In this Episode, Tim Ogilvie, founder of Think Gaming joins the conversation with Chris and David as they discuss how Think Gaming can help you evaluate and improve your app and connect you with marketers, publishers and investors as well as:
- how to measure your apps against benchmarks for their specific game type
- how to find the best monetization methods by game type
- what Tim thinks of reskinning
- and my favorite – what Tim would do with $100k and an amazing team
[Tweet “Listening to #ABP029 and running my best apps thru @GamingOutLoud”]
- Affordable Dev a complete mobile development agency with developers and designers that will bring your project to life. Mention the #ABP for 20% off of your next project. For a limited time – Affordable Dev is offering free ASO consultations with an ASO professional with every new project.
Resources and Links Mentioned in this Episode
- Think Gaming and @GamingOutLoud
- App Jetpack
- Tropical MBA
- Flappy Bird
- Excellent Easy
- Free to Play
- Deconstructor of Fun
Chris: Hi and welcome to another episode of the App Business Podcast. We have a guest today. We also have David the German with us. Hey, David.
David: Hey everybody.
Chris: So today we have Tim Ogilvie. He is with Think Gaming. I actually ran across his service researching App Jetpack, which we talk about from time to time on the show. So I’ll let Tim Ogilvie introduce himself a little more, but he’s essentially the founder of Think Gaming, thinkgaming.com. We’re going to dig into the service and it seems really cool. So Tim Ogilvie, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Tim: Sure, I’m Tim Ogilvie. I’m the founder of Think Gaming. And we’re really focused on helping mobile games get more profitable, figuring out what type of great games they can make, and helping them kind of get to the next level.
Chris: So the next level specifically is . . .
Tim Ogilvie: Well usually what happens is someone makes a great game because they love playing games, or they have an idea for a game that they want to see made live, or they want to make money in mobile gaming. And the days of kind of building an app and having the world kind of flooding to your door are largely over.
Tim Ogilvie: And I know you guys know that, I mean it happens occasionally. But the reality is there’s a lot of specialized skills that people need to have a lot of success with gaming. And that can come down to how do you tune the game for retention and people actually monetizing, if it uses in-app purchases or a freemium model. It can be localizing for specific markets.
So a lot of international markets are huge–China, Japan, Russia. And a developer in the US isn’t going to localize for the Japanese market. And it can be marketing and advertising. So getting to the right people at Google and Apple can be critical and getting like a featured notice.
And then most of the top grossing apps, which is something that we pay a lot of attention to, top grossing games specifically, all kind of rely on paid advertising to get to the top of the charts. And so what we do is we help people understand kind of who they can partner with and then connect them actually directly to partners who tend to be either publishers or investors in the gaming space.
Chris: And that’s what I found so cool about your service. So we talk a lot about getting passed ASO. Like a lot of the indie devs they focused on ASO, about app store optimization. Key words . . .
Tim Ogilvie: Sure.
Chris: . . . icons, all that stuff. But there’s so much in gamification or game mechanics. Not even only in games, you could use game mechanics in a flash light.
Tim Ogilvie: Absolutely.
Chris: You know, and then retention. If you can solve retention everything else really falls into place, or it can, you’re in a really good position for that. We started talking a little bit about core loops and like the one minute loop and the one hour loop and these kinds of things.
But what I really found cool about your service, and I ran one of my apps through your service, was you then evaluate it based on how likely it is to connect with partners that are willing to then invest and take your app to the next level. And I thought that was really cool.
Just to really quick to a flow of it for the listeners. It’s you can either implement the Think Gaming SDK and they’ll track what they want to track. And then I think it’s a week later you can get the data that helps you analyze their app, is that right?
Tim Ogilvie: It takes about two weeks.
Chris: Okay, two weeks later. Or you can insert your own data, like if you have Flurry or Google Analytics or some other paid analytic service. And you can do an instant analysis and I think it’s like $100 or $150.
Tim Ogilvie: And we’re actually going to get rid of that. We’re about two days away and we’re going to make that entirely free.
Chris: Oh, okay. That’s really cool. But what was really cool, and I researched this because App Jetpack is essentially my new little start-up for app diagnostics and it’s a little bit like what Think Gaming’s doing, but really we’re just focusing more on regular management. So it’s like always updating with, okay here’s a new flag that came up or a new diagnostic that came up.
Think Gaming does a little bit of that, but it seems to me the way you guys make money is locating apps that fit your criteria and then matching up with partners. Are you guys like a lead machine? Is that the main model?
Tim Ogilvie: That’s the basic model. I mean we’re relatively early, so the model isn’t 100% cooked.
Chris: Right, yeah.
Tim Ogilvie: But yeah. I mean we study and pay a ton of attention to top grossing games. On the Think Gaming website there’s a link for top games where we publish how much money all of the top games make and how many downloads you get from a rank of, you know, number 10 in top grossing. So we can look at all the tower defense titles, or all of the puzzle titles, or all of the bingo titles and really break them down in terms of their monetization and get to that kind of deeper understanding that you’re talking about, which is what types of monetization mechanics or retention mechanics are successful today.
Chris: Right, yeah that’s huge. We talk a lot about encouraging listeners to be monitoring, well not be monitoring, to be experts in what the top monetization methods are for the various app styles. So sometimes it’s not just, let’s say you have a really successful quiz app series. Okay, you’ve got monetization mechanics down for quizzes, but it’s really helpful to see what other types of games are doing cause you can implement some of those in your quiz series, let’s say.
Tim Ogilvie: Absolutely.
Chris: Yeah, but that’s really cool. So you guys have kind of benchmarked what the elements are of successful apps per genre, or game type.
Tim Ogilvie: Yep, yep. So we break it down into, you know, so we look at endless runners for example. And we’ll compare, our scouting report will compare your endless runner to Subway Surfers, and Jetpack Joyride, and Despicable Me: Minion Rush. So we can actually break down how you monetize versus those guys and versus the category as a whole.
So, a lot of times people don’t really know, should I spend time on my gameplay and the kind of core loop of how people play the game. Should I spend time trying to improve monetization, or is it just I built a great arcade game but the truth is arcade games don’t necessarily make that much money in the overall scheme of things.
And that’s what we try to answer for people. How are you doing on monetization? How are you doing on retention? And some broader market trends around how big is the genre you’re focused on, so endless runners, arcade games, war games, what have you. And how long do games like that stay on the top grossing charts?
So arcade games as an example, they tend to rise very quickly and die off very quickly. Whereas other games have a much longer spread because people play those games. The people who get really into those games play those games for six months, nine months, 12 months. And so when they get on the top-grossing charts they stay for a very long time.
Chris: So David should I ask him are you skinning? Or is that too far out of left field?
David: In what regard? I mean, why not?
Chris: Okay, so Tim, something that’s really grabbed a hold of a lot of newer people coming into the mobile app space as developers or publishers is the idea of buying code, and it can be and endless runner or a tower defense or it could be a quiz thing or a photo thing. But you buy code for three, four, five hundred bucks and then you re-skin it five, ten different ways. Do you know what I’m talking about? And do you see value in that because some types of apps do have that longer, they hold a user’s interest longer?
Tim: Yeah, I mean look, re-skinning, and you know there are various flavors of that. From a very light re-skinning to what I’d call inspired by type approaches where you really take the entire game and even though the mechanics work in exactly the same way it becomes a different game. It’s all through games, and it has been since the birth of games.
So I do think re-skinning’s interesting. We don’t tend to see a lot of success and publishers we work with are not particularly interested in the latest versions of the re-skinning. I mean if you have a Flappy Bird clone it’s got to be something different.
Publishers are interested in, there’s something interesting about Flappy Bird. People are attracted to the idea of this game’s incredibly hard but incredibly simple and getting a high score I’m particularly proud of, I want to share with people. And so we see lots of Flappy Bird clones, but we’re also seeing people who are saying hey wait a second people want to play really tough games, but we’re going to make a really neat new version of that tough game. Those tend to be more successful and more interesting to publishers and investors than just a straight up re-skinning that just changes colors or maybe turns the bird into a fish or things like that.
David: Yeah, that sounds very much like what we call Rip, Pivot, and Jam, which we also have ripped from another podcast, from the quality Lifestyle Business Podcast, now Tropical MBA. But yeah, it sounds very much like this. So you take a concept where you look at this and you say okay, Flappy Bird was very successful, what was the driving thing behind it?
And you suspect in this case, I mean it’s still a matter of debate, but yeah I would say it’s also the toughness of the game and you take the toughness, you rip that part, and then you pivot, you do something very different with the game. You add your own flavor to it and it’s a different game, it doesn’t use the same mechanics but it has this element of toughness being ripped off the Flappy Bird.
David: So that’s something that you think is much more successful than buying code and just changing a couple of fonts and icons?
Tim: You know, games are a very hit driven business. So if you want to make a game you want to shoot for can I get to the top of the charts, or how far up those charts can I get. So yeah, I think you need to take a bigger approach than just kind of re-skin a $500 game clone. Because the same time you’re picking that up and doing that thing so are four or five other people. So the market is getting flooded with a lot of these really similar games and I just don’t think ultimately you’re going to see much financial return from stuff like that.
Chris: Yeah, well we totally agree, but it’s nice to hear your opinion on it. Yeah, and as an example reusing game mechanics like Clash of Clans with Hay Day is a very similar game, but a totally different theme and a lot of the same game mechanics. So that would be something where underneath the covers it’s using a lot of the same stuff, but it has a totally different gameplay.
That’s the kind of stuff that I think we’re pushing a lot our listeners to think more about. Find things that work and experiment with different things, but then reuse the game mechanics, not necessarily the theme or the code, right?
Tim Ogilvie: Yeah I think that’s right and you can get pretty close, I mean Clash of Clans and a game like Samurai Siege, which basically is the exact same game as Clash of Clans but it uses ninjas and samurais, has been actually very successful just basically taking exactly the same game play of the hugely successful Clash of Clans and just doing it in an environment that a different set of gamers are going to gravitate to. And I think you can do that in tons of different places.
Chris: Yeah, totally agree. How about this, how long have you guys been out and connecting apps with funding partners?
Tim Ogilvie: Not very long, I mean we’ve been publishing data for over a year now, so the beginning of 2013 is when our data goes back to. But we’ve really been connecting to investors and publishers using our scouting reports for about two months.
Chris: Okay, and so do they invest for a percent of the future profits? Is that how the mechanics work?
Tim Ogilvie: You know there are, broadly, there’s probably three models that people we work with take on. On kind of one end of the spectrum, an equity investor, typically angel investors, or venture capitalists are looking to buy a piece of the company. So they’re looking for typically games that are going to be very big, very large.
They buy a piece of that in return for money, the money can be used for lots of different things. And they own a piece of the company, usually have a board seat, things like that. That’s not the typical model.
More typical is a publisher relationship, and publishers you typically work on a single title but sometimes things like sequel rights get involved. So I have a single title, it’s my new Clash of Clans clone that I’m taking out and a publisher will sometimes front some money for me to complete development and tweak development, although that’s not common, that’s not all over the place.
What they will do is they will take on a final level of polish for the game, they’ll usually have monetization analysts come through and look at the game and make some recommendations about how they can improve it. And then they will launch and put a launch budget and marketing around launching that game.
And so typically the way those relationships work is they keep all the revenue until they get paid back on their original investment and then you share revenue on top of that. So if they spend $100,000 on marketing they take the first $100,000 and then the next $100,000 you might split 70% to the developer, 30% to the publisher.
Chris: Got it.
Tim Ogilvie: That might be a broad sense. And then there are other people who just do, typically for games that are launched and are looking to explode their advertising, it’s just a financial relationship. And so it works in the same way, spending $100,000 and split revenue. But really there’s no involvement other than their kind of making you a loan that’s secured based on the fact that you’ve got revenues coming in from your game.
Chris: Got it. So then if you were to sell the code, sell the app to someone, they wouldn’t participate in that event?
Tim Ogilvie: That’s right, that’s exactly right. So in that instance you continue to own 100% of your company, which is why it’s really appealing, or 100% of the rights to the game. And it’s very appealing, but you can actually grow with kind of their financial model. We see that as interesting and actually growing over Tim Ogilviee for particularly the best games.
Chris: Nice. So our audience is diverse, we’re still trying to figure out who exactly is listening to David and I talk to each other and occasionally having a guest. But so, the topics we’re discussing aren’t normally like beginner style conversation, so I think it’d be really boring for beginners to be listening to us. And I know based on who’s joining the masterminds that we participate in, there’s a lot of people with very decent titles and number one hits and a lot of income and revenue coming in from their apps.
What type of apps, you kind of touched on it a little bit, but what type of apps, obviously games, work best with your service? Like if our listeners say hey I want to check this out, I would love to have a publishing partner.
Tim Ogilvie: Yeah, we’re best with games. You know, and I think the closer you are to a game the easier it is for us to help and I mean we love apps in general, particularly freemium apps. So we try and help in lots of things but we’re very good in games.
Chris: Well I guess what I’m looking for is tell me, we kind of the different models, like you have benchmarks for different types of games, what are those?
Tim Ogilvie: You’re talking about what types of games are most promising?
Chris: No, you have benchmarks for the different, when I was signing up I had to say what type of game it was so then you could apply the correct benchmarks to it. Is it a tower defense game? Okay, then the mechanics should look like this. So what are the various niches or models you update on?
Tim Ogilvie: Well we have data on 6000 mobile games, so we track all this stuff. And I think we tag them with up to 150 different tags that represent things from not just are they a tower defense title, but is it a licensed title like something that’s tied to a movie or a sports team. Does it run ads? Does it use a virtual currency? Does it use an energy mechanic or a time-based mechanic? We really try to break down to what’s the core DNA of these games and then, you know, the things that drive the . . . there are two things, three things I would say that really drive game success.
So one of them is just genre in general, so certain games like Clash of Clans where you’re doing kind of you’re building your village over time, so builder style games are very good candidates for big time success. Crime games, social casino games, puzzle games like Candy Crush and Jelly Splash tend to be less on a per-user basis but get used by tons and tons of people.
And so then we look at in each of those genres we’ll look at average revenue per daily active users, so the industry term is ARPDAU. And it can be anywhere from, for like a puzzle game, you can have a successful game that makes $0.04 or $0.05 per user on a daily basis because it’s used by so many and it’s so viral. Whereas card battling games, which appeal to very hardcore gamers, tend to have average revenue per daily active user of $0.50 plus, so they have a lot of people spending a ton of money, but it appeals to a very small audience.
So part of what we do is we actually break that down and help you understand where you sit on that spectrum. And what you don’t want to be is appealing to a very targeted audience and have a very low monetization. You need a model where, those games in particular, depend on people who can spend a lot of money, so you got to have a model where somebody can spend hundreds of dollars in your game.
Chris: Yeah, okay, so just for a fun little exercise, because you have all this data and so you probably have a really interesting answer to this. I’ve got $100,000 for you and developer is the best development team ever and an amazing design team, what type of app are you building?
Tim Ogilvie: That’s a great question.
Chris: This is proof that we don’t rehearse anything before we go
Tim Ogilvie: That’s right. You know there are a couple different categories. I mean I think that broadly the category that people are seeing a lot of success is the taking elements of a “mid-core game”, so a game, Hay Day and Farmville are pretty good examples, where you’re taking a mechanic that’s traditionally been applied to harder core gamers and bringing it to a broader audience.
There is a brand new crop of mobile gamers out there and it is a lot of women, it’s a lot of tends to be a little bit older than a traditional console games, and so I think there’s a ton of opportunity in that category, where people are spending a lot of time and a lot of money on their mobile phones. And so building games where you’re simulating a restaurant or simulating a farm or other things like that that aren’t necessarily combat heavy games that appeal to a core kind of male demographic, 18-34 males, I think it’s a big opportunity [inaudible 00:22:52]
Chris: Sorry Tim, David how about that for an answer? Because that’s exactly what we’re doing.
David: Yeah, I’m absolutely amazed by that answer.
Chris: David and I are teaming up on, almost for fun. I mean we’re trying to break, he wrote some, what would you call it? A library for HTML to native and we’re trying to break his code, and so we decided we’d team up on a couple apps to see how far we could push his code and so he could build some new libraries and stuff.
And so we decided, oh we’re both kind of economics nerds, let’s build an app that has in-game economy where you build a bakery and it’s like an entrepreneurial style game and then we can do, of course if we like what we’re doing, it’s an easy thing to build a pizza shop or something else. So we’re kind of just building an app cause we think it’s cool and it’s a lot bigger than the normal apps that I’ve done and even that David’s done in the past. But that sounds very similar to what you’re saying.
Tim Ogilvie: I think it sounds terrific, yeah, I think there’s a very big, so as you guys are thinking about it I would look at apps like Hay Day and Clash of Clans, like how do you find that model that’s driven just a ton of great engagement.
Chris: Yeah, I’ve got a couple of gamification books, this is an amazing time to be an entrepreneur because people will write books and self-publish on Amazon and the stuff is just amazing. So it’s all about the core loops and they use, they basically deconstruct all these very famous games like Clash of Clans or Hay Day or Jelly Splash or whatever. And just for me being at my house, no education in gamification or game mechanics, I can get pretty good information on what all these guys are doing and how they build apps like that. Yeah, David we’ve got to nerd out on that.
Tim Ogilvie: Absolutely, and a great blog by the way, if you’re looking for stuff like that, Michail Katkoff writes a blog . . .
Chris: Deconstructor of Fun, right?
Tim Ogilvie: Deconstructor of Fun. And he really nerds out on the gamification and, you know has the core loop breakdowns. It’s a terrific blog on that.
Chris: I was at an event, entrepreneur event, and I was one of the only mobile guys around, and so I must have gotten the question 50 times over the 3 day period. You know, where should I start? How do I get involved? So I went to Bali right afterwards, and I wasn’t with my fiance so it was kind of boring to be in Bali without your girl, and I ended up writing a book, you know not a huge book, but like 70 pages type of thing, like maybe a really big wide paper.
But I listed off a ton of resources that were really helpful to me and kind of taking that next step to being a successful publisher. And I gave that guy blog of the year in my very humble award system. But yeah, that blog is a great place to start and he usually publishes something like once a month, but man it’s really cool. Yeah that’s funny.
Tim Ogilvie: Yep, yep.
Chris: David, do we let Tim go or do you have one more question for him?
David: Okay, one question that came to me earlier, was you mentioned that these really big, very successful apps, and in your case mostly games, they spend a lot of money on advertisement or marketing in general and I would just be really curious what kind of marketing that is.
Tim Ogilvie: Sure, so classically the way this model works, particularly for games but it works for lots of apps in general, is the best companies figure out what’s the lifetime value of a user. And for games that comes down to its actually something our scouting report reveals for you, and so let’s say your user is worth $3 per user, they then run marketing campaigns with Facebook, Google, and Flurry, Chart Boost, where they’re looking to acquire user’s for less than $3, call it $2 or $2.50.
So the biggest and best companies are basically running giant operations where they’re buying users for $2.50 that they know are worth $3 all day long and doing it at big scale. So all of the, I’ll call it the top 50 top grossing games, are all very active buyers of media.
And so you’ve seen, I mean Facebook announced results recently and their app install revenue is going crazy on the mobile side and this is largely driven by games and game spenders who have a really tight handle on what a user is worth and Facebook offers them the opportunity to purchase users on an install basis for less than what they believe their lifetime value is.
Chris: Yeah, that model works across everything, right?
Tim Ogilvie: Absolutely.
Chris: But man, I think it was about four months ago, Clash of Clans came out, or Supercell came out saying their spending something like $750,000 a day driving installs. But, you know, they’re buying them at $4 and making $40, I mean some insane difference. Yeah, that would be a lot of fun.
It’s like retention, if you get lifetime value up high enough people will throw money at you. If you don’t have the money to buy the ads you can find people that will gladly hand you tons of money to go turn that over and over and over.
Tim Ogilvie: That’s right, that’s exactly right.
Chris: Well Tim this was awesome. Tim I don’t think is the normal podcaster type guy, like kind of like how I’m not either. Somehow David talked me into a podcast. But so it was a little outside of Tim’s comfort zone, I think, to come on the podcast, so I really appreciate you kind of like trusting us and jumping in with us.
I think the listener-ship’s going to really like this conversation and hopefully it’ll direct their efforts in things that have, as you said, a bigger chance for financial gain or, you know, like a much higher chance for a strong ROI. But really, check out thinkgaming.com in two days I think you said, Tim, they’ll do that analysis for free if you just want to type in your stuff or it’s a very simple SDK you can put in and then they’ll track it all for you.
David: So it’s very likely that it will already be the case when this episode comes out.
Chris: Oh, Good point, yeah.
Tim Ogilvie: Perfect, perfect.
David: So go to Think Gaming and check it out. It’s definitely very interesting what you’re doing, thanks for being on Tim, and thanks especially for being so open and honest about it. I really appreciate it.
Tim Ogilvie: Absolutely, thanks for having me. I loved it.
Chris: If you want to contact Tim, thinkgaming.com, or he has a blog as well where he’s like the main author. Do you have Twitter, Tim?
Tim Ogilvie: We are @gamingoutloud
Chris: @gamingoutloud, all right, Tim, thank you very much.
Tim Ogilvie: Thank you guys.