Casual Connect San Francisco has passed again and it was an excellent event – as always. Spread across three days, it remains one of the essential dates in the calendar for anyone who wants to learn the major trends in the mobile gaming industry and beyond.
But what did we learn at the show? Here are our five key takeaways from Casual Connect US for you to learn from.
1) The squeezed middle is under more pressure than ever
The mobile games industry has, for a while, been a tale of two types of company. On the one hand, giants like Supercell and King have grown an international presence off the backs of their hit titles and with the funding from IPOs. On the other hand, micro indie developers like Simogo create small games on limited budgets and make reasonable returns.
The problem is for most companies about what happens if you get caught between those two stations. And as Tim Merel of Digi-Capital said at the show, this represents a genuine problem for developers.
“Even with mobile games revenue set to grow from $29 billion in 2015 to $45 billion by 2018 at 15 percent annual growth, stable top grossing charts are set to continue. This is great for games leaders and their shareholders, but is putting the big squeeze on mid-tier players and makes breaking through more challenging for indies.”
With Merel also identifying that game investments are down 45% on where they were this time last year, game developers looking to break out of the lower end of the market may well find themselves trapped in the competitive middle ground with nowhere to go.
2) Indies are “professionalising”
Despite the doom and gloom above, there is no sign that indie game developers are giving up on creating interesting games that do something different.
Around the show floor there were dozens of interesting games across platforms for you to grab hold of and play. But perhaps the most interesting thing is how that indie creativity is increasingly being married to business models that’ll allow them to compete on a better footing.
Gamezebo’s five best games from the show was a great example of this. On the one hand, there were some really interesting paid titles like The Magic Flute that was slated for release soon. But there were also titles like Flying Empire, which looks to rival the likes of Game of War and has ambitions to compete with the companies at the top of the mobile gaming tree.
Indies are increasingly becoming professional to deal with the challenges of the mobile gaming market, something which is likely to benefit both themselves and the services that aim to help developers in the near future.
3) It takes lots of game ideas to find a great one
How many ideas should a game developer have before they can decide that it is a great one? For many people, the answer might be a handful. But at Zeptolab, the answer is literally hundreds.
As their CEO Misha Lyalin explained, the company behind the Cut the Rope series took 120 ideas, made 50 prototypes and soft launched five games to discover the winning formula for their newest game King of Thieves.
To some, that may seem like overkill. And perhaps that many ideas will be too many for smaller companies to reasonably manage. But the principle that Lyalin outlined, namely get games into soft launch to see if users actually like them, remains strong and is a clear offshoot of the Supercell model that helped them launch their way to success.
So don’t simply settle for having one game idea. Have a few and get into the habit of testing them on users to see which is really the best.
4) Creativity is difficult to foster, but important to fight for
Michael Eisner, founder of Tornante, keynoted Casual Connect, but it was an enlightening interview with Gamesauce that really showed his perspective on the industry.
In a wide ranging interview about the role of executives in a gaming business, the key takeaway from Eisner was how important creativity is to a business and how difficult it is to retain a hold on it. Despite it being essential for driving companies forward, businesses are often guilty of strangling it with risk averse behaviour and too many employees.
By keeping teams small, encouraging failure as part of experimentation and by giving the big successes as much room to succeed as possible (in Eisner’s case by allowing successful teams access to the best IP), you’ll help to create in even the biggest companies an environment conducive to creative thinking.
And by doing that, it means that everyone, from developers to marketer to executive, will be well placed to reach greater heights than before.
5) Maximising your mobile success requires the right mobile analytics
Finally, mobile analytics data is important to find a cutting edge in the market in the crowded market. Making sure that you have a clear way to measure custom KPIs for your games is essential to success.
There will always be an occasional break out mobile gaming success but, in this professional mature market, the real winners now are the ones who think ahead.