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CEO Solon Bucholtz’ First Game Developers Conference

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GDC 2019 was my first time attending the world’s largest Game Developer Conference, and it was definitely worth the trip.

I’ve been running a mobile games studio for 4 years and every time I attend an industry event I return to the studio more excited than ever with new knowledge that can directly benefit our growth. This year’s key takeaways focus on recruitment, design, UA, and building face to face relationships with our partners in the industry.

Design is a key focus for our studio as we begin development of our second title.

Understanding what features should be prioritized for launch, both from a business standpoint, but also from a player standpoint, is crucial for us. Validating designs and product performance are key to data driven decision making. Design was a popular topic at the Game Developers Conference, with conference tracks speaking to key areas of the design process and player experience. I was particularly taken by Ben Webley’s talk from FB on emotional design and buyer behaviour.

From his talk, I learned that 61% of players regret their in-app purchase. And that 38% of players say they can’t afford to spend on IAP – yet the most common entry point in F2P is 99c, and those same players are happy to spend $3 on a coffee.

Webley emphasized that the reason for this dissonance is because these players see the value in their $3 coffee, but not their 99c game purchase. So we, as developers, need to ensure we provide emotional value through better communicating how IAPs enhance their player experience.

I was also amazed at the tools on offer by new start-ups that supplement design in mobile game development. One company offers a tool that compares and analyzes feature-specific performance in competitive products. While another company uses player analysis to determine what features would perform best based on predictive behaviour.

UA and marketing are the lifeblood of the business – second only to having a great product.

This part of the business is always evolving, as what works today won’t always work tomorrow. Our key takeaway and actionable items from GDC came from talking with other studio heads and marketing teams. In short, know your player data and have a focus on analytics and LTV predictive modelling. The more sure you are about player value over time factoring in k factor, and alt revenue the more confident you can be about your UA spend.

It’s not all about CPI – it’s really about blended ROAS and reevaluating rapidly to make quick decisions as you scale and as product and marketing campaigns change. The quicker you can validate your marketing through predictive LTV the quicker you can scale or kill campaigns.

As such we are now working on building a small data team consisting of a data engineer/scientist and also developing our own predictive LTV models based on historical behaviour. As the industry gets more mature I expect marketing to be one of the most competitive aspects of business success. We are also focusing on a long term plan for proper data warehousing and better analytics. As a result I met with companies who offer a strong analytics platform and clean integration with the tools required to make these decisions moving forward.

Recruitment in British Columbia is difficult – there’s a lot of talent – but even more demand.

We’ve often found ourselves relying on recruiters (and they are costly) to build our team. Although organic recruitment gets easier as we mature, we still find ourselves short on key resources. As I write, we’re in the midst of looking for software engineers, designers, and data scientists. (If you’re interested in applying, check out our careers page here!) At GDC I spoke with other BC studio heads and Canadian government officials to better understand the landscape, as well as where great talent can be sourced. As a result, we are now looking at other provinces, such as Ontario, and renowned schools across Canada to set up co-op programs that will allow us to grow great talent for the long term.

Fostering genuine relationships with tech partners is still key.

Being based in Vancouver, the majority of our partners are in San Francisco and we often spend countless hours chatting by email or on slack but this industry doesn’t always provide opportunities to put a face to a name. To me, this is still really important and facilitates discussions that wouldn’t happen unless the conversations are organic. Sometimes it’s just nice to talk about life and the war stories of being in mobile games.

Lastly and more personally, I never really believed I would be at this event and supported by such amazing people. When we set out to start LBC it was a passion project. Yes, it was a sound business plan and we believed we would succeed, but actually executing that plan is hard and seeing success is still humbling. So when I finally attended GDC this year, it was an amazing experience to be invited to the offices of top mobile brands, ad networks and service providers I have looked up to for years.

In summary, GDC 2019 was a win. I will be sure to attend again in the future and look forward to turning these learnings into actionable items for our studio’s growth. 

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