Generally speaking, app developers, like brands in a supermarket, are in a battle for two scarce resources: consumer attention and shelf space.
Lab Cave, a mobile games company headquartered in Madrid, is looking beyond distribution on the “digital shelves” of the Apple App Store and Google Play. It’s part of a bid to cash in on the wealth of new opportunities and audiences to be found in alternative app stores, including local and international carriers, other content aggregators or mobile manufacturers. We catch up with Juanjo Monge, Lab Cave CMO, to discuss the role of distribution in his company’s wider strategy to become a “lean, mean games machine.”
You’ve done well, reaching 110 million organic downloads. What are some of the approaches that allowed you to achieve this amazing milestone?
ASO is very important since we don’t run paid user acquisition. We are a team of 60 people and 10 are doing ASO, with five focusing on optimising for iOS and the other five focused on Google Play. It’s all about understanding how each algorithm works because our business model is to do ASO first, and then create the game. This is a different model from many games companies. We also monetise our games through advertising – with a split of roughly 90 per cent ads and 10 per cent in-app purchases. That is our main business line, but we are also working on three others.
First is to develop our more mid-core games – and we expect to release a Viking Heroes war-type game in markets. We just soft-launched in Mexico and Philippines. Another line of business we just launched is publishing. We recognise that we are good doing everything that supports success in games – ASO, for example. So, we want to reach good indie games makers, companies and studios that have good products but lacking other capabilities – such as ASO and distribution – needed for a game to be a success.
Finally, the third business line is focused on content distribution. It’s all about pursuing a strategy that – together with our other business lines – allows us to become a new kind of game “hub”. This is also where we focus on our top-quality games – our cash cows – and where we are trying to reach new channels and audiences through partnerships with alternatives app stores and through working with appScatter.
In other words, it’s about scale, and you are looking beyond Apple and Google for growth. Working with app stores such as Opera, as well exploring opportunities to scale with appScatter…
Yes, this is the strategy that fits the type of games company we are. Lab Cave has published more than 400 games in iOS and Google Play. We follow a sort of re-skin model, focused on 8 different game engines - like runners - and 35 themes, ranging from zombies to roosters. It’s a broad portfolio of casual games and we see maximum value in finding ways to double or triple the distribution through working with partners such as appScatter. I call it a fit, but it’s common sense. We have a lot of games that are doing really well, and we can achieve more by just distributing them into other channels and app stores. It’s about growth and we are growing the ways we get our games in front of users.
We talk about the distribution, but what are the other stages and areas of your business where this strategy has a positive impact beyond getting you more global ‘shelf space’ for your games?
The first step is distribution. But it’s also important to be able to collect as much data as possible about what our app is doing and achieving in these alternative app stores. We can mine it for data that we can funnel back into marketing and app store optimisation, but we can also extract other data from across a lot of app stores to see bigger trends.
And using a mobile strategy platform has other benefits?
Yes, it’s definitely attractive to be able to automate the distribution to the app stores. As I said, as we are game manufacturers, and we like to do things in an assembly line manner in those business lines where this makes sense. It’s a lot like car manufacturing where you want modules and modular approaches. We don’t want to deal with 20 or 30 app stores on an individual basis - finding out the registration process, updating assets and maintaining those contacts. We like the idea of a platform that is very easy to use, very straightforward. Even better the platform allows us to extract meaningful data. Having all this in one place is going to mean very good results for our games.
Hearing you speak – it’s not just about increasing revenues. It’s about boosting efficiency to be a new kind of “lean, mean, game machine,” right?
Hey – that’s a great way of putting it! As you said, the key word here is "lean." We try to be as lean as possible. So, we distribute our games by following this lean process starting with the conception of the game idea, which is driven by our ASO team. We recognised that to be as lean as possible means we need to automate as many processes as possible. So, we’ve developed our own in-house technology to automate core processes like the quality assessment of the ad networks – going as far as to create our own ASO bot. It’s all streamlined end-to-end, and most times all of this happens within the space of a few hours. Now, just imagine if we had to depart from our model of publishing games in such rapid fire to deal with 50 different alternative stores. It would be crazy to do that. We don’t have the numbers yet, but we know we are going to see that we are saving a lot of money and a lot of time using a platform. Doing it any other way would be much more complicated, and frankly we wouldn't do it because it’s our strategy is to be as lean as possible.
Optimising on keywords is how you can not only drive downloads, but stay ahead of your competition. This platform also lifts the lid on competitor keywords. Does that give you an edge?
Yes – definitely. Our business is based on organic downloads, so having the data and a view into the keywords across the games and the markets is an important input into the data pool. It’s data that we can delve into to discover keywords and improve ASO, so it’s super-useful for us. Of course, ASO is not just about optimising keywords, so we naturally use the same data-driven approach to optimise all the other assets to drive installs
You talk about becoming a games machine. Is this a strategy or a shift that will impact the space?
The way we see it, this is the next step. You have high competition in a noisy and crowded App Economy. So where is the growth? Distribution to alternative app stores is the way to mileage out of your organics, but you have to do it in a way that is not going to drain resources elsewhere. In our business model, appScatter is among the companies that fit very well.
But it’s not only in this volume game. It’s a good value proposition for our publishing line – allowing us to distribute those apps across other channels. So we can go to indies and say ‘we can get your app in more app stores and in front of more audiences.’ After all, user acquisition costs are high, especially for casual games, so you need to dial down the CPI somehow, and you can do this by reaching new distribution channels.
And it’s here we have discovered that there is a lot of money to be made and saved. In every store that we are right now, we are making money. But, if you focus only on Google Play and the App Store, and they change the algorithm just a little bit, it can wreck how you do business, especially if ASO is at the core of the product. You are putting all your eggs in one basket, and that’s risky. You have to use all the distribution channels for your app. It’s also a great strategy to discover new users since discovery – key to getting organics – is getting harder and you never know how the algorithms are going to evolve. Every store you are in means more visibility for your game and a greater chance to get in front of more users.