“The tablet is the future” – an interview with Trip Hawkins

Recently, we had the pleasure of interviewing Trip Hawkins, the founder of Electronic Arts, The 3DO Company, and Digital Chocolate. Read about what he has to say regarding mobile gaming, successful marketing strategies, aspiring game developers and his future plans.

PGR: In the last several years, quite a few Digital Chocolate games hit the top charts of the most played/downloaded games on the App store, Google Play and Facebook. Although they were all quality titles, we know of a lot of great games that never got this kind of exposition, so how difficult is it to market a game properly?

Trip Hawkins: Marketing issues are very difficult now in the industry, with over 1 million apps in the App store and only 10 that show up on your screen when you go shopping.  Same problems on the web since Facebook dialed down their viral features.

So, how to overcome these issues?

Basically, you need to do a trial launch of your game in a smaller market – e.g. pick a single country that is much smaller than the US and where you have some feel (e.g., it could be Canada, Australia, Poland, Spain).  Study your tutorial completion rate, next day retention rate, and daily ARPU and try to develop a feeling and estimate for lifetime customer value (LCV).  For example, suppose you can estimate that your “average” customer has 6 sessions and then quits playing and that while playing they spent an average of 10 cents; then your LCV would be 60 cents.  If you have to give 30% of that to Google, Apple or FB then your take would be 42 cents.  If your numbers are anywhere below that level – e.g., if only 10% even finish your tutorial – then you can try to fix it and see if retention, sessions and ARPU improve.

Is there anything else that can be done to promote a game more successfully?

If you show some good traction and have not yet done a global release across all countries, you have a better shot at telling your “success trial” to people at Google or Apple and getting them to help with promotion, e.g. featuring.

What if LCV is low?

If you don’t see high LCV, it is hopeless – stop wasting money and time on this game!  About 1 game in 10,000 has good enough LCV, so on your first few tries you are not likely to, either.  It is very hard to optimize virtual goods economies and maintain high retention.  To get better at it, study the high ranking FREE games on the Top Grossing Lists for Android, Apple and Facebook, and develop a feel for the details of how they got there.

Alright, let’s say a game has high LCV, how to increase its user base then?

If you are very successful and good with LCV like Kixeye or a lucky one that finds that your LCV is high, then you can “reinvest” some of that cash flow into incentivized installs and other marketing CPA to drive more traffic.  And then you can see how that goes, before you decide what to do next (e.g., sell the game to a big publisher for an up-front advance and a royalty share, or raise capital to fund your own growth).

What about those that are trying to get into game development, but lack the resources and/or knowledge to make and properly market a game?

Some developers should consider going to work for a bigger game company for a while to get more experience – either individually or as a team, as employees or as contractors. If you want to go it alone and are stretched for cash, try to find students from nearby technical colleges to work for low pay.

Do you believe that smartphones and tablets will ever replace dedicated handheld consoles?

They already are, because they are so convenient.  Even hardcore games can be played via streaming. The tablet is the future.

On a semi-related note, you recently joined the board of directors of Extreme Reality, a company that made Extreme UI and Extreme Motion. We already heard about the Extreme Reality’s partnership with NECPC and Samsung (congratulations on that), but are there any partnerships more directly focused on gaming on the horizon?

We’re in a lot of discussions and doing a lot of deals with games. The world will be hearing a lot more about Extreme Reality 3D.