San Francisco feels like an appropriate setting for this event given its history with the gold rush. Maybe the main actors at Casual Connect aren’t as rugged as the forty-niners* that rolled through a century and a half ago but they certainly have no less ambition nor certitude that they too will strike the mother load.
Indie Prize participants doing their best to stand out at Casual Connect San Francisco 2014.
Casual Connect is all about gaming, bringing everyone together from the fledgling indie developers competing for the Indie Prize Award to the major players like Big Fish, Unity and InMobi. I’m here with MobileAppTracking and – stretching my gold rush metaphor perhaps a tad too far – we are the guys selling the shovels.
Not to say that the “casual” part of Casual Connect is a misnomer – there is no shortage of jeans and t-shirts and no one seems shy about letting loose at an industry party or two (I’d personally like to thank Fyber and AppLift for showing me a good time, by the way). But there is an extremely competitive undercurrent flowing through the Union Square Hilton. Everyone thinks they have the best game or the best solution to help make it a blockbuster. Sometimes it is hard to tell the truth from the snake oil and everyone has a very strong opinion. It makes me thankful that I’m here with an unbiased solution. I’m more than happy to just provide the platform for the game developers and publishers to get the attribution analytics they need and let them decide for themselves where the smart money should be spent. We’ll be glad to play Switzerland in that fight.
Given how quickly this industry has moved in its relatively short history, it would be strange to still call mobile gaming “new” but from being here it is clear that this space is at least far from reaching its peak or being considered mature. No one has a clear formula for success.
I attended a session on “Designing an Effective Viral Loop” which sounded to me like it could just as easily be called “How to Catch Lightning in a Bottle.” The presenter from Soomla did have some really good suggestions on reducing the friction around user sharing but I am heavily biased toward a mindset that you need to create some of your own luck and spend some money to promote your game too. The successful games and publishing houses are putting serious muscle behind their games and hoping to see your app take off through word of mouth alone could most generously be described as “naive.”
Christian Calderon from DOTS (@beta_control) provided a session on “User Acquisition for Start-Ups” that did a great job providing actionable intelligence from their own journey launching their addictive games, “Dots” and more recently “TwoDots.” He got into how he measures various channels against each other to quickly establish where they should direct their marketing dollars. Anyone who has played their games knows just how addictive they are and easy to share, if any developer was a candidate from going viral and gaining users in a purely organic way it was this one. Yet, they made the effort to promote their game through a number of advertising channels. It is a great example of a developer succeeding by being proactive and not relying solely on a game going viral.
A slide from the session hosted by the highly addictive game maker, DOTS. There is something extremely insightful about this slide in particular that I can’t put my finger on.
There were even more established players there too with other aims. For them there were sessions on casino gaming regulation and how to tap into the burgeoning APAC market. The space is at least mature enough that no one is deluded that this isn’t big business and it is here to stay.
The most fun thing about Casual Connect might be the gossip. I try not to engage too much myself but it is fun too see where the interest is and you can see the narratives quickly develop that I expect to see in the tech press in the coming weeks. AdColony was flying high after their recent acquisition by Opera and there was a good amount of talk about Yahoo buying Flurry as well. The industry is ripe for further consolidation and that has become the lens through which most people view the moves companies are making. We definitely had plenty of people interested in our recent rebrand to Tune, pressing us for what it might signal. But it’s not too secret really…
So we’ll see how long Casual Connect stays casual. We plan to join up again in February in Amsterdam. A heck of a lot will happen between now and then but it is a safe bet things will only move faster.
*In no way is this a promotion of the NFL team. Go Hawks.
Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.