Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs) – A strategy for world domination

Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs), and particularly MMO strategy games, have gone mainstream in a big way.

The fact that high profile celebrities have been drafted in to front MMO campaigns shows the growing confidence and deep pockets of major developers such as Machine Zone and Supercell. This reached its zenith in the 2015 Super Bowl halftime ad — reportedly the most watched of all time — where Liam Neeson parodied his Taken role to promote Clash of Clans.

Back in the old days of strategy games, could you see there being back-to-back Super Bowl ads for them? No, me neither.

Clash of Clans (or just Clash) was 2015’s top grossing mobile game, with an astonishing $1.3 billion in revenue. On average, 30,000 people install it every day in the US alone, generating a US-based daily income that regularly tops $1 million. And it’s not even the top title from its publisher, Supercell.

Of the US top five grossing iPhone games, four are strategy games.

These games are: Clash Royale, Clash of Clans, Mobile Strike and Game of War Fire Age. They make a combined total of just over $4 million per day.

This revenue comes from in-app purchases, with the most popular MMO games being free to download. This has been vital in persuading people who wouldn’t normally spend any cash on games to part with their money.

How do they work?

Free-to-play MMO strategy games usually make their money through in-app purchases that aid players.

We’re not talking big money (usually below $1 per action) but it adds up.

Take the example of George Yao. In 2012, Yao announced his retirement as the king of Clash of Clans. He’s a mild-mannered IT compliance manager who by night reigned supreme. He spent $3,000 on the game when he was at the peak, and would play for whole weekends at a stretch. At one point, to avoid being knocked out by attacks from other clans, he was managing five profiles at once.

How does localization fit in?

Localization has been key to the big MMOs establishing and maintaining such a global presence. You can’t globalize your game if the in-game texts are clumsy and hard to understand.

Top developers spend big on localization and localization-based testing, so that games like Clash of Clans end up with as much (or more) language spend as flagship console titles such as FIFA and Call of Duty.

The issue of localization gets really interesting when you consider how important persuasive content is to games that earn their money through in-app purchases.

When all the money earned comes from objects that players buy within the game, convincing, clearly written content becomes vital.

Another important aspect of localization is forum translation. One obvious question is how players from around the world communicate with each other. The lingua franca of the game is English, but where players don’t speak it well enough, automatic translation is used. It’s an interesting example of crowdsourcing that, although the machine translation (MT) is usually done by free online tools, users are often offered incentives (such as in-game currency) to correct the spelling or grammar of posts so they’re ready for MT, and to correct the machine-translated posts to make them comprehensible.

There is an opportunity for a single language vendor with a well-developed MT coming in and further facilitating communication between players. It’s also an attractive opportunity for language service providers (LSPs) that specialize in gaming to build a base of linguists from within the community for future projects.

App Store Optimization

App store optimization (ASO) is, on the other hand, something they invest little time in. This is the science of making sure your app tops the list of relevant user searches.

Just as search engine optimization (SEO) for web content has gone from a niche activity to being the multimillion dollar precursor to any website launch or marketing campaign, ASO has evolved to become essential to first-time app launchers. There are over 1.5 million apps in the Apple App Store, so standing out is tough.

53% of apps are still found by app store browsing

There are 3 aspects to ASO:

Localizing your app keywords is proven to increase downloads by 767%.

This is the content that grabs and holds the customer, it needs to be short, snappy and full (but not too full) of keywords. The irony is that the big MMO strategy games that are dominating the download charts are relatively out of sight to the casual browser.

Type in “MMO strategy” and the top four games mentioned earlier are nowhere to be seen. Why are they spending so little on ASO, when it’s considered vital by many developers?

The simple answer is they don’t need to. People don’t browse for them.

ASO is seen as vital to the launch of an app and integral to its early stages, especially if the developer doesn’t have a huge budget for advertising. However, once a game is established in the public consciousness, ASO importance decreases, as the game’s going to be found anyway. The mobile gaming market, therefore, might seem to be dominated by the big players but it’s more complex than that. There’s always room for an ambitious smaller publisher to use the right tools to carve out a niche, if they’re spot-on with their branding, their ASO, and of course their localization.

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