User Acquisition, Mobile Marketing, & Sustainable Games

Farmville taught us to simply seek out people with a mouse, not a heart.

I just received How to do User Acquisition the Right Way in my inbox this morning.  After reading it I have to say: 

I totally agree.  

But the problem goes deeper.  Like a 1980's oil company, the mobile games industry is running in unsustainable ways.

The biggest trouble I see, and the reason I turned away from mobile, is that the majority of customers aren’t customers.  They really are just users.

How much is it worth to put your blood sweat and tears artistry in front of her right now?

How much is it worth to put your blood sweat and tears artistry in front of her right now?

They don’t care about who makes the game, what it is about, where it came from.  All they want is some diversion for a few minutes as they wait or chill.  They want something that is the equivalent of a facebook feed, with about the same level of interactivity.

The masses are sheep that can only be herded, not conversed, wooed, or reasoned with.  They are the people at the end of WALL-E stuck in their chair clicking on what is shiny only because... why get up.

I don’t think it is possible to reach or influence these people with anything other than broad advertising.


The game Mobile Strike is a great example (with a name so forgettable I had to google it.  Clearly I wasn’t the first because the tooltip automatically said “Arnold Schwarzenegger game?”).  The only people that will play that game are the ones who can only be reached by a celebrity endorsement like that.  No surprise the adage holds true “you get what you pay for”: someone who is so lethargic and disinterested in games that it takes Arnold to cause them to click and install.  Anything less, and they won’t!  That is the worst user you could ever want.  That isn’t just scraping the bottom of the barrel, that is the cruft on the cruft of the barrel.  Sure 1 in 10,000 may pay you some $$$ but I think this next illustration will show how ludicrous this is:

Imagine being a singer/songwriter doing a free concert in a park.  10,000 people attend and only 1 of them enjoy it and buy the album.  9,999 walk away not liking what they saw/experienced.  It is lunacy for a musician to think this is a viable strategy for success.  It’s also soul suckingly depressing for the artist(s). 

Record studios may be evil, but they don’t subject their artists to what the game companies do!

Something is deeply wrong.  Somehow Farmville taught us to seek out people simply with a mouse, not a heart. 

Somehow we allowed wrong minded people to be in charge and then they led the charge,  right off a non-sustainable cliff.

In 1995 Command & Conquer came out.  When a player finished with it they wanted to play more RTSes, like Warcraft II which came out the same year.  And Warcraft players wanted to play C&C.  This is sustainable growth where everyone wins.

But after someone has played Game of War, Mobile Strike, etc. they don’t want more they want out.

If they spent $$$ they will never pay to play again.  Everyone loses.

I remember when I got my iPhone 4 in 2010.  The App Store was a burgeoning hive of creativity and self expression.  It was the Vienna of Classicism!  I was running in temples, canabalting through windows, landing planes, matching to escape prison at 10,000,000 points, and playing a game dev studio!  A friend of mine had a game that beat Angry Birds for 2 days in the US store charts.

Now?  The App Store is a barren wasteland of copycat F2P “empire building” games.  It’s the gaming equivalent of Chernobyl.  I don’t bother to visit anymore, it’s just too depressing to see the rusted out structures of what it once was.