Blitzoo Games is a 26-person Vancouver-based studio that creates original games for Facebook and mobile platforms (iPhone and Android), including SlotSpot Casino, one of the premier social casinos on Facebook.
We spoke with Blitzoo Games CEO Dave Bezahler on how his team is using data to optimize the monetization of their games; this allows them to compete with those who have deeper pockets. While Dave is speaking specifically about social casino games, many of these principles can be applied to non-gaming apps, too.
In the fast-changing world of games, and particularly social casino games, you launched SlotSpot within six weeks. How were you able to do that successfully?
We were able to do this by developing and maintaining a single-minded focus on Minimum Viable Product (MVP). We threw out all the assumptions around what features a Facebook game had to have to succeed, and focused on answering the two most important (and basic) questions: first, will people actually enjoy our game? Secondly, do we have a viable monetization model?
When we launched, we had no “friends bar,” no ability to invite friends, no leaderboard, no gifts, no quests, no achievements, etc. We launched with three slot machines. We had Levels and XP, but nothing was locked so it didn’t matter. Then each week we added new features based on data about how people were actually playing, as well as feedback from the community about what features were most important to them.
Give us an example of how data has helped you win and keep high-value players.
There are two types of players we consider especially valuable:
- Those who spend money
- Those who invite friends, actively post, serve as evangelists, etc.
It may sound obvious, but the best way to win and keep valuable players is to create an emotionally engaging game. That starts with delivering the best possible initial experience for your players. Each step, from the time the player clicks an ad for our game in Facebook to their first spin of a slot machine or their first entry in a slot tournament, is a data point that becomes part of our acquisition funnel. That way we know precisely where in the experience players drop off.
Then, we A/B test various tweaks to each step to try to eliminate as much friction as possible. We also track how quickly a player progresses through levels, when they reach certain thresholds of purchases, numbers of friends, invites sent, etc. This allows us to see if the features we are adding and the tweaks we are making to the balancing of the game are actually improving the players’ experience as we hoped.
It’s a free-to-play world. What do you have to do differently to ensure you’re getting the maximum monetization rates from your players?
As a general rule, this is the breakdown:
As you can see, 5% of players are likely to pay while the majority of them will not, no matter what you do. So, ask yourself how you can create an experience that the 90% will want to share with their friends, and become your evangelists.
And, to maximize the percentage of paying players (and to increase the likelihood that that 5% who may pay will pay), we work with Kontagent to constantly A/B test each aspect of our promotions, including everything from when and where in the experience the offer is presented, down to the image and copy of the associated offer.
For example, the promo that motivates a particular action from a relatively new, very social, but non-paying player from the U.S. will be very different from the promo that motivates a long-standing, paying player from Australia.
Bottom line: We need to present them the right offer at the right time. Since we’re a fairly small, independent player in a space dominated by very well-funded competitors; it’s especially important that we make the most of our marketing budget. Analytics provide us with the competitive edge we need.
Related: Winning the Social Gambling War
How have analytics impacted your business?
Analytics are the only way you can fine-tune a game–and they’re definitely the best defense against making costly mistakes. Kontagent makes it easy to establish a baseline from which you can measure changes to various playing patterns. We look at key performance indicators (KPIs), e.g., average number of spins per session, bet values, XP awarded, machines and tournaments played, and other engagement, virality and monetization metrics, as they relate to paying and non-paying players.
When we push new features, Kontagent lets us see the impact of those changes in real time. This is critical for everything from core balancing issues, like how increasing the XP between levels impacts player retention, to minor art tweaks, like how changing the image on the “Buy Coins” screen impacts the click-through rate. We’ve learned the hard way that even the most minor tweaks to a game can significantly impact revenue.
What do you say to those who argue that data-driven design hampers creativity?
As you can tell, I’m a big proponent of data-driven game design. We simply can’t afford to spend six to 12 months designing a game concept, creating the art and then building the game, only to find out that we’re the only ones who thought it was incredibly compelling.
Artists who create art for themselves tend to go hungry. By sticking to an MVP model for game concepts as well as all new features within a game, and then looking closely at the analytics, we can see if the experiences we love actually align with what players want.
You’ve also mentioned that it’s not just the data. Can you elaborate?
It’s also about the science. There’s a huge difference between KPIs–those critical metrics by which you run your business–and data that simply reflects interesting tidbits, or worse, is really just noise. We tend to work pretty closely with Kontagent’s data scientists to ferret out the actionable data. The fact that they truly understand game mechanics and the metrics and benchmarks in our industry, has made this partnership instrumental to our success. Big data is useless without science.
You’ve developed games for Facebook and on iOS (and coming soon to Android). Does this dependency on data apply for all these platforms?
Absolutely. In fact, I think analytics will be even more important in mobile, particularly on iOS since you cannot simply “fix” something and upload it immediately, but rather have to wait for App Store approval. Also, right now the state of mobile advertising is really evolving with numerous individual vendors each providing their own dashboard. Being able to tie our mobile advertising into the same analytics platform as our Facebook marketing is a huge win for us.
Do you have any advice for game developers who are just starting out?
The only thing I would really say is to set yourself up as best as possible to succeed. That means:
- Delivering the emotional hook at the core of your concept as simply (and as early in the experience) as possible;
- Letting your baby sink or swim earlier than you feel comfortable (no more than 12 weeks);
- Having at least a basic analytics framework in place from day one. That way if players are not reacting as you’d expected, you can at least pinpoint where in the experience things are going wrong.
I’d also highly suggest that you add new features individually, so you’ll be able to measure their impact. I would argue that numerous games have failed not because they were bad concepts, or poorly designed, or that players didn’t like them, but that there was simply some friction point or imbalance that could have been removed if the developer had known where it was. Oh, and the most important advice: never push changes on a Friday evening!
On the flip side, you can quickly drown in data. It does not all magically appear in pretty graphs to show you precisely what’s happening. Knowing which metrics are important, and how to surface them in a way that your entire organization can take action requires a lot of domain expertise. It’s this expertise in both the implementation and interpretation which Kontagent has in abundance, so I tell my guys not to be timid in asking for this expert assistance.
Check out our complimentary webinar (#KTwebinar):
A Look at Building Irresistible Social Casino Games
If you missed it, you can register to view it on demand.
Still not convinced data will help you kill it in the casino world? Caesars CEO Gary Loveman gets it.
The former Harvard Business School professor says he’s been able to significantly improve the company’s profits because he runs Caesars like an economist, using data to make EVERY. BUSINESS. DECISION. Will you be able to compete with him?
About the author: Catherine Mylinh is a member of Kontagent’s storytelling team, where she is head of PR, brand and content marketing. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of kScope. In her former life, Catherine was a news anchor for CBS and NBC. She credits her journalism and computer science roots—she was once a programmer!—for her love of learning and writing about all things high tech. You can contact Catherine at @cat_mylinh.