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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Methods And Challenges Increasing Social Casino RPU(Revenue Per Game)

Understanding the characteristics of a game that contribute to revenue opportunities for a social casino game are always challenging. Many factors influence a game's ability to generate revenue.  In the highly competitive, and in many cases  "me too" world of social casino game content, where much of the content is very similar, game publishers are challenged with ways to differentiate and  increase revenue from a game that result in comparatively higher revenue. The following are general categories to consider with the objective of increasing revenue for an existing or new social casino game.

 Game marketing and game content are the two general areas that game developers and publishers focus on to increase revenue from an existing game.  These general  categories are subjects on their own that require different  skills, expertise and execution strategies to properly move revenue higher. Bringing together teams with both skill sets and objectives, that share  the common goal of increasing revenue, and at the same time manage the cost of acquiring players and controlling development expenditures is challenging yet necessary to blend the two initiatives in a common strategy.

Despite the cultural and operational differences that exist between development and marketing, both organizations should collaborate to agree on product/game changes that impact the game "experience" for the purpose of increasing RPU.

Delivery Platforms - Game delivery platforms can and do influence game design and RPU. A web, Facebook, mobile phone, tablet, Google, Apple, Amazon, etc. implementation  impact how and why a game should be constructed and marketed. It is very unlikely that one shoe fits all and wise game developers and publishers will take platforms into consideration when crafting a game for higher RPU.  Preferably ,a game should be specifically  developed for its environment, audience and format as opposed to being "ported"  to different environments.

Game Differentiation - Social casino audiences are an interesting group of  game content consumers. The demographic is skewed to a relatively older segment of online players when compared to other game audiences and their prejudice for game content can be influenced by "traditional" notions  of land based casino  and online gambling content.  These peculiarities  inevitably narrow the range of what is considered a social "casino" game for many players.  This tendency  has resulted in a crowded "me too" marketplace that requires either some differentiation(not too much) to get noticed or a high marketing spend to attract players.

Traditional Slot Content -  Traditional land based slot game developers have taken advantage of demand for traditional slot content online and have successfully moved   land based content verbatim to the online domain. This in itself confirms consumer preferences and the challenge for studios without an inventory of copyright protected slot content. Assuming traditional gambling content is the preferred game content for social casino players the real objective is differentiation within this constrained universe. This either limits or encourages creative license in the development process. However, extreme divergence from the norm is seldom popular.   

Non-Traditional Slot Content - Many social casino companies produce games that have non-traditional themes. These themes have to be clever, not alienate the core audience and target a very specific demographic that may or may not be the core group of traditional online slot social casino players. For example, we have seen "virtual world" implementations that immerse a player into a simulated casino floor. However, these implementation have struggled because it appears that consumers want quick  access to  game play and many are not familiar the land based casino experience. This indicates that  game model experimentation should be part of the development process suggesting that committing to a particular social casino genre without  some player feedback before committing to a new genre is advised.  This also implies that  iteration on themes may result in finding a niche market that does not require an excessive marketing spend to acquire. If successful the mining of a relatively untapped gaming market segment could be lucrative.

Non- Slot Content - Despite the fact that slots are the most popular online social casino game content other forms of casino game content such as craps, roulette, blackjack, poker, pai gow, etc. are also popular forms of social casino. There are significant differences in how best to monetize this array of games because there is such diversity in the  game mechanics for no-slot games. For example, is there a dealer involved, how many people play at a time, how are games and events started, how do players communicate in a multi player environment?   These factors all require unique and special attention to adequately address optimizing a game for revenue generation. Essentially, each  game category requires  special consideration and a careful examination of the market for the game  to determine the potential audience size and propensity  for revenue.

Cultural and Demographic Sensitivity - Be aware of your target audience and or the audience that is most likely to be attracted to your form of social casino content. This may seem obvious but many social casino publishers do not differentiate content, offers or promotions  based on the sex,  location, religion, culture or language. What encourages players in your target audience to transact and when are they most likely to play?  What game content could be offensive to your audience and what content will encourage them to play? Careful and limited use of text is advised to decrease the possible friction points across language and cultural boundaries.

 Buying And Promoting Chip Purchases - Promoting chip buying is a science  based on an understanding of your player.  Players will be motivated to purchase more chips in a number of ways. A player may be enticed by  a beginner player  offer, an in-game play offer, an exit offer or cascading offers. A player may also be distracted by offers,  and  may not understand why they need more chips at certain points of the game.  One of the common faults of many  social casino games is that they do consider a players "state" and when a player will most likely transaction.  What is the players chip inventory and is the amount used to determine where and how chip offers are generated?  Some  games will constantly encourage a player to buy more chips when in fact they already have a large amount resulting a player ignoring chip offers. Essentially, the game is not player aware ignoring the "state" of the player or the historical chip buying propensities of the player. Investment in programming and analytics to fully understand your "players" and where they are in terms of their wallet will result in a better placement of chip offers during game play.

Coordinating  Marketing Programs And Content Modifications - Frequently game marketing programs to drive traffic and  increase RPU  are not complimented with content and game changes to specifically address a campaign.   In some cases the operation and development staff are not aware of a marketing program, its intended audience or the expected RPU.  Running generic marketing campaigns are OK. However, crafting "informed" campaigns will result in higher yielding efforts. Making a development and operations  staff aware of special marketing campaign goals may generate some creative ideas that could quickly be implemented by the development staff.

Analytics - Initiating   marketing programs or  game content/mechanic changes without a way of measuring there impact on player behavior, game response or RPU is obviously not a wise decision. An analytics system that specifically addresses the game domain and audience that a company is targeting is an investment that any serious game publisher will have to make to determine the efficacy of new product development  and changes to games that are intended to influence RPU. Both marketing and development should have access to the analytics for evaluation. The analytics should be customizable to address the specifics of your game and the way your organization tracks RPU.

Game Development - To be effective at increasing RPU a development organization must be prepared for frequent, short  and rapid development cycles. They must also be prepared for roll backs, quick changes and code redeployment to address market pressures and the achievement of RPU goals.  Game platforms need to support A/B testing  experiments where some traffic is driven to one instance of a game and some traffic to another instance allowing for comparison of different versions of a game. The goal is to allow and encourage experimentation where the staff is comfortable knowing that they have explored a number of options. 

Conclusion - Increasing game RPU is a mix of creative marketing programs, flexible game platforms, detailed understanding of the target audience and development organizations that can respond to frequent changes in game content.   The days when a game could be developed and launched without the ability to frequently change the game, where the game developers or marketing staff exclusively drive game design and changes is long gone. The social casino space is an especially intriguing and competitive  space because it is unregulated and familiar to "high" transacting social gamers.   However, consumers of social casino content have been heavily influenced by what they consider to be "traditional" gambling content constraining the creativity of game developers and increasing the competition to acquire, monetize and retain players. This odd mix of freedom and constraints challenges organizations to think in different ways about game content, marketing and methods for growing RPU.

Kevin Flood is the CEO of Gameinlane, Inc. Kevin writes  about online games and their impact and integration into iGaming and E-commerce environments. Kevin is a frequent speaker at online game events and conferences in Asia, Europe and the US. Kevin and his Gameinlane team are currently working with online gambling, social gaming and e-commerce companies integrating social gaming with online gaming operations and integrate game mechanics into e-commerce applications.

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