Interview with Mark Robinson, Founder and CEO, deltaDNA

Mark Robinson
Mark Robinson

“Increased player engagement with certain ad formats does point to innovation and progression in ad tech, but it also reflects a change in audience behaviors and attitudes.”

Tell us about your role at deltaDNA and how you got here. What galvanized you to start a Player Relationship Management platform for the Games Industry?

Before starting deltaDNA in 2010, I was heading-up a data mining consultancy where I used to help brands like Heineken and Office Depot to harness their customer data and use it to create more personalized customer experiences.

At the same time deltaDNA co-founder Chris Wright (CTO), who is also my neighbor, was working in the games industry where he’s been for years and was currently European Director at a major mobile games publisher.

However, it was the launch of the iPhone and the App Store that was the real lightbulb moment for us both. We knew that the mobile games market was set to explode and that the connected nature of games, meant there was a huge opportunity for publishers and developers to collect and analyze data from every single player.

With that deltaDNA was born.

As Chief Executive of deltaDNA, I’m responsible for the overall effectiveness of the business, from delivering against our strategy and roadmap to ensuring our products remain at the forefront of the market.

Tell us about the State of In-Game Advertising in 2018

Game publishers and developers have traditionally had an uneasy relationship with mobile ads, mainly because of the negative impact that ads can have on the player experience and ultimately retention.

But recently that frosty relationship has begun to thaw to the point where game makers now see as an important monetization opportunity. As a result, developers have become increasingly confident about the effectiveness of their mobile ad strategies which has led to developers adopting more complex strategies which leverage an increasing number of ad networks.

Perhaps the most important factor for this has been the emergence of the Rewarded Video format. Developers love rewarded video ads because of how they can be integrated into the game in a way that adds, rather than detracts from, the player experience. In fact, many players actually rely on rewarded videos to provide them with vital resources to help them progress through the game.

But while developers are learning to love mobile ads, when it comes to increasing ad frequency most developers are still worried about player churn. As a result, most developers still only serve one ad or less per session, but when you consider that between 40-60% of players leave mobile F2P games after just one session, failing to increase frequency is simply failing to monetize effectively.

The main problem is that the ad data is often siloed away from the player data, so developers have little idea exactly how the ads being served are impacting retention, but this is beginning to change.

Publishers and developers are increasingly adopting more sophisticated analytics tools which enable them to view the whole game economy and more effectively balance the player experience with ads and In-App Purchases.

How is the marketing tech ecosystem for gaming platforms different today compared to when you first started?

Back in 2010, analytics were focused solely on game performance, where analytics dashboards would report what had happened in the game but without providing the clarity that would enable developers to know where any issues may lie, or how to solve them.

The next phase was about using analytics to actually change the game at the design level. From the analytics, developers could see where the problem may lay, but could only implement broad-brush and one-size-fits-all changes to the game.

Today, analytics have evolved to the point where they are being used by game makers to change the game for each specific player. Big Data capabilities — capturing large numbers of data points powered by incredibly fast database technology — enables game designers to personalize the gaming experience to individual players within player segments, based on player engagement and playing style.

How could marketers leverage your gaming analytics to increase audience engagement and generate revenues?

Although the mobile games sector now generates more revenue than Hollywood, many publishers and developers actually struggle to turn a profit from their games.

This is because effectively balancing a great player experience with the need to integrate ads and IAPs is a challenging task. It’s a situation made worse by the reluctance of most ad networks to share ad data with developers.

However, deltaDNA gives publishers and developers the power to manage the entire player view and make smart, insight-led decisions to ensure maximum player engagement.

The platform’s rich data capability and high-performance database tools give deltaDNA the ability to ingest and perform real-time analysis on hundreds of millions of ‘events’ as they come in.

Our powerful a suite of advanced data mining, A/B testing and 3D segmentation tools, then enables them to go deeper into the data to foster player loyalty, extend a game’s value and increase overall game revenues.

How do interactive content and video ads increase audience and player engagement?

Increased player engagement with certain ad formats does point to innovation and progression in ad tech, but it also reflects a change in audience behaviors and attitudes. With the availability of content at an all-time high, and having been exposed to static banner ads for so long, large swathes of players have developed ‘banner blindness.’ Consciously or otherwise, players are learning to ignore traditional ad formats and the value of those ads is plummeting as a consequence.

Attention spans are shorter than ever and video ads reduce the amount of information that an audience has to process at one time. The importance of novelty also can’t be overstated – nothing desensitizes more effectively than overexposure. The ads providing the best eCPMs in 2018 aren’t working off any great secret, they’re utilizing improving tech to exploit basic human psychology.

In games, there is a growing buzz around two types of ads in particular – rewarded video and playable ads. The former drives great engagement because only players who consciously opt-in are exposed to an ad. They do so in droves because, to developers and advertisers, players’ attention is worth giving out extra lives, bonus content and even virtual currency.

For gaming audiences, the appeal of playable ads speaks for itself. Users that are interactive by nature and already focused on playing rather than passively browsing are perfect for targeted ads.

Given the changing dynamic of the marketing technology landscape, where do you see the Deep Data Analytics fitting into the stack?

With regards to data, the games industry has evolved much faster than other industries and I believe that we are approximately halfway through a 15-20 year transformation. When we started deltaDNA 7 years ago, the industry was focused on basic dashboards and developers were desperate for metrics that could facilitate diagnosis and improvement of games, but that was a forlorn wish.

Deep data yields much greater insight about player behaviors, their sociability, their competency and their preferences than was ever possible before. Furthermore, we are now in a position to react in real time and action change instantly according to those insights. Deep data analytics give us a much sharper, more accurate and more sophisticated profile of players. They allow us to make good decisions as opposed to relying on gut instinct, but what matters is how (and how quickly) we take action on what we have learned.

How does deltaDNA improve online conversations across all marketing channels?

Our communications strategy takes a player-first and player-specific approach, with dynamic targeting across multiple channels. That includes push notification and email but the most effective by far is real-time messaging within the game itself, where players are most responsive. We observe how players perform as they take on challenges to work out what it is that they need to keep them engaged. The timing of content delivery is as – if not more – important than the content itself.

We have proven that sessions, where players are exposed to targeted messaging, generate an average 40% more revenue than those where messages contain generic promotions.

What are your predictions on Customer Experience technologies shaping up with the greater maturity of Data Management Platforms and AI-driven analytics?

One of our biggest focuses in CRM optimization over the last year has been developing the capability to monitor and engage players with one strategy across a whole game portfolio. Publishers don’t want to spend acquisition money more than once and viewing every game’s players in isolation inevitably leads to wasted/ineffective communication. We are encouraging our clients to view the player-game relationship as a multi-game one to be managed across several titles simultaneously.

As the deltaDNA platform has become more sophisticated, cross-promotion has begun to shape us as one of the most exciting and effective weapons in our arsenal. Where once a player losing momentum would simply be lost to churn, we can now keep them active within a publisher’s portfolio by recommending the next best game for that player from their collection and incentivizing them to try it out. Managing the player life-cycle via a multi-game touch point will prolong their activity and improve the experience for all involved.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?

I’m not entirely sure that the industry is ready for fully unfettered AI, especially in the world of marketing. For us, the future of analytics involves embedding our insight and know-how into our technology to augment processes and provide better guidance to our customers. AI and machine learning have their place – and they will certainly be useful with regards to predictive modeling and segmentation – but it’s a big step for the marketing team to hand over complete control of communications to the computer.

AI’s rightful place is as a tool to aid marketers, analytics guys and producers. It should not operate an autonomous closed-loop process intended to take care of your game at the touch of a button.

What startups, from the tech industry, are you watching/keen on right now?

Snowflake.

Could you tell us about a standout digital campaign at deltaDNA? 

The casual word games field is one of the most competitive in mobile gaming so, when Peoplefun decided to enter the market with Wordscapes, they knew that the game’s success would ride on fast and effective optimization.

Initially, Wordscapes showed good retention but the Peoplefun team was worried about low rates of player-to-player conversion and disappointing Average Revenue Per Paying User (ARPPU). Our behavioral analytics revealed an extremely diverse player base comprising a clutch of struggling players providing all the revenue and a vast majority that were breezing through without any need for help.

We used A/B Testing to iterate game balancing, resulting in a 150% rise of Average Revenue Per Daily Active User (ARPDAU) and an increased average transaction size from $2.20 to $4.10. These results allowed for investment in the acquisition that took the Monthly Active User (MAU) base from 10,000 to 2,000,000.

With Wordscapes, deltaDNA analytics provided the insights needed to turn a good game into a runaway success.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology at deltaDNA?

As an analytics guy at heart, I like to think that I have a deep-seated sense of curiosity. If that rubs off, it’s a good thing in my book.

One word that best describes how you work

Busy.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

WhatsApp

What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?

Occasionally catching a train and switching my phone off.

What are you currently reading?

When They Go Low, We Go High: Speeches that Shaped the World, Philip Collins

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

It’s better to be a pirate than join the navy.

Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?

Tenacity – as much a blessing as a curse.

Tag the one person (or more) in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Luke Dicken (Zynga)

Thank you, Stephen! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Mark has vast experience in driving customer understanding through data and analysis, helping organizations to communicate with their customers intelligently and profitably.

Mark is the Founder of deltaDNA. He is now applying my analytics experience to the games industry enabling player behaviors to drive online game monetization.

deltaDNA helps game developers and publishers optimise their game revenues by collecting and analysing event data, predicting behaviours and delivering in-game messaging to increase revenues, improve virality and increase retention rates.

deltadna

DeltaDNA has been providing fast and powerful analytics tools and insight to the games sector’s leading publishers and developers since 2010. At the heart of the deltaDNA offering is the analytics platform, gathering deep and rich data to unlock better player experiences and increase engagement and revenues. The complementary engagement tools take a player-centric approach to making the analytics actionable, personalizing and optimizing the game for each and every player, so maximising IAP revenue and reducing churn. The smartads mediation service combines dynamic ad serving and the best possible eCPM deals with our powerful targeting and segmentation, to bring a truly unbiased ad mediation service that will maximize your ad income. And the in-house industry experts in our insights consultancy team are on hand to bring it all together and help you realize the potential of your games and then take them to the next level.

The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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