Below is a presentation that I gave yesterday on lifetime value (LTV) to the portfolio companies of YetiZen. It covers the importance of LTV, key variables (monetization, virality and retention) and how to affect them, importance outside gaming, cohort analysis and the predictive nature of LTV. Other than the final section on uncertainty, which echoes my blog post on Tuesday, the presentation is largely consistent with the one posted earlier that I gave at Groundwork Labs a few months ago. Here is the one from last night:
Many do not understand, or even accept, the motivation for people to spend real money for virtual goods. Some are even more amazed at the success of virtual casinos, where players gamble but can never collect their winnings. They discount it as manipulation or irrational thinking by the consumer. In fact, purchasing virtual goods is a very rational behavior consistent with how people conduct other aspects of their life. Understanding this motivation will help you develop a game that better satisfies your customers’ needs.
Why people shop
Although some people shop because they need something (food, clothing, steak), yet there are many other reasons people shop. In a seminal piece from the Journal of Marketing entitled “Why People Shop?“, Edward Tauber wrote that the obvious answer (“to purchase something”) “can be a most deceptive one and reflects a marketing myopia.” Below are several reasons that Tauber hypothesizes drive shopping behavior, which do not reflect ending up with a physical good. These reasons can also drive monetization in a game: Continue reading “Why would anyone buy a virtual good?”
One of the greatest mistake game companies make is building or launching products that are paid apps, not free-to-play (F2P), which then monetize through micro-transactions. Despite the fact that survey after survey shows F2P games generate more revenue than paid apps, virtually all the investment money goes to F2P products (and VCs are pretty intelligent) and most companies that abandon paid apps for F2P never go back, there are a surprisingly high number of companies still focusing on the paid app model. In particular, many mobile studios whose roots are in the traditional (console) gaming world still prefer the paid app model. As I am often asked to help game companies, it is very frustrating when they forgo my advice and build a paid app. The usual refrain is “But look at Angry Birds.”
A recent analysis by Forbes (“Rovio’s Revenue Crisis and the App Market Evolution”) shows beyond a shadow of a doubt it is just foolish to still be building paid apps, even if you are Rovio. To summarize the key analysis and findings from the Forbes data: Continue reading “Don’t charge for your app, PLEASE (at least if you want to make money)”
The Wall Street Journal reported that more than 90 percent of app toys fail around the same time Activision announced that Skylanders’ sales exceeded $500 million. Among the failed app toys were Barbie Dolls and Hot Wheels cars with special conductors to control games on a tablet from Hasbro, Disney’s Cars AppMates, and a version of the Game of Life from Hasbro in which players spin a wheel on an iPad rather than a physical wheel. Yet, Activision’s physical virtual goods continue to sell incredibly well, driving Activision’s profitability. This interesting juxtaposition of news shows the value of using the equivalent of in-app purchases rather than the business models designed around retailing, distribution and manufacturing processes from the last century.
What is wrong with App Toys?
The biggest problem with app toys is that the toy makers are simply trying to move the same product to a new platform. The toy companies do not understand what creates compelling experiences on tablets (or consoles or phones, for that matter). Instead, they are replicating the same experience people have with the physical goods in the virtual world, which is not what consumers are looking for. They are competing with (thousands of) native games and products that are created to meet customers’ needs. It becomes obvious why the app toys cannot compete. Continue reading “Why app toys fail and Skylanders soar”
Activision’s earnings announcement yesterday shows how attractive successfully conquering the physical virtual goods market is. On November 27, I blogged that Activision would be the big winner Q4 2012 on the strength of the Skylanders franchise and its reliance on a new business model, selling physical versions of virtual goods. I elaborated on that post earlier this month, commenting that the emergence of the Physical Virtual Goods monetization model was one of the most exciting developments in the gaming space in years .
Today, Activision’s stock rose 14 percent because earnings tripled from the fourth quarter last year (in a period in which overall video games sales slumped). Net income increased 257.58 percent to $354 million in the quarter versus a net gain of $99 million in the year-earlier quarter. Revenue rose 25.66 percent to $1.77 billion from the year-earlier quarter (unfortunately, some of that is due to my family).
This report affirms my belief that physical virtual goods are an incredible opportunity. While I do not advocate trying to copy exactly what Activision has done (I believe in blue oceans, not fast following), there are many elements in this space (e.g., product type, demographic) that represent incredible opportunities for game companies.
I will be speaking today at 11 at Groundwork Labs, the Durham-based technology accelerator, on why companies in any industry need to focus on LTV, the primary levers and its impact on success. Anyone interested and in the area is free to come by. Much of the discussion has been covered previously in this blog, but feel free to check out the presentation on Slideshare:
Monetization is one of three components that you use to determine LTV (lifetime value of a customer) and is the one that is the easiest to improve. Two weeks ago, I wrote about the central importance of lifetime value to the success of your game and your company. This week I want to discuss monetization, its importance and how you can improve it.
How to define monetization
Monetization at its core is how much money an average player spends in your game. As with the other two components of LTV, there are different facets of monetization that you can use to create a more accurate calculation. With all monetization measurements, you need to incorporate all revenue, including revenue that does not come from in-app purchases (e.g., advertising revenue, subscription revenue) to get a true picture of monetization and LTV.
The primary metric for monetization is ARPDAU (average revenue per daily active user) but there are several other metrics that together can help you get a more robust LTV calculation. Continue reading “Lifetime Value Part 3: Monetization’s role in LTV and how to impact it”
The use of virtual goods in a physical form is one of the most interesting (and profitable) monetization techniques that I have seen. By “physical virtual goods” (my term), I mean taking a virtual good that is normally sold through an in-app purchase and making it into a physical retail item that is used to unlock the virtual good inside the game (with no functionality for the physical product).
The Skylanders example
Activision’s Skylanders are the perfect example of this monetization strategy. Activison has two video games, Skylanders Giants and Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure, that sell at retail, just as you would purchase Call of Duty or Super Mario Bros. However, instead of selling downloadable content or offering upgrades through in-app purchases (depending on the platform), players must purchase Skylanders characters at retail, place them on a game-specific portal (a device that plugs into the game console) or enter a code that comes with the character (again, depending on the platform) to unlock the character in the game. Continue reading “Physical virtual goods”
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I just started the Networked Life course taught by Michael Kearns from the University of Pennsylvania on Coursera. Part of the coursework has been about “heavy tail distribution,” a phenomenon typical in a large-scale network (like Facebook). To summarize, a heavy tail distribution (see image below for an example) means there is a clustering of vertices (users or in the case of Facebook, friends) with a very low number of connections but a long tail of vertices (users) who have a lot of contacts. Thus, in the case of Facebook (or any other typical network) the large majority of users have only a few Friends but there is a long tail of people who have a lot of friends (say over 1,000). These latter people are called “Connectors” in network theory. What is particularly interesting is that this structure, which again is typical of large-scale networks, is effectively the inverse of a traditional bell shape distribution, which would show a few users at the low end, a peak (the top of the bell) and then quickly trail off. The heavy tail is typical of all social networks, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
What I find interesting is that you find a similar curve in virtually all free-to-play social games when it comes to users’ monetization tendencies. Continue reading “The heavy tail of monetization”
I recently read an article on pricing in the Harvard Business Review, “Pricing to Create Shared Value,” that has direct implications on monetization strategy in the social gaming space. It is so counter to the current strategy of so many social game companies, I am sure many of you will either disregard it or just think I am wrong. Before you do, keep in mind the underlying article was written by star professors from Harvard Business School (John T. Gourville) and the London School of Business (Marco Bertini), based on years of research, so maybe the 20-something monetization whiz in the Bay Area does not know it all.