Konami mobile exec: Player acquisition "keeps me up at night"
John Coligan says monetization is now a non-issue for players, bigger challenge is getting them in the first place
In a recent interview, Electronic Arts' mobile boss Nick Earl discussed complaints about the publisher's free-to-play monetization tactics, describing those upset by it as a "vocal minority." But when it comes to Konami's social and mobile efforts, that minority is actually closer to silent.
Speaking with GamesIndustry International at last week's Game Developers Conference, Konami director of digital publishing John Coligan said customers have largely accepted any and all monetization tactics.
"I think consumers by now have seen every monetization trick," Coligan said. "I don't hear much, whether it's on Facebook fan pages or through the customer service tool in all our games. There really aren't issues around monetization, whether it's too aggressive or ads are too in-your-face. Everything works...I think the consumer nowadays isn't surprised by anything with monetization in mobile and social."
The greater concern for Coligan on the mobile front is not how to monetize users, but acquiring them in the first place.
"To me, that's the biggest challenge outside of just making great games, which is never easy," Coligan said. "It's the user acquisition part that keeps me up at night; traffic targets, revenue targets, are we going to be ROI positive, things like that. I think that's where a lot of opportunity has grown for a lot of companies; I get a new e-mail almost every week from a different ad provider."
"You can make one Android app, port it to smart TV, a tablet, Ouya, all these new devices coming out for the home. There's a growing opportunity there."
As for social, Coligan acknowledges the buzz in the market has mostly moved to the mobile front, citing some high-profile flops in social games, a nearly saturated market, and the difficulty of making money on Facebook these days after development and user acquisition costs. Despite that, Konami is still operating in the business--Coligan said titles like Yu-Gi-Oh: BAM and Puzzle Chasers are doing well--and Coligan thinks it's unlikely that the social gaming swoon will spread to the current market enthusiasm for mobile games.
"It's such a different platform," Coligan said. "It's not nearly as expensive to make a successful mobile game as a social game. With a lot of mobile titles you don't have things like server costs or server scaling, server crashes... The app's completely native. It's just one nuance, but I feel like the platform's so open, there are so many different devices and new devices coming out. You can make one Android app, port it to smart TV, a tablet, Ouya, all these new devices coming out for the home. There's a growing opportunity there. But Facebook growth is definitely slowing down."
Growth is key for Coligan, who is overseeing Konami's social and mobile efforts in the West. It's a daunting task, given the overwhelming success the company has had in those markets in Japan with titles like Dragon Collection and Sengoku Collection. While Americans associate Konami most closely with iconic franchises like Metal Gear and Castlevania, these days the company actually makes more money from its mobile and social efforts than its traditional gaming business.
Konami's social and mobile revenues are disproportionately coming from the publisher's home country, but Coligan said the company has a chance to be even more successful in North and South America given the explosive growth of tablets and smartphones. However, achieving that will require more than simply bringing over what worked in Japan. (Dragon Collection debuted in the US last year, but Coligan said it has only been a mild success so far.) Even so, between the growing smartphone and tablet audience, an increased investment in its US operations, and a slew of best practices gleaned from Konami's experience in Japan, Coligan said it's only a matter of time before the publisher's success there is reflected in the West.
UPDATE: After the publication of this article, Coligan asked to clarify some of his statements. His clarification follows below:
"To clarify, I'm not saying the Facebook market is fully saturated, or that the potential for success on that platform no longer exists; rather, Konami is more optimistic about the potential for mobile games or cross-connected mobile social games, so that will be our primary focus for the immediate future. Our current roster of games such as Dragon Collection continue to grow in user base and revenue, and we are very excited about our upcoming mobile launches."