Game Design

Game Design, Game Reviews

roll_iconFrom time to time, playing Banny Sammy – Physics Puzzle has had me saying “how the hell am I supposed to do that?” Considering that this is a puzzle game, that is actually quite a good thing.

Available on Google PlayAvailable on iTunesBanny Sammy is a puzzle mobile game built by Vietnamese indie game development studio Senspark. In it, two heads – one of a bear and one of a monkey – need to eat their food. Your task is to navigate those heads to their corresponding food, and you do that by employing the game’s physics and snapping various obstacles to get the heads rolling.

Visuals

Eat SS 1The game looks quite good, actually. With bright colors and solid animations, the game will be a joy to watch, and with the game’s moving parts not being too small it will also be a joy to play, even on smaller displays. I have tested it on a 5.5-inch LG G3 Android smartphone, but the game’s developers say the game looks somewhat different on various devices.

“Different graphics set to fit all of your devices. Enjoy the crisp characters on your phones and tablets,” the game’s description page says. This can sometimes be crucial, as I have played games before that have forced me to stop simply because certain elements were too small for me to tap on.

Banny Sammy is accompanied by a simple, cheerful tune. Although I’m not a big fan of tunes that remind me of Google commercials, it sat quite nicely in this game. Too invasive tunes can be a nuisance, especially in puzzle games, which is why it was important to get this aspect right.

Gameplay

Yet in puzzle games, visuals are nowhere near as important as gameplay, and Banny Sammy – Physics Puzzle passes this test with flying colors. The game has a total of 144 levels, split into four stages, offering tons of gameplay. As the game progresses, it adds new mechanics and puzzles to the game, keeping the player interested for a longer period of time. A different stage also means different looks (to a certain degree), which also adds an extra layer of complexity to the game.

Moreover, the game features a couple of power-ups, which is a great add-on and opens up new possibilities to solve the puzzles. With a total of four power-ups (bubble, tornado, bird and hammer), it gives the player more depth.

These power-ups can be obtained either through the game, in various ways, or they can be purchased for real cash. It is a good solution for those who are impatient. Those who wish to tease their brain a bit longer can do so, as I managed to pass quite a lot of this game without using a single power-up.

EAT SS 2However, don’t think you will pass the game in one go – the number of lives you have to spend is limited and regenerates over time, or through your social networks. If you are out of lives, you can send your friends a notification on social media, and you will be rewarded with extra game time.

I’m not a big fan of this approach, as various FarmVille’s and ClashOfClan’s have managed to annoy so many people on Facebook with the constant notifications that it might actually be counter-productive to have such a feature in 2015, soon to be 2016.

Tasty puzzle

All things considered, Banny Sammy is a good-looking, fun mobile puzzle game. With tons of levels and mind-boggling puzzles, it will keep its players interested for days, months even. Different stages and various power-ups add an additional depth to gameplay, and with cute characters and bright colors, it’s bound to attract both the older and the younger audience.

 

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Game Design

This post is part of a new series that explores the top mobile games created in a country. Here are the top mobile games in FinlandIndiaIndonesiaBrazilChinaIsrael and South Korea

(1200x600) Top 10 mobile games

Japan is famous for a lot of things, which is why – if you ask different people about the Land of the Rising Sun, you will get different answers. However, there’s one thing everyone will admit about Japan – it doesn’t seem like that country is on the same planet as the rest of us.

The unique culture Japan has – from art, music to television and movies, has also spilled into digital arts and digital entertainment – mobile games that are among the most popular in the country are rarely seen elsewhere, and the number of downloads on, for example, Google Play Store, can confirm such claims. The games are by no means of lesser quality – but their popularity is limited to the far, far East.
 

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Popularity of #Japanese #mobilegames rarely spills to the rest of the world. Click To Tweet

That is why finding the most popular mobile games in Japan was a specific and quite a challenging task. Nevertheless, we’ve come up with the list of Top 10 mobile games made in Japan, and the results are as follows:

*Interesting SDKs are courtesy of logo

ritorunoa#10 Ritoru Noa

Android | iOS

Developer: BlazeGames

BlazeGames is a game development studio located in Tokyo. It was established in July 2014, and runs with a 300-million-yen capital. Its mobile game, Ritoru Noa, translates to “Little Noah”.

Published: 2015
Genre: Kawaii / Simulation
About the game: The Ritoru Noa game revolves around a female alchemist character named Noah and her airship adventures. The gameplay is similar to Clash of Clans but with a much cuter theme to it.

fate_grand_order#9 Fate/Grand Order

Android | iOS

Developer: Aniplex

Aniplex is a game development studio formed back in 1995. It was created out of Sony Pictures Entertainment Music Publishing, and also has offices in the United States. It changed its name to Aniplex in 2001, and in 2005 it established its American affiliate company Aniplex of America.

Published: 2015
Genre: RPG
About the game: As one might have imagined, the Japanese are crazy about RPG games, and they have a specific style to the way they create those games. One of the best examples for it is Fate/Grand Order – a huge, masterfully crafted RPG game, but one which is also hard to imagine as a mobile game. Fate/Grand Order is an RPG for Android and iOS platforms which lets players take on the role of a fledgling master on a quest to save time and space.

brain_dots#8: Brain Dots

Android | iOS

Developer: Translimit

Translimit is a game development studio located in Tokyo. Formed by Hiroki Takaba and Takuma Kudo, a duo that has previously worked together on a number of game projects. It was launched in January 2015 and currently employs 14 people.

Published: 2015
Genre: Puzzle
About the game: Brain Dots is an insanely creative puzzle game which forces the player to use his / her imagination, together with real-life physics to pass various obstacles and complete increasingly difficult levels. The brain-training app is available on both Android and iOS.
Interesting SDKs: 

 InMobi  AdColony 
 Applifier  Fyber 
 Everyplay 

crash_fever#7: Crash Fever

Android | iOS

Developer: Wonderplanet

Wonderplanet is a game development studio located in Nagoya, well-known in the country thanks to games such as Siren Fantasia, Panic Farm or Slash of the Dragoon. It currently employs 39 people which build games for both Android and the iOS platforms.

Published: 2015
Genre: Puzzle
About the game: Crash Fever is a hybrid game, combining a colour-matching puzzle game and an RPG fighting game. In the game, in order to defeat the opponent in the RPG phase of the game, the player must first play a colour-matching mini-game which then determines the strength of the fighter, its defence and various power-ups.

brain_wars#6: Brain Wars

Developer: Translimit
Published: 2014
Genre: Puzzle
About the game: Brain Wars is a multiplayer puzzle game which pits two players against each other in real-time puzzle battles. Highly rated by players who enjoy puzzles crosswords, Sudoku, and other brain teasers, the game will train the player’s intellect, without the need of specialized knowledge.
Interesting SDKs: 

 InMobi  Millennial Media 
 AdColony 

 

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punipuni#5: Specter Watch PuniPuni

Android | iOS

Developer: Level-5

Level-5 is both a game developer and a publisher, working solely on Japanese soil. It was founded in 2010 by Akihiro Hino who is both President and CEO, and has since developed many games, including Just Dance, Fantasy Life 2, The Snack World or Layton 7. All games are recognizable by the unique visual style featuring bright colors and cute characters.

Published: 2015
Genre: Puzzle
About the game: Quite similar to Crash Fever, Specter Watch PuniPuni also combines RPG elements with color-matching mini-games. The game also taps into a very popular franchise, similar to the Pokémon universe. It’s free to play, but offers in-game purchases if you’re willing to spend extra money.

white_cat_project#4: White Cat Project

Android | iOS

Developer: Colopl

Colopl is a Japanese game developer which builds games only for the domestic market. It’s well-known for games such as the White Cat Project or Quiz RPG: The World of Mystic Wiz – very colorful games – which is something we couldn’t say for the company website. The company is headquartered in Tokyo, and was founded in 2008 by Naruatsu Baba.

Published: 2014
Genre: RPG
About the game: The White Cat Project is an action RPG game with a unique game design – it is played only with a thumb, and has had the Japanese going completely crazy last year. The game will control movement and fighting by having players simply “stretch” their thumb press or tapping rapidly. Special skills can be activated by swiping in the area and direction set for them. According to media, it was downloaded more than 12 million times in the first two and a half months.

hellfire#3: HellFire: The Summoning

Android | iOS

Developer: DeNa

DeNA is a mobile game developer which owns Mobage, one of the most popular cellphone gaming platforms in Japan. It also operates many other services, including a popular e-commerce website DeNA Shopping, and is headquartered in Tokyo.

Published: 2012
Genre: Card game
About the game: Moving into the number three position, we have the first card game on the list, Hellfire: The Summoning. This is one of those rare Japanese games which are also very popular in the West as well, as this one, for example, has more than 10 million downloads on Google Play Store, with an average rating of 4.3. It features a simple flick mechanic, and eye-catching artwork.
Interesting SDKs: 

 Chartboost  prime[31] 

monster_strike#2: Monster Strike

Android | iOS

Developer: Mixi

Even though it has created one of the best Japanese games we’ve come across, Mixi is not really a game development studio. In fact, Mix is an online Japanese social networking service. It was founded in 2004, and as of 2008 has more than 21 million users. It is headquartered in Shibuya, Tokyo.

Published: 2013
Genre: Puzzle / RPG
About the game: Just like almost every other Japanese game, Monster Strike features monsters, spells, bright colors and cute characters. It is considered one of the best mobile games in the country, gaining praise not only domestically, but globally as well. Monster Strike has you collecting and powering up anime-stylized battling monsters. It also features RPG qualities like turn-based combat and buffs.
Interesting SDKs: 

 Chartboost   Crashlytics 
 Tapjoy  Tune 

puzzle_dragons#1 Puzzle and Dragons

Android | iOS

Developer: GungHo Online Entertainment

GungHo Online Entertainment is primarily known for hosting the Japanese server of Ragnarok Online, as well as their development of Ragnarok DS for the Nintendo DS, but in more recent times, it’s a mobile game that’s grabbing all the attention. The company has reported huge financial success thanks to Puzzle & Dragons, which, in 2013, was reportedly responsible for 91 percent of the company’s $1.6 billion revenue for the year.

Published: 2012
Genre: Puzzle, RPG
About the game: Puzzle & Dragons is a puzzle video game with elements of RPGs and strategy games, built for the iOS, Android and Kindle platforms. In Japan, the title is often shortened to Pazudora, while in English it is shortened to PAD. In core, it’s a color-matching game, with the success of the game determining which of the six monsters on the player’s team attack the waves of enemy monsters and how much damage they do.
Interesting SDKs: 

Nanigans  GrowMobile 
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Game Design, Game Reviews

jumpy_iconAfter playing Jumpy for some time, I have realized two things about myself – one, that I’m an incredibly stupid person and two – that I’m capable of laughing out loud at my own stupidity, even though I’m all alone in the office, with no one around but my smartphone.

Available on Google PlayAvailable on iTunesThat is pretty much what this game will do to you. Either that, or you’ll throw it out the window, like people used to do with Flappy Bird, because these two games have a lot in common.

They don’t share the same game mechanics per se – there are no out-of-shape birds or Super Mario-styled pipes in this game. There is only a bouncy ball and a whole lotta stairs to be climbed.

More than an endless runner

jumpy ss 1What they do share is the same gameplay approach – you need to have basically perfect reflexes and steel nerves to pass the game. Failure is, in almost every instance – not an option.

Where Jumpy takes it a step further is that this is not just an endless runner game – it has two types of games and one can actually be completed.

So what is this game all about? In Jumpy, you assume the role of a presumably rubber ball, jumping its way up a lot of stairs. The ball jumps on its own, but when a certain obstacle appears (like spikes, for example), you are required to tap the screen and jump over it.

While it sounds simple enough in theory, in practice you will come to realize that not only do you have bad reflexes, but you also get annoyed by your own stupid self quite fast.

The game features two modes, one being in levels, and the other one, which is coming soon – an endless running game.

Entertaining and engaging

The type of game you can play is thoroughly entertaining – out of the ten levels available I have managed to finish only four, and every level has had new and interesting obstacles to keep me fully focused. Those obstacles vary from popping spikes, to disappearing stairs, to balls jumping twice as high, etc.

In terms of visuals and music, it is clear that this is a game where gameplay is in focus and not the looks, but it still looks good enough to compete with the best of the action/puzzle games out there. I also found the audio background quite entertaining and a good fit.

jumpy ss 2Unfortunately, the game does not feature a shop, meaning there is no place or way for me to purchase various power-ups like the 2x jump one I got in one of the levels, which is really a shame. Hopefully, future versions of the game will bring a shop and with it more depth to the already highly addictive game.

The game earns its keep by serving ads to players once a level is complete. The ads are not too annoying (one in every three or four attempts) and they are usually well-chosen (I was getting mostly game ads).

Worth your time

Looking at the game as a whole I can easily say it’s a good product. It is stripped of all the unnecessary things and the player is left with just what’s important – playing the game. It looks and sounds decent, the controls are simple enough to be good for a hand-held device.

The levels are hard, and with very little space for error, it will hook you and won’t let go until your battery is completely drained.

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Game Design

This post is part of a new series that explores the top mobile games created in a country. Here are the top mobile games in JapanIndiaIndonesiaBrazilChinaIsrael and South Korea

(1200x600) 9 Top 10 Mobile Games

Besides being one of the more prosperous countries in the world economically, Finland is also among the best countries in the world by the number and quality of mobile games developed there.

That relatively small nation, set on the Scandinavian peninsula, gave birth to some of the best mobile games out there, including the famed Angry Birds. To make things even more interesting, for a relatively small country, Finland ranks #35 on the global game revenue list, according to a Newzoo report. With over 5M internet users, Finland creates almost $200M in revenue. Click To Tweet

This has prompted us to come up with a list of top 10 mobile games made in Finland, and the results are posted below. The games have been ranked by the number of downloads (Android) and overall rating on both Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store.

*Interesting SDKs are courtesy of logo

minigore icon#10 Minigore 2

Android | iOS

Developer: Mountain Sheep Studios

Mountain Sheep is an indie game developer from Helsinki, Finland. The studio is best known for iOS games Bike Baron, Ice Rage, Minigore, Death Rally and its Early Access PC game Hardland. Mountain Sheep employs four people and is completely owned by its employees.
Published: 2012
Genre: Hack ‘n’ Slash / Survival
About the game: Minigore 2 is a sequel to Minigore and features main protagonist John Gore, and the main villain Metusalem, who created the Monstrosity and kidnapped John’s daughter, Jenny.
Interesting SDKs: 

 InMobi  Millennial Media 

bomber_friends_icon#9 Bomber Friends

Android | iOS

Developer: Hyperkani

Hyperkani is a game development studio located in Tampere. It has 18 Android games and 13 iOS ones, including Bomber Friends, Stunt Car Challenge and Air Hockey Speed.

Published: 2014
Genre: Action
About the game: Bomber Friends is a remake of the classic Bomberman game, built for new platforms and for the multiplayer. In it, players are thrown in a maze with the goal to trap others and eliminate them from the game by destroying them with bombs.
Interesting SDKs: 

AppLovin  Tapjoy 

angry birds 2 icon#8 Angry Birds 2

Android | iOS

Developer: Rovio

Rovio is a world-famous game development studio from Espoo, best-known for its Angry Birds series. The company was founded in 2003 as a mobile game development studio named Relude, and was renamed to Rovio Mobile (Finnish for pyre) in 2005.

Published: 2015
Genre: Puzzle
About the game: Angry Birds 2 is a sequel to the Angry Birds game, and the last in the series which features two games and approximately 13 spin-offs. In this puzzle game, a player must use a slingshot and fire a set of birds into a fortress where pigs are hiding and destroy it.
Interesting SDKs: 

 AdColony  Flurry 
Chartboost  prime[31] 
Applifier   Millennial Media 

boom beach icon#7 Boom Beach

Android | iOS

Developer: Supercell

Supercell is a mobile game development company founded in June 2010 in Helsinki, best-known for its hit game Clash of Clans. It is partially owned by SoftBank, which owns 73.2 percent of the studio and is the sole external shareholder.

Published: 2014
Genre: Strategy
About the game: If you haven’t lived under a rock for the past three years, you’ve heard of Boom Beach. Similar to its hit Clash of Clans, Boom Beach is an MMO strategy game that features city building, army training, resource gathering and warfare.
Interesting SDKs: 

 Tune  Helpshift 

 badland icon#6 Badland

Android | iOS | Windows Phone

Developer: Frogmind

Frogmind used to be a two-man independent game studio, based in Helsinki. The duo’s first (and currently only) game, Badland, which was in fact built by the two co-founders, has received public acclaim, becoming Game of the Year in 2013. The studio now employs 12 people.

Published: 2013
Genre: Action
About the game: Badland is a beautifully-looking atmospheric action-adventure game made for the iOS and Android platforms. It is also available on Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PS Vita and the Wii U. Having more than 28 million players worldwide, it has been praised for innovative game design, creative levels and great graphics. It was declared Game of the Year for the Apple iPad in 2013.
Interesting SDKs: 

 AdColony  Vungle 
Chartboost  Flurry 
InMobi  Applifier 
Parse  Millennial Media 
 MoPub 

best_friends_icon#5 Best Fiends

Android | iOS
Developer: Seriously

Seriously is a young game development studio located in both Helsinki and Los Angeles. The team comprises of members with backgrounds at companies like Rovio, Supercell, 20th Century Fox and Disney and its first property, a game named Best Fiends, has already been named Mobile game of the year by FGA, and reached the Top Ten iPhone Games list by The Guardian. The company is backed by Korea Investment Corporation and Northzone, to name a few.
Published: 2014
Genre: Puzzle
About the game: Best Fiends is a wonderfully-crafted puzzle game featuring some adorably cute characters which breathe extra life into the game. It is also expanded by a storyline the developers call “Epic”. The game is often compared to Angry Birds – because it was created by a former Rovio employee, and because it has two important similarities: both feature cute characters and both are puzzle games.
Interesting SDKs: 

 Parse  Applifier 
Tune  Unibill
Helpshift 

hil climb racing icon#4 Hill Climb Racing

Android | iOS | Windows Phone

Developer: Fingersoft

Fingersoft is a game development studio which says it “makes and publishes fun games”. Pretty straightforward. The studio employs 20 people and has 10 games with more than 400 million installs across various platforms. The studio, based in Oulu, is famous for games like Benji Bananas, Fail Hard and Hill Climb Racing.

Published: 2012
Genre: Action
About the game: Hill Climb Racing is a 2D platformer racing game in which a player must travel the furthest possible distance in a stage, avoiding obstacles and steep hills along the way. Along the way, the player collects coins that can be used to unlock new stages and vehicles, and also purchase upgrades on previously unlocked vehicles.
Interesting SDKs:

 Flurry  InMobi 
AdColony  Chartboost 

angry_birds_icon#3 Angry Birds

Android | iOS

Developer: Rovio
Published: 2009
Genre: Puzzle
About the game: I don’t know if there’s a living soul on this planet that doesn’t know what Angry Birds is, but let’s go through the basics one more time, just in case. Angry Birds is a 2D puzzle game featuring a bunch of angry birds, a slingshot and pigs that try to hide from the birds in self-built shelters and castles. The player must use the slingshot to launch the birds into the shelters, destroying them and destroying the piggies.
Interesting SDKs: 

 AdColony  Flurry 
Chartboost  Applifier 
Millennial Media 

Hay-Day-Icon#2 Hay Day

Android | iOS
Developer: Supercell
Published: 2012
Genre: Simulation
About the game: Hay Day is a freemium mobile farming game, released for iOS on June 21, 2012 and Android on November 20, 2013.According to a 2013 report, Supercell earned $30 million a month from Hay Day and Clash of Clans, another game made by Supercell. In 2013, Hay Day was the 4th highest game in revenue generated.
Interesting SDKs: 

 AdColony  Vungle 
Tune  Helpshift

clash_of_clans_icon#1 Clash of Clans

Android | iOS

Developer: Supercell

Published: 2012

Genre: Strategy
About the game: Clash of Clans is a 2012 freemium mobile MMO strategy video game. In it, players build a community, train troops, and attack other players to earn gold and elixir, and Dark Elixir, which can be used to build defences that protect the player from other players’ attacks, and to train and upgrade troops. The game also features a pseudo-single player campaign in which the player must attack a series of fortified goblin villages.
Interesting SDKs: 

 Tune  Helpshift 
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Game Design, Game Reviews

frizkey_iconWhen a cyborg monkey stumbles upon an inhabited foreign planet, there is only one thing he should do, and that is surf his way across the surface of the planet for as long as he possibly can.

Available on Google PlayThat’s the premise of Frizkey, a mobile game built by indie game development studio Finologic for Android.

This endless runner surfer game features almost stop-motion visual technique, solid graphics, cool audio and a couple of game elements that turn it into a product with great potential.

Interactive comic book

The first thing you’ll see when you start the game is the introductory cinematic, or in this particular case, more like a comic book-ish slide show, introducing you to the basics of the story. I expected it to also explain the basics of gameplay, but instead the mechanisms are explained as you progress.

frizkey ss 1

The game feels like a moving comic book

Once the introductory story line is complete, you’re thrown into the game, where you will see yellow skies, red mountains and trees, and a number of (living) obstacles that you must avoid in order to achieve a high score.

As with any endless runner game, the goal is to survive as long as possible, while the game throws various obstacles your way. In this game, considering that you’re on a distant planet, the obstacles come in the form of different animals a person could stumble upon.

Not all obstacles are game-breaking, though. Some will end the game for you, some will make things more difficult by slowing you down, and some will even buff you up. All the usual stuff.

The gameplay is followed by well-fitted audio. A loop track in the style of surf rock (think The Beach Boys or Royale Monarchs) follows the cyborg monkey along his way, and it really does add to the overall ambience in a proper way.

Monetizing

The game monetizes through an in-game currency which can be acquired by both playing and paying. It offers the player cosmetic changes, as well as temporary buffs to keep him/her interested in the game. Players can choose to buy the monkey different surfboards for cooler looks, or buffs such as shields to protect them from obstacles, or magnets to acquire gold coins faster. Those coins can then be re-invested into buffs and upgrades.

frizkey ss 2

The game needs more smoothness

As with any endless runner game, there’s not much to say about the gameplay, as it’s pretty straightforward. However, when it comes to improvement, visuals offer a lot of room. The game is built in a technique very similar to stop-motion, which can be cool to watch, but not as cool to interact with, as it lacks smoothness which is particularly necessary when playing a game that relies on reflexes.

Frizkey requires more smoothness in its transitions, otherwise I fear the low framerate could push people away from the game. Other than that, it is a fairly solid product, especially for an indie studio. It has a good premise, nice drawings, a likeable protagonist and a foreign planet, which leaves a lot of room for the developer’s imagination to run wild.

In future versions I can see different planets, different backgrounds, various animals and obstacles, and tons of power-ups that play with a certain planet’s gravity, speed and coins.

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Game Design, Tips and Advice

(1200x600) eCPM Decay

After weeks, months of hard work, you have finally completed your mobile game. Everything is set, the red ribbon is in place and you’re ready to release it into the wavy waters of the digital sea, hoping it succeeds, bringing you fame and fortune along the way.

You smash the ceremonial bottle of champagne against the computer you used to build the app, and you press “Publish”. Then, after a week of solid stats, this happens:

ecp decay
 

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What happened?

Your eCPM, your effective cost per mille, or how much money you really are making from the ads served in your app, is decaying hard. What can you do about it? You can either hold your head in your hands as you gasp in despair, or you can get to work, slowing down the eCPM decay and pulling the maximum out of your products. But before I explain the various strategies you can employ, let’s first clear out a few basics, like what CPM, eCPM and other acronyms are, in the first place.

What is eCPM?

eCPM is short for Effective Cost Per Mille, and it relates to actual advertising revenue generated for those 1,000 impressions. Even though it’s a relatively new term, it has quickly established itself as industry’s universal standard of measurement and is being used to compare how well campaigns are performing side-by-side. Here’s what the eCPM equation looks like:

ecpm-equation

Image courtesy of Appflood: http://appflood.com/blog/what-is-the-definition-of-ecpm

First thing you need to do when calculating eCPM is to divide your total advertising earnings with the total number of impressions you have been given by the advertiser. The number you get is the amount of money you earn for a single impression. However, as impressions are paid out for every thousand, you have to multiply that number by 1,000.

The final number is how much you are earning on average from the campaign.

If you’re still unclear what the difference between CPM and eCPM is, here it is in a single sentence: CPM is a pricing and reach metric, while eCPM is a performance metric.

eCPM is only part of the equation

However, don’t be tempted to measure the performance of your advertising campaign solely on the eCPM. A website with millions of visitors which ends up with lower eCPM can still earn you more money than a website with less visitors, but with a higher eCPM metric. Other parameters, such as how many people visit a particular site are equally important.

What is CPM?

In the world of mobile advertising, abbreviations such as CPM, CTR and CPC are very common. They usually revolve around online ads, how much people view them and click on them, and how much money advertisers and ad networks earn from people’s actions. CPM is short for Cost Per Mille, with Mille being Latin for thousand. So in the shortest possible definition, CPM is the price of a thousand advertisement impressions. Visitors don’t need to click on the ad for the publisher to be paid. They don’t even have to *see* the ad – if they load it, it counts as an impression.

So, for example, if a website charges $5 CPM, that means an advertiser must pay $5 for every 1,000 impressions its ad receives. The CPM is used as a reach and pricing metric, and should not be confused with eCPM.

What is eCPM decay?

As you monetize your mobile app or game and your ad network of choice starts serving ads to your users/players, sooner or later you will come to realize that your eCPM is slowly (or sometimes, drastically) declining. The trend is also called eCPM decay, and is something many developers and advertisers are struggling to control.

eCPM decay: your ad network starts serving ads to your users and your eCPM is slowly drastically… Click To Tweet

Why does eCPM decay occur?

Most will agree – eCPM decay is inevitable. There are many reasons to it – sometimes the advertiser will promote low-quality creatives and provide you with a few clicks and very few installs. Sometimes, your app or game will hand out too many ad impressions, thus driving eCPM down. User behavior is also something that should be looked at, as users are more inclined during the first few views.

eCPM decay - single network vs. ad mediation

Season to be (un)jolly

Be wary of the holiday season. As I’m writing this article, we’ve basically entered the Christmas holiday season, which is that time of year when consumers are most engaged with advertisers and the content they serve. During this time, the competition becomes fierce, and mobile ads and advertisers scramble to fill target inventory during this time. In the weeks following the holidays, a significant eCPM drop is nothing unusual to experience.

If you have decided to incorporate multiple ad networks into your game to serve ads, you might also be experiencing what’s called campaign overlap, which is also often a reason for eCPM decline.

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What is campaign overlap?

chartboost-interstitialIf you are using multiple ad networks, they might be serving you the same ad, a problem called campaign overlap. Many of the ad networks are working with the same advertisers and, as you might have imagined, the best performing ads could be, and often are, the same for all of them.

A network might stop itself from serving the same ad multiple times, but it is highly unlikely for networks to coordinate between themselves, meaning you will still end up with the same ad served too many times.

Adam Ben-David, VP of Supply Side Platform from Supersonic, a mobile ads company, is aware of the issue and believes the best way to tackle it is through ad mediation: “Campaign overlap and the effort to avoid it is the fundamental reason why developers use Supersonic’s mediation platform. Our ‘weighted’ optimization ensures that only the most relevant content with the highest eCPMs are served from a developer’s various ad sources, ensuring maximum ad revenue and user engagement,” he said.

He did, however, stress that sometimes repeating an ad doesn’t lead to lower engagement. Sometimes it can be quite the opposite: “Serving the same ad creative repetitively does not necessarily lead to lower engagement, perhaps the opposite, as it often takes several attempts to warm the user up before he or she engages at all.”

Slowing down eCPM decay

There is no escape from eCPM decay, that’s for certain. You can either throw your app into the digital wild and watch as it struggles for breath, or you can develop a plan and a strategy to make sure you get the maximum out of your product. Easing the effects of eCPM decay is absolutely doable and definitely something you should look into. There are a couple of things you can do in that respect: strategize on placement and timing; limit ad frequency; set up proper eCPM floors and be uncompromising in terms of minimising cost.

Slow down eCPM decay by: strategizing placement, limit ad frequency and set up proper eCPM floors. Click To Tweet

Keep in mind that these tips are not meant to be used all at once – the things you do to optimize your eCPM depend mostly on the product you have and its audience. Game genre and user engagement will have an impact on the eCPM decay. Sometimes, for example, limiting ad frequency won’t have as big of an impact as setting up proper eCPM floors. For that reason, you should think your strategy through for each individual product and set up a plan accordingly.

Placement

Think about your product: how much space does it have for an ad? Does the ad appear too often, in too many places? Is it hindering user experience? If that is the case, you can end up destroying your own produbreak prisonct, so be careful about where you place your ads. Games that offer short-length levels (a few minutes) often serve ads only after the player has finished a session, while others opt for rewarded video ads, which have proven to be extremely effective in terms of user engagement.

Limiting ad frequency

Timing is also of the utmost importance: if the ads appear at the most inconvenient moments (during the game, at the pause menu, etc.) not only will the user engagement drop, but the risk of players abandoning the app altogether rises. Pay close attention to how often the ads appear, and if you’re getting a campaign overlap.

Setting up CPM floors

When monetizing your app or mobile game, at one point you will also be asked to set up a minimum CPM, also known as the CPM floor. The CPM floor is the minimum acceptable CPM at an ad unit level. It represents the lowest possible price at which a bidder can win an impression on your app or game.

This is also a very important metric and should be treated as such. Setting up a low CPM floor, a high one, or simply trying to match it with the eCPM can all have different consequences on your monetization. A low-cost strategy might push you to later impressions, while a high one might have you ending up with significant decay beyond the second and third impression. Sometimes, matching the CPM floor with eCPM might have unwanted consequences, as you might appear too expensive for CPM advertisers. By matching these two metrics, you could cut out a lot of cleared impressions in the lower end, hurting your impressions count and revenue. So which of the three roads should you take? As with everything else, it depends on your product and your audience, but my general tip would be to be uncompromising in terms of minimising cost. In other words – avoid low-cost strategies and go for a more valuable first impression.

Avoid low-cost strategies and go for a more valuable first impression. Click To Tweet

Here’s why: opting for a low-cost strategy, you will most likely be pushed towards later impressions. Those are quite often only viewed by reward farmers – players watching ads only to gain something in return (in-game currency or something similar).

There’s no stopping eCPM decay…

…but that doesn’t mean you should let it freefall. You can use the tips written above to create a controlled, sustained fall which will maximize the monetization of your app. You can do that through proper strategy and careful planning on how the ads will be served in your product.

Proper placement and timing of the ads are crucial, as well as well-balanced CPM floors to reach those lower-paying gigs and still perform nicely. Try avoiding low-budget strategies and unique rewards obtainable only through ads, as you will most likely end up with reward farmers that are a true eCPM killer.

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Game Design, Game Reviews

haber_icon‘I love it when a plan comes together’. Those must have been the words of boys and girls in the Luna Wolf Studios after they had completed Haberdashery.

Available on Google PlayAvailable on iTunesAnd what was their plan, you might ask? To make a hilarious and addicting game I guess, as that’s what they ended up with, anyway. And what better way to start building a hilarious game than to make a sheep your main protagonist?

Haberdashery is a free running 360-degree game in which a sheep is being chased by a dragon. The dragon, however, can never catch you, unless you hit an obstacle along the way.

What a pleasant surprise

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The game does not lack humour

The first pleasant surprise was the environment – the sheep is running across something that resembles the planet from The Little Prince – a tiny speck of land filled with trees, stones, and other similar obstacles. I loved the way new obstacles appeared on the horizon, very clever.

The second pleasant surprise were the hats you collect along the way, and the way they change your game completely. Some hats will give you certain powers (like ramming through trees), while others will completely change the planet you’re running across. With a total of 30 hats in the game, that makes for a rich and engaging gaming experience.

The LOL is strong with this one

denis sazhin

Something along these lines, anyway Credit: denis sazhin

The third pleasant surprise was the amount of quality humour in the game. Each hat is hilariously crafted, brings fun changes to the game and is, without exception, followed up by a great comment. So for example, picking up the Emo hat will: 1) place some hair at the top of your screen, partially blocking your view; 2) add a black layer across the world; 3) add a “nowBaahdy understands me” message, which I found quite amusing and 4) the music changed to something that reminded me of Alice in Chains. If that was the developers’ intention then these guys win at life.

The fourth pleasant surprise came in a fact that not all of these hats were available right off the bat. You start with a total of four, and need to collect coins to invest and unlock new content. That’s a great way to keep players motivated and engaged in the game. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the Hellraiser hat! I also liked the fact that you could buy coins for real cash through the store, in case you aren’t the patient type. The game is free to play, after all.

Gamble away

The fifth pleasant surprise was the addition of the slot machine mini-game. The slot-machine lets you win extra hats, however the feature was locked for me, with no explanation as to how I can unlock it. It took me a few minutes to find that you actually need 100 gold to play the mini-game.

The sixth pleasant surprise was the music. Audio is extremely important as it sets the tone (no pun intended) for the entire game, and missing the point with music can ruin the complete game experience. Haberdashery is spot on with the high-tempo, cheerful banjo song. Of course, the music will also change with certain hats, just adding to the list of reasons why you should try to collect all of them.

Screenshot_2015-11-24-09-55-35

I really need the Hellraiser hat

What I disliked about the game (yes, that happened, too) was the placement of the message that pops up when you pick up a hat. It basically covers the entire upper side of your screen, exactly the place where you look for incoming obstacles. That means that sometimes you’ll lose the game as you failed to see an obstacle because there was this huge “TO WALHALLAAAAA” message across the screen. Fitting!

After spending a couple of hours with the game, I can understand why it has a 4.8 overall on Google Play Store and why the reviews there usually end with an exclamation mark. I see a bright future ahead of the hat-wearing, banjo-playing humorous sheep.

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Game Design, Game Reviews

number_escape_iconGame developers everywhere, take notice – this is how you make a mobile puzzle game.

Available on iTunesAvailable on Google PlayNumber Escape was built by SangMoon Joo for both Android and iOS and it basically ticks all the right boxes needed to make a great game.

Here are the elements I believe are key to creating a solid, well-rounded game, which are present in Number Escape: original mechanics, simplicity in both graphics and gameplay, new elements to keep the player interested longer, and game size. This one has it all, but first let’s see what the game is all about.

Mind Trainer

number escape ss 1

Original mechanics are key to success

Number Escape presents the player with either a 4×3, 5×4, 6×5 or 7×6 board, with each tile holding a number. You win the game by moving a rotating red square across all the boards and to the goal. However, moving about is not that simple – the number on each tile represents the number of times the rotating red square can pass over it. That means you need to think a few moves in advance and try the game out a few times before being able to complete the level. Now that we’re acquainted with the game’s basics, let’s look at the individual elements which make the game great:

Original mechanics

Nowadays, it’s hard to come across a completely unique gameplay mechanic. Mobile games are usually made by taking an already known mechanic (color matching, tile matching, pixel hunting, etc) and adding an unusual twist to it. Sometimes, when the developers are lazy, you just get a clone of something you’ve already played. Number Escape offers a completely new and unique puzzle experience, which is among the most important elements a game can have.

New elements introduction to keep the player interested

I’ve spoken about this on multiple occasions before – throwing everything you have at the player from stage one can do more harm than good. Not only will you intimidate the player by forcing him to adapt to numerous elements right off the bat, but you’re also leaving nothing for later. That means the player will get bored of the game much faster than you’d want, so keep your aces in your pocket and pull them out every once in a while. This game does it quite well, by offering higher numbers as the player progresses. At the start, you’ll have small boards with tiles offering one, two moves max. Later on, you’ll start seeing tiles with no moves allowed, as well as those where you need to move three or more times. It adds depth and keeps the player occupied longer.

Simplicity in both graphics and gameplay

number escape ss 2

Simplicity works wonders in puzzle games

The screenshot on the right represents the game’s home screen – the first thing you see when you run the app. Pick a tile and head straight into the game. This is a very important aspect as mobile games are usually built to be consumed on the go – while commuting, waiting in line, etc. Most of the time players only have one hand at their disposal. Obviously, there are many examples of comprehensive, deep mobile games that require a player’s full attention and both hands, but still – fast games with short levels and simple, original mechanics are a much safer and more quality way towards success.

Game size

This is especially important when creating a puzzle game. The replay value of such games is usually quite low, so if you want to keep your players in the game for as long as possible, you need to create enough content for them to stick around. Number Escape offers a total of 300 levels, which means you have a ton of gameplay hours ahead of you.

Room for improvement

Even though Number Escape is a great example of how to make a quality puzzle game, it still has room for improvement. There are a couple of things obviously missing that could, if implemented, add an extra challenge to the game, increase player retention and also improve the game’s monetisation.

Here are a couple of things that come to mind:

Levels can be locked

It strikes me as odd that all levels, no matter the difficulty, can be played from day one. Puzzle games usually lock higher levels and new elements, allowing players access only when they have achieved certain success in the game. This creates a sense of achievement and progress, which works wonders for player retention. Gamers that can easily visualise their progress will come back to play more.

Additional challenges like time-limiting levels

number escape ss 3

Levels could be locked to get a better sense of progress

This opens up the game to a completely different dimension. Puzzle games and time-based challenges easily go hand in hand, and with a game like this one, it can work quite nicely. What’s even better, having additional challenges also means you could create an in-game shop, where those challenges can be bought, traded and improved.

In-game shop could offer undo moves, extra time for time-based challenges

Which brings me to my third idea, the in-game shop. Looking at the game the way it is now, there is basically no room for an in-game shop. However, start locking levels to create a better sense of progress, and add a couple of additional challenges, and you have plenty of room. The game could offer undo moves (which are currently lacking), or extra time for time-based challenges. All of this could be, for example, fueled with rewarded ads which, in the end, also means better monetisation for the game.

All in all, this game is an extremely good example of how to make an amazing puzzle game for mobile devices. It’s not perfect, but it is dangerously close.

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Game Design, Game Reviews

solitaire_iconThe first thing I thought after running the Legacy of Solitaire 3D game was: “Ooohhh, shiny!” Here is my review of something I can only describe as a card game that wants to become a puzzle game when it grows up.

Available on Google PlaySo Legacy of Solitaire 3D is essentially the old and well-known card game. Older folks will remember it as one of the four card games available in the earliest versions of Windows, and yours truly, who played Solitaire with actual cards as a kid, feels extremely old right about now.

There’s not really much to say about gameplay, as it doesn’t stray away from the original game – it uses a single deck of cards, split into seven columns. The goal is to create four batches of cards, sorted from the lowest to the highest in a single colour.

solitaire ss 2It has the easy mode and the hard mode, with the hard mode having you draw three cards from the deck instead of the regular one. So, nothing out of the ordinary here.

But here’s where the game goes from your usual card game to something completely insane, and why I said right from the start that it actually wants to be a puzzle game.

What the…?

The Legacy of Solitaire 3D features really cool 3D graphics, a *campaign* mode, a full-blown map of something like a pirate island, and a progress bar with the player moving about the island.

Boy-That-Escalated-Quickly-Anchorman

Well, that escalated quickly.

If I ignore the fact that there’s absolutely no point whatsoever in having really cool looking 3D graphics, fancy colours, a pirate map and a campaign mode in a simple card game like Solitaire and just pay attention to what I see, I can only conclude that the game looks fancy as hell.

But I can’t shake the feeling that someone wasted a whole lot of talent and invested some serious hours into a project people will have a hard time appreciating – all the flashy stuff doesn’t hide the fact that this is *just* an old card game.

To make things worse, it has stages and levels – each one actually being the same game, albeit somewhat more difficult as you move along the way. Or maybe that’s just me being a miserable Solitaire failure.

Monetisation twist

What I did like about the game is how it handled monetisation. The game gives a limited amount of hints and undos, and if you want to earn more, you’ll have to watch a rewarded video ad. Besides, after every level (and every restart), a video ad is played, with an option to skip it after five seconds, which is decent.

solitaire ss 2There’s also a full-blown shop where players can buy undos and hints for real money, as well as a pair of new worlds.

All in all, it’s a good game. It looks really, really nice, which is something I would have never expected from a game such as Solitaire and I fear it might have been great talent thrown in the wind. If this was the developers’ test to see if they can make a full-blown puzzle game with stages, levels, boosts and more – congratulations, you’ve passed. Now replace the Solitaire with some puzzles and you’re good to go.

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Announcement, Game Design

With virtual economy being the most popular choice for mobile freemium games business model, you probably will want to have one of those in your game. Luckily SOOMLA provides you with both the Store bundle for an easy IAP integration and now with an easy way to customize your economy.

Update your virtual economy on the fly

Introducing the Virtual Economy Manager, a new GROW dashboard section you can access in order to review, manage and deploy your virtual economy. The Virtual economy screen allows you to update your virtual economy without releasing an update to the market (App Store or Google Play).
economy-dashboard

First of all you will need to have a hard coded economy configured in your game. checkout the knowledge base to see how it’s done. Then as soon as your device syncs with the Grow network, refresh the economy screen to see your economy. From there on any change you make to the economy from the dashboard will be synced to your game. Now you can create and delete your economy’s categories and currencies as well as create new virtual items and currency packs.

Managing virtual item inventory

add-virtual-goodVirtual items divide into 5 categories: Single Use, Single Use Pack, Lifetime, Equippable and Upgrade. You can create them all using the add virtual good button:

  • Single Use The most basic and common kind of virtual good, can be purchased by your users multiple times. No limits! Examples: bullets, hoverboards, “save me”, 30-second speed boost
  • Single Use PackSometimes, you’ll want to to sell packs of Single Use goods. To support these cases, we’ve created the Single Use Pack. Examples: ammo packs, 3 “save me”s.
  • LifetimeA Lifetime virtual good can only be bought once and then it is kept forever. Examples: “Remove Ads”, double speed, new car.
  • EquippableAn Equippable virtual good is a special type of Lifetime virtual good. In addition to the fact that it can be purchased once, it can also be equipped by your users. Equipping means that the user decides to currently use a specific Equippable virtual good.  Examples: characters, weapons, outfits.  This type of good is commonly used in first person shooters where the player switches back and forth between different weapons.
  • UpgradeAn Upgrade virtual good is a virtual good in an upgrade sequence belonging to another virtual good. The associated virtual good can be of any type (Single Use, Equippable, etc..).  Examples are anything that can be upgraded on a dimensional scale: speed, power, energy.  You’ll see this a lot in racing games where the game progression depends a lot with upgrading your car’s tires, engine, gear etc.

Items can be purchased with either a virtual currency defined in your economy or with one of the market places (App Store, Google play, etc.). Once you made all your changes, don’t forget to deploy your new economy by clicking on the deploy economy button that will be displayed as soon as you have pending changes.

add-deploy-delete-economy

If you want to discard your changes after you already deployed your new economy click on the Delete Economy button. The economy will be synced right back with the hard coded economy the next time someone will load your game on his mobile device.

Developers using GROW already have the virtual economy management available, as always for free, in their dashboard.  We encourage you to try it and send your feedback our way.

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SOOMLA - An In-app Purchase Store and Virtual Goods Economy Solution for Mobile Game Developers of Free to Play Games

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