lift of a feature for optimal results. Hyper-casual games take a different approach.
Rather than refining a single idea through an extended soft launch, hyper-casual publishers ship multiple titles every month with little or no advertising support, submitting them to the crucible of the open market. “Games are then measured on a brutally tough scale,” Kinniburgh explains, “Each game needs 50%+ D1 retention to even make the cut. This creates a very competitive environment where stats and data become the key to becoming picked up by these top publishers. As a developer, you want to know that your game can actually reach a large audience.” Only titles that make the cut are then backed by paid growth campaigns after specific hyper-casual monetization techniques are added, taking advantage of low CPIs to produce the sort of ad-based growth engine that can propel titles to success.
Feature support, which for many has been the be-all-end-all for mobile success, has little place in this model.
That’s not to say that it wouldn’t benefit a publisher’s ability to validate and/or grow a prospective hyper-casual title over time, but it’s certainly not mandatory. There are much more important elements, as Kinniburgh articulates: “To have a viable shot at competing you must be prepared to invest heavily in a strong data warehouse, a talented marketing team and use metrics and data to decide which games have the strongest business case.“
The freedom from feature-dependency is a breath of fresh air in a market that’s been long overdue for a shakeup. It’s a development we at Tenjin are excited for and committed to supporting. Our comprehensive growth infrastructure has helped industry-leading hyper-casual publishers like Voodoo and Tastypill subvert the traditional publishing paradigm and achieve success. To learn more about how Tenjin can help your efforts in the world of hyper-casual games development, feel free to get in touch.