mobile games

Embrace and Homa Games on building better player experiences in 2024

Read about what Embrace CEO Eric Futoran and Homa Games Head of Mobile Manel Simon discussed when they sat down with Game Developer to talk mobile games.

Embrace CEO Eric Futoran and Homa Games Head of Mobile Manel Simon recently sat down with Game Developer’s Alissa McAloon for a discussion about their experiences in mobile games and what developers need to be focusing on today in order to build better player experiences.

Here are the most important takeaways from their discussion.

You can’t build better experiences until you understand your players

Building and optimizing great player experiences requires a complete understanding of what your players experience. That means understanding the player experience at both the qualitative and quantitative levels.

Eric notes, those who have an emotional investment in the game they’re building will have a more subjective definition of what good looks like in terms of player experience. They’ll look to build quality and player feedback as sign of a job well done.

On the technical side, however, the definition of player experience revolves around tangible KPIs. For example, do users return to your game? Are they taking more turns in a turn-based game? Are they playing for longer periods of time in an RPG game?

“In today’s world, as game quality improves and companies like Scopely, Take-Two, and other AAA games are releasing on mobile phones, which are hard devices to support, it’s about understanding when an experience is broken,” says Eric. “Not just a crash, but a freeze, or when someone abandons the game and you don’t have a measure of that. It’s about understanding the underlying issues that each of us as players experience.”

The struggle arises when these two definitions come in conflict with one another. For example, what happens when a key part of a game’s plot is constantly freezing up or causing game crashes? In that regard, the challenge becomes reconciling these two perspectives amid rising game quality standards and mobile platform constraints.

Pre-launch is more critical than a lot of game developers realize

Success in mobile games can be made or broken before a game even hits an app store. Taking advantage of pre-launch is critical, and a time in game development where you want to iterate fast and effectively. Eric draws from his experience in mobile gaming and notes four key steps to create success at this stage:

1. Know your audience

It’s important to know your audience before you launch so you can target them effectively. Is your core demographic is North America or EMEA? What’s their age range? How long are they playing your game?

All these factors influence your KPIs and every member of your team should be familiar with the profile of your average player.

2. Identify your core loop

Know the core loop of your game and focus your efforts on it. This is the part of the game that your player will interact with most, and issues here can lead to fast churn.

While gameplay adjacencies are important and make the game feel fuller, your core loop is what will keep your users coming back for more.

3. Master retention

Pre-launch, you want to make sure you’re hitting your day-one and day-seven retention rates. This time period is crucial in most mobile games.

4. Target your CPI

Knowing your Cost Per Install (CPI) is what will keep your game running far into production. It’s not only important to know your CPI, it’s important to have a firm grasp on a reasonable number here.

While mastering all four steps creates a great foundation for any mobile game, the use of automation is equally important, Manel added.

“I’m always an advocate for automation and iteration quickly. If you’re able to assert that what you have done until today is working as expected, then you don’t want to invest more valuable time on testing here,” he said. “At Homa Games, we aim to automate our testing so we can speed up this process and focus on game improvements.”

Monitoring, maintaining, and improving app performance post-launch is a major challenge in mobile games

The long-term success of any app comes down to how developers support them. In mobile games, the challenges that come along with that can be more pronounced, as Eric and Manel discussed.

ANRs top list of biggest challenges when problem solving in mobile games

Solving an Application Not Responding (ANR) error is difficult and can sometimes turn into wandering down a rabbit hole — they’re just incredibly time and labor intensive errors to resolve if you don’t have the right tools at your disposal. Mobile engineers need to figure out how to prioritize these types of errors with more straightforward crashes that can be solved in a fraction of the time and with relative ease.

Identifying user-impacting issues remains difficult and requires the right KPIs to monitor

It’s important to identify the key metrics that help you notice if something is going awry in your mobile game.

The Homa Games team has come to a consensus and agreed that they care most about factors like crashes, ANRs, play time, retention, and churn. They monitor these closely because they give a clear sense of where players are getting frustrated and leaving the game.

Manel notes that his team at Homa Games sets up automated alerts that let them know if their key metrics are outside of an acceptable range. This way, the team can jump into action and react when necessary.

Eric notes many companies don’t have tools to identify such KPIs and therefore struggle with this level of monitoring.

“Most mobile games should run autonomously without an Internet connection, so many teams use 4xx or 5xx errors as their baseline metric. This is entirely wrong because it’s disconnected from the user experience,” Eric said. “Ad SDKs throw 4xxs and 5xx errors all the time, it doesn’t mean that the user can’t use the game.”

Another mistake many teams make is using product analytic tools as their main source of analysis. While product analytic tools serve a purpose, they’re good for understanding cohorts and high-level business metrics like lifetime value (LTV) and churn, they’re not great for mobile engineers because the data they provide is often delayed. Eric details issues he’s experienced with this approach to problem solving.

“Waiting for the data to flow through a product analytics tool means you could be waiting a week or more for the data to get the answers you need,” he says. “That could be the death of your app in the world of mobile gaming — your users may leave and never come back in that time. The faster you can jump on issues, the better.”

You should use product analytic tools, but you should also have this data piping into another platform that allows you to identify and analyze leading indicators of game issues like abandonment rate and crash rate, for example, much faster.

Investing in the right tooling is investing in your player experience

If you’re looking to address player issues, the answer lies in your tooling.

Eric notes that the work starts with identifying your game’s leading indicators of issues and factoring in things like user complaints. Then the question becomes how you measure the impact. This is where Eric notes that the wrong tool can set you up for failure.

“The question is how do I measure the impact? I don’t think there are a lot of tools out there that do that. Especially the historic ones like Firebase, APM tools, and logging tools,” he details. “These look at the user, but they don’t always identify the source of the problem. It could be a code problem, a third-party SDK, a connection issue, or user error. You want to identify this first, make sure that it’s your problem, and then extrapolate out. The extrapolation is how you prioritize — you want to see how many other users have that issue.”

For example, what if you have a 5xx error on the backend because of a timeout? This could easily affect your user, but your backend tools may not reflect this. Your frontend tools probably don’t measure this, either. Then, you need to ask, is this affecting just one user or most of them?

To build the best player experiences, you need the ability to dig into this data and determine if it’s going to affect your team KPIs or the experience of a wide cross-section of users. If it does either, then it’s time to address the issue.

Building better player experiences with Embrace

Building a successful mobile game isn’t a one-and-done process. It requires tooling that provides insight into every player experience, as well as constant monitoring and optimization from pre- to post-launch.

Learn how top mobile games studios are building better player experiences with Embrace by reading their stories here:

Embrace 2024 Mobile App Builders Report

Learn about the priorities, frustrations, and tooling needs of mobile engineers and how this data can help you create a better mobile experience.


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