How Persona-Based Mobile Game Development and Marketing Drives Success

Gaming remains one of the most lucrative ways to make money in mobile. In fact, around 85% of mobile revenues came from gaming apps in 2015, according to App Annie, and mobile is expected to overtake revenues from PC gaming this year. Of course, breakout hits like Angry Birds, Clash of Clans, and now, Pokemon Go, continue to inspire developers with dreams of wealth. However, independent developers often invest considerable time and money creating games which, frustratingly, face challenges getting noticed. What smaller studios and indie developers need is a more calculated approach, both in the pre-launch design phase as well as the post-launch marketing phase.

Daniel Song

by Daniel Song,
Associate Business Development Director

While the allure of a mainstream hit like Candy Crush is tempting, developers should be pragmatic when it comes to developing an app that is going to offer a desirable return on investment (ROI). Narrowing the focus to a specific target audience is the key. Before creating mobile mega-hit Crossy Road in 2014, creator Matt Hall developed niche games like Pony Friends for teenage girls who dreamed of owning a horse, and Little Things for women over 50 who enjoy simple, hidden-object games. Each of these was a success in its own right. “Instead of making a game that tries to be something to everyone,” Hall says, “make a game that is everything for someone.”

Develop games for specific people

When Stephen King writes, he imagines his “ideal reader” to understand his audience. Game development is no different. When picking a target audience for your app, it’s important to consider the genres that appeal to different types of people. The highest-performing genres in the gaming industry are casual, strategy, casino and role playing games (RPG) games. Each of these genres attracts a different type of player, and so when developing the game, it’s helpful to imagine a specific person (and identify the persona and attributes) playing that game.

Gaming Personas

James has a full time job and is not particularly into gaming. He prefers the strategy genre, with its short to medium-length gaming sessions that combine creativity and tactical thinking. While the majority of users don’t purchase items within the app, players like James, typically male, have the potential to become fanatic and loyal to their team or group of fellow players.

Christine fits perfectly into the casual games genre. With kids and a part-time job, she doesn’t have much time to invest in a complex game. She prefers to play short sessions at her convenience, such as on the train to work or while waiting for her children. Christine enjoys solving puzzles, detecting patterns, and connecting with friends through her social channels.

Jenny has disposable income, and enjoys the thrill of taking small risks. Like most players in this persona, she enjoys playing a few different casino games. Jenny invests small amounts, staying encouraged by minor wins along the way, the proceeds of which she mostly reinvests back into the game. Nearly half of all casino game players in the United States make in-app purchases, and Jenny is no different.

Kenny is part of another genre that usually attracts more males than females: role playing games. Kenny is young, male, and very much into gaming. He plays games on other devices, such as his PC, as well. On the go, he prefers mobile games, and enjoys long sessions, paying for upgrades and advances which allow him to progress through the game faster.

By keeping one key persona in mind at every step of the way, be it Christine or James, games can be tailored toward the needs of an entire audience based on what one person wants. This increases the chances of developing a quality game which retains users. The next challenge is finding these users and bringing them into the app.

Getting the app in front of the right audience

Identifying someone like Kenny or Christine not only helps with designing a game for the right audience, it’s also useful in getting your game in front of that audience. Advertising technology has advanced to such a degree that identifying Kenny, or people like him, is possible using a data-driven approach that uses a repository, or data management platform (DMP).

DMPs set up audience profiles that are based around personas and focus on identifying specific attributes based on in-app behavior from a mix of first and third party data. Whenever a mobile user performs any activity within an app, such as completing a level or buying virtual currency in a game, this is stored by the DMP and referenced by the device’s ID. By supplementing this data with information such as age and gender from other, non-gaming apps, DMPs are able to build complex audience profiles. These personas effectively predict what type of person is more likely to engage with your gaming app.

This insight is enormously helpful in getting a niche app in front of the right people. Once the audience profile has been set, the DMP is able to identify which users fit that profile. On top of showing tailored ads to that audience, the DMP can use a lookalike model to find users who behave similarly. This expands the ad’s reach by targets high-quality users who are the most likely to install the app.

Whether your plan is to make the next casual game played by urban commuters like Christine, or by young, hardcore gamers like Kenny, success comes from carefully considering a target audience. Make sure you understand the different types of gamers out there. Focus on developing games for smaller, more engaged audiences, and ensure the game is marketed to that audience by using a mobile ad partner with a sophisticated DMP. Soon you’ll be slicing off a piece of the $36+ billion dollar industry for yourself.

This article originally appeared in ONEtoONE Magazine (in German) and (in Chinese).