Winning in emerging markets

Posted by Adi Haddad, Business Development Manager, Google Play

Today, two-thirds of all new Android users come from emerging markets*. If you’re looking for the next wave of growth, you can prepare your app or game for these emerging markets; not as a plan for the future but as a plan for now, because the opportunity is here today. In fact, the installation pattern for apps from Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) developers already show that three of the four top markets for their apps are the emerging markets of India, Brazil, and Russia*.

But, I can hear you say: users are one thing, revenue is another, do these markets really bring in any money? The truth is, they do. From the top 30 countries by spend for EMEA-based Play developers, 6 are emerging markets*. While this may not sound overly impressive, the significant thing about emerging markets is that they are delivering above 34% year-on-year growth in spend*.

In this post I’ve gathered the thoughts from 6 developers across EMEA and North America who have found success in emerging markets: Anatoly Ropotov, chief executive officer at Game Insight; Mark Panelo, senior director of business development at Kabam; Maria Pestrikova, managing partner at Kefir; Kristina Narusk, former vice president of growth for Memrise; Saad Choudri, chief commercial officer at Miniclip; and Jim Stern card division general manager, Zynga.

Follow your users

Embarking on a strategy to expand into emerging markets may seem daunting. As Saad from Miniclip notes, many developers “tend to think anything that’s close to home is a little easier … to concentrate on.” However, your users may already be telling you which markets are worth addressing. Using their analytics dashboard, Miniclip could see “what’s lighting up and what’s growing. And so, then you just kind of naturally make that choice,” says Saad. So, it was their data that encouraged them to focus on India and Brazil.

Consider the effect of affordable data plans

A strong driver for the growth in app installs, active users, and revenue in emerging markets has been the increase in affordable data plans. Saad sees this as one of the reasons for the success of Miniclip’s 8 Ball Pool — a multiplayer game Saad says attracts 200 million players worldwide every month — in India. “Once cheaper data plans started happening in India, we saw a massive, massive uptick in users in that territory. Because, obviously, we’ve got a multiplayer game and when you’ve got a multiplayer game, it does take up [the user’s] data package,” says Saad. This uptake means that India is one of Miniclip’s top 10 revenue generators.

Understand local needs

Memrise is a language learning app that claims to have 42 million learners from more than 180 countries. According to Kristina, emerging markets — especially Russia, Poland, Mexico, Brazil, and Turkey — are an important part of the app’s user-base growth.

“It sounds very trivial and straightforward, but one of our key learnings has been that the more you understand the markets — the more you understand the local need for learning a language — the better you’re set for a correct value proposition and delivering the promise that people expect,” says Kristina. In Memrise’s case, this proved to be as simple as providing their Brazilian users with a course for US English rather than British English.

Prepare for technical challenges

Managing application size is important. For Rangoli Rekha, a match 3 game Zynga created for India, Jim notes that they had to make sure that the file size was kept below 20 Mb. “Based on the research that we had done, we found that up to 40% of people find other fileshare servers to download the game,” says Jim. “So, we made sure it was accessible through services like FireShare.”

Mark notes that Kabam had an issue with MARVELContest of Champions when it launched 4 years ago: “The game is huge. I would probably say, on device, it’s around 700 Mb. So, you can see that could be a hurdle for acquisition,” says Mark. “We managed to reengineer the game so our initial download is sub-100 Mb. This means players can download the game over cellular. And, while they’re playing through the tutorial, our game leverages on-demand resources to download the rest of the package. It made our game much more accessible in emerging markets.”

A particular challenge for games in emerging markets is their social aspect, more particularly the reliance this places on a server to facilitate the social interaction. Zynga’s Çanak Okey Plus — a tile-based gin game similar to Rummikub — is played predominantly in Turkey. Jim notes that the fact that the closest AWS server was in Germany caused some latency issues. So, after shopping around, Zynga found price-competitive local servers in Turkey that improved latency.

For Zynga Poker, Jim explains that they initially decided to segment the servers based on the different languages of the countries where people were playing. “We found that this created an issue on liquidity,” says Jim, “People weren’t able to find other players because they were on different servers. So, to accommodate that, we put everybody back onto a single set of servers.”

Test in emerging markets

Before they launched first-person shooter Guns of Boom for Android, Game Insight decided to use Turkey and Russia as test-beds to validate the game. This testing told Game Insight that they had to support low-end devices and address issues such as loading speeds, device performance, and data consumption.

“Tackling emerging markets first has allowed us to enter many other markets, including India, Brazil, and other markets that are growing at a huge, enormous pace of millions and millions of downloads,” says Anatoly.

Localize products

A long-standing piece of advice on addressing any market outside your home is to localize, but localization is a broad spectrum: from translating text all the way to customizing characters or changing the in-app experience for different markets.

The approach taken by Miniclip has been to build games around concepts that have a universal appeal. In the case of 8 Ball Pool, Saad notes that “apart from [UI] strings … there’s not much to culturalize … it’s a stick kicking a ball into a pocket.” However, while Miniclip may not have needed to localize their gameplay, they have found that promotions that are popular in developed markets don’t necessarily translate into emerging markets.

Another approach, particularly applicable to games, is using a universal language. Peter at Kefir comments that for Last Day on Earth, a game with over 80 million downloads, “in telling our story, no one can really tell where the action takes place. We use common tools that every player can recognize, For example, every player can tell that a stone hatchet is for chopping down trees.”

However, many games will benefit from tailoring content for local markets. For example, Game Insight recently rolled out local content for India. Anatoly notes that this “was well-received. And I think it’s because of the collectible nature of things inside our game. People …want to have all the costumes, all of the suits, and they want to try it all.”

Testing is also important. Mark notes that for MARVEL Contest of Champions that they A/B tested to find out which characters resonate best in which markets. “When we look at our offers for a market, we look at which characters and which packages makes more sense for that market,” says Mark.

You can also create products specifically for emerging markets, which is what Zynga did with Okey. “In Turkey, Okey is very popular, very traditional in their card houses. People have been playing it for years and they play socially, they play for money,” says Jim. “There are 80 million or so people in Turkey, and a large portion of them play Okey.”

Jim notes that it’s also particularly important, given how well the local users know the game, that they didn’t use “canned phrases that are just translated through an app, but we use text and language that is known within that particular culture.” This level of localization also meant that for customer service it was important to have people who were from Turkey, who know how to speak the language and know the culture.

Memrise have paid attention to the user acquisition funnel phases, starting from the Google Play product page. According to Kristina, you should highlight features that people from emerging market countries are really interested in, not forgetting to reflect these highlights in the screenshots you use on the product page. So, while Memrise offers dozens of language pairs, they promote different languages for each market. For example, for Turkey, it’s English, German, and Russian.

Kristina also notes that Memrise sees an interesting dynamic in emerging markets: a correlation between the business performance of certain regions and markets and the intention of people to learn a language. The speed and rate of conversion at the very early stages of user onboarding are the highest in countries where the language learning intention tends to be less casual and more of a need, aspiration, or related to professional improvement. While these insights can be quite fascinating in their own right, more importantly, they can highlight ways to tweak and improve onboarding.

Engage with local creators and influencers

Anatoly from Game Insights notes that “emerging markets have creators and influencers that are eager to share content locally. And the spread is enormous. It’s thousands and thousands of daily videos uploaded to YouTube, and the consumption rate is really high.” One way Game Insight takes advantage of this is by letting players upload their replays to YouTube from Guns of Boom.

Kefir also works with YouTubers from different countries producing content in a range of languages. As many YouTubers use emulators to record their content, Kefir added a higher quality graphics setting — not supported by most devices — that can be triggered when using an emulator. To further encourage content “we let our YouTubers play updates first, so they can make videos ahead of the release,” says Peter. “This approach is also very handy when we want to test multiplayer features on a smaller number of players first. Players from our community are happy to test new features.”

Price to local markets

For Kristina at Memrise, localized pricing has really unlocked opportunities in emerging markets, and it makes a big difference to the number of users they convert to payers. Memrise has also done a lot of testing to find the sweet spot from subscription plan pricing.

In some emerging markets, Memrise finds people pick the cheapest and, therefore, the shortest period subscriptions. They would like to get more of these people onto longer subscriptions and therefore engaged for longer. To address this, they have looked at various ways to make long period subscriptions more affordable or, by communicating the value of its offer, more appealing. In Mexico, Memrise found that 70% of people were taking a monthly subscription, but by simply increasing the monthly subscription fee a little, they achieved a shift towards people preferring the annual subscription.

“In a tier 1 market, [players] would be more open to, say, a gacha mechanic, or some sort of a card pack. Whereas in emerging markets, we tend to find that the hard-nosed value for soft currency is what people want,” says Saad. In Miniclip’s experience, players in emerging markets want to know exactly what they’re going to get.

Anatoly notes that one of the challenges with regional or country pricing, which may be particularly acute in multiplayer games, is the negative reaction from players in developed countries. However, Game Insight has found a sweet spot: offering cheap starter packs. “We call it ‘Tier 0 pricing’,” says Anatoly, “creating the unique value proposition for as tiny value as it gets, for the smallest price tiers [on Google Play].” In emerging markets, for as little as $0.15, they bundle in-game products worth $10 up to $100. These starter packs help convert players in those regions much better, without significantly affecting the gameplay or game economy. This approach has the advantage of avoiding players attempting to take advantage of other country’s pricing, by using a VPN for example, because these cheap packs are only available to players within the first few days after installation. While Game Insight does continue with local promotions from time to time, overall, their pricing stays global.

Another aspect of local pricing is knowing when to run incentive campaigns. Jim gives the example of Turkey, where Ramadan and Eid are very important holidays. “We want to encourage the gameplay during those times, so we put on special sales,” says Jim, “However, we don’t run any special user acquisition campaigns because we know we won’t get a good return during these holidays.”

While Miniclip has embraced local pricing across their entire game economy, for Saad, the more important question is how much they are getting in terms of wallet share. “From what we see in these emerging markets,” says Saad, “we’re very encouraged by the fact that they are willing to spend on entertainment … there is a willingness to spend on IAP.”

Be resilient and ride the wave

“It took a long time for free-to-play and IAP game mechanics to really be seen as the de facto business model in tier-1 markets,” says Saad, “but in emerging markets, they don’t even think about it.” This rapid acceptance of IAP, as a natural part of the app and game experience, by people in emerging markets also means that, from an app perspective, these markets are rapidly transitioning to mature markets. Anatoly agrees, noting, “remember that BRICTS had China in it as an emerging market, now we don’t speak about China. We’ve definitely seen some of the markets transitioning from emerging to much more mature markets … I think it’s just a matter of time [before] we will see more spending power in those countries.”

And, because of this rapid change, Saad says being there early and gaining an understanding of how the consumers in these markets behave is “super important.”

Addressing emerging markets, according to Anatoly, is “more of a discovery process … it was quite a learning curve. But once we got a couple of countries in, it got easier.” But for Game Insight, it has been a worthwhile exercise. Based on monthly downloads, 7 of the top 8 countries are from emerging markets.

For Jim, researching local market culture, norms, and traditions is really important. As is local customer service. But, overall, Jim says “don’t ignore emerging markets because you don’t think you can get into them. You will find that by leveraging everything else that you’re doing in terms of the rest of the world, getting into emerging markets is not as hard as you might think.”

Mark highlights that “A/B test everything. Sometimes the biggest wins and learnings come out of trial and error. And don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether it’s Google Play or your peers in the industry. Chances are you’ll learn something about emerging markets that you didn’t know. And the advice is free too.”


Over the next few years, the bulk of new Android users will be people from developing markets*. With affordable devices and data plans, along with growing discretionary income, people from these markets represent a significant growth opportunity for many developers.

As these developers have explained, they have found that one of the keys to bringing new users into your app or game is to align with local expectations and norms. Among the main things to consider are your content and your pricing.

Success in developing markets may require a change in mindset, but for those developers willing to make adaptations to their strategies, early entry can offer a huge potential for growth.

If you’d like to learn more, watch these panel videos with:

You can also hear more about Kefir’s experience going global in this Android Developer Story:

*Google Play internal data

What do you think?

Do you have thoughts on expanding your app or game into emerging markets? Let us know in the comments below or tweet using #AskPlayDev and we’ll reply from @GooglePlayDev, where we regularly share news and tips on how to be successful on Google Play.

Google Play Apps & Games Team

Written by

Google Play Apps & Games

Tips, trends, and industry thoughts for app and game developers building businesses on Google Play.

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