All posts by Mark Dabbs

Originally from Washington State, Mark has lived in Odessa as a permanent resident for the past 8 years. Involved in online projects and publishing since 1996 starting with webmaster for Primestar Satellite TV by Continental Cablevision. Since then, he has served on the board for several non-profit organizations, co-founded CyberCraft Corp., and enjoyed three years with Amazon.com. He found his way to Iraq in support of the US Marines from 2004-5 with Lear Siegler and EG&G heading up the corporate newsletter and promotions program. New with Opera Mobile Store, developers can expect to see useful, wide-ranging information on the new Global Mobile Internet.

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Networking is a recurring topic of this blog in that it can help you build marketing and distribution channels, media relations and even develop your business model.  This post aims to expand on the usefulness of networking and assert that it should be a consistent, long-term practice whether you are just starting out in the world of app development or on its lead edge.

Before getting into networking though, I would like to make another appeal to developers to spend a little less time developing and a little more time on other components of your app business.  Unless you are paid to produce apps, developing them does not generate revenue without efforts in marketing, distribution and business development.

The Pareto Principle.   Constantly underscored on the blog is the idea that 20% of your efforts will generate 80% of your revenue (roughly).  This extends similarly to where 4% of your work is likely to be responsible for 64% of your revenue; and that over half will come from .8% of total effort.  Practically speaking, you may spend months developing an app and get paid nothing; but adding it to stores (distribution) will take you a few minutes and provide you the opportunity to make some money.  Simple.

The 1% Rule or 15 Minutes per Day.  Fifteen minutes is roughly 1% of your day.  The basic idea is to spend at least 15 minutes a day doing something other than what you would normally do – and further, an hour or so (4-5%) on a few different things.  My top 5 picks are:

  1. Networking (Developing relationships with other people in your market – from professionals to end users, with a focus on people who actively write about your market).
  2. Marketing and Distribution (Getting on more app stores, letting others know you are on more app stores, cross-promotional opportunities, but generally bringing your networking efforts to fruition with a tangible result.)
  3. Content Development (Anything related to your business/apps – press releases, game play videos, improving app descriptions)
  4. Market Research (Competition, New Tech, App Performance Metrics, New Markets)
  5. Business Development (Pricing mechanisms, special opportunities like grants, finding partners, etc.)

If you are looking for traffic (and downloads) you need to be seen where the traffic is.  Obviously, you can advertise – pay to have your app promoted where you like.  Again, as most mobile app developers are not breaking even, it is appropriate to press on matters of networking as an extension of marketing to help developers generate the revenue needed to launch into advertising.

To this end, it useful to start with three operating principles which make networking useful:

  1. What you have to say about yourself is trivial in comparison to what others have to say about you.  Saying you are great does not quite have the same gravity as when someone else says it.
  2. If it’s been said once, it can be said again, and again.  You can link to it, you can quote it, you can re-use it as needed across all of your business activities.
  3. Every networking contact and every form of online content creates potential for traffic.  The more, the better.

Networking is about developing relationships, suffice that it is a natural process for everyone having  common and overlapping interests.  The goal, of course, is that networking will lead to something tangible – from being referenced in an article, having a well-placed link for others to download your app, or perhaps pave the way for you to meet with someone who can help your business in a profound way.

While networking for the sole purpose of developing relationships is good, unto itself – you are investing time in meeting with others.  It is reasonable to expect a return on your investment on at least some of that time, so you want to network with a purpose.  Your objectives might be directed to getting an interview, an app review or critique, having your app featured and played in a video on YouTube, or setting the stage whereby you can get a favorable, personal introduction to someone important.

We are talking about developing “relationships” and not one-time events.  Thus, we are talking about forming the basis for “multiple opportunities” to create traffic for your endeavors.  It’s not a one way street though, meaning that at the same time you are looking for ways that they can help you, you need to be looking for ways you can help them.  This is where maintaining a regular blog can be useful, as you can always provide them links, comment on their discussions, etc.

Remember the first principle above, the inverse is that what you have to say about someone else is more important than what they have to say about themselves.   If you already like and support what they are doing, promoting it in a meaningful manner is a good step toward getting a good start with them.

Every time you, your business or mobile app is referenced with a link can be said to have a monetary value, even if you received it for free or accrue no financial benefit from it. It is realistically measured by the time it took you to get that link, which is relative to your income.  The point is, that if you are not making money and not engaged in marketing, distribution or networking, you will rarely have the basic possibility of making money.

If you committed to developing one relationship per week after a year, you will have over 50 relationships each with multiple opportunities toward mutually reciprocating, tangible benefit.  It may eventually require more than 15 minutes a day, but you will see the benefit.

Sometimes, idealistic people are put off the whole business of networking as something tainted by flattery and the pursuit of selfish advantage. But virtue in obscurity is rewarded only in Heaven. To succeed in this world you have to be known to people.
Sonia Sotomayor – Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States,

 

Previously, I noted that some more time will be spent looking at China.  Part of this extends from the recent interest of a Chinese investor group in acquiring Opera.  While not privy to those discussions, in my frequent meetings with members of think tanks, like Odessa’s own Nikolai Holmov, China is receiving greater and more frequent attention.  The nature of Chinese business activities are of a magnitude that warrants broader awareness, even if the implications are not specific to the mobile world, but of which the mobile world is certainly part.

One Belt, One Road – The New Silk Road entails a land-based and sea-based trade belt starting in China and stretching through the Middle East, into Europe and Africa.   While the list of countries to be formally included in the investment and development already in progress is not fully defined, it could include up to 40 or more countries.

Prospective countries (land and sea):  Afghanistan, Armenia, Brunei, Cambodia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, Georgia, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mongolia, Mozambique, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan.

As Forbes.com’s Helen Wang poignantly quoted from the FinancialTimes.com,

If the sum total of China’s commitments are taken at face value, the new Silk Road is set to become the largest programme of economic diplomacy since the US-led Marshall Plan for postwar reconstruction in Europe, covering dozens of countries with a total population of over 3bn people.

A few noteworthy points regarding the scope of the New Silk Road:

  • Expected to reach $1 trillion in investments (from all parties) by 2020, with the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank having already allocated $100 billion.
  • Will logistically connect roughly 70% of the world’s population.
  • Countries along the route represent about 55% of world GDP.
  • Aims to net $2.5 trillion (for China, alone) in additional trade over the next 10 years.
  • Logistical and infrastructure investments in road and rail networks, power grids, internet networks, pipelines and port projects.
  • Reduce delivery times from China to Europe by as much as 80%.

To say it is a “big thing” is an understatement, ranking right alongside (and above) the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – the “other” two major free trade agreements in the process of being formed.   It is appropriate to note that 1) China is not (presently) involved with the TPP and 2) the United States is not (presently) involved with the New Silk Road – though there may be some businesses from each country actively involved with projects associated with each.

Obviously, there are geo-political interests at stake, too – beyond the scope of this article, but one hypothesis is that economic development will serve as a catalyst to political and social stability (i.e. fewer wars and less terrorism).

So, what does the Silk Road mean to you?

First off, the New Silk Road is a major investment and development project, spanning hundreds (potentially thousands) of smaller projects for many years to come.  It is being done, it is continuing – so you can follow its development to see when, where and if you can fit in for a variety of contracts.  Knowing, also, that some areas presently lacking reliable internet access will (in the not too distant future) have reliable internet access provides opportunities for those who get in on the ground floor.

The broader implications are that China is poised to soon be the largest economic power and is beginning to challenge the predominantly “western” mega-corporations on several fronts, from oil to agriculture, but also in tech.  Word came out this week that Ali Baba is now the world’s largest retailer, surpassing Amazon.com and Walmart.  Fundamentally, many developers have mainly focused on the western market for profitability, but more and more eyes will be looking eastwards for potential volume.

Overall though, with three major “free trade vehicles” in motion (New Silk Road plus TTP/TTIP), the world is about to get more competitive, faster.

One of the frequent recurring themes I see in the mobile app world is an overly narrow definition of, and excessive fixation on, a “target market.”  This can be a serious problem if your target market is not proving profitable “enough” or you do not take steps to evolve with it.  It can be profitable to explore some diversification by looking a little to the left and right of your target market.

Perhaps the most important thing to understand is that the Internet is a network, a web, where theoretically any given point can have a relationship (a link) with any other point.  The idea is to spend time finding and developing relationships between what you are doing and other points that would be profitable for it.   That is what marketing and advertising is all about.  If you want to be seen, you go to where people interested in what you offer are.

While you may have a target market for today, you have decisions to make about your target market for tomorrow.  Let’s say your game is targeted to teenagers (13-18) – they will get older, their interests will evolve, they will likely find a job, upgrade their mobile device and have greater means for buying things online or through your mobile app.  While there will always be a steady stream of new youngsters entering your target market (hopefully), their interests and expectations also evolve, if simply by device and in relation to the apps of tomorrow.

How to Diversify?  Diversification is best done on a case by case basis and it can take on several different forms and the following provide a few good examples.

Mobile Apps for Ages 5 – 24.  One commonality for almost everyone from ages 5 to 18, and a good portion of those 19 to 24, is the classroom.  Common to every classroom is a teacher.  By getting one teacher to use your app as the basis for a practical exercise, you could end up reaching up to 180 students.  That is 6 one-hour periods with 30 students per day.  By virtue of the teacher’s relationship to your target market they could be a fundamental part of it.  That does require a distinct decision to include them as part of your target market; if you are not aiming to reach them, odds are you won’t.

Mobile Apps and PC users.  The mobile world tends to differentiate itself from the personal computer world, but there are more similarities inherent to the devices than there are differences. The primary differences are inherent to the end users, across a broad range of demographics.  However, we are talking about a broad range of demographics wherein a) there are people who do have mobile devices and personal computers, and b) those able to afford a personal computer are likely more able to make an online purchase.

But!!!  They won’t make an online purchase if they are not provided the option to do so.  The implications here run in several directions spanning your entire product line and marketing efforts.

Consider, for a moment, it may take you three months to develop a mobile game.  Conversely, it may take you thirty minutes to set up a web page to promote a product, whether your own, as a cross-promotion, or part of an online store or even through promotions and newsletters.  This form of diversification is heavily dependent upon traffic, suffice if you have a lot of traffic and it is not generating revenue for you, it is up to you to find a means of monetizing it (better).

Cross Promotions are inherently a form of diversification for expanding market reach and alternative revenue streams.  Mobile apps can have an affinity with mobile devices, mobile subscriptions, other apps or software in the same genre or category, events, books and movies, or nearly anything else sharing a similar theme or purpose.

Work and Other Activities.  It could also be that your mobile app utility might perform better as an actual business, service (SaaS), or in conjunction with a membership site.   My last article on eSports was another example.  It is not a stretch to think that a developer of games might actually play games, too.  Knowing some of the internal mechanics of how games work can apply to how to play them better, providing a competitive edge and an opportunity to make money.  As many developers have full-time jobs and develop on the side, eSports is becoming an interesting and viable option with the added feature of also being a marketing venue.

Most app developers are not breaking even, as I constantly reiterate.  There are numerous reasons for this, but the top three are:  1) app quality, 2) little or no marketing and advertising, and 3) poor business or monetization model.

It is one thing if you are developing apps simply because you enjoy it and don’t really expect to make money from them.  If, however, you enjoy it and want to monetize your efforts it is also quite easy to get stuck in a rut where you keep working without realizing tangible benefit.  It is also easy to become so fixated on a target marketto not see other profitable opportunities a little to the left or right of it.

For further reference, I would recommend “Reaching a Profitable Target Market” – as sometimes, it is not your product, marketing or advertising to blame for insufficient revenue.  It could be your business model or decisions.

Let’s start with some numbers.  The world championship for “League of Legends” reached 27 million viewers in 2014.  Over 100,000 people attended the Intel Extreme Masters in 2015, hosted by the world’s largest eSports company, ESL.  Turner Broadcasting and WME/IMG aim to broadcast 20 live e-sports events over the course of 2016.  Tournament prizes for some of the top games include nearly $60 million for Dota 2 over 578 tournaments and over $27 million for League of Legends in over 1600 tournaments.

All metrics are increasing:  physical attendance, number of online viewers, number of competitors, cash prizes, etc.

I’ve touched on eSports a few times previously, suffice that competitive gaming is (or should be) a common interest to both game developers and gamers.  At its simplest, competitive gaming provides an opportunity for everyone to have fun and possibly make some money.  However, professional players, teams, ladder rankings and tournament events are also marketing venues – even if the “game” is not your game.   That is to say, getting involved with other racing games is a way to promote your raging app to gamers likely willing to try it.

RacingScott Pruett’s BMW Riley at a 2012 Rolex Sports Car Race

The race car above shows the decals of numerous sponsors who contributed either financially or materially to Scott Pruett’s racing team.  Of course, race car sponsorships represent a different marketing model than is associated with mobile and online games.  It does not hurt to take a look at their model to see how it might be applied to yours:

  • Cars serve as moving billboards for logos (brand name recognition)
  • Teams have uniforms which also prominently feature sponsor logos.
  • Print and media usually reference sponsors as part of “the story.”
  • Cross-marketing opportunities and promotions between sponsors.
  • Autograph sessions for extended and personal visibility.
  • Event hospitality and “free hand outs” to people within the target market.

Numerous marketing and promotion elements are in play and can be easily adapted for mobile apps and eSports events.  The cost of eSports sponsorships vs the opportunities they may create are very much on the low-end of budget requirements, consisting of cost of game play and team apparel, perhaps some extra hardware.  The primary expense is likely to come from admission, travel and lodging to attend tournaments.  Still many events are conducted online at the same time as events become more widespread and accessible.

Obviously, there is a major gap between starting a team and getting the team to place in major tournaments.  Leastwise, you have the option to form or recruit your own team or seek out teams already looking for sponsors.  Like anything else, winning in tournaments comes from consistent and persistent practice.  Still, we are talking about people who are going to play anyway.

One option for developers to consider is to invite the highest ranking players of their own app to form the basis a competitive eSports team for a similar game that is already heavily monetized in tournaments within the same genre.  Companies with enough developers could form their own teams, as well – as not long ago (and still) there are many businesses which have their own baseball and bowling teams.  That goes to say that gaming, sports and esports are not just games but social and professional networking opportunities, as well.

You only need to look at professional sports like baseball, basketball, football, hockey, tennis, racing, even surfing to see the outcome of eSports.  From forming or sponsoring your own teams to running competitions and potentially hosting your own events (physical or virtual), you have several possibilities to consider.  I remember the days when most people had never been online and where the internet was believed to be a passing fad.  Obviously it wasn’t, but the lesson is to get in on the “groundfloor” of The Next Big Thing early.

First off, I would like to point mobile developers to an external pdf – Essential Facts about the computer and video game industry by the Entertainment Software Association.  This is a detailed review, primarily, of the American video game market. Personal computers remain the dominant gaming platform, followed by consoles and mobile devices (generally opposite the international norm).

My stance is that personal computers and mobile devices are becoming more and more alike. While there are definitely differences, personal computers have been around for a lot longer providing some historical market context for those willing to take a look. Leastwise, many games that were once made for PCs are now available for mobile devices.

What is surprising, and should not be, is that the average age of gamers in the United States is 35. The overall breakout runs:

  • Under 18: 26%
  • 18 – 35: 30%
  • 36 – 49:   17%
  • Over 50: 27%

It is also noteworthy that of 155 million gamers in the United States, 44% are female.

This tends to put a different slant on why many developers are not breaking even, aside from not actively engaging marketing and advertising. A quick look at the games on virtually every mobile app store gives the impression that their target market is a “younger audience” – if not under 18, then certainly under 25 (splitting the age bracket). It’s not that they don’t have a clearly defined target market as much as the competition is “extreme” for that target market. We can also infer that this target market is subject to limited discretionary spending – likely dependent upon parents for their money to purchase games.

Functionally, there are far fewer mobile games being marketed to the 25+, and especially the 35+, crowds where the most likely spenders are found. Their interests appear quite evenly divided across social, action and puzzle game genres, but only socially-oriented mobile games have attracted their attention. Action and puzzle games are not, setting aside online gambling and casino-like games.

It is easier to develop a game for a younger audience than a possibly jaded older audience. Those willing to pay (more) tend to expect more. “More” or “better” is not always concerned with graphics, but the game engine and AI itself. If someone is 35 today, they were likely playing video games on their PC or console in 2000.

Within that context, I can say from personal experience that it is very difficult to find a game (of any sort) that offers significantly better game play than some of these older games. There are the “industry standards” which have gone through several versions since – whether we want to reference Syd Meier’s Civilization, Paradox’s Hearts of Iron, Metal Gear, Call of Duty, Grandtheft Auto, or even World of Warcraft.   A lot of good games then were somewhat ahead of their time or devoted to too small of a niche (then) and have become “abandonware” or picked up by distributors for ongoing release at massively discounted rates.

Yes, those are mostly PC titles, suffice that many games that were PC “yesterday” could do well on “mobile” today, and some are.

Old software does not have to die. If it was good enough “back then” to get an official release in a box on a physical store shelf, there’s a decent chance that a facelift and makeover could resurrect its playtime today. As most of the game mechanics and code have already been defined, the main challenges involve porting them to a new platform and/or language, improving upon its initial faults and perhaps adding a few new components to the game. Those inclined to explore this direction, of course, would need to track down previous developers and publishers to negotiate a license for continued development.

But more to the point of marketing to older gamers is taking a look at all of the different kinds of games they have likely played in the past. What was popular? When and why? How could a particular PC game be adjusted to work for mobile? There are many reasons why most mobile app developers are not breaking even, suffice that where the US market is concerned, too many are competing for too small of the paying market.