In the fast-paced world of mobile gaming, delivering experiences that players love is the cornerstone of long-term success. However, achieving this feat is no small task.
Mobile has so many variables to contend with — across connectivities, devices, OSs, and app versions — that meeting user expectations while continually shipping new content and features requires understanding every detail about what makes and breaks your player experiences.
This is why VentureBeat and Embrace have come together for a virtual roundtable. In it, Eric Futoran, the CEO and Co-founder of Embrace and Co-founder of Scopely, Pavlo Prokopov, a Client Software Architect at SuperPlay, and Jordan Fragen, a Writer at Gamesbeat, discuss:
- The latest trends in mobile gaming, defining the player experience, and what threatens a flawless player experience
- What metrics matter most to mobile game engineers
- What frustrates mobile game engineers most
- Where existing analytics tools fail mobile game engineers
- How user experience ties into Play Store ranking
Here is a preview into the key topics discussed in this roundtable:
How SuperPlay defines the player experience
A clearly defined player experience is the backdrop to any successful mobile game. When defining the player experience, it’s vital to understand all the elements that affect each player so your mobile team can focus their efforts accordingly. Pavlo Prokopov speaks to his team’s approach to this definition.
“For us, player experience is like a combination of business metrics, technical metrics, and player expectations,” he says. “It’s a question about trade-offs. We can’t rely only on monetization metrics because it won’t be a good player experience. And we can’t create a game with full expectations of the players because this game won’t be successful and profitable for business.”
He goes further to add how user sentiment affects this definition.
“At our company, we ask ourselves how our players feel about our game. If a user can’t play, the user will complain and it’s not a good experience — it’s an awful experience. [Defining the player experience] is about metrics, expectations, and about questions from our business to our customers and from customers to the business. It’s an infinite process.”
Striking the right balance between all aspects of your game is key and understanding your player experience is the first step in this process. The next is understanding any factors that pose a threat to a great player experience.
The biggest challenges to delivering flawless player experiences
Few issues are more important than those that affect the player experience. Many teams struggle with striking the right balance between team needs, company needs, and player needs. Pavlo speaks to his experience with this.
“We struggle sometimes in these fights between business, technical engineers and player expectations because our goal is excellent player experience. Another thing is we are a company, we should make money from this,” he says. “From our side, it’s about communication. It’s to find trade-offs between requirements and technical possibilities. The second part is to make our game better from day to day. If we have technical problems, this means users are struggling and we need to improve.”
To improve the player experience, the team needs to spend more time improving the technical aspects of the app while remaining in touch with the market, the players, the business, and the needs of engineers.
The realities of engineer frustration
When you have ambitious goals for your game and tight time constraints, it’s easy to run into engineer frustration. Understanding this frustration and creating practical solutions is what leads to stellar player experiences. Eric Futoran speaks to these engineer frustrations.
“When you want to deliver flawless player experiences and drive [key] metrics, the question becomes how do you get all that information in one place so that an engineer can actually answer the questions — ‘Do I want to work on it?’ and ‘Can I solve it?’” he says. “As a former engineer, the most frustrating thing is having a problem that comes to your plate and realizing you don’t want to work on it, you don’t know the priority, and you can’t tell what the real impact is to your metrics. So why are you being asked to work on it? It’s so frustrating.”
The cycle of endlessly addressing issues while lacking time to work on factors like technical debt, the platform, and the key metrics that contribute to game play is frustrating to any engineer. Eric speaks further to the problems this creates for engineers.
“It creates a negative feedback loop between the different teams. Engineers often get numb,” he says. “[Because] you don’t focus on what drives impact — which is players paying for things, watching ads, coming back to the game, socializing, and inviting their friends.”
Although engineering frustration is common, it can be avoided. It’s why it’s important to have open dialogue between teams and the right tools in place to maximize engineering time so that more of it can be allocated to innovation and fundamental parts of the app.
The greater implications of poor performance on ranking
A poor ranking in the Google Play Store has vast implications on a mobile game. This is why it’s essential to understand the direct and indirect effects of your Google Play Store ranking and determine how this affects your engineering resources. Eric speaks to rankings, performance, and the player experience.
“Google is releasing all of these performance metrics in the Google Play Console and connecting it to other tools, like Embrace or Firebase. There’s a reason, right? It’s because game developers are not meeting expectations of the users, and users are complaining to Google, and Google’s having no choice but to create a feedback loop,” he notes. “And if you don’t hit that orange line, you don’t get ranked. And if you don’t get ranked, you don’t get organic traffic. If you don’t get organic traffic, you don’t get a good effective CPI. If you don’t have a good effective CPI, you will never scale your game. And if you don’t scale your game, you have a dead game.”
A solid ranking in the Google Play Store has far-reaching implications. This is why it’s important to understand all the factors that affect ranking so that your game can stay featured. A key aspect of this is having the best data to inform your issue resolution.
How Google points out issues, but doesn’t help solve them
Having the right data to solve issues like ANRs or crashes is vital because the Google Play Console provides limited information when searching for solutions. Eric speaks to the gaps this creates in the resolution process:
“When you go into the Google Play Store or Google Play Console, you’ll see a list of ANRs and crashes and you know they affect the rankings. How do you solve them?” he says. “It could be an ad provider. It could be your own code. Again, it could be a user experience issue. Google doesn’t tell you, Firebase doesn’t tell you. So, what do you do about it? It’s like they’re your worst best friend — they tell you all your problems, but they never tell you how to solve them.”
This is why it’s necessary for mobile teams seeking an effective issue resolution process to move beyond the Google Play Console to find better solutions.
Engineering tools and addressing user issues
Moving past the Google Play Console means seeking out solutions that help engineers address user issues in a fast and effective manner. There are many new solutions available now that make a significant impact to the engineering process. Pavlo speaks to this:
“I would like to mention Embrace. It makes our life much easier because, as I said before, when I’m opening Google Play Console, it’s incredibly difficult to understand something. And we’re using a huge amount of tools from the client side. It’s analytics that we can get access to — It’s Embrace, it’s Google, it’s Apple,” he says.
Although there is no silver bullet when problem solving, Pavlo’s team finds the metrics that Embrace provides to supply much better context to solve app issues.
“For example, I’m opening Embrace dashboards. I’m checking ANR rate, exception rate. I’m checking problematic devices, platforms, and maybe countries. And I need to match all of this information from Google Play.”
Once this data from Embrace and matched to the information provided by the Google Play Console, the next step is understanding how it all fits in the context of business objectives.
“[Then] I need to request business analytics, business metrics and business flows for the users who are facing these problems. Then I need to get all of these analytics to match all of this and to create a hypothesis. Like how can we solve [the issue]?” says Pavlo.
Eric goes on further to speak about the ways that certain tools can fail a mobile team.
“Mobile is all about the details. The question is: how do you get them right? Embrace exists because of my personal pain. Once upon a time I was building games. We had New Relic on the backend, we had logging tools, we had multiple analytics tools, and we had Firebase and Crashlytics,” he recalls. “There were like 8 to 10 tools. It made no sense. And the crazy thing is none of them had the user in mind. Mobile is about the user and every user experience is unique and highly variable. There were no tools that thought of it this way.”
Understanding the individual experience of every player is what creates successful mobile games. To fully understand each player’s experience, you must understand the metrics that impact your game and have the right tooling to pave the way to solutions.
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