Targets and thinking like a casual mobile gamer

I have a number of targets for this year with Space Monster Games but crucially I have one goal that stands out above all others; grow traffic to Playstar.

Playstar logo

The current visitor count stands at around 250,000 a month. I’m happy with that but I want to double it by January 1st 2015. What’s more I want to double it organically. i.e. not spend money promoting the site.

I noted a few points down relating to my targets that I thought might be worth sharing here.

Get a better spread of traffic sources

Just now I take regular traffic from a few sites. Referral figures run at anywhere between 40% and 60% daily. I have always assumed that the remainder have the arcade bookmarked but I suppose that Google’s Analytics script simply doesn’t have enough information to determine a source. This could be for a number of reasons.
I’ve often wondered, for example, what the effect of launching the site from within an embedded browser inside an app might return. I’m guessing that it would be returned as direct or not set since there’s no referring URL.
Either way it won’t do any harm to promote the arcade organically and be visible on a broader range and number of related sites.
Which leads me nicely on to…

Improved Page Rank

Playstar is a new site. It’s been actively maintained for less than 6 months. In that time I’ve used all the expected methods of communicating its existence via social media including Facebook and Twitter. But predictably its ranking within Google is low. Around 1/10.

By the end of 2014 I’d like to see that up at around 4/10.

How will I do that? This is of course the million dollar question. How on earth do you increase your Google Page Ranking for a mobile web gaming site?

Well I’ve pondered this question over and over and ultimately I arrive right back at the beginning. There is no magic solution specific to promoting a mobile web gaming site. It is after all just a web site. So to succeed I simply promote it as I would any other web site.

Demographics

Where and how I promote it warrants a little more thought.
I sometimes try and visualise my audience. Right down to the person.

  • What do they look like?
  • Where do they live?
  • What is their employment / education status?
  • How old are they?
  • What budget do they have?
  • What are their interests?

In an attempt to flesh this out a bit I’ve attempted to become my target audience!

What does a mobile gamer (never mind the web bit for now) do to find games to play?
Well this really does depend upon an array of things (including but not at all limited to):

  • Handset used
  • Budget
  • Internet connection / reliability
  • Demographic

The analytics collected from Playstar thus far inform me that the majority (60%) of visitors are male and aged somewhere between 16 and 36.
They are also casual / hardcore gamers, savvy parents, photography enthusiasts and petrol heads!
OK, so good luck targetting that audience with a single strategy. Google’s assumptions based algorithms for determining this data are simply not reliable enough.

To get inside the head of a typical mobile gamer it’s probably more reliable to collect a few handsets and go looking for games. Free games. The word FREE is key here.

Freemium

Annoyingly In App Purchasing (the freemium model) has taken off in a big way. This essentially renders games free at the point of download and in many cases the gamer gets a satisfactory experience without spending any cash. This of course means that a gamer looking for a free game can simply head to an app store and sniff out a freemium game. Their first port of call being the app store means that they are potentially less inclined to use a search engine to find a free game.

Competing with the countless millions of app store games is not for me. Besides I want to crush the app stores and drive everyone toward browser gaming!

But am I missing a trick here? Why not use the app stores? Why not submit my games to the app store as a means of promoting the arcade. The “footfall” through the app stores is huge. Even 0.01% of daily app store traffic at least seeing a screenshot of my games might warrant further investigation.
I could offer the games for free such they they stand a better chance of download and then splash my branding all over them in the hope that the gamer will take the next step and go visit the arcade.

Why visit the arcade when they can just launch the app I hear you ask?
It’s a good point but the arcade is more than just a bunch of games. Its feature set is growing and is largely based around high scores and achievements. This functionality wouldn’t extend to the app store. It would be important to stress that point.

As positive as this sounds it still seems like fishing with a crude wooden stick and a piece of string in a lake the size of Australia.

I’m brought back to search engines; where the same analogy could of course be applied. I just feel there is a little more control with the search engines.

Search Engine Optimisation

Encouragingly there is obviously a hunger for free games.

Surely these gamers are willing to play anything. And that must include mobile web games.
Naturally therefore there must be a significant volume of gamers using Google to search for “free mobile games” or “free online games”. Not necessarily “free mobile web games” but that will change with time.
The challenge here is in making my “free mobile web game” site stand up alongside the “free mobile game” options returned in Google.

SEO best practices essentially point to a couple of strategies:

  • Keep talking about your site (via all means)
  • Share your site with as many people as you can

It’s certainly not going to do any harm and to this end I have a blog and social media accounts. I’m less inclined to litter forums and blog comments with drivel purely to get links as I think it devalues the brand. But is this the right approach?

If I were a gamer looking for free games what would drive me toward a mobile web gaming site? Who might I be?

  • A disillusioned iOS gamer used to Flash gaming in my PC’s browser?
  • The frustrated owner of a cheap handset with an assumption that nothing will run because it’s so terrible?
  • A novice who simply taps “free games” in to the Google box that sits on the home screen of Android devices?

This kind of thing intrigues me. To properly reach out to a potential mobile web gaming audience I need to think and behave like a mobile gamer.

Education

There is of course another approach.
Rather than waiting for the world to catch up with the notion of mobile web gaming, tell them about it.
Stand out from the crowd as somebody who is an authority on mobile web gaming. Not just a gaming portal but an innovator. A designer, developer and arcade owner.
There’s some merit in this but what would concern me is that it places a direct relationship between the developer and the arcade; the technology and the fun.

I would really want the arcade to stand out as a pure means of escape without linking it directly to the nuts and bolts that go in to its production. As a boy playing Space Invaders et al I couldn’t have cared less about who designed the games and how they made it in to the arcade.
But in this age of maximising web exposure it’s important to play to your strengths. This blog is as much of a weapon in that sense as the arcade and its games.

Conclusion

Drawing conclusions from all of this is tough but one thing has emerged that I will take on board.
I need to be the gamer. I need to actually become the audience.
To this end I need to ditch using an iPhone 5s as my daily phone and walk around with a Samsung Galaxy model for a week or so. Samsung devices are by far the most popular handsets visiting the arcade.
I’d probably pick a low to mid-range Galaxy phone running a minimum of Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0). An SII perhaps.
I’ll treat it as my main phone and source of all mobile gaming. I’ll set my budget to zero and at every point I want to play a game of some kind I’ll shun the iOS devices in favour of the Samsung.
It will be hugely frustrating initially I’m sure but hopefully will yield some interesting results.

All comments, suggestions and opinions welcomed.

Analysing the Playstar Arcade – Gingerbread (Android v2.3.6) visits

As the month draws to a close I’m enjoying poring over the visitor statistics collected through my Playstar arcade courtesy of Google’s Analytics.

The figures are interesting in terms of growth but a little depressing when I see that under closer inspection there’s a significant percentage of traffic who don’t get the full experience.

Take a look at these charts.

November 2013 - 171,462 visits

November 2013 – 171,462 visits

This chart stands out for the high percentage of visits from devices loaded with the Android Gingerbread OS version 2.3.6. Gingerbread, the 2.3 range OS from Google, is notoriously clunky for HTML5 game execution. It’s not without its functional issues and is typically the OS that comes bundled with popular lower spec models such as the Samsung Galaxy Y or Galaxy Ace.

28.6% of 171k visits is a lot. Too much. It pains me that so many people would come to the arcade and not get the experience that I want to deliver.

99% of my traffic is mobile.

The 21.1% listed as other is a mix of Android, iOS and Firefox. iPad emerges as a popular device.

December 2013 - 235,758 visits

December 2013 – 235,758 visits

December is a month that traditionally skews the figures since it contains the Christmas holiday season. I have over the last few years experienced a marked spike in traffic to my games in the two weeks that typically constitute the Christmas break. This Christmas was no different.

Although the figure of 23.6% is a reduction on the previous month for Gingerbread users, it’s still high.

As mentioned in a previous post iPad increases in strength but still falls under the category of other.

January 2014 - 255,601 visits

January 2014 – 255,601 visits

So on to this month. Obviously I’m posting this with a full day’s worth of data to collect. I imagine the total # of visits will be closer to 262,000 based on the pattern over the last 30 days.

Gingerbread’s presence is still a little ominous although less so than it might have been. 22.2% of total visits is still a reduction but a small one. Moore’s law has to kick in at some point and the public will surely all be holding a minimum of Galaxy S3 in their hands soon!

It’s thrilling to be at a quarter of a million visits per month. It’s also thrilling to see so many high end devices visiting the arcade. The purist in me really does care for the owners of those low end handsets but at some point I know I have to let go.
I’m not such a purist that I’ll invest countless hours of time and money ensuring that my games work perfectly across the board. I am after all always keen to continue producing fast paced, action packed arcade games.

 

 

Some Friday data from the Playstar arcade

Over the last six months I’ve paid a lot of attention to the visitors statistics generated by my HTML5 game portal. Particularly interesting are the figures for iPad.

The rise in popularity of the iPad as a mobile web gaming device is wonderful news. iPad is an HTML5 game developer’s dream in many respects. Super fast performance and a beautiful display. I have in the past had issues with the way that my spritesheets were rendered on iPad. Specifically pixels from neighbouring frames glitching intermittently in the animation loop. The same code on other iOS devices didn’t present the same anomaly. On later models this is fixed.

iPad is not the leading device to visit the arcade. That honour (of the identifiable devices in Google Analytics) goes to Samsung’s Galaxy Y handset. By contrast a fairly terrible device to develop for.

Here are the figures for iPad traffic.

Month (2013) % of portal traffic # iPad visits
July 1.82% 4,031
August 1.8% 4,492
September 4.1% 9,062
October 4.3% 11,985
November 7.56% 25,539
December 11.48% 48,885

Christmas certainly helps. I imagine that iPads have been a popular gift globally. As you can see the holiday season also presents a significant increase in traffic.

Using Google Trends to gauge the popularity of mobile gaming related search terms

Google offers a pretty neat trends service that attempts to illustrate the popularity of search phrases over a given period. I’ve been having a little play.

Here’s a few quick charts using some reasonably obvious mobile gaming related search phrases illustrated over the past 12 months. The use of the word Free is my own assumption that the world at large wants everything for nothing!

1. Free Mobile Games, Free Online Games, Free Arcade Games, Free Online Arcade Games

Google Trends

I removed the word “Free”:

2. Mobile Games, Online Games, Arcade Games, Online Arcade Games

Google Trends chart

Hardly a dramatic change.

3. Mobile Games, Online Games, Arcade Games, Online Arcade Games, Free Games (link)

google trends chart

Just for a bit of fun I added the straight forward search phrase “free games” in to the mix. A popular search phrase. No real surprises there.
Hardly scientific but an interesting way to spend a coffee break.

The relationship between visits, ad impressions and clicks

If you’re serious about monetising your mobile web games then you may well have considered placing adverts within them. You may well have also dismissed the idea as pointless based on previous failed attempts at raising any money this way.
Let me try and give you some encouragement to pursue it. I’ll share one or two of my own experiences whilst I try and decipher the potentially useful relationships between site visits and ad impressions. In a future related post I’ll also explore how you might expose your games to your audience for maximum effect.

Google AdSense

I’ve been using Google’s AdSense for a number of years and in recent months have seen a rise in revenues generated simply because I’ve paid more attention to it. Understanding where your traffic is coming from and how they use your site is very useful when considering how to adapt your strategies.

Back when I started to implement adverts on my web pages I had minimal traffic and it took two years to reach the threshold to receive a payment from Google.
Thanks to the rising popularity and accessibility of HTML5 games I am now going past that threshold in just a few hours every day.

I’ll dive straight in and take a look at the broadest groups that we would consider when discussing web advertising: visitors, adverts and clicks. More adverts = greater probability of clicks = potentially greater revenue; this makes sense. But one thing that I’m always curious about is how raw visitor volumes translates in to revenue. What are the steps and how can I measure it. What’s more once I’ve found a means to measure it how can I improve it?

Consider this workflow:-

VISITORS > ADVERTS DISPLAYED (IMPRESSIONS) > CLICKS > REVENUE

Essentially what I’m showing you here is a rather obvious and direct relationship between each step and the step that precedes it. Your visitors (i.e. each person to arrive on your web page) are clearly your starting point.
If I were to precede this step I may well consider Search Engines and other sources of traffic but for now I’m really only interested in what happens once we have our interested visitor.

CTR, CPC and IPV

There are some simple mathematics that can be applied to each step to give us some figures to play with and measure performance. The classic example is the relationship between steps 2 and 3; ADVERTS DISPLAYED > CLICKS. This is your Click Through Rate or CTR.

Web gurus the planet over will give you different answers to the optimum CTR. It really depends upon your site, its content and your audience.

The relationship between steps 3 and 4; CLICKS > REVENUE gives us the Cost Per Click or CPC. Here we see an average of just how much each click on an advert is worth.

Let’s apply some figures.

ADVERTS DISPLAYED = 1,500
CLICKS = 150
CTR = (150 / 1500) * 100 = 10%

A 10% CTR looks pretty healthy. One in ten of your visitors is clicking a link and therefore earning you cash. In reality this is probably (at least in terms of averages) a very high CTR. But regardless it gives you a starting point. Something to monitor, measure and maintain.

Let’s try some more figures.

CLICKS = 150
REVENUE = £22.50
CPC = £22.50 / 150 = £0.15

So each click is worth on average 15p to you. The mechanics behind all of this is of course in the guts of Google’s ad handling and the relationships that its advertisers create with its publishers in terms of bidding to have their adverts displayed. There are ways that you can improve your CPC but that is not for now.

I want to explore the relationship between steps 1 and 2. I’m no advertising guru so I’m unaware of an acronym to cover it. I’ll come to that in a moment.

On the face of it the relationship seems fairly obvious. If a visitor comes to your web page and you have 2 adverts within that page then you’ll register 1 visit and 2 adverts displayed. In advertising parlance these are commonly referred to as VISITS and IMPRESSIONS. So from now on I will do the same and I’ll call this relationship Impressions Per Visitor or IPV – the number of adverts display per visitor to my site.

It seems fairly logical that every time an advert is displayed it registers an impression. In Google Analytics I see roughly 1.7 times as many impressions as I do visits.
This may well be as a result of each game presenting an advert twice. Once on the title screen and once when the game is finished. i.e. at GAME OVER stage. I never display adverts during the actual game time.

But this in itself raises a question. Is the impression registered by virtue of the fact that the HTML element containing the advert is displayed again or as a result of a call to the Google servers to request the advert. The first scenario is really just a bit of CSS to render the element’s .display property as “block” and it seems ludicrous that this should register an impression. For all intents and purposes the advert was already there. Just not displayed.

If, as seems most likely, the only time an impression is registered is when the initial call is made to Google for the advert’s content then it seems to make sense that my games are being played on average 1.7 times per visitor. I only present the adverts in the games, not around the rest of the site.

Monitoring and using the numbers

An IPV of 1.7 gives me a starting point. But is it of any use?

What benefit could there possibly be in this figure. I know that raising my traffic volumes will have a direct impact upon my revenue by virtue of the fact that it will also raise my advertising impressions. Is there any point in encouraging this figure of 1.7 to rise?

Another thing to consider is that after each visitor has had 1.7 “goes” on my games they’re clicking a link. This effectively spells the end of their engagement with my site. They are now off to the advertisers web page and probably won’t be coming back. At least this is what I have to assume.

If I spend some effort in trying to encourage visitors to play on average 2 or 3 games and therefore raise my IPV to around 2.5 or 3 will it be of any benefit or am I simply delaying something that will most likely happen anyway? i.e. it won’t affect my overall click count.

To try and shed some light on it I trawled my Analytics data for the past few months. Here’s some figures.

August IPV = 1.53
September IPV = 1.53
October IPV = 1.59
November IPV = 1.72
December IPV (so far) = 1.83

What I can say is that I made a concerted effort to increase exposure to my games from within the PlayStar Arcade throughout October and November. I did this in a number of ways but mainly with some banner advertising to advertise my own portal. Some were placed in the games and some at the head of the site.

My IPV has risen. Prior to August the IPV was fairly static at around 1.5

Show me the money!

So crucially how does this translate in to revenue?

I’m not keen on divulging precise figures so here is a percentage shift through each month.

September saw a 2.2% rise on the revenue generated in August.
October (when I started to make significant changes to the portal in terms of promotion) saw a 37.72% rise on September’s revenue.
November a 26.48% rise on October’s revenue.
And finally December is I believe on target for a 32.36% rise on November.

So if you were to plot these on a chart you would see a dip but don’t forget this is a dip in rising figures. Although 26.48% isn’t greater than the 37.72% from the previous month it’s still a significant rise in the amount of money being generated.

A conclusion?

So there’s nothing entirely scientific in this just yet but a conclusion that I’m happy to draw is that by encouraging gamers to stay within the arcade (a good practice in any case) I am exposing them to a greater variety of advertising. This in turn appears to be converting more gamers in to “clickers”.

I naturally have a bitter sweet attitude toward this. My motivation for maintaining this arcade is not financial. I just love making games and seeing people play them. I don’t necessarily want to see every ounce of traffic disappearing to another web site because it’s a better option than playing my games. Sure any revenue generated is useful in maintaining my infrastructure but I won’t ever lose sight of the fact that what I’m here for is to make fun games.

I’ll go in to some detail shortly on the structure of the portal and how I’ve approached the challenge of retaining visitors and turning them in to loyal gamers.

HTML5 game portal – monitoring the first month’s statistics

As I strive to build my own HTML5 game portal I am becoming increasingly conscious of the importance of direct traffic.

Over recent years as my games have found their way to different portals and the games on my own web site have been called up from countless sites, I’ve built up a pretty useful link network. I figured it was about time I properly structured each of these pages with analytics code so that I could measure performance and try to figure out what was working and what wasn’t.

I use Google’s Analytics.

Starting on November 8th this year I set up every page (across a number of my domains) where I have a game to include the short JavaScript snippet that Google uses to record its activity.
Since a number of these pages have AdSense advertising contained within them I also linked the Analytics property to AdSense. Some further information on how to link AdSense and Analytics.

I quickly identified that much of my traffic was referred from an external source.

What does this mean?

Simply put it means that the analytics code has recorded that when the page was loaded (and the script executed) it was as a result of a link or referral from a previous page.

A link is obviously a physical click on an hyperlink and a referral may well be as a result of a redirect which can be achieved in a number of ways. Either way the visitor arrived at my site from an external source.

This is good and healthy and all that but I’d rather people came direct to my site as a result of them liking what they’ve seen and using a bookmark.
So I started to scratch my head and consider how I might encourage direct traffic.

I put my gamer’s hat on and played a game on the portal. I went through the game experience all the way to the end (game over) and analysed the experience. It felt pretty flat. The game was enjoyable enough but my only option at the end was to “have another go” or tap a back button to return to the external source.

So I created a banner to advertise my portal and instead of simply presenting a “Game Over” label I also presented the graphic. A clearly marked “X” in the top right corner indicated that you could skip the advert whilst clicking anywhere else on it took you to my portal’s homepage.

My analytics code was telling me that most links were coming in to Galactians 2. So I placed the banner at the end of that game. I re-uploaded the game and allowed 24 hours to collect some data.

The results were surprising.

Within 24 hours my portal’s homepage had gone from single figure hits to triple figures.
Specifically 904 unique hits overnight.

Something was working so I replicated the banner advertising my portal in the second most popular game, Spy Chase.
The unique hits started to rise again. I added the banner to a third game, Danger Ranger.

Another quick look at the user behaviour and I could see that whilst the number of visitors to the games was increasing the number of first time visits was falling. On 8th November 81.94% of visitors were coming for the first time.

Finally the number of referrals on the 8th November stood at 6,353. The total number of visitors for the day was 7,261. So referrals on this day accounted for around 87.5% of all traffic.

My next exercise was to redirect internally the traffic that was scattered around my web pages. This fragmentation of games had always driven me mad so I took the opportunity to redirect everything to my portal. I made sure that if the user was going to Galactians 2 they would end up at the portal’s Galactians 2 page. I didn’t want to break the experience up by presenting another click.

By around the 15th of November I was happy that all games were now pointing to the portal. This was excellent as it meant I was finally maintaining a single codebase.

So one month later what kind of numbers am I looking at?

Well the number of unique hits to my home page on the 11th December was 4,400. A rise of 3,496.
The percentage of first time visitors to the site has dropped to 61.91%. Presumably the 20% shift accounts for repeat visitors.
On the 8th December the percentage of referred traffic stood at 44.63%.

My assumption that the decrease in referred traffic amounted to an increase in direct traffic needed to be tested. It seemed too good to be true. Had I skewed the figures by placing so many redirects on the site?

Whereas previously a visitor was coming from Domain A to Domain B where Domain B was the only place I had analytics code installed, they were now potentially coming from Domain  A to Domain B (page 1) to Domain B (page 2). Both pages in Domain B had analytics script embedded.

Would the final resting place (page 2) within Domain B register the event as direct / (none) traffic for Domain B?
Or would it, as I hoped, register it as a referral by virtue of the fact that the original source was Domain A. i.e. external.

I found Google’s help pages to be a pretty useful starting point.

Causes for self-referrals as a traffic source

On that page you can download a custom report created by Google to throw at one of your views within Analytics. I downloaded the report and ran it and it came back with no issues.
Digging a little further I installed the Chrome extension Tag Assistant. With this installed you can quickly analyse each page within your portal to ensure that you don’t have duplicate tracking code installed. I’m not sure of the impact here but it seems like good practice not to do it.

I’m happy that the figures that I’m seeing for traffic and referrals are accurate. This is rather thrilling as it means that the educated changes that I am making seem to be working.

Update: after a little digging around the web I found some interesting reading on behaviour related to mobile phones and searches via Google since iOS6. I’m not sure how much this relates to my situation. Probably not a great deal. But it’s worth a read none the less.

And the difference in AdSense revenue generated over the first month as a result of these changes?

A rise of 230% on the previous month.

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