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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."

John Coligan

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."

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Latest comments (4)

Daniel Hill Marketing and Business Development 8 years ago
Interesting views. To me, in the digital, connected age, it's acquisition that's the "easy" part. It's making sure you retain your customers once you've got them that's the challenge. 1 million Facebook likes doesn't mean you've been successful, if you then go on to do nothing with them. Building a loyal, engaged, trusting and therefore ultimately monetised user base is the key challenge as I see it. There are just too many other opportunities for people to spend their time elsewhere, other than with your brand or game - if you don't look after the ones you've got, they will vote with their feet, and once they've done that it's more difficult and more expensive to get them to return. Traffic, revenue and ROI will take care of themselves as long as you ensure you're putting the customer first at all stages in the process. Evolve, adapt, communicate, and innovate - get into that cycle and in my experience the other elements tend to fall into place.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development8 years ago
Agreed. I thought I was being naieve in assuming that to get customers all you really need to do is make a good, engaging game.

Advertising and etc is always useful, but if you need to bang a drum to get anyone to show up at all, you should perhaps go revisit your product. Once you get a small band of happy customers, they should spread the word for you.
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Michael Levine President, PILEATED PICTURES8 years ago
Agree with Daniel ... Acquisition is not the issue. Its easy to acquire users for small amounts of money, but retaining them and monetizing are the hard parts. If he really is doing that, then it should not be hard to acquire users and make the game profitable.
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Show all comments (4)
"Dragon Collection debuted in the US last year, but Coligan said it has only been a mild success so far."

Mild success, I would estimate from App Annie that it has made 5000 - 10 000 USD in the outside of Japan. I'm surprised if that is really considered a "mild success" over at Konami.
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