The Mobile Game Developer?s Guide to Emerging Markets: Russia
Insights & Best Practices
August 24, 2015
Today's Russia is the remaining core of a former superpower, a fact the game industry would do well to remember. To analysts, though, Russia is often labeled as a "developing" country. But is Russia accurately grouped with countries like Brazil and India, places with interesting-but-not-quite-ripe gaming prospects?India, for example, is home to 1.25 billion people; Russia, only 143.5 million. Yet, in an interesting inversion, Russia's GDP per capita is $12,735 ? nearly 8 times that of India. This translates to more mobile devices sold and more games purchased.Still, "developing" isn't a misnomer when applied to Russia's mobile game market, as the country has yet to reach its full potential for game consumption. However, the rewards for a developer who can win a Russian audience are significant, even today.
The state of the market
There's already a booming market for smartphones in Russia. In 2014, 26 million smartphones were in use, and that number is expected to reach 40 million by 2018, according to J'son & Partners.
Mobile games are also well established. Some 33.8 million Russians play games on their phones, about 24 percent of the population, according to a joint Newzoo / Mail.ru study. Of these players, about 28 percent report paying for either full games or freemium purchases (45 percent of players say the same in the US).While the Newzoo and Mail.ru study reports Russia as a $165 million mobile game market, SuperData gives a higher estimate ? $209 million in 2014. Despite a sizable difference, both point to the fact that Russia is a market ripe with opportunity.
The Russian players
In the years before mobile gaming, Russian players ? primarily young males ? were well known for their love of gritty strategy and action games.These stereotypes have carried over to the current mobile market to an extent. Action and strategy games rule the roost on iOS, according to Chartboost's cost per install measurements. Android is similar, with roleplaying and strategy games leading by big margins.
Games across these genres seem to benefit from multiplayer features. "Russian players are the most aggressive players and they create the most powerful clans. As solo players, not so much," says Ilya Eremeyev, creative director at A-Steroids, whose RPG Clash of the Damned has many Russian players.Growth by bootups shows some other categories growing quickly, though. Role playing, trivia, board, and casino games all experienced over 150?percent year-over-year growth.
High CPIs for "core" genres like roleplaying and strategy, countered by high growth in other categories, may reflect that the Russian mobile market includes many crossover players from its hardcore MMO and PC markets. However, the mobile game audience also includes a large volume of women and men new to gaming.
The Newzoo study found a 58/42 split of male to female players in Russia?mirroring most industrialized countries. With a large female audience, there's a gap for game developers to diverge from the games Russian males traditionally enjoy. "In my opinion, games are still a male entertainment in Russia," says Eremeyev, who points out an opportunity for more complex female-oriented games.As a whole, the Russian market is growing quite fast in the Chartboost network, at 68%?YoY growth.
The Russian game industry
Another difference from most developing markets is that Russia already has a strong tradition of game development ? and thousands of professional developers.But these developers may currently have trouble creating new companies. Since the conflict in Ukraine began, capital is less available from overseas, particularly the United States. And the government offers few incentives for game companies.However, Russia's plummeting currency could offer an advantage for existing Russian developers: a dollar earned internationally from a game today is worth 63 rubles (versus only 36 rubles a year ago).This new reality also benefits those interested in outsourcing development to Russia, since wages paid in rubles may cost less than in previous years. "I think that outsourcing will come back to Russia and Ukraine. It's cheap to produce high quality art," says Eremeyev.
Mounting a successful invasion
Want to break into this market? While Russians have adopted iOS and Android enthusiastically, Facebook and Twitter are less popular. Instead, social networking in the country is dominated by VKontakte and Odnoklassniki, with about 55 million and 40 million users respectively.Like Facebook, these local social networks have taken advantage of the growing mobile market. Russian developers often use VK's mobile platform to soft launch a game and get feedback before a wider release. Nevosoft did this with its most successful game, Gemmy Lands, which now earns $5,000 to $8,000 per day in Russia alone, according to Lebedeva.Russia also has several privately owned app stores for Android, run by Yandex, MTS and Megafon. While not a necessity to succeed, these stores could offer a boost in downloads.All of these options could be a footnote to a small developer. It's possible to start by contacting the social networks, or trying to establish a foothold with the private app stores, but these options may pose a significant challenge without local representatives.Of course, devs can simply launch on the App Store and Google Play. However, this carries with it one major caveat: Russians demand Russian.
The fine points of localization
Like Brazil, Russians have low English expertise, ranking in the bottom half among all countries. More importantly, though, Russians also have pride in their language. Without good localization, your game may falter. "Russians are very touchy when it comes to the language, and we don't like when there are mistakes," says Lebedeva.The Cyrillic alphabet poses a fundamental challenge to English-language games: Lebedeva notes that some Russians don't even know how to switch the alphabet their phone uses, which would prevent searches for games with non-Cyrillic names. And beyond the game itself, Russians may even demand customer service in their own language.Offsetting the difficulties, there is an advantage to good localization ? or rather, 15 of them. Countries such as?Ukraine, Poland and Bulgaria also contain many people who likely have higher proficiency in Russian than English.At the end of the day, localization is not a significant barrier for an opportunity the size of Russia. "People are a little afraid, there are a lot of stereotypes of Russians: vodka and bears. But it's not that different, and it's too big to ignore," says Lebedeva.