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From Idea to Launch to the Top 10 Downloads Chart — A Product Manager Takes a Mobile Game to the Top

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This case study is a great fit for companies looking to enter a new market with a digital product or service, especially in the mobile games industry.
How a full stack product manager helped a mobile game publisher launch their first title in Europe and get to the top of the download charts.
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Top 10 Download (games) on Apple Store within 6 months
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Passed $1M revenue within 8 months of starting the project
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Built a community of 30,000+ fans on Facebook, Twitter, VK and our forums
Background

A New Mobile Game Startup Needed a Product Manager to Join a Small Team & Launch Its First RPG Game Title

My client was a newly founded startup funded to publish mobile games in new markets. Our founder needed an initial team to release and monetize its first game title as quickly as possible. Her seed funding was limited and she had to deliver. As a non-technical, non-PM founder, she needed a product manager who could impact the entire product cycle: a Fullstack Product Manager.

Our founder required someone to join her small team of 3 people and fill a large skills gap: someone with experience that covered market research, product planning, localization and publishing, building infrastructure and integrating social features, game marketing, and user analytics.

At the time, I had already launched two startups and ran a digital development agency with two co-founders. I had the "founder-level" energy and experience needed to launch a new product but also to manage a growing team. I had managed a team of 13 at my agency, including designers, developers, and product managers. I also knew how to build online communities and captivate fans.

It was my agency that advised this client about their startup before they raised their seed round. It was a bonus that I speak French and could easily lead localization and growth for French users, the company's first target market

Execution

Taking a Game Title to the Top Downloads Chart in 8 Months

Document strategic direction, goals & tactical consideration

This was a critical first step for a greenfield project. The client had a vision and ambition to conquer the top of the app store charts, but it was very high-level and needed to be documented.

That is something I had learned (the hard way) in my previous startups and I stepped in to document strategic direction, goals, tactical, considerations, and imperatives. For this project, it meant documenting our business model, growth strategy, budget, and financial target (to raise the next round).

This step allowed us to surface constraints and challenges to address, as well as opportunities and gaps to be exploited.

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Define go-to-market path & document roadmap

A short step but an essential one. I worked directly with our founder to determine the best path to market with consideration of our budget and limited resources. This process allowed us to surface issues relating to technology, talent, and the time of our first release.

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Define target markets & initial Product Market Fit

This was quantitative and qualitative research meant to document our geographical markets and the user segments within each market. I delivered a Segmentation Matrix for our first market, France. It included a detailed demographic profile and preferences of 8 segments. Each segment was rated for monetization potential, community activation, and dive time.

The research took into consideration gaming habits and entertainment trends, education level and work status, marital status and a dozen other metrics.

This step was crucial because it informed our choice of the combination of game category, game style, and monetization model that would deliver the financial results our founder wanted.

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Select, localise & optimise game title

This step was time-intensive and often tedious, but it was essential to our success. Basically, I joined the team in testing dozens of potential games and the most successful competition titles. We ranked each candidate against our market research (Step 3) and selected a Role-Playing Game (RPG game). As the only French native speaker on the team, I was deeply involved in the translation of the game names, titles, labels, dialogues, and instructions.

Localization was about more than translating and I lead the optimization of designs and characters to suit the expectations of French users. I lead this effort for the German, English, and Russian localisations by relying on the cultural insight of native speakers, including several interns I had hired.

Localization also included the integration of different social media platforms and attribution tools that worked best in different markets (e.g. Facebook in France and Germany. VK in Russia). I oversaw this effort and worked directly with the game developer to implement local tools into each edition of the title.

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Set-up socials & community sites, SEO, app store marketing

This step can be considered part of product marketing, in many respects. This is where it was necessary to integrate socials and community insights into the game interactions - after all, mobile games are driven by social and community interaction.

Founders often struggle with this step due to a lack of experience. Thankfully, I had experience from working with my own digital agency.

What was rather unconventional about this step is that I implemented it myself. The client's challenge was that they did not have the resources and time to hire specialists for this task, so my role as an all-rounder became critical. I am somebody who's had experience writing documentation and localizing games in different languages, but also building fan pages and fan forums and Facebook pages and YouTube channels and doing the App Store marketing and the App Store optimization and the SEO. This did mean many late nights of coding, but I enjoyed being able to deliver.

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Publish to app stores & launch marketing/engage activities

In the team I was the most experienced with publishing apps, thus I managed all releases to Apple AppStore and Google Play Store. This process was not always smooth: we faced multiple rejections from app reviews and several serious issues relating to alleged violations of store terms of use. This was a very hands-on process: I was in charge of creating the visuals and copy for the listing.

Once the games were accepted and published, I lead the marketing effort (primarily with Facebook Ads) with ad copy, ad visuals, and ad targeting based on the market research I had done (Step 3).

While our marketing spend was focused on user acquisition, I also designed incentives that turned new downloads into community members on our forums and fan pages.

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Results

Top Ranking in RPG Game Category — Over $1M Revenue

The client raised additional capital based on the success of the first title, released in France. The game was highly ranked in the app store and we achieved a top spot in the RPG game category on iOS and Android.

The first game title was localized in French, German, Russian, and English, and was published in app stores in France, Germany, the UK, and Russia.

We built a community of over 30,000 users across all localizations, on Facebook, VK, and on our fan forums.

The project was very fluid. I was able to adapt and fill gaps in design, translation, server admin, copywriting, community engagement, and more. Growing our gamer community was critical to the success of our games. I personally developed our online forums and fan pages. I also recruited and trained our mods and community coordinators.

This project was a massive success for the client and for me too. It was certainly a wilder ride than I had anticipated but I'm proud of what I was able to achieve on this project.

Fullstack Product Leader for Hire. 10+ years experience in building, launching and growing products in B2B SaaS, gaming, media and fintech.