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How DeNA overcame network and user acquisition challenges in China

How DeNA overcame network and user acquisition challenges in China Exclusive

June 26, 2012 | By Brandon Sheffield

DeNA China has had good success with the company's Mobage platform in the region, and boasts big success for third parties as well. Kang Sun, project manager of open platform for DeNA China, mentioned at GDC Taipei that revenue for third-party games has exceeded 50 percent of the company's total platform revenue in the fourth quarter of 2011, and has remained that high.

But getting to this point was not without its issues. To start with, there's a very complex network environment in China. If they have a smartphone at all, "Most users still use 2.5G," Sun noted. "In China we have 940 million mobile phone users, and about 431 million use the internet," he said, but 3G adoption is only 147 million.

"In China many people have an iPhone using GPRS to get onto the internet," he says, "And the speed of the network is very slow. Compared with Japan or Korea, our downloading speed is several 10s of kilobytes to 1 or 200k/second."

This complicated network environment leads to low data transfer rates, and expensive network traffic fees, which turns players off. "It they have to wait for 2 minutes to download something, they'll just try something else," says Sun. "Once they play, they're willing to pay."

The company also had the problem of users giving games 1 star because of slow downloads. So the two major things they had to fix were the download speed, and the registration and install times. In the earlier days of mobile social games, the journey from download to play looked like this: game download > install > launch > register > login > play.

The first thing to do was to minimize the game package. "If it's a big game, we want to split it up into an initial package, then later packages for downloading," he said, calling to mind browser game tactics of the early 2000s. Android fragmentation further complicates the issue, so they have to prepare specific assets for specific phones on occasion. If they break up the packages, that helps serve these unique device environments.

In DeNA's Ninja Royale for example, the first download is 22.5MB. World two is 7 MB, world three 10MB, and special event data is around 4MB. The company expects around 1-2 weeks between these downloads, easing the pain on the end user.

The next problem was the player account. In the company's first implementation, lots of people didn't complete the registration process, even though they tried to streamline it by making the user's phone number their login. The trouble came in part because users had to use the mobile browser, which could take up to 3-4 minutes.

In July 2011 they optimized. "We changed our portal to a native page, and as they get into the game, it's embedded in the app," he said. Users enter a phone number, a mail address, and a password, which they use to complete registration. "Comparing to the past, there's less user entry," he said, improving download to registration success by more than 10%. But it still wasn't enough.

In November 2011 they optimized again. You only entered a nickname, a gender, and that's all. Registration time went down to 30 seconds. In January 2012, the system was improved further, to where players chose a gender, and that's all. Now, with a system called Weak Account System, the system just randomly assigns you a silly nickname, and logs you in automatically -- the registration is all done on the Mobage side. Now if you play one Mobage game, it will log you in automatically for any other game on the same device. With this, the conversion rate from download to play improved by 100 percent. This also reduced the cost of player acquisition -- it fell 50 percent since the introduction of the system.

Another problem is remote notification, which is useful for player retention through reminder notices. Notifications are specific to Android and iOS -- and this is no problem on the Apple side. But for Android, it gets more complicated. "If you'd like to notify a user, they need a Google account," Sun noted. "The challenge in China is that many Android mobile phones don't have this function. Also, many users don't log into their Google accounts that often, and they have other things to replace their Google account."

In order to make this work, the company filters all notifications through Mobage servers first - the end user's notifications go through the Mobage platform, which then can push through apple to iOS devices, and through the mobage notification system for Android devices. This has the added benefit of allowing them to use the same push notification cross-platform. Though the barriers for entry to China are strong, the payoff is huge.

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