NYC Gaming Conversation: User Acquisition

On Thursday, October 11, 2012, OLC attended New York Gaming Meetup's NYC Gaming Conversation event dedicated to probing user acquisition. How does a gaming startup find users for its product? How do you get users to play your game? These questions were asked and answered by the presenters: Arseny Lebedev of Signus Labs, Mattan Griffel of The Front Labs, Fred Kahl of Funny Garbage, and Brian Wane of Smerc Design.

Moderator Arseny Lebedev presented first, showcasing his game directed at schoolchildren, "Lola and Lucy's Big Adventure," which he explained as a casual game. The game was developed as a "free game," but only the first seven pages are free. The rest of the game must be bought—the rest of the 28 pages of the story—adding the premium aspect of the game through the sell page. Lebedev tackled the problem of user acquisition by addressing a specific demographic. "The real customer [for this product] is the parent." Lebedev explained that the children wouldn’t be the ones purchasing the app. The parents are the ones purchasing it for their children, and so, Lebedev combed through mom blogs and was eventually featured on Gamezebo, the "ultimate website for casual gaming," as it caters to women in their 30s and 40s. Lebedev said that he and his company delayed the launch because they decided to have the app be able to launch on all versions of the iPad. He explained that this was because adults would give the old versions of the iPad to their children and buy new ones for themselves.

Bryan Wane presented Smerc Design's game, XARM to a fascinated audience. He introduced his company as having developed over 175 games for Fortune 500 companies like Viacom, Comedy Central, Cartoon Network, and so on. Smerc "helps brands expand into a social gaming sphere," he said. XARM is an arm wrestling game except that it incorporates MMA-style fighting. "You get to kick and punch at the same time [while the characters are in the middle of arm wrestling," Wane said. He surprised the audience by revealing that XARM is an actual sport now and that the game came out before the competitive sport. "It didn't exist until the game came out," he said. "The game led to investors and features in the media." Wane moved on to the initial failures that they came across. "We first had Facebook as the only way to log in to the game." Wane and his team, however, became surprised to find out that XARM became popular all across the globe and because users had to use Facebook to log in, they saw a sharp decline in retaining users. "China has no Facebook," Wane said, "so we ripped out the log in aspect of the game and sent out the new version.... If you take down barriers like the Facebook log in, or through email, you will have more users playing your game and have them coming back again and again." Wane ended his demo with words of wisdom: "Be ready to react or there will be a drop off and you'll miss the opportunity to capitalize on it."

Fred Kahl of Funny Garbage presented an interesting demo of Cartoon Network's attempt to revitalize the cable industry. "Cable providers are scared," Kahl said. "People are leaving cable in droves to use Netflix and Hulu and other streaming websites because it's a cheaper alternative." Cable providers have been attempting to reach out to their customers by releasing apps like HBO GO for Apple products. Kahl said that he and his team pitched an idea to Cartoon Network, which was jumped on by the company. "It's a watch and play," Kahl said. "It's device oriented, it governs game and video experience." Basically, the user would have to flip the iPhone/iPad/iTouch and when flipped one way, the user would be able to play a Cartoon Network game full screen. Flipped the other way, the user would be able to watch a video in full screen. Flipped right side up, the user would be able to play and watch games and videos at the same time. Kahl said he was disappointed that working with a Fortune 500 company limited ideas because Cartoon Network wanted it to follow a standard gaming format. In other words, the company did not want to take risks and come out losing money on the venture. Kahl did, however, incorporate a multiplicity of features like a "meta game experience." Users can watch videos and earn "DNA," which when combined with other DNA creates cards, becoming a collective card game in the process.

Mattan Griffel of The Front Labs was the last to present his demo. Instead of showcasing a product, he gave a presentation on how to hack growth. "Growth hacking is lean marketing for startups," Griffel said. Growth hacking is a set of tactics for dealing with problem of user growth. "Many companies make the mistake of only tracking topline and bottom-line metrics. They think traffic means revenue." Griffel said that companies should map out user lifecycle of their product. "There are steps to represent user state. First, someone hears about the product. Then they visit your site, creates an account. Hopefully, they come back. Then they refer friends to your product. Finally, they pay you." Griffel, as a growth hacker, figures out the process of the growth of a startup. He showed a diagram of a growth funnel, which had four steps: Acquisition—press release and blogs, Activation (account creation through landing page), Retention (email notifications, etc.), and Revenue (ads, lead gen, subscriptions). For game startups to obtain revenue, they need to introduce items as virtual currency and have users place value on virtual currency. He gave an example of Farmville, where users are prompted to purchase virtual items and purchase currency and placed emphasis on them by doling out deals on the virtual currency. "If you sell 500 gold coins for $5.00 and you say, 'Hey, 50% off for 12 hours,' it places real-life value on virtual currency." Griffel suggested that all companies measure conversions at each step and that all numbers are terrible at first. He briefly entertained the idea of virality as a combination of referral, activation and retention.