Eduard Kumykov, founder and CEO of GOOO.GAMES, shared his experience of developing and launching a casual game on Russian web platforms with App2Top.
Project launch history
In March 2023, we released our first game — “Sudoku Numbers“. This is a classic Sudoku with several unique modes.
For the initial launch, two Russian platforms for the distribution of games were selected — Yandex Games and VK Play.
The purpose of the release was to compare the pros and cons of the platforms with each other, and at the same time to assess the prospects of these platforms for future projects of the company: is it worth working with them at all or is it better to focus on mobile in the future.
Before the development, an analysis of these platforms was carried out. It turned out that there are no casual games with Sudoku mechanics on VK Play. This made us take a closer look at the genre.
However, there were alternative options. We thought about the possibility of creating a word game, and about projects with idle mechanics, and about developing a typhoon, and even about creating merge-2.
But in the end, we still decided to focus on Sudoku. There were two reasons:
- firstly, on one of the selected platforms, as already mentioned, there were no direct competitors in mechanics;
- secondly, we didn’t want to overcomplicate the development of the project, we wanted to release it faster in order to start collecting results and testing hypotheses (including for the company’s next games).
All together — game development, account registration, SDK connection, as well as setting up a project to get a feature on Yandex Games — took one month.
It took another month to release updates to test the first hypotheses. The game immediately started getting organic users. Accordingly, there were immediately opportunities for tests and their analysis.
Also, during the first month of release, support for two new languages was added, the game design was significantly redesigned and two unique in-game events were tested.
About languages, I want to immediately note the following: VK Play and Yandex Games recommend that the game supports Russian, English and Turkish at the start. If you follow this rule, you can get access to a wider audience and feature.
On the left is an example of the first version of the game, on the right is the version of the game after five updates
In parallel with the organic from the platforms, we started buying traffic. About the results — just below. Now I will only note that during the first tests we were able to identify the best places to display ads in the game. Thanks to this, new locations of advertising inventory were added to the project.
Access to Russian platforms
Organic installations on mobile platforms cannot be achieved today. This is evidenced both by my experience and the experience of numerous partners with whom I have raised this topic.
For quite a long time, there has been a situation in the mobile market where even significant budgets are required to test initial hypotheses for a small audience of a thousand people.
Against this background, it is not surprising that many companies are looking for new markets. Some of them are looking at the web (including desktop), where the audience is definitely present.
Yandex Games reported in December last year that the platform covers up to 39 million players per month. Plus, there are enough games on the platform whose audience is approaching the million-player mark.
According to official data, there are also enough users on the young VK Play platform, where there is a section with web games. In March, information was published that the total monthly audience of the site was 11 million.
However, based on the experience of launching “Sudoku Figures” and communicating with other developers of games of different genres, there are not so many organic installations on VK Play.
Despite the fact that when the game is placed in VK Play, it gets to other sites (for example, it may be in rotation on Mail pages.Ru), on Yandex Games, our Sudoku Numbers project received several times more organic downloads on release.
Most likely, the fact is that VK Play is still focused on a different audience. It is already clear from the games promoted on the site that most of its players spend time playing Warface, War Robots, Perfect Word and other similar titles.
However, from the point of view of monetization, VK Play also lags far behind its competitor. If Yandex Games has several types of advertising placements for different screen orientations, then VK Play is limited to one banner that can be closed without waiting for a reward.
In terms of the advertising revenue of the site, it also makes no sense to compare: Sudoku Figures earned hundreds of times more from advertising on Yandex Games than on VK Play. But here it is important to understand: the more organic, the higher the level of revenue. Therefore, it is quite logical that since Yandex Games provides much more (and on an ongoing basis) organic users, then it brings more money.
Both sites declare that they are ready to help new projects at the initial stage with feathering. That’s just it’s harder to get it on VK Play, and, as it turned out, there are restrictions here.
But here about everything in order.
Both platforms have a mandatory requirement for placement (and, accordingly, for features) — you need to integrate their SDK with connected advertising. Then the work with the sites begins to differ.
To get a feature on Yandex Games, it is enough to add the relevant game materials to the developer console (videos and screenshots), as well as translate the game and showcase into English.
The Yandex Games feature is as follows: your project is displayed in the “New Games” section for two weeks, where its place in the list is most likely determined by algorithms.
“Sudoku Figures” after launching for two weeks in a row, almost every day it was in the first positions in the feature. The impact of this fact on organics and revenue cannot be underestimated.
To get a feature on VK Play (it is limited to 350 thousand impressions), you need to add site authorization to the game (at least, such a requirement was put forward for “Sudoku Figures”). However, we can say that for projects like ours, there is no feature on VK Play at all. The platform refuses to give it to freeplay games with advertising monetization.
VK Play slide about impressions
Only then it is unclear: how VK Play can help to increase organics, income and, in fact, interest from developers to the site itself. As for authorization, it can alienate many users.
Important: many game teams often confuse the concepts of “impressions” of advertisements and “installations”. Because of this, the myth is spreading that VK Play provides each developer with 350 thousand users.
Here it is necessary to correctly interpret the opportunities that the site guarantees. On the specified number of impressions, you can get from 100 to 1000 installations, if the game does not miraculously wind up.
At the same time, VK Play still has organic content. However, there is not much of it. Plus, a couple of weeks after the release, its level drops to a minimum, which does not happen on a competitive platform.
However, all these conclusions are made based on the release of just one game and communication with several developers.
Despite numerous limitations, working with VK Play can still be described as motivating. There is at least some free organic, thanks to which you can test the main hypotheses, which you can’t do without a lot of money on mobile platforms.
By the way, the number of organic installations of “Sudoku Figures” on VK Play may have been influenced by the simultaneous appearance of such titles as Resident Evil 4, “World of Ships” and “Dungeons and Cubes” in the new products section. Anyway, in the near future our company’s interest in this platform will be minimal.
Feature of the new products section on VK Play
Audience and promotion
The main problem when creating a game in the Sudoku genre was the inability to find benchmarks, cases and, in general, useful materials about the development and promotion of such games. It turned out that there were none.
Therefore, I had to fill the cones on my own, based solely on user reviews and comments on such projects.
Some marketing conclusions were made only after the launch. Just below is exclusive data that will help you better understand Sudoku players.
- The main audience of Sudoku is girls 35-45 years old and men over 55 years old. After the first tests for a wide advertising campaign, the attraction of users was set up specifically for men 55+, since there were more of them and they responded better to creatives. But later it turned out that women spend more time in the game, so in the future the priority in attracting was given to them.
Distribution of the audience of “Sudoku Figures” by gender and age
- The time in the game is directly correlated with the number of difficulty modes in the game. Based on my past experience, I can say that the situation here coincides with most casual games. Most of the users play simple modes, their game session usually takes 2-3 minutes. At the same time, there are enough amateurs of medium complexity. The least number of players whose session is 20-30 minutes or more. But they are the ones who play difficult modes, come back more often and view more ads.
- Loyal and core audience loves hardcore. Requests with the complication of the game and its modes are most often found in reviews and comments on different sites. The new modes that have been added to the game with increased complexity have shown that they are able to significantly increase advertising revenue.
Below are several variants of creatives that were used to attract users. The first creative showed itself best (in the upper left corner), which displays the basic mechanics of the game on a blue background. His results were so different from the others that after several tests in subsequent advertising campaigns, we began to use only pictures and videos with a demonstration of game mechanics.
Creatives “Sudoku Figures”
However, in several tests it was possible to get good results from creatives that depicted girls. But later it turned out that advertising campaigns with such creatives quickly “deflate”. At the same time, the players are not at all confused by the fact that they click on ads with gameplay, but after that a girl meets them in the game. Now the plans are to test creatives with an indication of the complexity of the game, because it is the high complexity that the users of “Sudoku Numbers” want.
The latest benchmark will be useful for those who think about going out with their projects on Yandex Games. At the beginning of development, it seemed to us that web games were played mainly on a computer and in a browser. But more recently, when Yandex added the ability to view various statistics on its projects, we found that the audience that plays on the site from mobile devices is twice as large as the desktop one. “Sudoku Figures” is not optimized for mobile platforms at all. Therefore, a big point of growth (up to an increase in indicators by two or three times), we see today, first of all, optimization for mobile.
If you do not optimize the game for mobile devices and different screen resolutions, i.e. take into account the ability to play vertically or horizontally at once, then you risk losing in advertising monetization. There will be fewer users, as well as Yandex advertising banners, if the game supports only one resolution.
During the first month of operation, five thousand players were attracted to Sudoku Figures on the Yandex Games platform. Half was organic from the platform, the other half was attracted using Yandex Direct’s own tools and advertising capabilities. The cost of attracting varied from 4 to 12 rubles (on average, one user cost 9 rubles). The cost of a thousand impressions, according to approximate calculations, was around 50 rubles.
Advertising campaigns did not apply to VK Play, where the number of organic users compared to Yandex Games in the first month turned out to be five times less.
Pros and cons of VK Play and Yandex Games
The most important plus of both platforms is free organic, which, as mentioned above, is many times more on Yandex, as well as opportunities for displaying ads.
If we talk about the other advantages of Yandex Games, which VK Play does not have, then this is:
- a convenient system for viewing analytics;
- the opportunity to get more features for hosting gaming events;
- the ability to add promotional materials to the game page, which the platform will use as an independent advertisement.
There is an opportunity to hold promotions on both platforms – this is an analogue of feature updates on mobile platforms, but Yandex has recommendations and special holidays during which you can get more users.
The rules for the moderation of promotions on both platforms are opposite to each other:
- Yandex Games is asked to prepare a showcase for promotions in a more “advertising style” and accepts updates with new levels and modes;
- VK Play requires you to write as strictly as possible and limit yourself to a dry list of innovations (as in the example below). The platform also recommends launching discounts or disabling advertising during promotions, which is not very convenient for the developer.
Descriptions of innovations on VK Play
A cool feature of Yandex is a game distribution program that allows you to earn money on your projects by attracting users to the platform.
It works like this:
- the developer advertises his game published in Yandex Games with the help of advertising creatives on the web;
- a user comes into the game;
- if a player stays on the platform (plays other games, makes payments in them, watches ads in them), then the developer who brought him receives a certain percentage of his actions on the platform.
The materials of Yandex itself say that such a distribution system allows you to double revenue. This is quite confirmed by my experience and the experience of my interlocutors.
Let me remind you that mobile platforms not only require spending money on promotion, but also additionally charge the developer 30% of the commission on income, which hits beginners and small companies even harder.
As for the advantages of VK Play, it has a super-convenient ability to update the build without moderation. The fact is that VK Play refers to a game hosted on your website or on a social network. Updating the game at home, you update the game on the VK Play platform. Yes, unscrupulous developers can release games with bugs or even prohibited content thanks to this, but in general it is a cool tool that allows you not to wait for moderation, which pushes the release for several days or even weeks. Also on VK Play, a separate stage is the moderation of screenshots. It does not depend on the release and happens quickly. A separate stage is the change of information about the game. Here it takes from two to three days for the site to moderate.
Of the additional features of both platforms , the following can be distinguished:
- both sites have special chats for developers (although the audience in Yandex Games chats is 10 times larger);
- managers and support service of both platforms respond quickly enough, help with questions about connecting the SDK and, in principle, are as open, proactive, sociable as possible, which cannot be said about representatives of other Russian sites who offered to release Sudoku Numbers from them, or about representatives of mobile platforms;
- both platforms lack tools for feature updates and individual game categories, which distinguishes the tools from interaction with mobile platforms.;
Well, the last point, by which you can also judge the prospects of both platforms, is their fullness, that is, how many games are published on them.
- In February, Yandex Games reported that 16 thousand games from two thousand teams were published on the site.
- VK Play in December reported that its library has 13 thousand games from 600 teams (60% came from Steam).
But, at the moment, the audience of each project is reported on Yandex Games, and VK Play has this data closed. Because of this, starting from the study of its pages, it is more difficult to analyze, evaluate the popularity of projects, formulate hypotheses.
The disadvantages of VK Play can also include constant experiments.
For example, a month after the release, we noticed that the game moved to a new section “Simple Games”, which is significantly different from the main site and is in a semi-disassembled and semi-working condition (now it is very difficult to find any game in it).
Perhaps the reason that the “Sudoku Numbers” on VK Play did not have significant organics, and all available traffic quickly dried up, is precisely because the platform continues to evolve, develop, and look for itself.
Important: do not confuse VK and VK Play platforms. I got the impression that these are almost two platforms independent of each other. For example, when we wanted to get a feature, we were asked to do authorization. By mistake, we screwed VK authorization. It turned out that it is not suitable for VK Play, you need to integrate and connect another system.
Games on Russian web platforms have good prospects.
Firstly, they provide organic installations and transitions to the game for free. The users provided by the platforms are quite enough to check several updates, test the initial and basic hypotheses.
Secondly, the cost of attracting users is small compared, for example, with the price of mobile traffic in the United States. Thanks to this, you can quickly check the work of creatives, the preferences of players, as well as collect information about the age and gender of the target audience, which will be required in the future for scaling.
GOOO.GAMES is currently working on several new projects that take into account the experience gained. Games are prepared for different target audience and are developed immediately taking into account the fact that they can be launched on mobile devices in both vertical and horizontal orientation.
In addition to its own development, the company begins cooperation with several other developers on partner terms. We will focus on publishing, because we can help in legal matters, expertise and financially (but here only the most trusted partners).
You can find the company’s contacts and projects on the GOOO.GAMES website of the same name.