HOW LUDIA REFOCUSED TO CAPTURE MORE PLAYERS IN THE COVID ERA
We’ve all seen the headlines — gaming has seen huge growth during COVID-19 as consumers sought a distraction during lockdown. And with this surge of users has been a renewed focus on finding those elusive "whales". But with CPIs dropping, the winning strategy has increasingly meant not throwing back "minnows" or other smaller creatures. Currently, 96.4% of apps in the Google Play Store are free to download, as publishers of mobile apps use monetization strategies such as advertising-based monetization or in-app purchases.
Balanced monetization models mean there’s less of an incentive to go all-in on attracting whales, especially as the cost to acquire users is relatively low. Over the last three years, the percentage of paying players per game has increased by a third in North America (to 4.02%) and by a fifth in Europe (to 2.43%), meaning there’s plenty more fish in the sea. Instead, the smart play is to use data to detect high-upside users — and train them to act a lot like whales. But to do this, you need an amazing product that keeps them coming back.
We caught up with Rose Agozzino, Senior Marketing Specialist at Ludia, to explain how the company plans to expand their monetization strategy beyond ‘whales’ and introduce compassionate feature development to ensure it holds on to users through the COVID-19 period.
The smart play is to use data to detect high-upside users — and train them to act a lot like whales
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A CHICKEN OR EGG SITUATION
Ludia’s Jurassic World games are about as big an IP as you can imagine — with the movie franchise alone raking in almost $5 billion in box office revenue. Taking a beloved universe, spanning almost 30 years of movies, books and merchandise — and turning it into a playable park-building game means treating the property with kid-gloves. Rose explained how coronavirus meant that Ludia had to tailor their product development timeline to better reflect the new normal — while ensuring that users didn’t feel like they were missing out anything.
“We actually had an update coming out mid-July, which originally was focused on getting people together,” Rose says. “But now with COVID, we've learned how to make the new features work while socially distancing.” But making these changes in a way that feels organic to the DNA of the product is key. “[I think it was a success] because people who were already in more remote locations now feel like they're being listened to a little bit more,” Rose explains. “They have more events and items catered to this remote possibility, it feels natural.”
Ludia tailored their "socially distant" features to the unique character of each property. Jurassic World Alive, a geolocation/AR title, had previously encouraged everyone to go outside.
“One of the things that we had to be very clear about was that we had temporarily changed a lot of the mechanics,” Rose explains. “But the player base responded very well.”
Jurassic World: The Game has gameplay features where users must hatch eggs to earn more dinosaur creatures. But in the socially distant version, instead of having to go outside to an incubator, now users could reach it from their house. In Jurassic World: Alive, in order to encourage gameplay, Ludia created and provided new "scents" which spawned dinosaurs close to where the scent was dropped — allowing players to continue playing close to home, since they no longer had to wander as much to find new creatures.
“We started providing additional gifting resources every week because we took away one of the mechanics that forced them to go outside and explore,” Rose added. “We really tried to make sure that we balanced anything that we removed for safety purposes with an equivalent in-game gift or offer. And — more gameplay.”
FOLLOW THE PATH
Even when there isn’t a pandemic, it's really important to understand the user journey and think: how are people using my game? This is especially key, Rose explains, when you start to notice emergent behaviors: “Sometimes users aren’t playing the game the way you intend for them to play the game. They go ahead and find a whole new path.”
This is something that can easily be leveraged to make ads work for both the user and the game.
“A really good placement, one where the player saw the benefit, is in Jurassic World: The Game,” Rose said. “One of the monetization features was once you took your dinosaurs into battle, your dinosaurs went into a cooldown. So you cannot use them for X amount of time.”
But as part of their monetization strategy, Ludia gave users the option to watch an ad to get some of that time back. "Smart users," Rose said, "saw the benefit." But it was always a choice.
With COVID impacting the wider economy, Rose explains how Ludia maneuvered to stay financially healthy and in a position to capitalize on the boost in the wider gaming vertical. “We had always planned to do ad monetization,” Rose says, “But I believe with the whole pandemic situation — pockets might be a little bit tighter. I'm taking that into account and focusing on making sure we can still continue to monetize these games, but to a greater population.”
While we often hear figures about "whales" driving games’ bottom lines, for Rose, “It's actually less about the whales for ad monetization."
It’s a data-driven philosophy that the team has had in the pipeline for some time, but, Rose explains, "It became immediately pressing once COVID-19 began to unfold."
“There’s this mindset that 2% of the population generates 80% of the revenue. The thing is you still have 90% that are there in your game. So maybe they're not going to spend, but providing them with opportunities to generate revenue," Rose says. "There have been studies that have shown that players who engage in rewarded ads, they're more likely to become paying users. Because they understand the benefit.”
"We’re actually paying more attention to the minnows and more of that smaller cohort. The minnows and the dolphins, those are the gamers who maybe right now don't have the means to spend as they want to.”
TOP OF THE FOOD CHAIN
Keeping the option there for them to interact with the game in a meaningful way is not just the right thing to do from a user perspective, it also provides opportunities to monetize.
“Ad monetization was something we had already been looking into,” Rose added. “We had different strategies in the past — we had done offer walls, where the player would opt in to complete certain offers and receive currency.”
Rose explained that their previous strategy had revolved around non-rewarded videos, interstitials that pause at a key moment in the game. But Ludia started looking into rewarded videos after carrying out comprehensive competitor research.
“In the last 18 months, evaluating competitors is something that we seriously started to look into. Speaking with other people in the industry was eye-opening, understanding their split from revenue. What are the expectations versus what is reality? It's really nice when you hear, ‘Oh yeah, we have $25 eCPM for rewarded video.’”
But this kind of analysis only paid dividends because the Ludia properties were appropriate for the strategy.
“If you don't have the impression numbers or the player base to generate the views that you would need,” Rose cautions, there’s no point. For Ludia “it came down to doing some mathematics and looking at the numbers, seeing the split of the player base, what platform they're on, pulling together these more accurate readings, and then you know, choosing to move forward with the best way to implement.”
Design is a big part of it, Rose explains. “Especially when you start doing rewarded videos. You want to make sure that the placement is right for that engaged user to really want to continue watching the video. But you also have to make sure it does not have a negative impact on your real money monetization strategy. So there is that balance. As well, that needs to be done from the data analysis side.”
Ads can actually help improve engagement and retention. Nearly 60% of all developers surveyed by Facebook agreed that ads can improve player retention and do not detract from the game experience.
FIND THE CONTEXT
Once you’ve worked out what monetization strategy is appropriate for your situation, Rose says, “the next step is really finding those contexts within the game where we're ready to see a lot of interaction.”
In some games, it’s the entry point into a level or just as the player is on their last life. It’s all about giving the user the choice. It was through continuous iteration that Ludia found the correct locations for their rewarded videos. Rose described it as a continuing process of asking “What happens if we add a video here?”
Of particular concern was that the new monetization strategy didn’t cannibalize their working payment strategy. But when executed correctly, advertising can be a powerful tool — with 67% of gamers in the U.S. alone saying they’d be happy to watch an ad in return for an in-game reward.
“It was really important to make sure that our monetization strategy was not going to have a negative impact on the real money purchasing strategy. And once we knew we were sure, and we had the data, that's when we started implementing mediators.”
Rose recalls the process took six months of testing but paid dividends, with plenty of actionable insights: “If a player watches an ad, does that mean they're more likely or less likely to have higher engagement, to have higher retention numbers? Are they more likely to spend after watching an ad? These are all kind of data points that we looked at.”
In fact, ads can actually help improve engagement and retention. Nearly 60% of all developers (and 74% of larger ones) surveyed by Facebook agreed that ads can improve player retention and do not detract from the game experience.
“Many people balance between choosing to pay a resource to continue versus not paying?” says Rose. “You have to think, what are the possibilities if I offer them an advertisement? We started looking at the analytics and identifying those key contexts, where that makes the most sense. Both from a paying player, but also from the non-paying players or from the minnows and the lower sea creatures.”
With a strong commitment to ensuring engaging gameplay for their users, Ludia has evolved into a ferocious mobile creature by placing ads where they make sense in the player journey and boost the bottom line.