Mobile game developers looking to make their games permanent fixtures in players' lives need to design things that people want and can engage with in the time they have available, according to DeNA West CEO Clive Downie.
Speaking at Casual Connect in San Francisco today, Downie said mobile devices are now ubiquitous and almost anyone can access games on their phones. He said that while this may seem like a boon for game developers, it has actually created a transitory environment that makes it harder for developers to make games that players care about and come back to.
During his talk, Downie outlined DeNA's approach to making games that stick with players, chief among which is to design things that people want that they can enjoy in the time they have.
"1,440. We fixate on this number. This is a supremely powerful number for all creators of mobile content."
"It starts in a place where you think it may not start," Downie said. "It starts with a number. 1,440. We fixate on this number. This is a supremely powerful number for all creators of mobile content. 1,440 minutes is the number of minutes in a day that everyone in the world has — regardless of who they are, regardless of where they're from, regardless of how much money they have or their education.
"It's a beautiful common denominator when you think about creating content."
Within these 1,440 minutes, Downie explained that after we subtract the time a person spends sleeping and working, we're left with the remaining time in which they spend doing other things — the pockets of time spent travelling or waiting in queues or sitting around at home. The challenge for the mobile game developer, he said, is to design games that people want to play that they can play in those pockets of time — to engage them for as many of those minutes as possible.
In addition to this, Downie stressed the importance of research and quality. In order to survive in a transitory market, Downie said developers should "try lots, fail and move on" so as to remove as many unknowns as possible and build a knowledge base about a game's audience, what appeals to them and how they play. Developers also need to build a network or leverage the network of a partner, innovate and focus on their games as a live service. "Live service excellence is non-negotiable," he said.
He gave an example of DeNA's approach to hosting live events within its games, which helps the studio consistently increase its player engagement. In the mobile game Transformers Legends, live events are hosted every few weeks that change the rhythm of the game.
"They make the game feel legitimately different," Downie said. "The critical aspect is it's not just an aesthetic layer, it's an interactive layer." The game may have an event dedicated to a specific Transformer, giving players a chance to earn rare cards or bonus points, or it may theme a week around a certain type of Transformer, which gives owners of specific cards special perks. These events, which make the game feel like it's actually alive and responding to the player, have seen players engage with the game at an average of 70 minutes per day, up from DeNA's cumulative average of 55 minutes across it's portfolio of games.
"What we found with Transformers Legends was engagement matches retention," Downie said. "These events stopped it from being transitory and it became a permanent fixture in a player's day."