At the recent Web Summit in London, MZ (formerly Machine Zone) CEO Gabe Leydon spoke on stage about the company’s massive marketing efforts that have helped it maintain a position near the top of the mobile game charts. Leydon described MZ as “probably the world’s largest direct response marketer and largest single product marketer on mobile.” He presented some astonishing facts and figures about MZ’s marketing efforts.
MZ’s huge hits Game of War: Fire Age and Mobile Strike have maintained a top five position in the top-grossing charts on both Android and iOS for years. That’s quite an achievement, and an impressive marketing effort is part of the strategy. Leydon sees MZ as a tech company where marketing and games are both highly important. “Machine Zone is a real-time technology company,” Leydon said, “We deal with vast volumes of data that is moving very, very quickly. We manage everything through data manipulation. When we run our games, we monitor everything we do. When we run our marketing, we monitor everything we do. We brought a lot of financial-style workflow to the games business and to the marketing business.”
Leydon recalled how DeNA came to the US in 2011 and spent $7 million on advertising in one week, “and it scared the hell out of us,” Leydon recalled. “We saw what the future of the industry was going to look like. We knew marketing was going to be really important. We probably over-reacted to that, to be honest. We realized that we’re competing in an auction marketplace. When people are buying on Facebook or buying on Google you have to compete against somebody else who’s also making a bid for that same impression. So your intelligence when you’re going into that bidding process really matters, considering how many bidders you’re actually competing against to buy media.”
“We just focused on the highest quality networks first; we built out our Facebook and our Google capabilities and then we went from there. Now we’re integrated into 300 different networks and our marketing team is over 200 people,” Leydon said.
How does MZ maintain its position on the top-grossing lists with two games? Marketing is critical, according to Leydon. “When we look at our marketing, you have to think about edges. What is my edge over the marketplace?,” Leydon said. “We track over 400 KPIs (key performance indicators) when we’re doing our marketing. That’s a tremendous amount of data we’re looking at when we’re making decisions on where we’re going to spend next.”
“Another big part of it is diversification in your styles of marketing,” Leydon continued. “Are you doing video, playable ads, banner ads, [or] fullscreen ads? I believe we make about 20,000 creatives a week now. It’s a very intense process, and I believe on Facebook we have about 50,000 different campaigns running at any moment. It’s very, very hard to do. Diversification is the most important thing you can do as a marketer, but it’s a very difficult and daunting task for most people.”
MZ has gone beyond mobile advertising into the domain of TV advertising in a big way, using major talent like Kate Upton, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mariah Carey, purchasing time during the Super Bowl for lavishly produced ads. “We didn’t go to television because we were excited about television,” Leydon said. “We went to television because we had pretty much maxed out the mobile digital market. What we found is that television is really bad. Most people lose money on TV because it’s not trackable, the ratings are questionable whether they’re actually correct or not, and there’s a lot of confusion in the space just in general.” From a technical point of view, Leydon feels the TV market is very immature.
“What we found is that while most of your television ads don’t do much, what they do have is a tremendous effect on your mobile digital ads,” Leydon said. “When people see Arnold Schwarzenegger on television, and they look down at their Facebook app and they see Arnold Schwarzenegger on a video ad there, they make that emotional connection from what they’ve seen on TV and it legitimizes the product in a lot of ways.
“You spend some money on television, and it dramatically increases your distribution. It’s a great place to go when you’ve essentially conquered the mobile digital market.” That said, the television market is difficult, both in creating effective ads and in measuring the results.
What’s next for MZ? Partnering with Square Enix on a Final Fantasy mobile RPG, something Leydon has very high hopes for. “We are by far the best at what we do,” Leydon said. “We are probably the largest direct-response marketer in the world, we’re probably the largest single product marketer on mobile in the world. When you combine that with something as loved as Final Fantasy, I think we’re competitive with anything that Nintendo can put out.” That’s a very tall order, but MZ certainly has the infrastructure to pull off something on that scale.
Leydon is proud of what MZ has accomplished, and he stresses that it’s not a lucky break that has brought the company this far. “We’re not a miracle business, we work extremely hard,” said Leydon. “I feel we’ve created a unique business in the market, because we don’t rely on luck. We rely on change. Your product and process should be changing constantly because the world is changing constantly.”
Leydon’s advice for other companies is straightforward: continue to innovate, surround yourself with experts, and change quickly.