Peggy Anne Salz

Activity and excitement center on Games-as-a-Service (GaaS), the model that has provided video games continuing revenues and amazing success. Only this time around we’re calling it LiveOps, and we’re counting on the model to make mobile gaming apps a bundle. Our host Peggy Anne Salz catches up with Oliver Kern—CMO of Playspace, veteran growth marketer and our esteemed keynote speaker at Mobile Growth Summit (Berlin, 5-6 September)—to discuss the current obsession with the model and how games companies can tap fresh content and limited events to fuel sustainable growth.Peggy: Hello and welcome to "Mobile Growth," the podcast series where frontline growth marketing experts share their insights and experiences so you can become a better mobile marketer. That's what it's all about here. I'm your host, Peggy Anne Salz from Mobile Groove. And on my watch, that's exactly what we're going to do. This series will introduce you to the people who know how to drive growth either because they haven't out or they are themselves growth marketers, or they've given advice. And in this case, our guest today, Oliver Kern, CMO of Playspace is a little bit of all of the above, Oliver, I would say. Great to have you, first, on the show.

Oliver: Yeah. Hi, Peggy. Yeah, great to be here. Yeah.
Peggy: And I said a little of all of the above because that's what it is. You are a growth marketer, you have a long track record, you'll tell us about that in a moment, but you also are CMO at Playspace. So you've been all sides, I think, of the equation. Tell me a little bit first about your background in growth.

Oliver: Well, my background in growth. So I mean, I see myself almost a little bit as a veteran because I do also see a lot of things kind of coming back in circles. I started with games actually when it was shareware on the web. And there were a few companies around that were basically distributing games all over the world. Basically, the games that you see today also on mobile, so like match three game, hidden object games, the casual space basically. I then went to a big MMO publisher, started their marketing, was their first CMO. There, I also kind of got more familiar with what actually kind of contributes to kind of your long-term growth.

And left there once we sold the company and probably five, six years ago started really working in mobile games. I did kind of my first things with companies where when it was still not free-to-play but actually pay-to-play, so how to market a $5 app, that was still possible back then. A lot of things have changed but a lot of things for marketing people also are very familiar you sometimes then get just get different terminology, etc. But, yeah, a lot of things just come back, I would say. Yeah, right now, I'm CMO at Playspace. It's a small company in Spain. They come from Facebook games, traditional board games, have a very fast-growing social casino bingo game. And, yeah, I'm helping them grow.

Peggy: Well, as you said, I mean, you would say veteran, I might know you as long as I have, Oliver, maybe to say godfather, but we won't go there. I remember you were talking about LTV long before, really, the industry was thinking about retention and what to do after CPI. So it's great to have you here because you're talking about another term that we have to get our head around. And I'm enjoying this because, I'm going to say it, a little bit of a treat for me because I'm going to get my own private tutorial on this because I have to get my head around it too. We all do, listeners. It's LiveOps. It's like, you're hearing about it, what are they, what are they not, and why are they important at all for a growth strategy for your app or game? So on that not, Oliver, because you will also be speaking on that in one of our upcoming events, let's just kick it off. What is LiveOps?

Oliver: So LiveOps, yeah, for me it feels like that's why also meant things come back. It feels like a new term for something that has been around at least in the games industry that I know for quite a while because, as I mentioned earlier, I was CMO at a big MMO publisher and there, it's all about LiveOps. You kind of launch your game and then everything else is basically LiveOps. And that's what kind of makes a big MMO very, very successful. It's kind of ongoing fresh content, something new for people to find out, to figure out new...lot of events, a lot of community management, these kinds of things.

Peggy: It's games as a service in a way, isn't it, Oliver? Is that what it is?

Oliver: Yeah, exactly. I mean, if you look at some of the mobile games, I mean the big ones that are still around, a lot of them, you know, started maybe not as a service as much but have become that. I started like in 2013, 2014 and they're still around. And they're still, you know, have a huge following. And the only way actually how you can get there is, you know, to continuously operate, to have a living game. That's what it's about.

And you have to kind of find for your...In games, it's somewhat worth may feel a little bit easier. But I think it counts for as apps well. You have to, you know, provide something new and fresh, and continuously reinvent yourself to a large degree. And that's kind of what makes LiveOps. And that is something that has such a massive impact on user numbers and kind of long-term retention, etc. And that's where you can drive so much of your growth.

Peggy: It makes perfect sense. I mean, LiveOps, that layman question here, Oliver. That does stand for what, live operation or just the ops? Yeah.

Oliver: Yeah.

Peggy: So just being about operative, is having operations. And it makes perfect sense, but we also sort of use it as a catchall because it's a little bit of games as a service but it's also not entirely. So what is not LiveOps?

Oliver: So I try to draw a line. I mean, I believe, you know, different people in the industry will probably draw the line in different places. For me, LiveOps is really, you know, operating a service. So you have a product and then you continue to operate it. And that is also something that, you know, the platforms, Apple and Google, that is what they actually also...that's what they want to see. You know the fastest growing segment in Apple is subscriptions, right? And, yeah, why would you subscribe to a product that is kind of a one-off thing? You subscribe to a service, you want to be a member of something, right? Yeah, that is what people want. And they do want that from apps, and they do want that from games as well.

And the big successes are definitely something where there is, you know, regular fresh content where, in games specifically, there are, you know, big events like temple events, small events, every day something new. You want to basically come into your app and there is a reason for you to come back. It makes remarketing easier, it makes long-term retention much, much better. And as a marketer, yeah, sure, you can do a lot of things top of the funnel, and that's all great. But if the underlying product is such a leaky bucket, it's so, so hard. All of it needs to have the data foundation. It always comes down to kind of data and metrics.

And for me, LiveOps is also, you know, tweaking the user experience, A/B testing things there and continuously improving the product, offering different things for different user segments, and these kinds of things. What it's not, at least for me, is, you know, big new feature and these kinds of things. That's where I kind of draw a line. That is, for me, like, you know, a 2.0 of a certain product or something like that. That's where I kind of say like, "Yeah, sure. You should have maybe also a team in your company that focuses on that." So going further, taking the next steps, etc. on your vision as a product, but the live operations, that is what kind of keeps it alive, keeps it fresh, make sure that users after year are happy to come back.

Peggy: I mean you mentioned subscription model, and of course that's a big driver here. I mean, would you say that's like the decisive development in the market that's driving interest in activity around LiveOps? Because it's been around there for a while, but we're hearing about it a lot more. Maybe it was subscriptions that kicked it off.

Oliver: Yeah, maybe. I mean, the MMO publisher that I use to work at, their game is not close to 20 years old and they still have, again, now, 1 million subscribers, 1 million paying subscribers per month. Yeah. And that's...

Peggy: So our listeners were like, "Wow, 20 years old." You know, I'm...

Oliver: And it also looks old. It's not only old, it also even looks and feels old. But yeah, if you do LiveOps properly, and if you have a real living game, then you can...yeah, then subscription starts to make sense. And then you can also really...yeah, then people also feel the value in a subscript, right? Because, yeah, it's a conversion, sure, and it's maybe not as much an impulse as it is with like a microtransaction. But yeah, it is a product that lives and where it's worth coming back every month, every week, and experiencing something new and fresh.

Peggy: Couldn't hope for a better segue here, Oliver, because we are going to come back after the break. So listeners, don't go away, we'll be talking with Oliver Kern who's going to tell us about how you can use a LiveOps strategy to drive growth for your games. Don't go away.


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Peggy: And we are back. And we have Oliver Kern, CMO of Playspace. Oliver, before the break, we were talking about LiveOps, what is it? What isn't it? Why do we need to care? You know, what is the excitement around it? We've covered that ground, and now, we want to talk about...Now, basically, what do you want to do? It's important, but how do you execute? So what do you tell, you know, the people in your company, you've also been doing a lot of consulting, a lot of speaking, what do you tell people when they say, "Yes, I want to pursue this. What are some steps?"

Oliver: I think it needs to kind of fit your product, right? So there is no one silver bullet kind of thing. I think for games, it can be a little bit easier to just say like, "Okay. My LiveOps strategy will be all around events. I want to have, you know, a regular event. I'm going to start with a monthly event where, you know, the community has something that they can go for." And there are quite a few apps and games that actually do do that.

Now, what I find somewhat interesting is that if you're able to kind of find a way how to run these events in a very efficient way, you will start realizing that, "Okay. So I've done these monthly events and they're really good, they kind of drive the community feel, and people have starting something more to do," it's communicating that, etc. And if you find an efficient way, you think like, "Oh, maybe we do this a bit more often." So you start doing it weekly. And guess what? What then happens is then suddenly, weekly, the people come back and are surprised or have something additional to do, etc. And then you say like, "Why don't we do this twice a week?"

So you can you can really drive also user behavior with that. I mean, they have, like in games, you have, like, your normal grind, so to say, if it's that kind of game. But then there is something on top that kind of brings you back. I mean, for subway surfers, it was always been a new update with a new kind of location for Playspace. In their bingo games, it's, you know, once a week, there is a new theme. There are new rooms with different settings where you can play bingo, for example. For other games, it can be something different.

Peggy: I'm just curious at a moment here, Oliver. Should it be virtual, or should it be physical or a little bit of both? Because I know some companies out there who are, you know, having real events and say that that's amazing. Of course, that's a little harder to put together. But what would you suggest?

Oliver: Well, I believe in virtual because that's scalable. And if you want to and can kind of trigger user behavior basically and increase the engagement, then that's amazing. I mean, I'm playing an idle game for now almost a year and they have, like, twice per week, they have events. One goes over the weekend, which, you know, requires quite high intense interaction and engagement. That's cool. And then they have a shorter one during the week that, you know, and you basically create a schedule around that. If they were doing even more events, I would probably even check in a bit more often. That's what I mean. So that can be a strategy. And for games, that works quite well. So it can be then very community-driven, etc., these kinds of things.

For other apps, it can be something different. So I'm helping a drawing app. And there, we basically publish new content every day for people to color. And again, people then also understand the value there and feel like, "Okay, yeah, this is worth subscribing," right? Or you take another app, it's like a 3D social app called Avakin Life. I've been involved with them for many, many years and they've grown substantially but they continuously publish new content and there are a lot of community events. There is always something new.

So you have to find what that can be for your app, this something new. If it's a travel app, yeah, you need to kind of find something that is interesting enough for your audience to kind of come back. And then you may want to kind of combine that with some special offers maybe or this or that. You have to find the thing that can drive live operations and engagement for you for your applications. So there's no silver bullet in that sense, unfortunately.

Peggy: I'm sold on the idea that, you know, it makes sense to be fresh, it makes sense to be different, and that will drive you. It will drive interest, activity deeper in the funnel. Do you have to set up your metrics different or do you have to get a different mindset around metrics to talk about, what does it really do to growth to the bottom line? Because these are, you know, events, not necessarily events like we used to measure them, but they're something very different and we still need to measure them. What do you tell your clients or what do you do yourself?

Oliver: Well, we've had many discussions around also LTV and these things. So you know that I have always been a big advocate for retention. And that's what it comes down to. It's not looking at day one, day three, day seven retention because, yeah, for games and also for apps by now, I guess, you know, these are kind of validations. Is my product actually interesting enough? Is there an audience for this product? Do they understand what it's about, etc.?

This is really the long-term retention. This is looking at like, "Okay, how many people come back day 120? How many people come back day 180, day 360? And is there still something valuable for them? And is there something also..." You obviously have to also build your monetization around that, "Is there also something to spend money on in LiveOps, right? And that's key. And so it's still around retention metrics.

We do, obviously, always look at also, you know, does this increase kind of time spent in the app, these kinds of things? So that's how you kind of optimize also your LiveOps strategy around that because at the end of the day, if you can create, you know, more habits around using the app, that's when, you know, you're top of mind and people come back more often. That's what matters.

Peggy: Does it make a certain special fit with a certain monetization model? I mean, for me, it's like, if you're selling, you know, in-app purchase, this makes perfect sense. First of all, you have a subscription model, that's a perfect fit right there. But you could say, "Well, I've got an attention economy. I can monetize it. I can get them to buy ore, more often, in different scenarios, or I could even monetize my audience better with advertising and ad-supported models," or is there a difference where it's like, LiveOps work best with subscription or don't work with IAP?

Oliver: No, you have to find the monetization model also around that. So if you feel that it should be more events-driven, you can still do something there. I mean, even with ads, I mean, I'm working with a game company where, you know, they sometimes do like events where you get three times the reward for watching a video this weekend only, those kinds of thing. You can do a lot of things around that, but it needs to kind of fit, yeah. I mean, I think the content that the ongoing new, fresh content suits subscription quite nicely because people then just feel like there is value in subscribing. I believe I will still use this app, you know, every day or every week in six months' time, then kind of I can easily get sold on this, right? Yeah. But you can also monetize within that purchases quite easily. So yeah, should be very doable. You just have to think about it.

Peggy: I like that because there's a lot of room for thinking. There's a lot of room for innovation. It tells us that there's still like a lot of excitement here. It's not all done. Just as a last question, Oliver, you know, I'm just curious, is there a special type of new skill set that you have to bring to the table to do this? Because now, it's not just about finding the fit between the audience and the monetization model, but it's being a little bit more innovative. I love, for example, the idea of a reward video for a certain period of time on an event gets even more rewards, you know, that is very smart. That's linking up quite a bit. I don't know if we have that many lateral thinkers in the industry to figure that out. What would they need to get the most out of this model? What kind of skill set?

Oliver: Yeah. I mean, in the games industry, there are like the product owners. So basically, producers that have a bit more of a commercial hat on. And, you know, if you look at kind of other industries, FMCG, I mean, the product owners are the ones that kind of drive the P&L. They're commercially responsible for their toothpaste or whatever it is. And I think these, you see also in games and especially in LiveOps where it's not you launch it and then, you know, as long as people play it for two, three days, let's say it's a hyper-casual game or something, you're fine. Yeah, product owners are the ones that kind of drive this usually. So again, things go in circles. It's not something terribly new. You can find new terminology, etc. But very often, it's the same things just maybe with a slightly different coat. Yeah.

Peggy: And to your point, things do go in circles. You know, you've been at several Mobile Growth Summit events speaking. You'll be giving the keynote here. We'll be seeing a lot more of you, I would hope, Oliver. And maybe, you know, come back here as well and follow your work. But in the meantime, how can listeners stay in touch with you, stay up-to-date on what you're doing, where you're speaking, what you're thinking?

Oliver: Yeah. Well, you can follow me...well, you can join or connect with me on LinkedIn. I'm not very active on Twitter. I do have a Twitter account, @oliverkern, but I'm not super active there. So best is to reach out on LinkedIn, actually. I am indeed speaking at Mobile Growth Summit in Berlin. And there, I will also share some specific case studies of some of the companies that I've been working with, what that actually meant for them and what that actually meant also in terms of numbers, in terms of growth numbers. And then the week after, I'm actually running a panel at Pocket Gamer in Helsinki around LiveOps because it has definitely become quite a topic. Yeah. At least in the game space, how to kind of extend also the lifetime, the product cycle of your game, yeah.

Peggy: Well, I'm definitely sold. I'll be following you and writing about you a lot more going forward. Oliver, thanks so much for joining us on "Mobile Growth" podcast. And a quick reminder to everyone out there to visit for a complete list of our upcoming events. And don't forget to use the very special promo code, MGPODCAST30 for 30% off your order. We hope to see you there at our events and, of course, we encourage you to check out this in every episode in our series posted on and on SoundCloud. So until next time, take care and we'll see you soon.