In most businesses, the need to know what your competitors are doing is a given. In the social gaming space, however, competitive intelligence (CI) is either an afterthought or not even considered critical. That thinking at best leads to a sub-optimal product and at worst facilitates losing your market to another product.
Why Competitive Intelligence (CI) is important
Good competitive intelligence is invaluable to all companies, including those in the mobile and casino gaming spaces.
- CI shows you the minimum quality level acceptable for your game. In the mobile space, most users will try multiple applications and then settle on one, a winner take all environment, though in casino they may play two or three. Thus, your potential customers are also playing your competitors’ products and deciding which one to invest their time in the future. If your game is clearly inferior, weaker graphics, slower tech, etc., you have lost.
- Your competitors are not stupid and you should learn from them. Internally, they are looking at the same opportunities and problems you are trying to tackle. By understanding features and initiatives they are taking to improve, they can inspire you on ways to manage the situation. Not that you want to copy everything they are doing, but understand how they are approach problems and if you have a different approach make sure your solution is better before deploying it.
- You can learn from their mistakes. It is great to make mistakes because it means you are trying unique initiatives; it is not great to repeat mistakes as that has no value. What is even better is if somebody else makes the mistake to learn from them without having the cost.
- You ensure you are value competitive. A car company would not never release a new model without understanding how its price and features compare with other cars. It would base the price on the competitive feature set, including branding, and then price their car so it is a reasonable option for consumers. Very few people will purchase an auto when they can get a comparable one for half the price.
In the game space, companies mistakenly believe users are price inelastic. Many players, particularly those likely to monetize, understand what they are spending money for and how much they will get for it. The value is often in play time (i.e. I will spend $20 in a bingo app to play an extra hour). If the player feels your game is much more expensive than comparable games, they are less likely to spend in your app and will shift their spending to competitors (and you will see lower revenue from higher prices).
Think of the player
While many companies proclaim to be customer-centric or customer focused, if you are not dissecting your competitors that claim is false. As mentioned earlier, consumers have many options and will explore them. If you are not following your competitors, you do not know what your customers are experiencing. You thus cannot put yourself in their position, which breaks down your understanding of their rationale.
What CI is not
Competitive intelligence is not occasionally playing other games in your space. Many game companies make the mistake of thinking they have competitive intelligence covered because they have asked team members to play competitive games or assigned specific games to individual team members. That would be like thinking you have analytics covered because you have asked the team to check the numbers when they have a chance.
Without a systematic approach to CI, you will not:
- Know when new features are released and how long they have been live. This is critical for understanding whether the feature is working or just being tested by your competitor.
- See all the failed features. You are likely to miss initiatives that did not gain traction and were thus eliminated.
- Know about changes to the game economy. These are often subtle and would not be noticed.
- Understand their promotion strategy. The frequency and type of sales, how long they run, how deep the discounts, etc.
How you should treat CI
Given the importance of competitive intelligence, and the inability to do it without effort (really, what of value can you do without effort), you need to build out a CI plan. To be successful, one person should own the process, though others can contribute. Everyone involved should have sufficient time dedicated to the project. Weekly, the leader should also summarize what competitors are doing to the entire team.
There are several tactical steps to implement for successful CI. First, identify the products to follow. Clearly, the market leader(s) should be in this mix, but do not focus just on the biggest products. Sometimes, they are large because of timing and no longer are driving the industry. While it is important to know what the biggest games are doing (because your players may be playing them), also follow the innovative but smaller games. Second, ensure that the games are played regularly, preferably daily. This is how VIP users are playing those games and you want to understand their experience and journey. Third, play as both a free player and a monetizer. Successful games treat players differently based on spend and it is important to see how the good players are experiencing the competitive products. Fourth, always monitor and note the game economy, exchange rates and promotions and understand underlying patterns and strategy. Fifth, note any new features and time of launch and check back regularly to see how the feature has evolved. Finally, track all this information in writing, either on a wiki, weekly, spreadsheet, etc. It is easy to think you remember everything about the game until you realize you do not.
Treat CI like BI
Although it is challenging, and time consuming, to build a proper competitive intelligence program, game companies had the same misgivings when they started using business intelligence/analytics (BI). What we found then was the value was transformative, and it is the same with competitive intelligence.
- Competitive intelligence, a staple of many industries, is often over-looked in the gaming space but can be as critical as business intelligence (analytics).
- Competitive intelligence allows you to understand the choices your players are making, both in terms of what products to play and where to monetize.
- To perform CI effectively, you need to devote resources and create a process around it where you are regularly (daily) reviewing competitive products for new features, changes in the economy, promotions, etc.