How to Streamline the Selling of In-App Video Advertising Inventory

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This past January, mobile apps overtook PC Internet usage in the U.S. for the first time in history. Now more than ever, consumers are on their mobile devices and advertisers are eager to reach them where they are most engaged.

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Apple to pay at least $32.5 million in refunds for accidental in-app purchases

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Apple has agreed to refund consumers whose children made in-app purchases in apps on iPhone and iPad, without parental consent. Apple will pay at least $32.5 million in refunds to settle a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission, the FTC reports.

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Kahuna launches with $2M in funding, looks to aid app engagement

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Ninety percent of mobile installs are currently generating zero value.

Those are the scary numbers revealed inside a recent survey calculated by Kahuna, a marketing startup that is launching a new consumer engagement engine, and is backed by $2 million in funding by some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley, from Tim Kendall (Pinterest’s head of product management) to Lee Linden (Facebook’s head of commerce). (more…)

Arkadium study finds in-app purchases more likely in mobile games over Facebook

Image via Arkadium

Image via Arkadium

Casual games developer and publisher Arkadium today released the results of a study of 1,500 cross-platform gamers, analyzing the purchasing and playing behaviors of these players in both mobile games and on Facebook.

Conducted by Peanut Labs, the study measured an even mix of both males and females, age 18 or over, from the US. The study found that gamers tend to interact more frequently with Facebook games, with 56 percent of respondents saying they play three or more Facebook games a week, while only 48 percent play three or more mobile games each week.

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Yelp now offers food delivery to keep users in the app

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The latest version of mobile review app Yelp has introduced a mobile delivery option, giving users the chance to not only look at menus at local restaurants, but also purchase items for delivery without leaving the app.

While only available in limited markets, and with participating delivery services, the Yelp order process will ensure that customers never leave the app, as the application takes care of the entire ordering and payment processing experience.

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Guest Post: The secrets to Blood Brothers’ success

Editor’s note: DeNA’s Japanese RPG card battler has been a hit for the mobile-social gaming juggernaut since release. As Inside Mobile Apps previously reported, Blood Brothers’ events feature is wildly successful for the game. In a third guest post from Kevin Oke, lead designer at both Adrian Crook & Associates, a social-mobile game design consultancy, and PlayRank, a second screen startup, he analyzes the successful components of Blood Brothers from an outsider’s perspective. He previously wrote guest posts for Inside Mobile Apps which analyzed Supercell’s Clash of Clans and NimbeBit’s Nimbe Quest.

DeNA Mobage’s Blood Brothers for iOS and Android recently celebrated its one year anniversary, and is continuing to monetize very well, with an ARPU that has grown every month since release. With this milestone in mind, now seems like a good time to take a dive into the game and highlight some of the things this collectible card game (CCG) does well.

Although it’s certainly firmly rooted in the conventions of the CCG genre (“hands-off” battles, card fusion, gacha) Blood Brothers does add its own touches of innovation, as explained below.

Blood Brothers PvP battle surfacingPvP

Blood Brothers excels at player vs. player (PvP) on a number of levels, one being surfacing. Good surfacing ensures that players are not only made aware of key AEM (Acquisition, Engagement, Monetization) features and the benefits they stand to gain by using them, but also pushed towards these behaviors via smart timing and offering incentives. This is generally done through contextual dialog boxes and limited time promotions.

As PvP gameplay is traditionally a strong source of retention and monetization, it’s especially important to do surfacing well. Blood Brothers keeps PvP at the forefront of the player’s mind with random PvP battles while the player is progressing through a level. These random battles are effective in several ways:

  • Surfacing of PvP gameplay to get the player interested in it and strengthen its ability to help monetize and retain players.
  • Increases PvP’s effectiveness as a morale sink (morale being the rechargeable energy resource needed to engage in PvP and raid boss fights).
  • Clear, simple goals and incentives (winning streaks reward the player with items) — these suck the player in, extending sessions and draining the player of their morale as they attempt to extend their win streak to hit the next reward.

Although conceptually not unique to Blood Brothers, the inclusion of “all-out attacks” (more effective than regular attacks but three-times more costly in terms of morale) and high level raid bosses that are susceptible to them further help to keep morale a precious resource and make a micro-transaction refill more tempting.

Lastly, compared to the confusing and convoluted user experience (UX) that precludes getting into a PvP match in Rage of Bahamut, there is little such friction in Blood Brothers. Opponent selection filtering options are eliminated in favor of pre-determined choices, and it’s immediately clear to the player what’s at stake with rewards, and how their deck stacks up against their potential opponents. (more…)

Guest Post: Analyzing the stickiness in Nimble Quest

Editor’s note: Arcade action game Nimble Quest is the latest offering from Tiny Towers and Pocket Planes developer NimbleBit. Kevin Oke, Lead Designer at both Adrian Crook & Associates, a social-mobile game design consultancy, and PlayRank, a second screen startup, analyzes the stickiness in Nimble Quest. He previously wrote a guest post for Inside Mobile Apps that analyzed engagement in Supercell’s Clash of Clans.

nimblebit-logoNimbleBit, creators of Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes, released their latest title the aptly named Nimble Quest at the end of March. While it’s a fun game, I’ve found four key issues described below that I believe limit its stickiness and in turn, its ability to monetize.

According to AppData, after a strong start peaking at No. 6 on the top free iPhone apps chart for the games genre, it has slid to No. 217 as of this writing. Its rank on the top grossing iPhone apps chart for the games genre is at No. 190. These positions may be at least partially attributable to the issues I found.

The Compulsion Loop

This is the biggest barrier for Nimble Quest to overcome. The nature of its compulsion loop makes for a very grind heavy experience that hinders its stickiness.Nimble Quest compulsion loop

It’s a rule of thumb in game design that the shorter the loop, the more addictive the experience. By analyzing the loop (diagram above), one can see that unless the player is willing to spend hard currency, they have to restart from the beginning every time. The variable session length nature of the game means that as the player and their friends improve, it takes more and more time for them to challenge their ever-increasing high scores.

Essentially Nimble Quest is banking on players getting invested enough in leaderboard competition to start paying once the grind becomes too much to bear. This is a risky hook to rely on here, as it’s one that is much better suited to games with more of a sense of permanence and ownership, like city builders and strategy games such as Kingdoms of Camelot by Kabam. The reason being that without such permanence, it’s much easier for the player to decide to quit when the grinding gets tiresome.

As in any freemium game leveraging the player’s time for money, if the player tires of the grind too quickly and churns out, they can’t be monetized. However Nimble Quest is especially at risk here because of their compulsion loop. Fixed session lengths with level progression and difficulty determined by a party XP level would have provided more stickiness. (more…)

Blizzard announces free-to-play collectible card game Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Hearthstone Heroes of Warcraft logoAt the 2013 Penny Arcade Expo East, Blizzard Entertainment today announced Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, a fee-to-play collectible card game, coming to PC, Mac and iPad.

The game features player-versus-player gameplay, more than 300 cards to collect, with a user receiving five cards for every pack of cards they earn or purchase, and multiplayer hosted via Battle.net matchmaking.

Similar to other collectible card games like Rage of Bahamut, users can craft cards by fusing cards together to make other cards. Hearthstone also features a deck-building system, which allows users to construct their deck automatically or customized down to the last card. Users build their deck around a character class such as a rogue. Users can earn or purchase a pack of cards with five random cards of various card types like common, rare, epic and legendary. It’s a similar mechanic in gacha-infusion games like Blood Brothers where the user can obtain cards, but what they get depends on luck.

Users interested in getting their hands on the game early, can sign up for the beta, which starts this summer, here. An official release date was not revealed other than Blizzard planning to launch the title this year.

Guest Post: Clash of Clans engagement analysis

Editor’s note: Clash of Clans, one of two titles from Finnish mobile developer Supercell, has continually topped the iOS charts and raked in loads of money for the studio. Kevin Oke, Lead Designer at both Adrian Crook & Associates, a social-mobile game design consultancy, and PlayRank, a second screen startup, takes a deep dive into how Clash of Clans effectively engages and retains players.
Supercell logo

Supercell’s Clash of Clans (CoC) has been a top grossing title on the iOS app store for months now, and in the course of playing (and becoming addicted to) the game, I began to unravel just how it manages to engage and retain players so well.

Meaningful Downtime Mechanics

Games relying on appointment mechanics as part of their compulsion loop typically have trouble addressing the downtime that arises in between these appointments. Specifically, how to engage players during this time, as generally the most engaging gameplay and core mechanics are intertwined with these downtime-creating appointment mechanics. In city builder games, usually the only thing available to the player during downtime is re-organizing their cities — shallow gameplay, generally speaking.Clash of Clans downtime screenshot

In this sense, CoC is no different. However the composition of the player’s village is not only vital to success, but a downtime session of moving gold mines and cannons around can directly lead to a micro-transaction.

A quick explanation for those that have not played CoC: The layout of your buildings, walls, traps, and weaponry are key, as you need to defend against raids from other players. An airtight defense quickly becomes the obsession of CoC players as they try to protect their stores of gold and elixir. Using the Replay feature (more on this later), they watch and learn from their defeats, tweaking their layout to patch holes in their defense.

In short, this is a fantastic downtime mechanic. Why?

  • It’s meaningful.
  • It creates additional, long play sessions (a level 20 player could easily spend half an hour doing a total revamp of their defenses).
  • Spurs on purchases — “I could defend the south side of the village with just these two cannons if they were upgraded. But I don’t have enough gold … But if I don’t upgrade, I’m too vulnerable.” A perfect example of this mechanic leading to a micro-transaction.
  • The player’s fortress layout is personal and unique. This attachment is great for engagement long-term.

As you can see, this isn’t just a fantastic downtime mechanic, but a fantastic gameplay mechanic period.

Loop Optimization

Loop optimization provides the player with tricks to discover and exploit over the course of their lifetime within the game. A prime example in social games is Farmville players finding and planting the seeds with the best coin/XP cost ratio. Instances of loop optimization help with long-term engagement by making a game more difficult to grok, and in competitive games, providing an edge to players with the will to unearth them. In social games with appointment mechanics, they also create more sessions per day.

Loop optimization in CoC is centered on resource collecting and raids. In classic appointment mechanic fashion, for the player to most efficiently harvest gold and elixir they need to return to the game and harvest right when the resource generating structures are at max capacity. Harvest any time past that point, and it’s the equivalent of turning on a tap to fill a bucket and leaving, coming back, and seeing the bucket overflowing — wasted resources. This is not unique to CoC in any way, but it’s still important in maximizing the number of daily sessions per player.

The more interesting loop optimization comes from player vs. player (PvP) and the threat of raids. Leaving hoards of gold and elixir sitting around makes the player a very appealing target for raids. Thus they are encouraged to check in often and do one of two things:

  • Collect their resources from the buildings that generate them, moving them into their storage units, which if the player is smart, are behind fortifications.
  • Collect and spend their resources immediately.Clash of Clans lopp optimization screenshot

As the player can only build a certain number of defenses at any given time (based on the level of their town hall), they can never provide adequate protection for all of their structures.

Thus the need to check in often and spend, or move the gold and elixir to storage units that are better protected — it’s a common strategy to keep storage units behind walls and near archery towers and cannons, and leave gold mines and elixir collectors out in the open, as they store much less and therefore are less of a loss if pillaged.

This all means that saving up for big-ticket upgrades and buildings is risky. The more time spent saving up, the bigger the loss and time wasted if the player is raided. Recognizing that a moment of tension and risk is a great time to conduct a micro-transaction, Supercell offers a shield that will protect the player from raids while they are saving up. Or the player can just buy the item in question immediately with hard currency. (more…)

Ben Cousins on DeNA’s upcoming core FPS The Drowning

Developer Scattered Entertainment’s Ben Cousins recently gave Inside Mobile Apps an in-depth look at the developer’s upcoming horror first-person shooter (FPS) The Drowning. Cousins, the general manager of the studio, filled us in on the title’s innovative controls, monetization hooks and social features.The Drowning logo

The Stockholm-based studio, which is a subsidiary of DeNA, consists of team members that had previously worked on multiple console FPS franchises including Halo, Crysis, Far Cry and Battlefield. Industry veteran Cousins is the man leading the ship at Scattered Entertainment, who had previously worked at Acclaim Entertainment, Lionhead Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment, and most recently at Electronic Arts. He joined DeNA because he wanted to work at a company where free-to-play and digital were the primary focus in terms of revenue.

“We didn’t feel like core gamers needs were being served particularly well,” he says. “Not in terms of giving them enormous single-player games that they sit down and play for eight hours, but more creating games that have the adult tone, violence, excitement, drama, and high-end visuals that they would expect from a console game.”

The Drowning’s core gameplay loops and controls

The free-to-play game, which runs on the Unity3D engine, is aimed at the core audience and places the user as survivor of the apocalypse who’s stranded on a series of islands in the pacific northwest of the U.S. The user starts with just a pistol and is soon attacked by zombie-like creatures. The player is then rescued by another survivor named Charlotte, who turns out to be a gunsmith that operates a workshop. Users are then tasked with going out to various locations nearby to clear out baddies and scavenge for parts to craft weapons and upgrade existing weapons.The Drowning screenshot 1

There are two core gameplay loops in The Drowning. First, users go to these various island environments and play a two-minute long round where they have to kill as many zombies as possible in as violent of a way as possible via head shots, chaining kills, knocking out baddies, and more, to rack up the highest score possible. The score represents how long zombies will retreat from an environment before they return. Second, while the baddies are away, this gives the user the opportunity to scavenge the environment for parts and broken weapons. The scavenge mode, Cousins says, plays like a slots game where the user presses a button and then receives a random part — such as a broken AK-47, grease, duct tape or a battery. The higher the score in the game round, the higher likelihood the player will nab a rarer part. None of these parts are useful alone, but the parts can crafted together to create a functional Ak-47, for example.

The Drowning’s control scheme is one of the bigger selling points for the game. The controls are not designed around virtual joysticks. Rather, the game is controlled using common touch interface gestures like taps, swipes and pinches. Users can tap the screen with two fingers to shoot, and the bullet is fired to the center point of the two fingers, resulting in the ability to track moving target or multiple baddies without moving the camera. Players can also tap to walk, swipe to look and pinch to zoom. (more…)

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