FoxNext Games—a two-year-old mobile games maker recently acquired by Disney—made waves with its Marvel Strike Force game over the past year. Specifically, the game garnered recognition from the Google Play, who deemed it “Best Breakthrough Game,” at Google I/O—a prize awarded to new games based upon distinguished “user experience, engagement and retention.” In March, the company announced Marvel Strike Force had generated $150 million in revenue, due in no small part to the amount of daily active users.
“It’s a great way for us to celebrate the community,” CEO Aaron Loeb told Venture Beat. “A lot of players have playe[d] the game every single day in the past year.”
FoxNext’s chief marketing officer, Steve Fowler, recently sat down with AList to speak about the company’s marketing strategy, user retention and overall brand message. Fowler also spoke about the company’s upcoming titles including Avatar and Aliens.
What is the core brand message that FoxNext wants to impart in 2019?
We are reliant on known IP, and one of the challenges that my team focuses on is, how are we breaking through on our own brand identity around licensed games.
The first game out of the gate for us was Marvel Strike Force. The second game we’ve got is a conglomeration of both owned and original IPs, a game called Storyscape. Then, we’ve got an Avatar game in development and an Aliens game in development. From an awareness perspective, it’s super easy for us. That’s one of the advantages. That, inherently, gamers have almost ubiquitous awareness around Marvel, Avatar and Aliens. That’s not our challenge. Our challenge is, how do we differentiate ourselves within the category? Specifically, Marvel Strike Force‘s challenge is—there are seven other Marvel mobile games, how does Strike Force breakthrough? Some of the things we’re trying to do are build consistency with our communities, and consistency with our message.
A specific example is the branding icon and element that we chose for Marvel Strike Force. If you look at our icon on an app store, it’s a little eagle with an iconic looking golden seal, if you will. We did a lot of testing around the pros and cons of not having our brand or an icon that is a more familiar thing like Hulk’s face or The Avengers team standing together or more prominently building up Marvel. That was a conscious decision as to how to build [brand] equity around Strike Force.
How do you implement that in the new games you mentioned?
We’ve taken that [and] applied it directly to our second game. Storyscape is an interactive storytelling game. There [are] Titanic stories, there’ll be stories from The X Files [and] there [are] a couple of original stories. We tested a whole bunch of different brand icons, app icons, and went with one that was very minimal with just a black background. [What] we’re trying to do is build long-term consumer familiarity with our brands within the IP that we’ve licensed.
How are you using data to inform your marketing decision-making?
One of the things I’ve tried to instill on my team is trying to think about customers holistically and in different facets of their consumer journey, which is a fundamental of games, and [the difference between marketing] service-based games and product-based games. We broke it down in kind of six categories that we measure consistently on a weekly basis: unaware of us (Awareness); aware but not convinced yet to try us (Consideration); ready to install and play (Conversion), a current active player/payer (Active Players), evangelizes on our behalf (Evangelists), has lost interest and left the game (Lapsed).
Our job as marketers used to stop when we got somebody into the game, but now it’s just beginning because we haven’t made any money yet. One of the big fundamentals that this company has is the philosophy of regularity of play, and that percolates down not only to what the development team builds in the features of the game but also what we as marketers measure against what was successful or not.
We have a series of six dashboards that we have chosen as the most critical KPIs to look at on a weekly basis, these include: awareness, consideration, conversion, regularity of play, evangelism, and lapsed players. We are constantly deploying tactics and efforts against those six buckets and measuring what happened and whether we did good or bad. When things go up or down, why did that happen? Can we get better? Can we learn from our failures?
Measurability is critical to the systems and teams that are under my guidance here on the marketing side for FoxNext.
What are some ways that you measure brand effectiveness for the FoxNext?
We’ve had a lot of debate on being choosy about the KPIs that we pay attention to. One of the things I found early—when games as services and free-to-play business models first started—was just being overwhelmed with the amount of data and [figuring out] what data is important. We’ve distilled down, at least for Strike Force, is one kind of KPI (to rule them all) for each of those six categories I listed earlier, and then there are supporting KPIs underneath that.
For instance, when we’re looking at generating awareness, we believe that the most important KPI to look at in a week-over-week basis is how many impressions we’re generating, just all-up impressions—whether those come from paid efforts, from owned efforts or earned efforts. We’re calculating everything we do with our paid media spends, PR efforts and with our own channel efforts.
We look at fluctuations in how we’re generating impressions to see if we are doing well for awareness. We also supplement that with survey data quarterly. We go out, and we ask questions to potential players: have you heard of our game? Are you interested in installing our game? We come in every three months and look at a survey data piece, in addition to the actual measurable data that we are generating to our marketing efforts.
Similarly, we’re concerned about the quality of impressions. Not “have you ever been exposed to this,” but “have you actually engaged with some of the content we’ve put out there.” Things like a quality video view on YouTube. That’s one example. In that consideration phase, what we’re most interested in is: are people looking more deeply into our game? Are they going to our website? Are they going to the app store page? Are they watching the video there? How much time are they spending on the website?
The third is very simple—installs. We look at how many installs are coming organically and how many installs are coming from paid efforts. Then, all of the factors, like how successful we are at driving those installs? Are we driving ROI positive installs? Are we driving quality installs? Where are the installs coming from?
What do you think is the key issue facing game marketers this year?
We’re mostly a mobile platform. If I think about the industry as a whole, the thing that’s going to be most challenging is transitioning from relying on the systems that work for one particular platform as platforms start to blend. The [Google] Stadia announcement is a good example of that. The convergence of distribution platforms and competition within the platforms on PC—if you think about Epic Games and what they’re doing versus Steam. On the Android side, in the U.S., there are multiple stores that we have to deal with: Amazon, Samsung, Google Play. But in [Asia], it’s even more fragmented. Discoverability used to be somewhat easy on mobile. You cozied up to Apple and Google, they featured you and you got millions of installs. That is no longer the case.
Apple, with iOS 11, drastically changed the way their store works. Now, if you open up the app store, the first thing you see is a bunch of editorial stories. But from a game publisher perspective, that hurt us. Organic discovery of apps on the app stores has dried up.
In the short-term, for us, discoverability [is the key issue]. As I mentioned, we kind of hack-the-system [in terms of] awareness because we have known IP, but people get lost in the middle: from “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of that Strike Force thing” to “What is it about? Where do I go to get it? How do I find it? Do my friends like it?” Consideration is getting harder and harder not only because there are hundreds of thousands of apps out there but because platforms have become more scattered.