Iteration Makes Perfect

This weekend I spent some time poking around the very useful mobile analytics site, App Annie, which I believe most mobile developers and marketers are already familiar with. App Annie provides great mobile performance analytics and market trend-watching tools. With the rise of mobile app and software ecosystems like iOS, Google Play, and Amazon, games have become one of the most popular app categories. Mobile is no longer the “wild west”, and with the increasing availability of data, there are now numerous opportunities to explore player behavior in mobile games, like how to build effective mobile game funnels and monetize on freemium models.

Casual puzzle games like Candy Crush Saga, summer movie tie-ins like Monsters University and Despicable Me: Minion Rush, and Plants vs Zombies 2 have cashed in on the successful freemium app model. Freemium games entice players with a “free-to-play” invitation, then monetize through a variety of well-designed game mechanics and in-app purchases. These game mechanics and in-app purchases are successful because insights from player performance data can help craft and iterate sticky game mechanics, good pressure-point monetization design, immersive tutorial design, and effective game funnels.

The beauty of working in a digital industry is that everything is trackable. Nobody expects to launch a perfect product, but once data from beta-testing pours in, the time to test and iterate your product begins. With the aid of good tools, A/B tests that gain insights about players and product, an open analytical mind to parse through the data, and the willingness to take prompt actions based on insights, the room for product improvement has been largely expanded. The mobile gaming field has now become an open playground, full of opportunities.


A New Hope

I am restarting my blog after a hiatus of three years. In the past three years, I finished my USC graduate school program in digital media; did a fantastic internship with Paramount Pictures marketing movies online and campaigning for Academy Awards; met so many amazing people cross different walks of life; and landed my dream job with Disney, where I currently work on entertainment digital product design and management. I’ve been busy!

It has been a demanding and also rewarding journey. But most important of all, I’ve missed writing. I miss the times I spent with myself, reflecting on observations of my daily life, and the exciting shifts in the digital media landscape.

With this brand new start, I will continue to share my thoughts, readings, and work experience related to digital entertainment product development, and how to use data to decipher the intertwined worlds of human connections, business intelligence and digital engagement.

I am learning through practicing, and I feel very fortunate to be able to work on things I love, and with a group people that inspire me. I once read a saying somewhere that I want to use as my career motto:

“Don’t just get things done, make things happen.”

Though I am sometimes bogged down by my busy schedule, I should not forget this motto, and re-booting this blog is a great way for me to make things happen again instead of just getting things done in my life.

With that being said, in light of my new experiences over the past three years, as well as my transition from an aspiring digital media student to a digital industry professional, I think it’s time for my blog to reflect my new interests in data-driven media and product development insights. So, bye bye to my previous blog theme, “Social Media is Great!” And hello to my brand new “Data and Lore” blog. I have added a screenshot of my former blog theme to commemorate it.

Hey, world! I’m back!


Monetization of Mobile Platform

The slides below are for a project that I have been working on in the past two weeks for one of my classes. I have really been fascinated by the growth of the mobile internet and what implications may result from always-on, constantly available internet access. How will users change their internet usage behavior, how will they utilize such easy online access, and just as important, how will businesses make money from the rise of mobile internet?

That means asking what new mobile advertising and location-based advertising and services will be prominent on mobile phone platforms. By examining the major advertising networks and the differences in their various market segments, as well as the impact of location-based technologies on new advertising efforts and the innovative services that have arisen to take advantage of location-based technologies, I wanted this presentation to highlight what advertisers and mobile users can expect to see in the next five years in a constantly changing industry. One important aspect of the future of the mobile industry’s development that is not stressed in these slides is mobile apps. Apps are the way to extend the usability of mobile internet service, and is a major player in the growth of the mobile internet. Also, I believe it will be the leader in efforts to monetize the mobile internet effort in the future, but due to the scope of my research this time, I did not cover it. I would definitely like to look into this sector in the future.

I relied on a variety of sources, including industry media like AdAge, TechCrunch, and marketing research firms like eMarketer and even some Morgan Stanley investor reports, so there’s a lot numbers to digest, but also some neat graphs and charts to make things easier to understand. Maybe this sounds like a cliche, but I really think the potential impact of mobile internet is going to change our lives. What are your thoughts on the growth of mobile internet and mobile advertising? What are the next big mobile web opportunities?

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How Will (Is) Mobile Internet Access Change(ing) Our Lives

Morgan Stanley’s latest April 2010 internet trend report predicts that the number of mobile internet users will exceed desktop internet users in the next five years globally, and thus mobile devices will become the next big platforms for people to connect to the internet.

Josh Levison from IPG Emerging Media Lab has also painted a very promising picture of mobile industry for us in last week’s class, and he predicted that mobile phones would be the primary engaging online tool in the near future.

I believe as mobile platforms keep growing, they will provide a strong and unique media channel to add atop the plethora of already existing media channels that can immerse people in an always-on media world.

Compared with other media channels, mobile platforms provide much more immediate connectivity to people, and the users’ mobile habits make the platforms more interactive. Because of mobile devices’ portability, they will also lead the development of location-based media outreach. This means storytellers can deliver more customized content to people’s phones according to their physical location, and that content could synchronize with billboards, posters, and other preset media content at that physical location to create a more immersive and interactive experience for people. I can image some serendipitous storytelling could be made possible now that mobile devices are becoming an internet portal. For example, a movie studio could deliver location-based messages to a movie fan’s phone to instruct them to find some hints about a movie near their current location. The hints could be hidden under a bus stop bench or be written as a special code in a billboard, and if the fan could discover the code and send it back to the movie studio, relevant rewards like movie tickets could be granted to reward the user’s participation.

The above mentioned method is just one simple way to engage users with mobile platforms. I can also see many other sophisticated mobile device interactions being adopted by adding a layer of the alternate reality gaming mechanisms to the overall storytelling design, and making the story a more personal experience for users.

Foursquare Fights Fake Check-In

Foursquare tries to prevent people from checking in from their couches

Today, Foursquare released a post in their blog announcing that they were determined to play the game the hard way. From now on, they will grant points only to the check-ins for which they can verify the users’ location through GPS data sent from people’s phones or “through other tricks” for phones that do not have GPS.

Seeing this news, I feel genuinely happy for Foursquare to finally take a step forward in dealing with the complicated cheating issue in their game, especially if they want to be taken seriously not just by their avid users, but also by the brick and mortar businesses that grant real world value to Foursquare’s point system and virtual currency. Ever since I started to play Foursquare, I have noticed how easy it is to cheat the system. In my first couple of days, in order to get around the system, I tried all sorts of ways to check in just to test Foursquare’s boundaries. To my surprise, I could basically get points for almost whatever I did, regardless of whether or not I was actually at a venue. I have GPS on my phone, but the GPS data is just for locating me to give me a bunch of suggested locations to conveniently check in to. If I claim I am at a place 50 miles from where my GPS locates me, I can still click to check in and claim points. I have also tried a rapid fire check-in, and claimed over 5 places within 3 minutes, and I got my points too. The system did not seem to have the intelligence to identify such very obvious cheating behavior.

Compared to competitor Gowalla’s stringent approach of verifying the authenticity of people’s check-ins, Foursquare’s initial lenient approach was understandable: it sought to grow its user base, and this primary goal of Foursquare’s was repeated by its founder Dennis Crowley over and over again publicly, and I personally agreed with it very much and saw how it worked well and was taking Foursquare into the right direction. By being less stringent on verifying people’s location, Foursquare opened its doors to a much bigger audience, especially for people whose phones can’t send out GPS data and making themselves look more welcoming. At the same time, it has also avoided a lot of complicated GPS efficiency issues like turning off GPS or GPS’ inability to detect people’s locations when they were in-doors. Just as I am writing this post, a thought came to my mind: what if someone stood outside a store and checked in without actually going in? Could GPS data detect precisely whether a person actually stepped through the doors? Given the current problems reported about GPS data, I am quite skeptical.

With the new rules in place, what about the people who do not have a GPS-equipped phone that Foursquare originally wanted to serve? Since the initial purpose for Foursquare is to help people tell their friends where they are, under the new rule, Foursquare will still let people check in and share their location, but only check-ins verified by GPS data or some other means like their “check-in frequency pattern” (sound very vague to me) can gain points. Umm, will people buy this? If you’ve played Foursquare, you would know how frustrating it can be to check in without gaining points. Yes, it still functions as a friend-finder service, but what defines Foursquare is that it is a game, and I’ll bet more people are using Foursquare to win points than to find friends. I’m interested to see how this will work out.

Throughout Foursquare’s rapid and crazy growth, the easy to cheat mechanics have undoubtedly been a big hole in their system, and I believe if they do not tackle it, it will eventually lead to an implosion of frustration someday once they get even bigger. Foursquare users have been complaining about it forever, without getting any attention. But what Foursquare recently has been working on is a business analysis platform for small businesses to track actual visits, and these new GPS-verified check-ins show that they are making progress. And it is apparent that this new rule reinforces Foursquare’s real value to real world business: traceable in-store foot traffic. So, can we take this new approach as a sign that Foursquare’s focus is shifting a bit from growing its user base to wooing real-world local business partners? It actually does not matter whether this is for users or for businesses, because it is ultimately going to benefit both of them in the long term, as well as Foursquare themselves by legitimizing their platform.

Today I tested the new rule by faking a check-in on Foursquare again. I checked in at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown L.A. while I was actually at USC. It still worked and I still got my points. But Foursquare mentioned in their blog that they are still tweaking things and coming up with new ways to fight cheating behavior, so I will give them more time considering the messy and complicated conditions they face now. Rome was not built in one day. It took hard work, and I am glad Foursquare is finally taking responsibility and working on taking their platform to the next level.