Mobile is an ever-changing market that is becoming increasingly difficult to develop a breakout success for, particularly in the face of hundreds of thousands of apps and the publishing and development giants that have taken hold of the top grossing charts.
One company riding high on mobile is Estonia-based developer and publisher Creative Mobile. After being founded in 2010, the company has reached 200 million installs from its first and third-party titles, including the likes of Drag Racing, and continues to grow.
Develop spoke to co-founder and CEO Vladimir Funtikov, ahead of his talk at Apps World Europe on November 12th, to discuss what developers need to think about when making games for mobile, and what new trends could have the biggest impact on the sector.
Where do you feel are the biggest emerging markets in the world?
At the moment we observe quick growth in many regions, but ones that really stand out are Brazil and Russia. Monetising these audiences is tricky for a number of reasons, including availability of payment methods and widespread piracy, but the situation can only improve.
In some cases, is it worth targeting larger overseas markets rather than our own local ones?
In our industry focusing on the local market only makes sense if it's one of the largest and if you have a real advantage there. Otherwise you're leaving money on the table, because the added cost of digitally distributing overseas is relatively low. There are difficult markets, but exporting to Europe or US is not particularly challenging for a Western company. And if you're in a smaller country, it's a no-brainer – our audience is nearly 200 times larger than the population of Estonia where the company is based. We wouldn't have been able to make a living if we targeted just the domestic market.
Do you think new devices, such as VR and smartwatches, will make an impact on mobile and tablet?
Both are very cool products that excite and inspire developers, but there are factors that limit their potential. Current smartwatches have powerful chips and small batteries, meaning that gaming sessions must be really short if you don't want your gadget to run out of juice by lunchtime. There are games that are fun in 20-seconds bursts, but these are only a small portion of the catalogue. Augmenting gameplay with a companion app might make sense for some games, but most genres require full screen and focus to be enjoyable.
VR headsets are amazing, but they are a little anti-mobile. It's an extra piece of hardware that you have to carry around, and perhaps more importantly, one that isolates you from the outside world. You can't use one in the subway or during a meeting, and taking one to the restroom at work would be rather embarrassing. Mind you, there will be awesome VR experiences on mobile – hopefully our games will be among those – but I don't think there's any sort of revolution due to happen.
Is there any way for premium games to make ground on the free-to-play model?
It depends on many factors and there is no universal answer. We're in a very competitive market where premium games generally need to be strong brands to succeed, and free-to-play games generally need high customer value.
In both cases, business model needs to be incorporated into design at the earliest stage. A good F2P game needs to have multiple boxes checked: there has to be context that encourages spending, sufficient inventory of purchasable items, yet enough free content to attract the player. Although there are paid games that fit, more often conversion requires significant effort, as well as a specific set of skills.
As a publisher, we've helped developers make the switch and publish F2P versions profitably, but each case required unique solutions and significant changes to the original design.
Discoverability is becoming an ever-bigger challenge, how can this be overcome without increasing marketing budgets?
The market is maturing and we have to deal with it. For a few years we've lived in a fantasy world where you could just upload stuff and hope it catches wind because there's so much demand. This isn't normal, we shouldn't expect customers to discover anything on their own. The only way forward is to be smart and creative with your marketing budget and think about building a connection with your players instead of focusing solely on performance marketing.
Is it time for some form of curation by Apple?
I believe that Apple are doing more than enough. Also, the Google Play and Amazon teams have improved a lot and they've been fantastic lately. However, great games don't need much help from the platform. All they need is fair competition and transparent rules. Platforms should make a reasonable effort to help the customer find what they want, but it's the publisher's job to stand out.
For more information about Apps World Europe and to register, you can visit the official website here.