The Secret Behind This Narrative Mobile Game's Sleeper Success
May 6, 2016
Narrative mobile game Episode ? Choose Your Story has never gotten much mobile game industry attention. Despite being over two years old, a top download and holding a top-grossing ranking, the game is a sleeper hit.As much Choose Your Own Adventure as it is a game, Episode stands out in a sea of endless strategy RPGs and match 3 variations that dominate the app store charts today?capitalizing on a winning mixture of user-generated content (UGC), a tight community and mobile video ads.Here, Episode?s creative manager Cassie Phillipps shares her thoughts on what sets the game apart from other top grossing mobile games.Chartboost: Many companies attempt UGC and it doesn't always work. For you, it does. Why?Cassie Phillipps: To succeed as a platform, you must make sure to have great content for your players. Some people who come out saying they're a UGC platform focus on their creators first, without ensuring they are giving their players great content and keeping that audience around for the creators?so the creators go away.[caption id="attachment_17326" align="alignright" width="310"]
Image via Episode Interactive[/caption]Chartboost: What do your internal designers do?Phillipps:Episode has a story team?similar to Pixar. We're doing pitches, story rooms, pilots that we test with small audiences, then we look at the data and figure out the next steps. With the product team, we want to make sure players are finding great stuff, so we're regularly designing tools to make that easier.Chartboost: What makes narrative on mobile different from narrative on web or PC?Phillipps: If you want to watch a Netflix movie, you know you need time and comfort; it's an investment. That's a very different experience than sitting on the bus with five or 10 minutes to get into a good story. These stories have to get started quickly and be more focused with their visuals and their story. For example, it would be pretty hard tell Lord of the Rings on mobile, it would be too distracting and detailed, but you could tell just Frodo's story, focusing on his journey and relationships.Chartboost: Do players always consume a story in one sitting? Or do they come back for smaller sessions?Phillipps: We see both behaviors. People seem to consume stories in spurts in the afternoons and then a lot of evening binge reading. Our data suggests that people love to binge even on short episodes of content.Chartboost: Can you talk about Episode's monetization?[caption id="attachment_17327" align="alignleft" width="308"]
Image via Episode Interactive[/caption]Phillipps: One of the ways that Episode monetizes is through video ads. When we were thinking about how mobile users interact with ads, we had to consider a couple of use cases: On one hand, we have readers who can be quite price sensitive; on the other, we have readers who want to binge read without interruption. In response to this, we've been experimenting with an ad model similar to companies like Hulu, where users can remove ads for a monthly fee or can choose an ad-supported alternative without that fee.Chartboost: You've had spin-offs with Demi Lovato, Mean Girls and Ugly Americans. Are celebrity games a hot area for you?Phillipps: It's definitely a hot area if you look at it as not just celebrity, but IP as well. If it's a place that has narrative, a world we can build on, it's also usually got a great audience that's parallel to our audiences. So it gets us new audience really fast.They're also super fun to work with. It's fun to get outside opinions, to have collaborative partners that aren't necessarily just in gaming, to get thoughts on what's going on?like getting Demi's opinion on how she thinks or acts or Paramount's ideas of what the Mean Girls would do.