Discoverability is not the platform holders' problem

FunPlus head of biz dev and former App Store games manager Greg Essig on mobile challenges and how PublishingPlus helps devs tackle them

Last week, FunPlus announced the launch of its new mobile publishing business, PublishingPlus, becoming the latest in a new wave of companies redefining the idea of a publisher. It's an idea overdue for redefinition, considering how low the barrier to entry is on storefronts like Google Play or Apple's App Store. As asked FunPlus head of business development Greg Essig, why does a mobile developer need a publisher?

"The short answer is they don't," Essig said. "The traditional publisher need of securing a slot, actually getting shelf space, etc., is not where publishers can add value in this new ecosystem; that can all be done through Apple and Google. However, Apple and Google only take you so far. You pay $99 on the Apple side, check boxes and release it in almost 180 countries, it's totally easy. But outside of potentially getting featured by Apple, how else do you get your game out there and stand out from the pack of games that are released ever week--every day, frankly--across these platforms?"

"Discoverability is still an issue across both these stores, but I'm not sure if it's necessarily the platform's issue."

Given the amount of hand-wringing over the problem of discoverability, it may be surprising that Google and Apple have seemingly done so little to address it. But Essig, who previously managed the games section of the App Store while at Apple, isn't looking to them for the solution.

"Discoverability is still an issue across both these stores, but I'm not sure if it's necessarily the platform's issue. It's an issue of the whole ecosystem, and I think it's at the fault of everybody involved, including the consumers and developers. And what I mean by that is at the end of the day, Apple and Google have created a democratic--as democratic as I think any platform can be--easy digital distribution platform across the world that anybody can tap into and anybody can have access to. And then it just comes down to free market spend and innovation that is needed to differentiate yourself and bring yourself to the top."

Outside of promoting and featuring the sort of titles that they want more of, Essig doesn't think there's much more for platform holders to do. And as the situation currently stands, Essig feels that favors titles with originality.

"It's up to the consumers. It's up to the marketplace to choose what is best," Essig said. "And consumers, I think, aren't choosing iterative titles. It doesn't matter how much production value you have coming into it; consumers are choosing the most innovative, but not iterative, titles. So you can spend triple the amount on a game that you've seen perform really well on the charts, but if the consumer doesn't at the end of the day want to spend any money on it, it's not something that Apple or Google really have any control over."

That's why FunPlus is looking for top-notch original content with the PublishingPlus program. The company has had success with its own titles (its largest, Family Farm, has more than 4 million daily players) and a global footprint that includes a headquarters in Beijing and local presences in San Francisco, Vancouver, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and more. If developers can create great content, Essig said FunPlus can help them capitalize on it.

"We feel the real value of the new style of mobile publisher is helping developers actually scale to the opportunity, helping developers create the best products using the knowledge and expertise from existing releases from those publishers," Essig said. "FunPlus has been free-to-play since 2010, has been operating multiregional, multilanguage customer support, community management, and free-to-play businesses on Facebook canvas and mobile now for several years. That's the real value add."

"We feel the real value of the new style of mobile publisher is helping developers actually scale to the opportunity..."

One of the big trends Essig looks to take advantage of is advertising to "captive audiences," people who might be stuck in one space for a while with nothing to do, such as commuters in the subway.

"That's where free-to-play and mobile perform really well in a traditional marketing environment, especially in Asia," Essig said. "I do think it's going to come over here a little bit more, but we also look at TV commercials. They've been used for a long time on the console and PC front, but that's a hard ask from a consumer perspective. You're asking them to turn off what they're already watching to go turn on another device to play a different piece of content. With mobile, most of us keep our devices near us at almost all times. If you ask them to go search for something and give them something interesting, it doesn't actually take them away from what they're doing on the television."

Taking advantage of that opportunity involves significant logistical hurdles, some expertise, and the finances needed to run campaigns on a meaningful scale, all areas where Essig believes a publisher's assistance can prove invaluable.

"That's definitely part of the new value structure that we feel a publisher needs to bring to the table," Essig said. "It's traditionally been part of what publishers bring to the table to date, but in some ways it's even more necessary these days, and not necessarily something a lot of developers have expertise in, or the resources to devote to."

More information about PublishingPlus, including the full text of its standard contract, is available on the FunPlus website.

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Latest comments (11)

James Coote Independent Game Developer 6 years ago
Outside of promoting and featuring the sort of titles that they want more of, Essig doesn't think there's much more for platform holders to do.
I can think of a bunch of things app stores could do off the top of my head, like say better personalised recommendations or charts based on more sophisticated measures than just download or revenue numbers. I understand why Apple, Google etc aren't doing those things, but to say there's nothing much more they can do suggests a lack of imagination.

Edit: Though having said that, looking at the whole system, maybe some niche "boutique" platforms/stores with a high quality bar and strict controls, such as consoles or maybe VR store fronts, do the job of picking the very best content and elevating it. Whereas mobile serves as the "supermarket", where games that have already come to prominence elsewhere can be distributed to the wider consumer en-mass

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Coote on 19th May 2015 7:55pm

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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development6 years ago
Bugger. I agree with the article, but am distressed to see it nonethless. Because Greg was my only useful contact at Apple...
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Dan Prigg Executive Producer, GameHouse6 years ago
to be fair, the platforms arent really motivated to do more. They get 30% of everything regardless of whose is in the top ten. At 400 plus submissions a day they simply take a more draconian approach or gladiatorial view if you like.
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Show all comments (11)
Tom Gaulton Principal Engineer, SEGA Hardlight6 years ago
I disagree. By making the AppStore the only portal for apps, Apple have made discoverability their problem. Sure, you can advertise and promote your app elsewhere, but ultimately you have to go to the AppStore to download it, which is perpetually reinforcing the idea that "this is the place where I get my apps" on end users. One way to improve this would be to allow apps to be downloading directly from within other apps (still using the Apple back-end, but without that jump to the AppStore).
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd6 years ago
I don't think any platform holder is doing as much as they can to improve discoverability. If you have a megahit or release a game every single week Apple featuring seems to constantly be available. Doesn't leave a lot of attention for anyone else. And it is their problem if it leads to disaffected users.
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Anthony Gowland Director, Ant Workshop6 years ago
And it is their problem if it leads to disaffected users.
Do you have any evidence that it does, in significant volumes? I mean, are a lot of people giving up their iPhones because Apple keep featuring Supercell game updates? I've only ever heard developers complain that Obscure Platform Game Y isn't getting traffic, never users.

Of course discoverability isn't Apple's problem. iPhones are easy to discover. Games & apps on the iPhone are easy to discover. Your game/app might not be easy to discover on the app store. But whether apple are getting their 30% of your game sale, or their 30% of a Candy Crush pack of lives, they don't care. The actual revenue they make from the app store is a drop in the ocean of their income from hardware sales (something like 3% I seem to remember from the last time I saw someone work it out). As long as their are games and apps that people want to play being released, and there doesn't seem to be any sign that that isn't the case, Apple are happy.
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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd6 years ago
Yeah, I know that the app store revenues are a drop in the bucket compared to Apple's hardware business.

I don't have any data, no, but it's surely in Apple's interest to keep users engaged and making it more painful for them to migrate to other platforms. That they have made efforts to break up the stagnation in the charts suggests they do see this as an issue. My worry is that simply seeing a different spin on extremely familiar games every week is eventually going to lead a lot of users to stop checking the store.
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Fazi Zsolt Game & Level Designer @Atypical Games 6 years ago
This looks more like a PR article (for this gents company) than a real one.
And consumers, I think, aren't choosing iterative titles...
Essig said.

He should tell that to Gameloft to stop at once making Modern Combat 5, Nova 4 and so on. Cause consumers don't buy iterative titles.

This remark belongs in the same category with "the market is able to regulate itself, it's the natural law of demand and supply, no need for regulations..." boom comes the 2008 financial crisis.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Fazi Zsolt on 20th May 2015 3:11pm

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Rogier Voet IT Consultant 6 years ago
I disagree completely -

I understand the Apple is not solely responsible for promotion/discovering your product but it is their responsability that apps and games are easy to find and to discover in the store. Just think about it

A store where consumers cannot find products, is bad for consumers and the store itself because less products will be sold
A library where people cannot find books would be considered a poor place to find information

While steam is far from perfect I think they do a better job of presenting people with options to find/discover games a lot of marketplaces struggle with this problem but both Google Play and the Apple Store are one of the worst if you look how you can find new stuff.
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Sandy Lobban Founder, Noise Me Up6 years ago
Making games got easy, and as a consequence, selling them got more difficult. Thats how markets work. Its as much about sales as it is a creative pursuit now. The quicker people get used to that idea, the quicker they will adopt the correct approach and create innovative ideas to stand out from the crowd. I would suggest looking at the concept of "market sophistication". When a market is level 1 in terms of sophistication you can basically sell your product without any advertising as there is no competition. We have seen this in the industry and the technical barrier helped those on the inside to do just that. Now that's gone, things have changed. The car industry is a good example of a very sophisticated market (level 5), where the opposite is true. They need to spend alot making you feel a certain way about the brand. Think about the "it sounds just like a golf" advert. Games are still about a level 2/3, in my book. There is a future, but its not one where you just put an app on the app store and see what happens. You've got to make people care.
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Daniel Hill Marketing Director, Kuju/Attack Games6 years ago
"And then it just comes down to free market spend and innovation that is needed to differentiate yourself and bring yourself to the top."

Hmmm. "Free market spend" - by the Kings, and Supercells of this world (who aren't churning out "innovative" titles,let's face it), is what is pricing small devs out of the market, meaning they have to rely on things like store placement to even have a chance of driving meaningful numbers. So although it might not be the platform's "issue", for reasons stated by others on this thread, it could be argued that they have a responsibility, given their dominance of the available distribution channels, to try help smaller developers gain traction.

I'm aware that I'm naively describing some kind of utopian scenario here, in which large corporates suddenly realise that they can contribute powerfully to doing the right thing, rather than the most commercially viable. But one can always hope ;-)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Daniel Hill on 22nd May 2015 10:11am

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