At Highwinds we’ve had a lot of fun and interesting conversations over the years with a wide range of game developers and gaming publishers. It’s always exciting to watch a small company launch their first game and see them grow, and it’s a thrill to watch an established company launch a new project and continue their business down new paths. Every project and team is different, with their own goals and requirements, but being a partner in their business is always an engaging and interesting experience.
While every project is unique, for gaming (and really, any type of software download), the key statistic when it comes to the success of your delivery is completion ratio. Completion ratio, defined by the number of downloads completed divided by the number of downloads requested (started), is the foundation on which the rest of the monetization stack is built. Converting customers into paying customers, driving ad revenue, selling DLC (downloadable content) and upselling the rest of your library is all dependent on getting that customer installed and then engaged with your application. That engagement cannot take place, though, without the software first being delivered to your customers. Even when participating in retail distribution, further interaction and engagement with those customers past the time you strike that master gold disc is impossible without having a plan and a route to get them access to any of your future content or projects.
In the realm of digital distribution, regardless of whether it is free-to-play, subscription, DLC or advertising-based, the business goal is all about conversions. The goal is to get as many users as possible to convert into paying customers. That metric is certainly the one to be used in all business calculations, but in order to get to that conversion number, you first have to achieve a few other metrics, namely a visit (or hit), a sign-up or registration and then a completed download. The visits and registrations are primarily a function of marketing and exposure, but the completed download is something that can be positively impacted with engineering involvement.
Marketing and business folks will often present their case in terms of either a percentage of visits converting, or a percentage of already installed users that convert, but really, the completion ratio is the number that is determining the size of that base. Let’s look at an example:
My game, “ZombieKittenville”, generates 100,000 unique hits each month to my download and marketing page. That generates 10,000 downloads, but of those, only 50% finish the download and installation. Once installed, though, 100 of those 5,000 installations will convert on average $20 per month. This will generate $2,000 with a 2% conversion ratio based on installations.
The next month I changed ZombieKittenville’s distribution and installation process with the express intent of increasing my completion ratio. All of the base numbers and conversion ratios stay the same. This time, though, I have 100,000 hits generating 10,000 downloads, but with 60% finishing the download and installation. With the exact same monetization schemes in place, and the same conversion ratios, I’m seeing a huge jump since I’ve now got a pool of 6,000 successful installs and converting 2% of them at an average of $20. I’m now generating $2,400, a 20% increase in revenue from a 10% increase in completion ratio.
Clearly then, putting some effort and planning into how you make that initial engagement with your players and customers-to-be can pay huge dividends, and here at Highwinds we are seeing that become a much larger focus as companies and digital distribution models mature. Below is an example of a real world game’s download analytics, showing completion ratios and average file size, from “Company A”:
Notice the wild variations in the numbers, which is generally an indication of a lot of abandoned downloads and resumptions. There’s also no consistency to the data, which most likely leads to wildly varying months in terms of conversions and eventually revenue. File sizes for this game are above 1 GB, with what appear to be some massive patches that are multiple times that size that players are being forced to download as well.
Now compare that another real world game in the same genre, from “Company B”:
Company B has shrunk the individual downloads down to 10 MB (an enormous difference in terms of network performance), and they are converting almost every single one of them. The game itself is roughly the same size as Company A’s, so there is still going to be abandonment as the complete game is downloaded, but Company B can now track that exact point very easily, and overall experience for the customer is going to be night and day in comparison. There are no browser-based resumptions, no corruptions of the entire distribution (replacing a bad download now takes seconds, not hours), and any interruption in service, or issues with the build, can be immediately and easily tracked. The path for Company B to monetize has now been paved and turned into a highway.
The difference between these games is very easily explained, though. Company B has learned from examples such as Company A, and their newer game had the benefit of engineering and design effort being integrated into maximizing their completion ratios and streamlining their distribution. Company A’s game is, in their defense, much older and without the hindsight that Company B now has, but there are the things they can do to maximize their next round of games, including the following five procedures:
Five Steps to See Improved Stats Today
1. Make plans for utilizing high-availability, high-capacity infrastructure
Understand where your customers are, and be sure you have the distribution channels and infrastructure in place to effectively handle them. This is applicable to not just the game download, but also game servers, and even the initial marketing and promotional material.
2. Maximize the throughput to the player
You would rather have the player in and playing the game than having them staring at a download, so make sure you have the fastest solution you can in place.
3. Use an installer/patcher with the ability to resume and patch delta’s
Having a customizable installer that can promote your brand while managing the download and patching process can be invaluable. While your players are paying attention to your branded installer, in the background you are managing the file distribution, resuming and pausing if necessary, and installing only the files that absolutely have to be completed in order to run the software. You decrease abandonment, increase engagement and greatly improve your ability to track and manage meaningful installation analytics.
4. Segment your downloads into manageable chunks
Your game may be 26 GB fully installed, but the overall download and install will be faster if that is split into 8-10MB requests. This more efficiently uses the packets being transferred and is far less vulnerable to congestion and traffic shaping on the ISP level. It also helps you avoid things like corrupted downloads for files that take hours to complete if your customer has to try again.
5. Engage the customer during the installation and download
Use the chance to upsell your players or get them engaged with account and character creation. Keep your company and your brand front and center during the experience while providing a professional veneer that builds the excitement and desire to complete the download and install.
By Barry Whitley, Director of Solutions Architecture