Paid user acquisition an arms race, says Triple Town dev

DICE 2013 Video: Mobile devs increasingly need to buy their way into the best-seller charts, says Spry Fox CEO

The DICE Summit panel on disruption in the mobile game space featured representatives from Spry Fox, Halfbrick Games, and Backflip Studios, three companies that don't rely on the practice of paid user acquisition to turn their games into hits. But even though Spry Fox hasn't spent a dime on marketing its games or buying new users, CEO David Edery said it could become a fact of life in the industry.

"That's an arms race, and I don't want to be in an arms race. It's never fun," Edery said. However, he added, "At the end of the day, I can't ignore the fact that the odds of me getting a game in the top 20 on any of these mobile charts is very near to zero if I don't do paid user acquisition."

To this point, SpryFox has relied on other ways of getting noticed. The company has used its contacts within Amazon, Google, and Apple to get their products featured placement on their storefronts, and the way the company makes games has also helped. Edery said SpryFox focuses on making a fun and unusual game for a niche market, as there are so many mobile devices on the market, even a niche audience could be hugely profitable.

"If a developer is making just taking the 10th clone or the 1000th clone of a popular game, the only way to beat those guys is to spend a little more on user acquisition," Edery said, "but that's not what gets me out of bed in the morning."

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Latest comments (5)

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 7 years ago
This is an aspect of mobile game marketing that I really don't like.
Basically there are a number of mechanics by which you can buy individual players.
Then if your cost of acquisition is 0.00000001p less than your ARPU then you are in the money. Just open the taps and throw lots of budget at the mechanics.
The thing about these mechanics is that they are bought by auction, like Google ad words. And the cost has been creeping up. Worse, at key times the big publishers muscle in and pay silly prices just to block their competition. You get an escalating bidding war that bears no relationship to the value of the players thus bought.

Far better to make a game which is fundamentally compelling then to build a community and a brand. This way you get a higher quality of player. You get stickiness and virality. But it takes skill and hard work.

Paying for players still has uses. Populating a new social game so arriving players have opponents, for instance. Or buying chart position in a small country that will the spill over into other countries.

The fundamental problem is visibility on the Apple App Store. It was never designed for three quarters of a million apps. There is much that could be done to make this work better, something that Apple are obviously well aware of.
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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters7 years ago
I agree, it's one of the things I really don't like about the app store model. The charts just ensure that games that are already successful become even more successful and keep people's attention away from potentially better games that were made by those with less marketing firepower. It really defies the whole "anyone can make a game" concept if only big companies can afford to bully their way to the top and be a success.
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John Bye Lead Designer, Freejam7 years ago
If Apple are aware of the problem, they're doing remarkably little to fix it. In some ways the recent app store update made things worse, if anything (from a user's point of view, at least), and their "Genius" recommendations, which should be driving people to download other apps they might like, are laughably bad. The app store once recommended I download a One Direction dress up app on the basis of me having played a zombie action game.

There's a lot of work still to be done there, and I've not seen any visible improvement in their recommendations algorithm since it launched, it's still making completely inappropriate recommendations in the vast majority of cases, and in the rare cases when it does recommend something I'm actually interested in, it's usually on an utterly bizarre basis (like suggesting a 2D puzzle game because I've played a 3D motor racing game, rather than because of one of the many 2D puzzle games I've played).

And aside from the Genius recommendations, there's pretty much nothing on the app store to direct users to anything other than a handful of games that are already at the top end of the chart. Search results are often poor, and even when you search for the actual title of a game that game doesn't always come up as the first result. Games that are highlighted by Apple are usually ones that are already popular or would have been a hit even without that exposure. There's no clear way to find highly rated games that are lurking further down the charts. And the app store is absolutely choked with clones, lousy games that somehow get to the top of the charts for a short time (presumably through paid acquisition), and games that are playing off the titles of other popular apps to boost their own visibility. In short, it's a mess.
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Anthony Gowland Director, Ant Workshop7 years ago
Spry Fox hasn't spent a dime on marketing
The company has used its contacts within Amazon, Google, and Apple to get their products featured placement on their storefronts
They have spent at least a little time in these discussions, presumably. Marketing spend isn't just about paying for billboard adverts.
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd7 years ago
Honestly, in Triple Town's case I think that money would be better spent on providing new features for free players than acquiring users.

SpryFox have an opportunity to own the niche of the game they invented, so it's puzzling to see it left fairly stagnant, with a sheer paywall instead of anything rewarding committed players.

There's nothing really stopping Triple Town being featured regularly apart from it not being kept fresh.

There are several models coexisting in the mobile game space, and the practice of spending megabucks to acquire millions of free users in the hope of netting a few big spenders is just one of them.

@Dave Herod - The games that Apple choose to feature are thankfully not monopolised by the big publishers (many recent GOTW's have been from UK indies), but there is always more that could be done.
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