Ryan Maddux is Manager of Analytics at Pocket Gems – a mobile gaming company known for titles like Episode and Paradise Cove. Maddux brings his background in economics and math, and his passion for gaming, to his work creating player experiences at Pocket Gems. In this interview, he talks about how Pocket Gems brings data into the game development and monetization process.
How does Pocket Gems use data to influence the gaming experience?
We use data all the time. In addition to qualitative feedback from our players, we closely monitor data on engagement with the different types of content going out. For example, we’ll track the number of sessions people engage in, we’ll track how much time they’re playing – all to get a sense of what our users really like. We also find things our players don’t engage in and avoid those. To be successful we have to have games players find really fun and engaging. People can move to another game very easily, and we have to make sure that the experiences we provide for them are actually things they can dig into. If the numbers say people aren’t enjoying something, we try to do something to replace it.
You have an Ph.D. in economics. How do economics influence your work?
In our games, a lot of what’s going on is economy-based. Most of Pocket Gems’ games ask users to build their own community or environment. Watching how they use these resources within their games helps us understand how to make their gameplay experience much better.
Take Paradise Cove, for example. Our players are building island kingdoms. So they need to build resources that provide enough gold, enough lumber, etc., to expand their civilization. The analytics help us monitor how those communities are growing, and figure out which parts of the game people are engaged with, so we can add more of what they enjoy.
Working at a startup, as well, it’s nice to have an economics background to frame business questions – what’s useful and what will bring success long-term.
What’s your advice for how publishers can use analytics to improve their games?
I’d advise developers to pay attention to their players. Pay attention to what they respond to, what they engage with. What people do is more informative than what they say they are interested in. Find out what features players enjoy. Find out what drives them to it and away from it and use that information to build a better and better product. The games I enjoy playing are the games where you see this happen, where you see the game change and evolve over time as the developers and content writers figure out who their audience is and what they love.
Pocket Gems has an active online community. How does this drive game development?
We’ve always had a forum that allows players to discuss game strategy. We have users who are incredibly engaged and loyal and help newer players understand what’s to come and help them prepare. Over time we’ve tried to make our games more interactive. We’ve put together quests and events where people can compete. We’ve built guilds where people can form teams and battle or take on quests as teams. Going forward we believe the games people really want to play are social games where they can play with or against friends, family or even strangers.
What are some of the key monetization strategies Pocket Gems uses to drive revenue?
The biggest thing we can do to drive revenue is make interesting games that are challenging and engaging. Content and storytelling are really critical functions of what we do. We’re not going to convince players to pay for premium or exclusive content if we can’t give them great content.
We also create revenue for the company by showing rewarded advertisements in our games. By engaging with advertising, we allow players the ability to unlock some game content without paying out of pocket to get it. We hope that by letting people engage in advertising, we keep our advertisers happy and help our players.
How do Vungle video ads come into your monetization strategy?
We only use rewarded video (video where a player chooses to watch a video in exchange for game currency) for video monetization. The only exception might be our exciting storytelling platform Episode, where we ask users to watch video before they watch the episodes. For the rest of our portfolio, we offer players the option to watch rewarded advertisements.
Vungle provides ads in our game and allows us the opportunity to make great games by helping us raise money to have the resources to make these games better. Vungle does a great job filling the ads we need them to fill. In terms of the actual content, I play our games, and the Vungle ads are well packaged, to the point, and engaging.
Pocket Gems just partnered with Fox to release a companion app for the film Night at the Museum. How has the game been received so far?
We just launched Night at the Museum: Hidden Treasures last week with positive reception from our players and the press. We continue to work hard to make sure that we’re improving that game to make it accessible to all fans of the movie. We’re very excited to work on this great franchise.
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