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DeNA's 3 tips for mobile game success

DeNA's 3 tips for mobile game success Exclusive

June 20, 2013 | By Kris Graft

Clive Downie is CEO of Western operations for DeNA, a leading mobile company based out of Tokyo, Japan that develops and publishes mobile games on the wide-reaching Mobage platform.

Recently, we got Downie on the phone and asked for pieces of advice for today's mobile game developer. Here's what he told us, word-for-word.

"Know who your market is before you start making a game."

The market is even more competitive than even at the high point of consoles. So if you don't have a clear idea of what your market is and what their needs are, you end up creating a game based on your own interests, which isn't always the best route. Know your market and design a game for your market needs. It's a simple statement, it's such common sense, but it's often not the case.

We break down our target market based on their play patterns. Time is really the thing that drives us in many aspects of what we do. There are various segments of the population that play games for different amounts of the day. That will dictate what kind of experience you can put in front of them. We also do a lot of consumer research.

We're in a position [where we can access a lot of metrics and research]. But I know that's very hard for new developers to do. So what new developers have to do is rely on instinct -- we all started there. So instinct can give you the answers, but then you have to dial in a bit of luck.

"In the world of freemium mobile games, don't focus on monetization."

If you focus on monetization as your first focal point, you will maybe score some early wins, but in the long term you'll lose. You have to focus on engagement. You have to focus on providing people with a valuable use of their time, first and foremost, every single day, and really try to understand what the "journey" is of that game, over the weeks, months and maybe even years. Some games out there are years old, and they're doing even better now than they were at the beginning.

Think about the engagement in those areas, in those time spans, and how you will continue to operate the game over those timelines to keep people coming back, providing a valuable use of their time, day-in and day-out. Otherwise, they won't stay around, and ultimately you won't get their money. Consumers pay when they're happy -- that is, when they feel they're getting value out of spending their time.

Focus on the engagement more than money, and the live operations.

"Consider working with a publisher or a partner in the space."

The cost of acquisition in this space is rather high. You need to always be spending below what the lifetime value of a consumer is. And trying to navigate that equation is tough. So using a larger partner who has access to both a large network and also buying power with the advertising companies can really save you some money, and it's worth, in my opinion, the partnership fees.

[DeNA is a publisher itself, so it makes sense Downie would suggest this. But why would someone want a publisher on a platform on which you can self-publish?]

The argument is that it can reduce acquisition costs by a substantial amount, and what we do with products that come into our network is we provide production advice, and provide people with live operations learning. We just know from having been there, certainly as ngmoco early on, that it's a fiercely competitive market. So the argument is to help with engagement, monetization and acquisition.

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