GamesBeat recently held two “road show” events on mobile gaming influencers in New York and Seattle. At each event, we discussed the rise of influencers and their impact on marketing in the $34 billion mobile gaming market.
The cost of user acquisition and the difficulty of game discovery in a sea of releases on the app stores is forcing companies to reassess their marketing tactics. And influencers such as YouTubers and Twitch streamers have become a critical resource for drawing attention to mobile games, as noted in our Gaming Culture 2016 report by VB Insight’s Stewart Rogers. Influencers is a topic that we’ll discuss at our GamesBeat 2016.
Our speakers included Francisco “TheGameHuntah” Albornoz, who has amassed a sizable audience on YouTube through more than 1,500 videos and hundreds of livestreams in two languages. He’s a former pro gamer and computer engineer who started creating mobile game video content about a year ago. The GameHuntah took the plunge into doing his influencer videos full-time, and he has gained notoriety among game companies.
He was accompanied by Roostr cofounder and general manager Marco Mereu, the influencer advertising marketplace that Chartboost recently acquired. Roostr enables influencers to post their interests and the games they play, and it matches them in an automated fashion with game publishers and developers who want to advertise their games. The influencers put sponsored links in their videos of mobile games, and they get paid if players click on the links to download the games. Prior to Roostr, Mereu founded Gameblyr, a mobile game publisher.
Also speaking was Jesse Divnich, the vice president of product strategy and insights at Tilting Point. New York-based studio has had hits such as Dino Bash and Tropical Wars. Divnich was previously well-known as the vice president of insights and analytics at EEDAR, one of the leading game industry research firms.
The event’s sponsor is Samsung, which is also providing an alternative app store, Samsung Galaxy Apps, on its smartphones and tablets. Ravi Belwal, global partner manager for games at Samsung, was at the event and said his company values influencers and is recruiting more apps and games to its app store in a curated fashion. It will have no more than 4,000 apps on its store, and the opinion makers will have sway on what shows up there.
Here’s an edited transcript of our panel.
GamesBeat: One insight we got from our report was that if you have a topic, or a game about WWE, everybody knows that you should market that game to WWE game fans, gamers. But what happens in the new world is that you can also market this toward WWE fans who aren’t gamers. That’s a forgotten potential audience a lot of times. You’re crossing over not just from games, but to fans of the content you have that has taken game form. It’s intuitive, but a lot of game marketing leaves it out. There’s not an obvious way to do this if you’re a game marketer. It’s something to think about. But I’ll have our panelists talk more about themselves first.
Francisco Albornoz: I’m TheGameHuntah. I started a channel dedicated to mobile gaming probably a year ago. It was a hobby, and now it’s becoming a job. The way the industry has been changing, it’s making people like me change careers. I’ve been working as a systems engineer in IT for years. All of a sudden now I’m switching over, because I’ve found that doing videos on YouTube promoting games is what I like the most.
I’ve always liked games and played games. I was a hardcore gamer. I tried to be a professional gamer back in the day, playing Quake. That’s why I came to the U.S. It’s amazing to see how the industry is changing lately. In the past it was so difficult. Talking about games was just a hobby. Now it’s something we can dedicate ourselves to 24/7. We can make money in different ways, like YouTube revenue and sponsorships. It’s become a huge other world. Not just a hobby.
PewDiePie started the same way. He made some videos of gameplay and people liked it. A younger generation seems to love this – they like watching people play video games more than playing video games themselves. For us, it makes this a lot easier. That’s why I started doing mobile gaming about a year ago. I stopped doing funny, silly videos and dedicated myself fully to mobile gaming. The potential is huge. Everybody has a smartphone. Everybody has an iPad or something like that. The audience is tremendous.
Above: Chartboost has acquired Roostr, which taps YouTube influencers to increase game downloads.Image Credit: Roostr/Chartboost
Marco Mereu: Most everyone in the room is either a developer or a publisher or in some way in the business of trying to make money with mobile games. Is that pretty accurate? Okay. So I can relate to many of you guys. Before I co-founded Roostr last year, I was doing the same thing many of you are. I was in the business of trying to identify good games, monetize them, develop them, publish them, and have some level of success on the App Store, which is a big challenge. It gets more challenging every day.
Roostr was born out of something we started to test, where we recognized that YouTubers and content creators like Francisco had very engaged audiences that were very responsive to what their favorite creators were playing. Rather than put money into traditional platforms, whether it’s Facebook or wherever else you’re being told you should spend your UA dollars now, we thought we’d take a chance and start doing performance-based deals with YouTubers.
We found it worked very effectively. It was a great resources for high-quality players, great LTV, great retention, great engagement. They were core gamers. Ultimately we found that most gamers these days are going to YouTube and Twitch to find out what games they want to play. Mobile has evolved into that same frame. So that’s what we do. Roostr is a marketplace where we allow developers and publishers like yourselves to do deals with YouTubers like Francisco to promote their games.
Jesse Divnich: My job is to go out there and find independent developers to work with us. We’re a publishing partner. Like Francisco, I got my start in gaming with Quake. I tried to go pro. I was never able to do that. I’ve worked in games since I was 15. My worst day in this industry, I would say, is better than most people’s best days. It’s a blessing to work in the industry.
It’s my job to find talented independent developers who are looking for partners to bring their games to market. I’ve gained a lot of experience in marketing and social influencers, user acquisition, product management, all the things that go into marketing mobile games.
GamesBeat: Why should the people here care about influencers? Why do influencers matter?
Divnich: We’re in an era now where one person can connect to millions of people. If you think back to the Facebook days of social gaming, where you would spam your friends to come visit your farm, that’s one person reaching 30 or 40 people. Now, with social influencers and the followers they have – 50,000, 100,000, millions of people – one person can connect you to millions of potential consumers.
Another important fact is, people under the age of 25 consume more media online than they do through traditional means like television. That’s where social influencers become an important resource to get your message across. People find out about the news from their friends. They don’t watch CNN. They find out through SMS, Twitter, Facebook messaging. This is why influencers are so important. The message can spread so fast and so virally.
Mereu: Ultimately everyone wants to be in front of players. You want them to download your game. Google put out a study last year that said just over 90 percent of people get their gaming news on YouTube now. You want to find a game that you’ll play, generally you go to YouTube to watch someone play it. You’ll watch people play it on Twitch before it even comes out, whether it’s a console game or a PC game or a mobile game. That’s where people are consuming content.
If anyone here has small children – I have a 7-year-old daughter – you see, on a day to day basis, a level of consumption on those types of platforms where they don’t even watch TV anymore. It’s pretty much exclusively around what you’re seeing on YouTube or other platforms that can cater the kind of content they want to see.
Above: GamesBeat roadshowImage Credit: Mike Minotti/VentureBeat
If you’re marketing a mobile game right now, it’s pretty competitive out there. There are no different tiers. If you’re small or medium or big, you’ll always be competing with everyone else in mobile for placement on Facebook, placement on banners, a Google AdWords campaign or whatever you’re going to do. It’s very competitive. If you’re a smart marketer, a smart publisher, you’re always looking for new ways to get in front of newly engaged players that no one else has been able to touch just yet.
Social influencers on mobile are still a relatively small component of influencers overall, but I don’t think anyone in this room would be here if we didn’t think mobile is growing. It’s definitely not contracting. We bet heavy last year on mobile gaming growth on YouTube and creators like Francisco, that their channels would continue to grow. Many of our channels that we work with grow over one percent a day. They’re getting much bigger with a mobile focus. They have very large audiences. It’s a great way to get your mobile games in front of more traditional PC and console players, too, who might not normally be exposed to them. You get those creators to review a mobile title and you get a whole new audience that we haven’t really been able to reach.
Albornoz: You have to expose your game. That’s why influencers are important. I don’t know very many numbers, but we have a lot of new titles every week in the App Store. How do you make sure your game doesn’t wind up on the bottom of everything? That’s where influencers come in.
There are so many amazing games, mobile games especially, that don’t have a built-in audience. Their developers weren’t ready to start promoting their games. It’s even more remarkable to look at some of the biggest titles we have in mobile gaming that are still at the bottom. It’s so difficult for them to grow, because the game wasn’t exposed to a community.
When a new game comes to the App Store, usually I try to make a video of my first impression, because I know that people—as soon as they see a new title in the App Store or Google Play, the first thing they do is go to Twitch or YouTube to see it. Before they spend their money or even before they download—some people don’t have an iPad with 64 gigs of storage. Sometimes they’re very picky.
That’s why what we do is so important. People look to us as a reference, to hear an opinion or at least to show them a game so they can have a better understand of what’s going on.
Mereu: The reason why you want to be in front of influencers is because they’re influential, when it comes to—they really are the gaming celebrities of today. Instead of having to go out and hire someone from Hollywood, pay someone $40,000 to put out a sponsored tweet for you, you can work out a much better value with gaming influencers.
Above: Francisco “TheGameHuntah” Albornoz (left), Marco Mereu of Roostr, and Jesse Divnich of Tilting Point at the GamesBeat Roadshow on influencers in New York.Image Credit: Dean Takahashi
GamesBeat: Is that the going rate for tweets?
Mereu: It was for Scott Disick maybe three or four years ago. We said, “No, we’re not gonna do that.” Not in this lifetime. But these are your gaming celebrities. They have very engaged audiences. We see—when we run a campaign on Roostr, for good games we’ll see conversion rates that are 10 times what you’d normally see on Facebook. It’s not because we have some type of magic at Roostr. It’s because audiences like Francisco’s or other gaming audiences want to play games with their influencers.
It’s almost as if you get to play pickup basketball with your favorite player. If you know he’s showing up to play on Sunday at the park, you’re probably going to go do that, and a lot of other people will too. It’s the same thing with gaming influencers. Gamers want to play games with their favorite creators, get deep into a game alongside their favorite creators. It’s a great new fresh source of quality traffic for your games.
GamesBeat: Jesse, the console game marketing traditions lasted for quite a long time. I wonder if they carry over to this new age of mobile games, or if what you’re seeing here is totally different from what used to happen.
Divnich: We’re slowly evolving mobile marketing to get closer to what traditional games were in terms of marketing vision. Obviously print is dead. People don’t necessarily get reviews or previews from typical websites like Kotaku or IGN. That era of the industry has dissipated a lot.
What we’re seeing in mobile I call the fourth generation of mobile marketing. The first generation of mobile marketing was nothing at all. It was Angry Birds. Throw your game out there, you have no competition, and you just automatically rise through the charts.
The second generation is when people began to realize you could do user acquisition. You could run online campaigns and drive traffic to your game. Some of these generations overlap, by the way, because some things have worked better than others.
Then we ran into a third generation, which is what Facebook social games did really well. Engage your audience. Ask your friends to visit your farm or send you coins or send you parts. We maxed out on that. Every single game now tends to have the same Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram posting. That’s all good, though, all trackable. That’s what we like in mobile. Mobile is all about KPIs. Unlike traditional console gaming, we love KPIs. In console marketing you give your marketing manager $10 million and he throws out commercials. You have no way of measuring ROI. You can do surveys and find out about awareness. You have pre-order numbers, which is always a useful metric. But you can’t measure the ROI of a TV campaign as accurately as you could a Facebook user acquisition campaign.
What we see now in this fourth generation is we’re seeing TV commercials again. We’re seeing Supercell and King and others run TV commercials, and they don’t really don’t know what their ROI is either. They can’t track the consumer. They can’t directly link it – “I saw this commercial for Clash Royale and downloaded the game.” And we also have social influencers. You have one person talking to a million people, and you can’t actively track the ROI of that campaign. You don’t know how many people actually converted. Obviously if you go through Roostr you can. But even with the people who click on a Roostr campaign, there are five times more people who don’t go through the official link. They search for it organically. That makes it difficult to track ROI.
Above: Maria Alegre of Chartboost and Marco Mereu of Roostr.Image Credit: Chartboost
GamesBeat: Marco, can you explain more about what you guys do?
Mereu: Before we came out with Roostr, the way most social influencer programs worked is, you would go to a YouTuber and say, “Hey, I’ll give you wheelbarrow of cash. Make a video of my game.” You’d give them a flat fee and they’d make a video for your game. Just like Jesse was talking about, you were basically doing TV advertising. You’d hope to get this big organic lift and great visibility from YouTubers. But coming out of mobile myself and being responsible for UA budgets and having an ROI-positive campaign, I knew that to effectively run a social influencer campaign with mobile games, you had to be able to give people the ability to measure performance.
With Roostr we allow you to do it on a per-install or per-view basis. Everything is tracked, so you can measure your return, how many clickthroughs you get, where your traffic comes from, whether it’s mobile or desktop, how many installs you’re driving, what conversion rates are like. Even by channel. You can see which channels are more effective than others.
What people find is that channels they thought were going to be amazing, these big YouTuber personalities, are not really that effective at getting engaged players. You get smaller channels, though, like Francisco’s, under 100,000 subscribers, but they have very engaged audiences and very engaged players. We find you get a much better value for a UA campaign running 10,000 or 100,000 subscriber channels collectively compared to paying a big flat check to a million-subscriber YouTuber who is going to take your money, make a video, and go on to the next one.
Roostr is more performance-based. The creators will only pick up the games and work on the games they feel are a good fit for their channel. It’s more organic and natural.
GamesBeat: You have a marketplace set up so people can find the right game, find the right influencer.
Mereu: Right. If you’re a publisher or developer, you can put up an offer. It costs nothing. You can put up your game and what you’re offering for it, what your budget is. Then we have influencers anywhere from 50,000 subscribers to 8 million that will come on Roostr, a free tool for them, and find the games they’re excited about, that they would play anyway. They sign up to make sponsored content for those games, monetize their channel, which is very important to YouTubers these days. At the same time, you get good players for mobile games.
Divnich: Technology has still not caught up yet with social influencers, though, and being able to measure ROI on UA campaigns. We still live in this gray area. Very much like we did back in the traditional console and PC days with television commercials. You can run surveys to try to find out where a consumer bought the game and why. But we’re still in a gray area. You guys have done a great job. You’re leaders of the pack. But there’s still a long way to go.
Mereu: We can always get better. There are always new ways to improve the ability to measure what your performance is like. For us, you can certainly measure the spending or the quality of players that click through, install the game, and play the game. We can give you metrics on what percentage of your clickthroughs or traffic, at least for clickthroughs, came from mobile devices. We average more than 80 percent of our traffic coming from mobile versus desktop. That’s something we focus on.
But Jesse’s right. It’s still a developing art. Mobile, as much as we feel like it’s been going on forever, is barely eight years old. The first iPhone came out in 2008. It’s a young industry. It changes very rapidly. There’s a lot of me-too-ism in mobile. When something is selling effectively, everyone has to go out and do that same thing. Are you doing it wrong? What you should really be focused on is trying things that not everybody is doing just yet and staying ahead of the curve. Social influencers for mobile games are one of those things.
Above: Tilting Point took Photo Finish Horse Racing and bumped it up a notch.Image Credit: Tilting Point
GamesBeat: Some of this is very tactical, as far as how to access Roostr, but if there’s a thought process as far as how a game company can figure out who their relevant influencers are, what is that thought process like?
Mereu: Publishers all the time want to know, “Who’s the right influencer for our game?” Sometimes they come to us with a predetermined position. “These are the people we want. It doesn’t matter what it costs. We want these creators to make videos for our game.” Which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. And sometimes they’ll put it on the platform and say, “These creators signed on to do videos for my game, but I don’t think they’re a good fit.”
If you work in mobile, everything is data-driven. Data will win out over what I think is right or what the advertiser thinks is right. With Roostr, since we’ve been running campaigns now for more than a year, we’ll look at the data on how creators perform in particular genres or with particular games. What we’re leading toward with Roostr is to develop a more programmatic approach. When you put up a game we can instantly give you three to five influencers that have performed well in these genres in the past. This is what their metrics have been like, their engagement levels. Maybe you’re surprised that a channel you wouldn’t think , would be effective actually is.
For us, we’re trying to get data. We’re trying to see what performance is like and be able to give that information to new campaigns so they can make good decisions. Then creators like Francisco, we can tell them which games perform well on his channel and which games he might want to make videos for.
Divnich: You can get that information through soft launching games, Facebook. You can find people that are playing the game, what their interests are. It’s pretty easy to quantify what type of social influencer you should be going after, what type of audience. That’s the first thing you should determine. Who is the audience? Then you find an influencer. You can get that information from Facebook.
Albornoz: In my case, I’m happy to be able to work with a company like Roostr, because it makes my life a lot easier. It’s entertaining, because I get calls and emails from there when they know a game is going to feed my audience. They know the kind of games I can promote well. If I can find a game that I can create a story around, they call me right away. The audience at this point is getting driven by what I get from Roostr, that feedback.
Mereu: To follow up on Jesse’s point, I’ll go back a bit in my career. Before I was working mobile I worked in browser-based games. I learned a valuable lesson early on there, that you should never put all your eggs in the Facebook basket. Facebook depends on that. They make life easy for mobile advertisers, but a certain point a lot of mobile advertisers become dependent on that. What’s Facebook telling me? What’s working with Facebook? The reality is, you’re writing Facebook a check, and they’re parsing the data back to you.
Think about that for a second. You want to have a checks and balances system in terms of where you’re getting your information. I would always advise people to run multiple campaigns on multiple platforms and see what your metrics are like. Don’t ever put too much faith in just one.
Above: Brandnew IO is an influencer marketing campaign tool.Image Credit: Brandnew IO
GamesBeat: What about some kind of dashboard? I wrote a story on this company called Brandnew IO out of Berlin. On June 1 they launched this dashboard for managing influencer campaigns. The fact that they only just now launched it tells you how new this thing is, I suppose. But it seems like there’s a systematic way of approaching this, so that it becomes worth the developer or publisher’s time to go engage in this big search for influencers.
Divnich: We’re certainly overloaded with dashboards. I wish there was an all-in-one solution. But there’s not. The industry evolves and new data comes in. You have to have great engineering teams to keep up with everything. But there’s no silver bullet here. You’re going to have to live with the fact that you’ll have multiple dashboards to deal with on a daily basis.
Company out there are trying to fix that, but then every day the industry evolves something new. Social influencers come up and we have to start measuring tweets and retweets and likes and comments. It’s very tough.
GamesBeat: I believe that IGN said that they had millions of people looking at their Snapchats these days. They had staff dedicated to managing that. Which is a strange and interesting way to promote a game, through one-minute videos.
Mereu: You talk about dashboards as it relates to social influencers in mobile games—one of the things we try hard to do with Roostr is to solve that on both sides of the equation. For guys like Francisco, who before would have to do one-on-one deals with a publisher – sign a contract, wait to get paid – it’s nice to be able to log into Roostr, see his metrics, see his dashboard, how much he’s driven, when he’ll get paid. It’s an easier process for creators.
For publishers, working with influencers is very high touch. Even working with one or two at a time, even if you have a dedicated team at your company to do that. It’s a very high touch experience. It’s hard to scale. We’ve tried to make that easier for advertisers. You put your game on there. Sign-ups will come through Roostr. We can scale the campaign based on how popular the game is. Everything is managed in our dashboard. Which is one of many. But it’s a better solution, hopefully, as far as influencers go.
Divnich: As you said, though, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Even though you guys have a great dashboard—you aren’t necessarily the leaders of the pack right now, but people are going to be following you. Francisco’s going to be using other services, which means multiple dashboards and multiple logins. Then someone’s going to have to come along and create something to integrate all of those together.
GamesBeat: It’s going to be programmatic at some point.
Albornoz: Before dashboards, it was an everyday battle trying to figure out how to work with companies. At the beginning, none of them had any idea how to promote their games. They’d just ask me, “What do you want to do?” There was no structure at all. I was spending so much time just dealing with paperwork. My job is to create videos and do live streaming, to make things, not to negotiate deals like that.
I had a couple of bad experiences in the past with different companies. I’d start working with them on some CPI or another. But for me it was impossible to track performance. I just had to trust them at that point. How do I get paid at the end of the month? They’d just tell me I drove however many downloads. There was no way for me to know. Working with Roostr made my life a lot easier. I just go to the dash, or I receive a newsletter every week telling me, “These are the new titles coming in.” Then I just go shopping. This fits me. This doesn’t. It’s a good model for agencies and influencers.
Above: Brandnew IO can track the social media growth of influencers.Image Credit: Brandnew IO
GamesBeat: What’s the right way to approach an influencer?
Albornoz: Never use YouTube personal messages. Nobody reads those. [laughter] A lot of influencers right now use social media more. Almost anyone’s Twitter account will have a business email. That’s probably the best way to approach. If you approach directly, you have to catch somebody’s eye, though. “This is the game, this is a trailer, here’s a link to download some assets.” Try to make the influencer’s work a little easier. If I see I have everything I need to work with, I’m more likely to go for that.
Mereu: How many emails a day would you say you get?
Albornoz: Tons. Especially from Asia. It’s ridiculous. I get requests from all over.
Divnich: On the publisher side it’s very difficult to negotiate. You’re just one person. We have our lawyers. We have to go back and forth over contracts. What we’ve found is best is to actually work with agents. Although a lot of them have their golden goose YouTube or Twitter influencer, along with that they have 30 others that they’re working with, people who may only have 50,000 or 100,000 subscribers. You can work out a nice package deal. In just one contract, you can get 30 different influencers on board to promote your game.
Now, of course, you lose a bit of the customization. You want to pick social influencers that target your genre and your game. But because of all the paperwork and the dealing back and forth, I prefer to just use agents if at all possible.
Mereu: This is an area where Jesse and I probably differ a bit. As much as I like to say we push great users to mobile games and this is a great new source of UA and it’s a great way to market your game, what’s exciting about Roostr to me is that we’ve given a lot of YouTube creators a much more engaged and effective way to help them monetize their channels, get paid to play the games they like.
We look at the YouTube landscape, which not everyone here might be familiar with. It’s dominated by very large networks or agencies that take a significant portion of revenue from guys like Francisco. For all intents and purposes, except for the top five percent of their channels, they don’t offer much value. It’s an old business model that, in my opinion, needs to go away and be replaced by something more efficient.
When his subscribers watch his videos, they don’t want to put money in his agent’s pocket. They want to help Francisco out. What we try to do is cut out the middleman. We get rid of the agencies and the networks. We don’t believe that YouTubers today need them, at least for the most part. There’s a very small percentage of super high quality YouTubers out there that get six-figure deals. They can keep working through their agent because they get attention. But for smaller channels that are still very effective and could still earn a living doing YouTube, they’re not getting attention and they need help. We think that the revenue and the productivity in the game should go directly to the creator.
Divnich: You say you’re cutting out the middleman, but really you’re replacing the middleman.
Mereu: Not even close. We’re not even close to replacing them. We add value on a daily basis to his channel and his games. We take a significantly smaller revenue share, and we add a lot more value.
Above: Brandnew IO can find influencers.Image Credit: Brandnew IO
GamesBeat: There is something basic we should cover, which is the FTC guidelines. Machinima got into trouble because Microsoft approached Machinima to set up campaigns with influencers to endorse the Xbox One game console. Machinima never disclosed or required the influencers to disclose that they got money from Microsoft. So the FTC stepped in and set up some special rules. They fined Machinima. Now there’s a way you have to do this properly. What is that?
Divnich: That’s something we’re always going to have to deal with. Government is always a little bit behind technology, slowly catching up. It’s kind of a better-mousetrap situation. Someone will always find ways to circumvent FTC rules and get shut down in turn. Straight up giving somebody cash to promote your product, you have to disclose that. But there are ways people can promote your product without violating FTC guidelines.
If you want to call up a well-known social influencer and say, “Hey, we want to create a character of you in our game,” you’re not exchanging any compensation, but they’re more likely to promote the game. That gets around FTC rules. That’s one idea to think about, outside of the box. But yeah, government will always be there.
Mereu: Before I got into games I was an attorney for nine years. I’m very familiar with a lot of the FTC issues that Jesse’s talking about. It’s all very important, because it is taken very seriously. Two things are important. The good news is, because there have been a few issues over the last couple years, the FTC has put out pretty good guidelines that are helpful for creators out there. It’ll give them a good idea of what they should and should not do.
The good thing, meanwhile, for almost everyone in this room is that if you’re mobile-focused, what we have found with Roostr—I don’t think we would have had success if this wasn’t the case. There’s a very high tolerance level from players for sponsored content on mobile games. The primary reason for that is because mobile games are pretty much free. There’s no cost barrier where they’ll feel—like, if Francisco asks them to download a game, they spend $10, and the game is terrible, they’ll be upset. Mobile games are free to play. There’s a very low threshold to get them to try it out. If they like it, they continue to play. If they don’t like it, they delete it and forget about it. With sponsored content, it’s really a natural fit for mobile games. There’s very little resistance from the audience.
Albornoz: So many games, right off the bat you know it’s something you won’t be able to make it look good. The game just isn’t there. Many times we’ll decline an offer right away, even if it’s a very good deal.
Mereu: That gets back to Jesse’s point. When you sign up with an agency and you look at the average video views for their YouTubers, you think about who they are—any YouTuber is going to take a flat fee check. The good ones are very business-savvy. They’re trying to make money. The agents are certainly trying to make money. That’s what they do. When you’re writing those checks with no ability to measure what you’re going to get—if you can do that, that’s great, but not everyone can afford to do that.
With our model, we don’t force any creator to play any game. They pick the games they want to play organically and that fit their channel. We find that’s the best way to do it.
GamesBeat: What is the life of an influencer like?
Albornoz: It used to be great, really great, back in the day. The influencer was the one going after the company. We were knocking on the doors. Companies didn’t know, had probably never thought, about exposing their games using YouTubers or Twitch streamers or whatever platform. Which is silly, but even now, some big companies have no clue how to deal with this.
So in the beginning it was difficult. You had to come up with your own business plan. You had to present yourself. I spent so much time just trying to create a portfolio, trying to find different ways to get revenue for my work, to explain how the business plan would work for a company. I started working for a cost per video. Then people started paying for installs, and that’s when things started changing.
It changed for the better, because we had the opportunity to track performance. In the past that was a challenge. We had some bad experiences with companies in Europe, unfortunately. It was hard to track people and find out how much you made. We had no clue. Now, with something like Roostr, I have an app in my phone and I can check whenever I want – how much I make, conversion, clicks, other performance metrics.
Companies have finally figured out that this is what they have to do. We had a model with Supercell – I worked directly with them – if you can see how Supercell is doing right now, one of the major reasons—they do awesome games, but also, they grabbed every single influencer in mobile gaming that they knew was good and took them under their wing. They helped them grow, gave them training. There was no money involved. We weren’t getting paid or getting microtransactions for free. But the support they gave to influencers was great, so influencers loved to work with Supercell.
Supercell grew like crazy. They now have, I’d say, 80 percent of the videos in mobile every day. It’s all either Clash of Clans or Clash Royale. That’s in part because they had an effective model. Some other companies are trying to get there, but they’re still in the dark ages.
I don’t like to mention names much, but there’s a really amazing game right now in mobile called DomiNations. It’s a mix between Civilization and Clash of Clans. I’m a huge fan of Civilization, so I love it. The game looks beautiful. It’s gorgeous. You can see that they put so much effort into it – the graphics, the strategy – to get people involved. I love games like Civilization because it’s a chance to travel through time, and DomiNations did that in a mobile game. I never thought something like that would happen.
But DomiNations isn’t as popular as something like Clash of Clans, even if it’s the same quality or better. They’ve never come out with a plan for influencers. Even today, I receive emails from the company saying they’re still working on it. Maybe next week it’ll happen, maybe next month, and on and on.
Mereu: If there’s one thing I would recommend to any developer or publisher, whatever you can do to develop your social media or signal boost channels is attractive to them, because they want to grow. That’s definitely something we look at and try to figure out ways to help them. The games themselves can do that very effectively. Supercell does that very effectively.
Above: VB event on influencers in NYC.Image Credit: Francisco “TheGameHuntah” Albornoz
Question: I spend a lot of time with my family, watching my nieces and nephews watching YouTube videos of games. That led me to think about people in the mainstream media are going to have the time of their lives keeping up with the transformation of entertainment. Do you guys anticipate, or have you heard anything around, a YouTube channel closing up their platform? It seems to me that if YouTube had a sudden policy shift around how they want to leverage their platform, like Facebook did with games, it could completely change the landscape.
Divnich: It’s something we’re going to just have to deal with, our reliance on these platforms. You have YouTube, Facebook, Apple, Google, and at any moment they can come by and change their policy and mess up whatever strategy you have. Same thing with government. You can’t necessarily anticipate it. But Mark made the good point about putting all your eggs in one basket. Make sure you have a diversified plan so that if things do go awry, you’re not caught off-guard.
Mereu: Platforms like YouTube, Twitch, Kamcord, Mobcrush, lots of companies out there recognize the value of getting people to make content. There’s a big tug of war going on right now for influencers’ attention. You’ll probably see platforms, if anything, trying to do more to retain their current influencers rather than see them go somewhere else. But I have no idea what YouTube is going to do or not do. I can’t imagine YouTube Red was very effective.
Albornoz: People might be willing to pay for access to an influencer’s content before it goes on YouTube. That’s another model that some companies are interested in. YouTube Red is weird, though.
Divnich: That pay-per-minute model, whether it’s YouTube Red or Spotify or whatever—whenever I look at those deals, those numbers just don’t tend to work well for the creator. The same thing goes for YouTubers or creators on Twitch as it does for artists on Spotify. Most of the people I know who are generating revenue do it through their own business model, or things like donations or Twitch alerts.
Question: You talked about a shift from purely playing to playing and viewing. Can you give a sense of how big that trend is? What portion of the audience is doing this, do you think?
Mereu: It’s very hard to tell. That’s a Google question, more than anything.
GamesBeat: Twitch has more than 100 million monthly viewers and a few million broadcasters.
Mereu: A lot of these channels grow one percent a day or more. There are channels we work with, last year at this time they had 200,000 to 250,000 subscribers, and now they’re close to a million. Francisco I think has more than doubled since we started working with him. We could sign a new YouTuber for six months and in six months have a lot more subscribers to reach than we do right now, just because of the organic growth in these channels.
I’m very bullish on mobile on YouTube. If I wasn’t I wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing. There’s definitely a lot of growth right now.
Question: Are there people who are viewing, but never actually playing?
Albornoz: There are. They just go for entertainment.
Divnich: There’s a whole new culture around this. Watching people play games has become a thing.
Albornoz: South Park was making a joke about this, that the new generation just wants to watch people play.
GamesBeat: There’s also an audience of people who don’t want to play a really difficult game. They don’t want to fail 30 times in a row to get someplace. But if they can watch a video where some of that’s been edited out—you can get to the end of your story in the game, if you’re curious about it, without suffering all the pain that the player suffers to get there.
Divnich: It’s a difficult question to answer with a number, but definitely, a lot of viewers are watching people play as a form of entertainment or some form of education. They want to know how to get past a level, maybe. With Clash Royale that’s what drives a lot of engagement, being able to share your replays with the rest of the world.
Albornoz: One of the things I just started doing in my channel with some other YouTubers from Australia, we broadcast tournaments. We organize a tournament and come up with a pool, a couple of iTunes cards or whatever, and then we have our viewers playing. We just do the commentary. It’s almost like an esport. Clash Royale is part of the ESL now, which is something we never would have expected. We’re trying to work on this new model, being more like broadcasters and getting our audiences involved in the game. They seem to love it.
Divnich: That’s a next step in social, getting the audience to participate with you in the gaming experience. When Twitch did that Pokemon thing–
Above: Liberty room at the BreslinImage Credit: Francisco “TheGameHuntah” Albornoz
GamesBeat: Twitch Plays Pokemon.
Divnich: Right. That set off a lightbulb in my head. The audience is participating in controlling the outcome of this streaming video. I have some ideas in the works. When that happened, there was something there that’s going to be huge in the six months to a year. You’re going to see a game where the audience impacts the game being played.
GamesBeat: A good friend of mine, Seth Sivak, who’s the CEO of a mobile and PC developer called Proletariat—they’re doing exactly what Jesse is talking about. They integrated the Twitch API in a new game they showed at PAX this year called Streamline. It’s a game where—it’s almost like tag, in a sense, but the creators are the ones in the game playing. The YouTubers have an interface where they can change the level or throw power-ups in the level. The score the creators get is based on how many concurrent viewers they have. That’s definitely a direction where this is going.
Question: Can you tell us about the relative cost of user acquisition through your channels?
Divnich: Anywhere in a range of $6 to $9 for social influencers. It depends on the genre. It certainly depends on the audience.
Mereu: We see a range on Roostr of anywhere from $4 to $12, generally. Most games are somewhere in the middle of that range, close to what Jesse said. Obviously that doesn’t work so well for some of the super casual games out there. They may have a huge audience base, but they don’t monetize as effectively. We’re trying to create a solution that makes it effective for creators who want to work on games that have a lower CPI but a bigger user base. But we’re still working with that mental approach, where influencers have a certain CPI number they have to see to run a game.
Divnich: Do you know how many games have an LTV of $4? That’s not that much. It’s probably under 100, at least in the western market. When we’re talking about $5 to $9, what game has a $9 LTV per user?
Mereu: It depends. Have we run lower? Yeah, we’ve run lower, if we think it’s a game that’s really fun and that creators are going to enjoy. We’ll put it out for them and they don’t have to do it if they don’t want to do it, but we’ve put out games that have been a little lower. They’ve been adopted pretty quickly and been picked up. Mobile is very competitive right now, like Jesse said. Not everyone can afford to pay a CPI of $8 to $10.
Divnich: It comes back to the point I was talking about before. 20 percent of the installs we get from our Roostr campaigns are the ones that click the link. Another 80 percent just go out and download it some other way, and we can’t track them. They come through as organic traffic. So we may be spending $5 to $8 in CPIs, but because we can’t track what would be considered acquired users, that’s where it becomes difficult. It’s actually worth it, it’s just that on paper that’s what we’re paying.
Mereu: It’s a good thing for you. That’s with the assumption that 100 percent of these people actually download the game and 80 percent of the people who didn’t click on it go and find it somewhere else. But you are getting some free organic lift when you run campaigns on Roostr. If someone views your video and then goes back later to download it separately – maybe they watch the video on the desktop and then download on mobile – there will be some drop-off. But we focus on trying to improve what’s out there right now. In my opinion, what’s out there for performance metrics on other platforms is just not something I get excited about. We’re trying to give higher engagement numbers and get better understanding of metrics.
The other part of it is—this is something that we struggle to make people to understand, but it’s important. A social influencer video is not just a user acquisition source. It’s also a marketing tool. You get this video up on YouTube that, long after your campaign is over and you’re not paying anymore, is still going to be up there. It’s still going to drive users. You’ll still get attention. You’ll still continue to get residual downloads and visibility. There’s a long tail effect to it as well. We’re working on getting a better handle on that.
GamesBeat: What do you guys think will be happening in this space three years from now?
Divnich: You just don’t know. This market evolves so rapidly. Marketing evolves so rapidly. It’s difficult to predict what will happen in the future. In a metric-driven industry, especially on the marketing side, you have to take a leap of faith sometimes. If you’re smart enough and lucky enough to find something that’s coming up on the rise—people who got into working with social influencers early, that was a huge payoff. You caught the tide while it was rising. But three years from now, from a marketing perspective or even a technology perspective, that’s very difficult.
If you can stomach the risk and you see new markets opening up, try to get in there. If not, try to be a fast followers.
Mereu: Three years is an eternity in mobile. But we’ll continue to see a very steady rise for user-generated content, whether it’s YouTube or Twitch or whoever’s going to be hosting it. We’ll see a lot more engagement in that and a lot more value placed on that, versus what we grew up with on television. As far as mobile goes, you’ll see a lot of consolidation, companies buying other companies. Companies that used to put out four games a year are doing one game every two years now, with continued support for that one game. Mobile is very competitive. It’ll continue to go that way.
Albornoz: We’ve had examples of games like Vainglory or Clash Royale that are developing a following through competition at a professional level, with commentators and spectators. Companies have to realize that this influencer thing is crucial. We don’t know how much it’s going to improve, but even between a couple of months ago and now, there’s been a big change. Influencers and agencies working together to help games get promoted, that’s only going to get better.
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How mobile studios can use game influencers to overcome overcrowded app stores
How mobile studios can use game influencers to overcome overcrowded app stores