Jonathan Harrop, senior director of global marketing & communications at AdColony, presents more strategies adopted by brands that may also prove fruitful for mobile game developers
This is the second part of a two-part series on the five learnings that mobile game creators can take from the retail world. To see part one, including the importance of knowing your shoppers and understanding your competition, visit this page.
Cut out the middleman
The quick rise in popularity of mobile apps has provided an enormous influx of new players willing to spend time and money in mobile gaming. In addition, getting your game to a mobile app storefront is much easier compared to previous platforms. Generating revenue out of that huge opportunity, though, is still hard for individual developers.
Until very recently, the primary channel for games distribution was a retail or e-commerce storefront that likely required a publishing partner to help market, manufacture and sell-in to distribution channels.
Now app makers have the ability to create a product and sell directly to consumers, and that is extremely powerful. The unexpected and unprecedented success of several indie games led to a gold rush in mobile app development.
While it’s up to the distribution platforms to ultimately solve the infinite shelf space problem we talked about previously, here is more information about how to apply the science of retail to your in-app store.
Stock your store with the right products
You don’t have to take Retail 101 to know that you should sell products that are relevant to your customer. (And now that you know who your customer is, there’s no excuse to not match them up with the right product.) It is essential to know who your game is built for, because it’s impossible to build a game for everyone.
If your target audience is males 18-34 years old, for instance, and your app is a hardcore multiplayer action game, because of the competitive nature of the game, it’s appropriate to sell higher-priced premium items such as weapons, vehicles and power-ups.
But say your target is a broader mix of males and females 35-60 years old, and your app is a social match-3 game. In this case, it’s less likely that you can charge the same premium prices. You are more likely to be successful in selling small, consumable items.
Many developers have fallen into the trap of simply copying methods and in-app store products from successful apps – without tuning those products for their audience. It’s vital that the type of product for sale is right for your players, and you must first know your target audience before making those crucial product decisions. Here’s just one example via Timothy Harris & Gamasutra.
For some retailers (e.g. Amazon) breadth of selection is their competitive advantage and the way they serve their customers. For mobile games, though, less is more. Best practices indicate that the sweet spot for in-app stores is between 3-6 items for sale. Frequently review the products you have in your in-app store and make changes based on your review. If a product is lagging in sales, consider marking it down for a brief period of time, or adding a bonus when the item is purchased, but don’t run sales too frequently. Consumers can get “sales fatigue” when promotions happen too often or last too long.
As a last resort, if an item in your in-app store doesn’t perform relative to your other store items, consider replacing it. Most retailers are reviewing product sales on a daily basis, if not more. Unless you are extremely lucky, you will need to review and revise your product assortment frequently.
Put the milk in the back, but keep the candy at the checkout
If you’ve ever shopped at a grocery store, it can be infuriating if all you need to buy is a gallon of milk, because it’s about as far away from the front door as possible. This is retail merchandising strategy at its best! The grocer knows that milk is a staple item, so why not force customers to pass by all of the other products for sale on the way to the milk, in the hope that they’ll pick up something else they didn’t plan to buy?
You are probably also well aware that there is a tempting supply of candy within reach in the checkout aisle, especially if you have kids, or simply lack self-control. It’s hard to say “no” when something so small and tantalising is within easy reach at the right time, especially as waiting in line makes you a captive audience. Next time you visit your grocer or convenience store, look at what height the candy is displayed at. (Hint: It’s situated at or below the height of an average child, or hobbit.)
While you might not see a direct parallel between milk and candy and in-app currency and power-ups, there is actually a connection. If you have an item that is frequently purchased, (e.g., players always opt for the $.99 coin pack), consider moving this item further away from the store opening. Typically, the top left is where players will start browsing your store. Placing other items to the left, forcing players to scan past other items before landing on the desirable item, is your way of showing off your other products that they might not ever see if the top seller is the first item in the store.
The in-app parallel to the candy at the check-out aisle is the add-on or bundle of products. Consider making bundles of items in the store and ask players to upgrade to the bundle for just a small increase in the purchase price. Some would call this the “do you want fries with that?” tactic. We’ll just call it smart upselling.
To get your players’ attention in your store, words like “value,” “limited,” and “sale” are great. Consider having a “Top Seller” and “Best Value” choice along with any promotional sale item and utilise red and yellow colors for your messaging. They are extremely powerful at grabbing attention, but don’t overdo it; be sure these suggestions are honest. Telling someone that something is “Best Value!” when someone doing basic math can figure out that it’s only the best value for the developer’s bank account will backfire, and user frustration (and social protest) could cause far more harm to your credibility.
It’s never been easier to make mobile games, but it’s also never been more complicated to make money in games. Other industries have evolved and changed over time, and mobile is just now hitting its first big seismic shift. Unlike some of those other industries, mobile developers can experiment, learn and apply new methods of monetising in near real-time.
The most important thing you can do is to collect and analyse data. Look at what users are clicking on, how long they browse the store, what they buy – and when and why. Study purchase patterns, seasonality, and inject promotions to off-set slow times. Ask players for feedback, and listen to what they’re saying, and what they’re not saying.
There’s a reason why this is an important strategy in free-to-play game design. It’s also essential when building out a winning merchandising strategy, and can make your storefront more shoppable, engaging and profitable.