Large-scale report on White Nights: Mobile Games Conference from iGuides.ru

Our friends with iGuides.ru Recently, a very detailed and interesting report on the conference on the development and promotion of mobile games White Nights: Mobile Games, held in St. Petersburg on June 14-15, was published in two parts. Now you can get acquainted with it on our website. 

Part 1


The first report in the framework of White Nights: Mobile Games was scheduled for 16:00, so at 15:30 we were already approaching the Sokos Hotel Palace Bridge on Vasilievsky Island to declare ourselves as participants. 

We quickly went through the registration procedure (the problem arose only with finding a badge with my last name – it is already too unconventionally written in Latin) and received our bags with advertising tinsel and a T-shirt with the symbols of the conference. Among all the contents of the package, the most useful thing was, of course, the program of performances and a bottle opener.

After a little rest from the road in the lobby, we went to a spacious conference room and took our seats right in front of the improvised stage. After brief organizational explanations, Pavel Ryakkonen, Distribution Director of Nevosoft, took the place of the speaker.

Pavel’s report concerned a general overview of the mobile games market, the current situation on it, the main trends, etc. In general, his words can be described in one word – “growth”. It was about the growth and development of the mobile market that many people spoke from the stage that day, but the representative of Nevosoft was the first in this matter. Pavel also noted the trend towards the formation of brands “through” the mobile market – as an example, the famous Angry Birds were cited, which have long gone beyond smartphones and are confidently sold in the form of toys and other small things.

After his report, even I wanted to become a “mobile” developer – the mobile market was so rosy in his words. 

Following Pavel Ryakkonen, Yulia Palatovskaya, Director of Business Development at G5 Entertainment, took the stage and continued to talk about the growth and potential of the mobile market, further assuring me that I definitely need to change my occupation. 

The role of G5 itself in the mobile games market was not ignored: the company was positioned as a successful publisher (and, to a lesser extent, a developer) with whom you can and should cooperate if you were able to create a promising game project.

Then, using the example of Virtual City Playground, a story followed about how to make an even more successful freemium project out of a successful game, i.e. how to make money on microtransactions. 

G5 cited five steps in this regard: 

1. It is necessary to replace the breakdown into missions in the game with a sandbox in which the player would feel free and could do whatever he wants, i.e. in the case of Virtual City, freely build his virtual city.

2. To make a “realistic” game balance, i.e., in fact, simply increase the time to achieve the goal – for example, if in a paid game money flows into the treasury of the city quickly, then in freemium it happens at times slower, just “like in life”, which forces the player to look for ways to speed it up or play longer into the game. A longer gameplay will also contribute to a greater “generosity” of the players, because the player is more willing to spend a certain amount during the month than to pay the same amount once. 

3. Make a real-time game. This point follows from the previous one – the game should live its own life even when the player is not playing it. For example, by turning on the game in the morning, the player will see that there is more money in the treasury without his intervention – thus, he will return to the game more often in order to eventually save up for another building.

4. Monetization. Finally, after completing all of the above, you can start asking the player for money. Simply put, to introduce those notorious microtransactions: for dollars, you can offer to buy premium currency that accelerates the process of city development, premium buildings that decorate the city, etc.

5. Adding extra content. And in the end, you just need to keep the player interested by regularly releasing new updates for the project and delighting him with new buildings, tasks and other content.

After this master class, Alex Patsai, the head of the mobile direction, took the stage Mail.ru Group, who told about the mistakes often made by developers when launching their games. 

Just before his performance, by the way, a man in a cow costume came into the hall (a walking advertisement for the game “Super Cow” from Nevosoft) and sat down in the first row, which amused the audience considerably…

But let’s go back to Alex’s report: the first mistake made when launching games to app stores concerns the lack of planning – before starting development and putting the game into stores, it is necessary to determine the target audience, stock up on promotional materials, etc., in order to be ready to promote your game.

The second mistake is a naive calculation only on the App Store and Google Play: there are a lot of alternative ways to promote the game, except for the hope that it will be able to appear on the main page of the App Store or the Google app store. This includes advertising and previews on websites and much more.

Mistake #3 – lack of a marketing budget. In order to promote your game (as we have already found out, its “free” promotion through the mechanisms of the App Store is an unfortunate choice), you need money, and if you don’t have it, it’s better to contact the publisher who will organize an advertising company or allocate funds for it.

Mistake #4 – the lack of collection of analytics on the use of the application. Collecting data on how the user uses the application is an important criterion for the success of any game: you need to clearly understand what the player likes and what he does not like, what he uses and what he does not, where it is difficult for him, and where on the contrary it is too easy. At the same time, it is necessary to have mechanisms for remote adjustment of these aspects so that changes can be made quickly and painlessly. In this sense, the application development plan is also important – all users love when games are regularly updated and delight them with new features and content. If you don’t develop the project, it won’t last long.

As a bonus, two more mistakes were cited: unjustified faith in the payback of applications and faith in the Chinese application market. The first mistake is that only 20% of development companies earn enough money from selling applications so that development can be called a business. In addition, more than half of the developers simply do not pay off even the development process itself. 

As for the belief in the Chinese market, despite its development and scale, the mobile market of China is still less profitable than the US market – the Chinese simply do not want to pay for applications, but download them for free.

After the report of the Kid, I got a little depressed and realized that the share of a mobile game developer is not so simple. Fortunately, a coffee break was waiting for us next, and we could cheer ourselves up with strong tea and a little snack, especially since, as it turned out, the conference guests were offered incredibly delicious custard cakes in the “menu”, which by the end of the break there were practically no left on the tables. 

Having starved the one who needed to be starved, and having gained strength, we again took our seats in the conference room and prepared to listen to the next block of speeches, this time dedicated to app stores.

After the start of the Google presentation, which was led by Sanjar Ismailov, Google’s project manager, it became clear that we would need strength – his report could hardly be called fascinating, and in contrast to Alex Patsai’s cheerful performance, he looked pale at all. Nevertheless, it was possible to consider the rational grain in it: Google actively advertised its models of application promotion, which, according to the company’s speaker, are much more effective than advertising, for example, on websites and blogs. 

Offers from search giants are standard: via mobile search, banners in applications (the legendary AdMob) or mobile YouTube.

Following Sanjar, Vladimir Kolesnikov, an expert in Microsoft software development technologies, told about his company’s app store. Contrary to expectations, Vladimir didn’t tell much about the Windows Phone Marketplace from WP7: he walked only through the main features of the store, which, in general, are in many ways similar to the same App Store.

Then we talked about the new Windows Store, which will be part of Windows 8 coming out soon: the main advantage of this store will be that it is part of the most popular OS on the planet (in theory, of course) – as proof, the figures of the current growth in the share of Windows 7, which are several times higher than similar indicators for other operating systems, were cited. 

According to Kolesnikov, we will undoubtedly see this in the case of Windows 8, so the audience of Windows Store applications will also surpass the audience of other app stores several times. Moreover, Windows 8, unlike the “seven”, will be installed not only on computers, but also on tablets.

As for the features of the Windows Store, it will be, in general, very similar to the Marketplace: the same 70% of profits for developers (80% for highly profitable applications), the same features, rating, reviews, iAp. 

In general, the Windows Store was presented as a very promising platform – whether it will turn out to be such, we will find out after the release of Windows 8.

Alexandra Ilyina, Business Development Manager of Opera Software, spoke next to the audience. 

Her presentation was about Opera Mobile Store and its features, development and prospects. For those who don’t know, Opera Mobile Store is a cross–platform alternative app store for operating systems such as Java, Symbian, BlackBerry and Android, which is part of the Opera Mobile and Opera Mini browser.

A feature of the Opera Mobile Store is its presence on various platforms – you can find paid and free applications for the mentioned operating systems in it. It offers its own system of ratings, reviews and promotion of applications, which can be used by interested developers.

According to Alexandra, the audience of Opera Mobile Store is now 175 million people, and the target markets for the store are the markets of Eastern Europe, Asia, South America and Africa, i.e. the markets of developing countries. The majority of app downloads from the Opera app store are in India, Brazil and Nigeria. In Russia, 1.2 million apps are downloaded from the Opera Mobile Store per month.

As for the promotion of applications through the Opera store, then, for example, the ability to open the application page when opening the browser directly or other options is available in it. As an option, it is possible not only to display a link to the application in the Opera Mobile Store, but also, for example, in Google Play. Next month, Opera also plans to release a separate Android program for its app store, which should help promote this company’s platform.

Finally, the third speaker in the block dedicated to mobile stores was James Mooney, Director of Sales and Business Development at GetJar. 

His story concerned independent app stores (one of which is, in fact, GetJar) and their advantages and differences from the usual App Store. 

According to Muni, the advantages of independent app stores are their individual approach to users (iOS and Android users will see different applications in them) and a more democratic attitude to the placement of applications – no one takes money from developers for placing free applications in them and they can earn money from them through in-game purchases serviced through various payment systems. When placing paid programs, a percentage of the profit is charged only if the program is downloaded and run on the device. 

Independent stores also allow you to increase the audience of applications: they offer users to earn virtual currency by downloading sponsored programs, and then spend them on buying regular applications or buying iap content, if the developer has implemented this function.

As examples of using such a system, the Wiki Encyclopedia applications for Android were given, which can be purchased through GetJar for virtual currency (or for $1.99 through Google Play) and Hungry Shark, where iap content is available for purchase for GetJar coins. In general, independent app stores were presented as a successful platform for promoting programs.

After Muni’s speech, two more round tables were waiting for us with representatives of the “masters” of the gaming industry, among which there were recent speakers – anyone could ask questions at them, a delicious dinner at the hotel restaurant and at the end of such an eventful day – a party on a motor ship against the backdrop of the divorced St. Petersburg bridges. But this is a completely different story…

Part 2


The day began with a surprise – at 15:30, everyone present was able to take part in a teleconference with Finland and listen to the speech of the vice president of Rovio, Ville Heijari, a well-known developer of the Angry Birds game. Listeners, despite not the best Skype connection, were told that the potential of “Angry Birds” was noticed already at the very beginning of the development of the game, and was confirmed after its release.

According to Willy, the game owes its success primarily to the very successful release time, when there were no really hit games on iOS. The second component of success was versatility – Angry Birds is suitable for all ages of players and is easy to learn. As for the development of the game and its transformation into a brand (which we are seeing now in the case of “Angry Birds”), the main thing here is memorable characters who help win fans.

As for tips on creating a hit toy, then, according to the vice president of Rovio, such a game should be cheap and, as already mentioned, easy to learn.

We have carefully recorded all of Willie’s advice, as we have been looking at the profession of a game developer since yesterday.

At the end of the teleconference, Willy Heizhari answered questions from the audience, at the same time, once again, debunking the myth of the profitability of the Chinese market, and also promised to visit St. Petersburg in person next year.

The first scheduled speaker was Vibe Wagemans from Big Fish Games. The topic of his report concerned how to actually succeed in the mobile market.

First, we talked about the trends of the mobile industry and Vibe once again painted a rosy picture of the situation on the market, which provides developers with a lot of opportunities to enter it. In particular, according to the representative of Big Fish Games, tablets are promising now and the games created for them pay off better.

To succeed, however, it is necessary not only to want, but also to clearly plan for whom the game is being created, i.e. to calculate the potential audience. In particular, the wider the audience reach, the better. The breadth of coverage also applies to app stores: it is better if your studio’s projects are focused on all three top – free, paid, and the highest-grossing applications. You also need to understand what is more important for you – over-profit or audience growth with less payback at first. As for freemium projects, according to Vibe, it is possible not to focus on one distribution model of the game, but to create hybrid projects, including eventually transforming a premium project into a freemium. The advertising of Big Fish Games, which was positioned as a reliable publisher of third-party projects, was not forgotten either. The topic of publishers in general was one of the main ones on this day.

After the Wagemans Vibe, Alexander Lyskovsky, CEO of the well-known Alawar company, took the podium. The topic of his speech was ways to get money to create a game project.

So, where, according to Alexander, do developers get money for their project? There are several possible options here:

1. Use the team’s own funds

2. Ask publishers for help

3. Take advantage of the opportunity to receive loans and grants

4. Contact the relevant investors

5. Go to non-core investors.

6. Earn money on your own on the mobile market itself.

Each of these points has its own pros and cons. For example, if developers decide to finance their project themselves, then, on the one hand, no one will prevent them from creating a “dream game” as they see fit, but, on the other hand, there will be no control over the expenditure of funds and, as a result, you can be left with a zero balance and without a finished project. In the case of publishers and profile investors, you will be able to get not only money, but also connections to promote your game, as well as control over the development process, which is certainly good. However, publishers and investors will have to share either profits or a share of the company, besides, they really like to “climb” into the development process, doing “feature-rolling”, i.e. cutting inappropriate or unnecessary content in their opinion. Non-core investors (far from IT companies) do not have the necessary connections in the market to promote the project, besides they require a share of profit, and they also like to interfere in the development process. Finally, as for earnings, money for the development of your project can be obtained by fulfilling orders from larger companies, for example, porting games to other platforms or localizing them. The disadvantage of this approach is its low profitability and low rates of earning.

In general, the option with the publisher was presented as the most civilized way to get money, however, in order to use it, of course, you need a sensible project at least in the form of an idea.

Well, he will work on the idea.

The last speaker before the first coffee break was Kirill Petrov, CEO of i-Free, who talked about the domestic mobile market and strategy. This story was clearly specially planned as the last one before the break, so that people really needed coffee – the eyes on it, and even after the party on the ship, closed by themselves. Nevertheless, we managed to find out that the revenue of Russian developers in various app stores exceeded $ 100 million last year and this year this figure will only increase. On the other hand, it is very difficult to get into the list of companies that receive real profits from development – only 3-4% of companies get money, and 60% of games do not beat the budget spent on development at all.

As for the strategy of behavior in the mobile market, Kirill’s statement that copying popular applications is a completely workable strategy looked interesting. Of course, it only works if you release a “clone” on time and it is not inferior in quality to the original application.

After hearing this and deciding for ourselves that we would certainly be able to do our own in game dev, we went on a break.

After the break, Leonid Bugaev, creative director of Nordic, took the floor, who immediately stated that if you want to call the development of an application your business, you should definitely have $15,000 per month from it. The main thesis of Leonid’s speech was the phrase “to be profitable”.

According to the speaker, the time of singles who are able to create an outstanding project with a pair of hands has passed – now we need to focus on creating a team.

As for earning money on games, then, in relation to freemium projects, a bet on four deadly sins can work: first of all, the success of freemium is based on the initial free of charge of the game – people are greedy by nature and love freebies. Secondly, a freemium game can play on a person’s anger that arises when he, at some point, cannot go further and then he is offered to pay to continue the game. Thirdly, people’s vanity also plays into the hands of the creators of freemium – if you give a person the opportunity to brag about their achievements (for example, in social networks.networks), the game will appear in a winning light for him. Finally, sadness and despondency are the last two sins that can be used. Everything is, in general, obvious here – games are created to cheer up a person, and they should be such as to distract him from sad thoughts.

The comparison with sins, I think, was etched into the memory of all listeners, and at that time we were frantically searching in the contact list of our smartphones for those who could join our future “gaming” team.

After Leonid’s speech, the second surprise of the day was waiting for us – an exclusive video recording of an interview with Bart Decrem, the head of the Disney mobile division, which was prepared specially and only for the participants of White Nights: Mobile Games.

Bart told a little about the company’s plans and its belief in its new project Brave, created on the basis of Temple Run and coming out on the eve of the launch of the Pixar cartoon of the same name. He also revealed details of the development of Disney’s most famous mobile hit, the game Where is My Water? (known to Russian players as “Crocodile Swamp”): about half a year was spent on the direct development of the game, and the most difficult moments were, firstly, the invention of the purpose of “digging the earth” (which eventually became the supply of water to the washing crocodile), and secondly, the creation of workable mechanics, interesting for everyone players.

Finally, the head of Disney’s mobile division advised developers who want to create a hit game to come up with and implement something exceptional that no one has ever seen or tried.

Our thought, already working on the limits of possibilities and trying to generate the idea of the game, realizing that this idea should also be innovative, refused to work further.

The next speaker of White Nights: Mobile Games was Maxim Grinev, the author and developer of the game Contre Jour. Maxim’s speech was diametrically opposed in essence to the speeches of previous speakers on this day, because he decided to convince those sitting in the hall that the publisher’s services are not mandatory and are not capable of turning any project into a super-successful game.

Maxim also countered statements about the need for a solid budget for development and promotion: for example, the budget of his game Contre Jour was $ 5,000, of which $ 800 went to buy an iPad, and $ 3,000 to pay for the artist’s services. Thus, the game of the year for iPad was developed, in fact, by two people and with a small budget – this proves that everyone can succeed.

Now is a great time for indie developers in general to show themselves: digital distribution, for example, allows you not to worry about the “physical” promotion of the product and its design. It also allows you to compete with large companies, because Apple, for example, it does not matter at all whose game to put on the main page in the App Store – the main thing is that users like it. In this regard, there is no need for a large marketing budget.

Thus, it is possible to compete with large companies, but this should not be done in terms of graphics or the amount of content – it is impossible to win big money there. You need to compete in the field of ideas and basic mechanics – the more innovative and better these aspects of the game are, the more chances you have to be in the top. When promoting the game, not only the tops of the stores work, but also reviews on thematic sites, which also, in general, do not need to spend much money.

Despite his reliance on a practical example, I would like to treat Maxim’s report with a degree of skepticism – despite the fact that, according to the speaker, it is possible to achieve success without a publisher (if the project is really high-quality and interesting), the game Contre Jour itself was released with the support of Chillingo. The publisher in this case, however, according to Maxim, helped only in producing – for example, Chillingo brought the game to E3, but the main detail of success is still the quality of the game itself.

The final speaker of this block was Oscar Clark from Papaya, who told the audience about the magic of game design in mobile social games. The speech in Oscar’s report again went about freemium projects and how to get people to pay money in them. In general, the recipes already sounding from the stage were repeated, consisting, for example, in giving players the opportunity to brag to others, in having enough content to maintain interest in the game, etc. The scheme of simultaneous provision of both temporary and permanent game bonuses available for real money can also work – according to Oscar, a player who sees a choice between small temporary microtransactions and expensive permanent effects first chooses the first option, and then, after its expiration, can pay attention to a more profitable “permanent” offer.

As for the Papaya company itself, it is a social gaming platform known to Android users, providing tools for creating social games, including third-party developers.

The idea to start with freemium was born to us on the first day of the presentation and only got stronger on the second – it’s decided, we’re sitting down for an innovative freemium game!

At the end of the evening, all participants of the conference were waiting for another round table with developers of “hit” applications, where everyone could ask the professionals what they wanted.

That’s all the interesting things that happened at White Nights: Mobile Games and what we wanted to tell you about. We hope that it was no less interesting for you to read our photo reports than it was for us to write them. Of course, we didn’t dare to try ourselves in the field of game developers in the end, but we got plenty of theories for this – perhaps someday, an innovative freemium game from the team of authors iGuides.ru and will see the light.

In turn, we would like such events to happen more often, because there are still plenty of topics related to the mobile market that did not fit into the White Nights format. We also hope that the tradition of gathering mobile developers in the City on the Neva will continue.

The original report can be found here and here.

App2Top thanks iGuides for a wonderful report!

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