How Mobile Gaming’s Lessons Can Benefit All App Marketers

By Thomas Sommer | November 11th, 2015

This article was originally posted on TapforTap's Blog and can be found here.

According to eMarketer, by 2016 mobile internet is poised to overtake desktop and reach $100 billion in ad spending. Very few businesses can turn their eyes away from the success of mobile as a platform these days. Whether it’s e-commerce, dating, entertainment, or lifestyle, all verticals are coming to the conclusion that, if they haven’t yet started taking mobile seriously, it’s about time they did.

If the rise of mobile followed the classic platform patterns, its development was pushed by an unusual vertical in the history of content platforms: gaming. Gaming apps were, without doubt, the first truly successful category on mobile and, it’s fair to say, games pioneered the industry and showed the way forward for all other verticals. Today, if mobile games no longer command the highest rank in the top free charts, they still take the crown in matters of in-app app store monetization as they fill most of the top-grossing positions.

With the experience comes the wisdom and there’s a lot everyone can gain from game publishers’ experience on the app stores. Here are the top 3 items all app publishers can learn from mobile gaming.

Adopt a Mobile-First Approach As If Your Life Depended On It

There is a reason mobile games became successful so fast: they had no choice. Most games on the app stores are published by mobile-only, or at least mobile first, companies. For them, mobile is not just another subset of the top-line: it is their only (or main) monetization stream, on which they depend for the very survival of their business. For this reason, they had to adapt a mobile-first approach and think of the monetization mechanics right from the start.

Today, mobile might still not be your number 1 priority. However, as Benedict Evans recently wrote:

“Mobile is no longer part of the internet. It IS the internet […] Mobile is not a subset of the internet anymore, that you use only if you’re waiting for a coffee or don’t have a PC in front of you – it’s becoming the main way that people use the internet.”

Today, even if mobile is not your only, or even your main, revenue stream, build and consider your app as if the very survival of your business depended on it.

Because, some day, and probably earlier than you think, it will.

Develop a Crystal-Clear Value Proposition, Right from the Start

As it was the first category to emerge, mobile gaming has evolved to become the most competitive vertical in the app store. Success is extremely skewed for games: few publishers make it, but those who do, make it big. In this context, it is extremely hard for most game publishers to get discovered, let alone monetize and make a living from their work. For this reason, it has been paramount for them to focus on their core USP and develop a clear value proposition right from the start if they want to get a chance to succeed in this highly-competitive environment. This value proposition also needs to be reflected in the development and the UX of the app; in other words, no room for gimmicks.

Users are becoming extremely intolerant of apps which don’t provide what they want after a few seconds. Today, even if your business is operating in a vertical which is not as competitive as gaming on the app stores, make sure to hone in on your value proposition and build your app’s user experience around it. Your users will thank you.

Become a Lifetime Value Expert

Early on, mobile game publishers realized that, even if you had developed a great app, come up with a distinctive USP and developed solid monetization mechanics, it was not enough to ensure success. What mattered, then, was understanding what a good gamer was and how to get more of them. They also quickly understood that this could not solely be measured in terms of raw monetization, for two reasons.

First, good users are not only the ones that eventually go all the way to a purchase. Users that are simply engaged with the game can be extremely useful, as they provide analytical feedback and often help virality metrics through word-of-mouth or social sharing. Then, user lifecycles are often very long and, most of the time, monetization events don’t happen before a few weeks or a few months. However, you can’t wait that long to optimize your marketing and advertising efforts: you need to track and monitor earlier in-app user behavioral events, so-called “proxies”, to figure out how relevant new users are. For games, these proxies can for instance belong to the fields of retention (day 3 retention), engagement (percentage of tutorial completion), or virality (percentage of game center sign in). For other verticals, these proxies are even more diverse and vary a lot from app to app.

With costs of acquiring new users on the rise and intense competition in the top charts, mastering the art of LTV optimization quickly stopped being an option for mobile gaming. Whichever vertical you app is in, as mobile matures and competition increases for everyone, it’s not a bad idea to start getting your LTV basics straight as well.

Thomas Sommer
Thomas heads up content marketing at AppLift. As such he’s in charge of sourcing, curating, creating and distributing insightful content to increase visibility and thought leadership for the company. Thomas loves to scrutinize the relentless and trilling developments of the mobile industry. You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.