'My hope is the industry can police itself and we avoid regulation or intervention from external agencies,' says Matt Shea

WildTangent on mobile discoverability, pricing models and F2P self-regulation

As discoverability gets ever-more difficult on mobile devices, developers are looking for different routes to market and ways of putting their games in the eyes of consumers.

One potential route to market is through WildTangent, whose cross-platform games network is said to reach 168 million unique users per month and houses over 400 titles – and the company is looking for more games to add.

Speaking to Develop, WildTangent executive VP of product development Matt Shea discussed WildTangent’s plans for the future, its own studio, and his thoughts on discoverability and free-to-play on mobile.

One of the big issues on mobile is discoverability, how are you getting around that?
As head of WildTangent Studios, we continue to focus our efforts toward developing quality games that merit a spotlight from the app stores for consumers. Anyone in the industry knows that’s never a guarantee, so it’s important to build a brand and reputation. Fortunately, WildTangent has 16 years in the industry and people know us.

All developers we speak with for our Android games service have experienced discoverability issues, and we provide another way to reach users, but we can often offer them opportunities that the big app stores cannot. Our service is curated and games quality-tested before they appear in our service. We coordinate with developers to give them a spotlight and know the users in our service are gamers who return to the service again and again to play quality games.

Do you think the issue of discoverability is getting worse on mobile?
No question about it. Without barrier to entry and most app stores relying on algorithmic sorting, i.e. charts, for discoverability, it’s challenging to both find and sustain user acquisition. Another challenge for mobile games compared to other media types, including console games, is that users are not primed to search for a given game. This means mobile players are browsing for games more than searching for games. The economic reality of mobile games means that a broader advertising campaign that you would see before a movie or a major console game launch doesn’t make sense in mobile titles.

WildTangent sells both paid-for and free-to-play games. How do sales of each compare?
We support developers with quality games first and foremost, and offer games of all payment configurations. We have additional monetisation options to offer developers of paid-for games, such as the ability for developers to leverage our value-exchange advertising platform, BrandBoost. As is the case with much of the mobile games industry though, we’re adding more free-to-play titles as a percentage of our catalog on the Android service.

Do you think premium-priced games will have a place on mobile in future?
I think that a given game design will naturally fall on a spectrum of business model options, whether free with ads or in-app purchase, or premium with or without in-app purchase. To some extent, if you restrict the industry from creating premium titles you limit creativity, and that is never good.

That said, I do think that a 99 cent price point for premium titles is an almost impossible road to follow. The scale of people buying premium titles is significantly smaller as much of the industry shifts to free-to-play. If you’re going to price a game as premium, developers have to make back the amount gamers spend on it. This means you need to monitor your investment during development and evaluate all price point options.

What are your thoughts on the controversy surrounding free-to-play, particularly in children’s games? Do you think there will one day be regulation brought into the market?
I think free-to-play is an example of the game industry evolving to match the change in consumer tastes, but in some ways we’ve gone back to our roots. The in-app purchase model is reminiscent of coin-op, pay-as-you-go style games featured long ago in arcades.

There’s an echo effect now in the industry from some early in-app purchase games where secondary purchases occurred without additional consent, since the payment credentials hadn’t timed out. The industry learned and we now have better measures in place to prevent this including commerce authentication. My hope is the industry can police itself on this issue and we avoid regulation or intervention from external agencies.

I believe that platform manufacturers should provide the tools for customers to protect their payment methods separately from their required account in order to use their devices. This would be a better solution for multi-person households where kids connect to their parents’ accounts.

Given the success of WildTangent’s games network in the US, what is the company doing to expand its own portfolio of games?
We continue to expand the list of great developers and games on the WildTangent Games online and mobile services. On our mobile service, we’re adding games at a steady clip and now have over 400 quality games to play in a variety of categories. In addition, our own mobile studio, WildTangent Studios, has created titles for all the major mobile platforms and our Android service. The studio recently launched Polar Bowler, Happy Matchy Bird and Word Science, which was selected as the Starbucks app of the week in the US and Canada this April.

Will WildTangent be investing in new studios in future? Or at least expanding in-house development staff?
WildTangent will continue to grow its studio out of our downtown Seattle office. In addition, we are always looking for talented studios to work with around the world for games to add to mobile games service. If you are a mobile game developer or artist looking for a gig, we’d love to talk to you.

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