ZiMAD's CEO Dmitry Bobrov has told us how to spot new trends in the mobile industry, discussed the UA strategy and monetization models the company uses, and shared what led the studio's mobile title Magic Jigsaw Puzzles to success.
My name is Dmitry Bobrov, I’m CEO at ZiMAD. ZiMAD is an international company, developer, and publisher of games and entertainment applications for mobile platforms, desktops, and social networks. The company entered the market in 2009, and since that time we have gained an audience of more than 200 million users.
Our HQ is located in Florida, US while our large team (about 300 employees) is distributed around the world. The leading positions are held by professionals with over 10 years of experience in the industry.
Our most successful products to date are Magic Jigsaw Puzzles, Dig Out! (arcade puzzle game), Domino (PVP board game), and the Bubble Shooters franchise, Bubble Birds. We are rightfully proud of each of them not only because millions of people around the world played and are still playing them, but also because all of them brought new gaming experiences and mechanics and offered exclusive content to the genre and the industry as a whole.
What Makes a Mobile Game Successful
Unfortunately, unlike in the virtual world, we don't have the magical pollen that could make a product super successful in a snap. Behind any successful project, there’s an incredible amount of work. Success is always a combination of the quality of the product, its uniqueness, the connection between its characteristics and the interests and motivations of the players, and the ability to choose the right creatives and messages for its promotion. It is also important for the team to correctly transform the player’s wishes into changes in the product, quickly deliver the content of the proper quality, and also process and correctly interpret large amounts of data. If one of these elements falls out for some reason, the puzzle of success simply does not add up.
The team and well-organized processes within it make up half of the success of your product. And thanks to the team that developed and promoted Magic Jigsaw Puzzles we now have a product that remains relevant even 11 years after its release. The same applies to other ZiMAD products.
You can often see developers going the easy way and copying successful products, but at the end of the day, they don’t get even the smallest part of the result achieved by the original product.
In the case of Magic Jigsaw Puzzles, the success is mostly based on the following points:
- Firstly, this game appeared at the dawn of the digital jigsaw puzzle direction. We definitely were the pioneers of this area, and today we still have the largest collection of digital puzzles in the world. After transferring the passion of hundreds of millions of puzzle fans from all over the world into their gadgets, we gave them the opportunity to enjoy their hobby in a handy format, anytime and anywhere. They no longer need to spend their time looking for a lost puzzle piece or a suitable place to assemble a large picture.
- Secondly, we provide the opportunity to play our puzzles absolutely free of charge, which isn’t the case with physical puzzles, after completing which you still need to find a place to store them. In addition, in Magic Jigsaw Puzzles, users have access to exclusive content from our partners and global brands such as Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Sony, and others.
Spotting New Trends
The gaming market, especially the mobile gaming market, which is our core expertise, is developing at a rapid pace, and this keeps everyone on their toes. Falling out of market realities for just a month can cost a business a lot.
So, like most gaming companies, we do our best to participate in specialized events, follow industry news and blogs, and pay attention to the research of the companies and services that collect market data. And, of course, we actively exchange experience with our colleagues from other companies. Having our own product marketing department, which is constantly doing market research, tracking its trends, searching for new niches for our portfolio development, performing competitive analysis, etc., is also crucial for us.
Speaking of the main high-level trends of the current mobile market, I’d highlight the following. The rapid growth of the hyper-casual segment should be and, it already is, followed by stagnation and its transformation into something new. This is primarily caused by the changes in the advertising market.
It becomes more and more difficult to compete with casual products for users, working solely with the advertisement-based monetization as new restrictions are introduced to the platformы. In this regard, the importance of diversification across platforms for the survival of products in the market is increasing. We develop our expertise by working in various alternative stores. We have a long history of working outside of App Store and Google Play getting a fairly large share of our audience and revenue from such stores as Amazon Appstore, Microsoft Store, Facebook, Galaxy Store, and others.
At the same time, competition in the hypercasual segment itself has already reached a certain limit, which leads to the need for reorganization. My personal belief has always been that sooner or later hyper-casual products will either evolve into casual ones or separate into individual sections in stores, and get placed in game selections available on the general subscription, similar to Apple Arcade or Google Play Pass.
Continuing on the topic of changes in the ad monetization market, one can certainly highlight the new policies of mobile platforms, which lead to the need of working hard towards complicating products, developing methods for retaining and tracking long-term goals of players, and live ops in the casual segment. In general, it is necessary to use the monetization model, where the share of IAPs and subscriptions in income will become at least equal to advertising, more often. Branded advertising integrated into the gameplay will receive greater development to replace some of the current advertising formats. As for the mobile market, these tendencies are late in coming, but they are more and more visible.
Of course, it is worth highlighting the metaverses and NFT that can greatly change the industry in the medium term, including giving a new life to VR. In the meantime, it should be recognized that this segment of the market is still in its infancy. There are specific examples of failed undertakings that cost companies not only a lot of money but also their reputation.
Cloud gaming and the ubiquity of 5G can also seriously change the industry, including the mobile game industry, in the medium term. It can significantly free up developers’ hands in the implementation of some of their ideas, invent new formats and methods for players to interact with products and their devices, and simplify access to any content.
Continued consolidation in both mobile game publishers and the advertising market is also worth mentioning. Regardless of the initial core expertise and business model, some companies that are successful in their fields can gradually develop into full-cycle companies in order to expand their business. Small studios need to take this into account when choosing the direction of development. They need to look for their own niches in which they won’t have to deal with competitors that are noticeably superior to them, primarily in terms of resources and expertise.
User Acquisition Strategy
Our approach to developing and scaling the active audience of our projects is comprehensive:
- We work both with increasing the visibility of our games in stores through ASO and developing relationships with platforms and with upscaling the effectiveness of paid advertising campaigns on all advertising platforms suitable for our goals.
- We pay great attention to working with already playing users and preventing their premature churn rate through the active development of gaming communities and the timely use of re-targeting/re-engagement and re-attribution tools.
There’s no magic pill that gives quick results in a short time. Success depends on the well-coordinated, organized work of all related marketing departments and the ongoing testing of new ideas, hypotheses, and approaches.
At the moment, we strictly adhere to the hybrid monetization model in our products: we give players the opportunity to play our games absolutely free of charge, watch ads, and, if necessary, get in-game currency or other in-game items through the accumulation of resources, or through real-money purchases.
In some of our products, we also actively use the subscription model if necessary. This is especially well suited for our content applications (puzzles, coloring books).
We determine and work on the model and system of product monetization at the earliest stages of the project development. The lack of understanding of how to achieve the necessary monetization parameters for the survival of the product on the market can lead to a quick stop of work on the project.
At the earliest possible stages, we try to form basic KPIs for entering soft and global launches, assess the readiness of the product team and our departments, primarily marketing, and monetization to work with this product, as well as form a marketing strategy and plan sufficient budgeting for product release dates for each stage.
Releasing a Game During the Ongoing Pandemic
We were well-prepared for the conditions in which the whole world had to live and work from 2020. Despite the fact that a large percentage of employees work in our offices, we are quite loyal to remote work as we’ve been working in distributed teams for many years on all our projects and directions. Our management has the necessary experience and tools to successfully organize the work with distributed teams.
Of course, this imposes certain requirements both on managers and on employees. So, during our daily work, as well as when hiring and during the probation period we pay careful attention to soft skills and to the potential willingness of specialists to work remotely. Sometimes, we notice performance drops as not everything always goes smoothly with everyone, because some of them might not be well adapted to working remotely.
This is why we pay special attention to maintaining team morale, providing psychological assistance to employees if necessary, and organizing business trips and participation in specialized events, which brings remote employees closer to colleagues. Another important rule of ZiMAD is video communication at regular rallies – with eye contact even in digital format, the team becomes more united, which undoubtedly affects the work process.
At the moment, we have 5 new products in the pipeline at different stages. We’re hoping to release at least two of them globally in 2022. These are casual products that develop our traditional portfolio and an attempt to work in new genres and for a new audience. Our large gaming communities are developing: at the moment, we are actively expanding our presence on TikTok.
Our team is growing qualitatively and quantitatively, we’ve recently expanded our geography by opening an office in Serbia. Also, we usually have an average of at least 15 open positions and, in addition to hiring, we are always open to cooperation with outsourcing companies, freelancers, and consultants.
In addition to internal development, we are actively developing the M&A direction, in which we already have quite a lot of experience. We are ready to consider not only the options for purchasing a product or its share but also other formats of cooperation.
I’d also like to single out our publishing services. We can be proud of the large and proven market expertise in entering platforms outside the "big two" (App Store, Google Play), such as, for example, Amazon Appstore or Microsoft Store. As for publishing, we are also ready to cooperate in various areas, including marketing and monetization.