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Developer Chat: Eureka Studio's Koya Baba Talks Escape Games, Boosting LTV, and More

Here at Pangle, we're constantly impressed by the talent and creativity of the developers we work with. In our new Developer Chat series, we're chatting with some of them to learn their tried-and-true development strategies, clever tips and tricks, and juicy behind-the-scenes tidbits. We hope they bring you a healthy dose of inspiration and guidance.

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Today, we're taking a deep dive into Eureka Studio's development and monetization approach. Based in Japan, Eureka Studio creates hyper-casual mobile games that put a cute, cheeky twist on everyday life. Its latest blockbuster is Skip School! (学校さぼる), an escape game in which players help a naughty student evade a teacher hell-bent on finding him. Since early May, it has been the #1 free game in the App Store in Japan. We had a chat with Eureka Studio's Mr. Koya Baba to learn about the path this game has taken.

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A 3-year solo journey to the top of the mobile gaming world

You launched Skip Work! (仕事サボる!) and Skip School! (学校をさぼる) about three years ago. We're curious about the story behind how this app was made. Could you talk about what sparked its release?

Baba: Since I knew that mobile games were popular, I'd always wanted to make my own.

At first, I had no know-how at all. I did a lot of research and learned that the escape game genre had many dedicated fans, and I could expect a natural inflow of users if I made one of those games. So I decided to make an escape game.

Among escape games, I felt that casual escape games were especially popular at the time, so I decided to make an escape game that everyone could play with ease.

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How was your first attempt?

Baba: As expected, we saw a natural inflow of users. YouTubers and others also raised our profile, and the games made it into the ranking. I think that was a good start in terms of profitability.

At that time, I was doing everything all by myself, from planning to creating apps. With this background, profits grew steadily, and now I've been able to bring on more people and divide up the work.

Giving a Low-LTV Game an LTV-Doubling Upgrade

Escape games are often uninstalled after a day of playing with them, so it's seen as a genre in which it's hard to achieve high LTV. Was there anything you did to increase the LTV?

Baba: Indeed, at the beginning, the LTV was less than half of what it is now. Since many users came in organically, I didn't plan to place ads like in the typical hyper-casual business model. Eventually, I adopted a monetization model that put LTV around a few dozen yen: Users could watch a rewarded video ad to get a hint. One day, LTV suddenly jumped when I updated the gameplay.

What kind of update was it?

Baba: I reduced the difficulty of the stages and increased the number of stages. In Skip School!, you cannot advance to the next stage until you clear the current stage. Initially, there were about 30 stages, gradually increasing in difficulty.

You'd think that at difficult stages, users would just watch lots of video ads to get hints, right? That's what I thought, but the reality was different.

Users would actually stop playing when they reached difficult stages. That showed me that most users were looking for an immediately rewarding experience in our app. So I deleted as many of the high-difficulty stages as possible and changed the structure to comprise many stages that anyone can solve and find interesting.

Before the update, about half of the users would abandon the game after completing 10 stages. After the update, almost half of the users would complete 30–40 stages.

Did the LTV change?

Baba: It changed a lot! Initially, the day after our app was installed, more than half of the users would abandon it, and after three days, most users would be gone. So the day-one users were the main monetization point. After the update, user play time increased, the number of interstitial video ad views increased considerably, and the LTV more than doubled.

By monetizing and gaining more profit with in-app ads, we were in turn able to scale the game and the user base further.

If you can just get users up to an average CPI for a typical hyper-casual game, you can be in the black and succeed as a developer. You can have a sense of scale when you publish!

What Kind of Impression Did Pangle Leave?

Could you tell us about your experience incorporating Pangle's rewarded video ads and interstitial video ads in Skip School! and Skip Work!? What did you think of the process?

Baba: The SDK is compatible with the mediation we are currently using, and we had solid support leading up to it, so we were comfortable with the process.

In terms of profitability, we used Pangle's CPM target tool and set the price floor we wanted, and we actually ended up with a higher CPM than expected. We had heard that the Pangle SDK was strong within China, but weren't sure whether it would be in Japan as well. It turns out that in Japan, bids are pretty high!

Careful attention to user preferences, openness to change, and the support and tools provided by Pangle have jumpstarted monetization for Skip School! and Skip Work!. And Eureka Studio is far from the only game developer to see a dramatic transformation with this kind of approach. To see how Pangle can help you push your app monetization further, reach out to us at pangle_support@bytedance.com. And for more interviews with successful developers, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn and Facebook!