EPISODE 17 TRANSCRIPT – Sophie Vo – Mobile Gaming Entrepreneur

Sia Kia 0:05

Hello, and welcome to beautifiers, the Digital Marketing podcast.

Justin A Campell 0:10

Hey everybody, welcome to the next episode of future furs, the Digital Marketing podcast. I’m delighted to welcome on to the show. Sophie vo Hi, Sophie, how you doing?

Sophie Vo 0:20

Hi, Justin. Well, I feel great and happy to be a guest. Like, you know, I’m also a podcast host. So it’s always fun for me to be on the other side once in a while.

Justin A Campell 0:30

Yeah, great. Yeah, that’s very, very cool. What’s your podcast called for the listeners to know.

Sophie Vo 0:35

So it’s called rise in play. I started it a year and a half ago. And although it’s mostly targeting an audience in gaming, because I work in games, it’s touching on broader topics like leadership and what I call conscious leadership. So really having conscious practices about how we build teams, how we build vision, why we build companies, why we make games and how we can work better with healthier culture and environment. So that’s all about visiting my podcast.

Justin A Campell 1:09

Fantastic, great, let’s dive into rise and play. Because I’ve seen I saw it on your profile. And I’ve seen you posting I find it really interesting. What inspired you to start, rising play.

Sophie Vo 1:23

So I think COVID has its upside as well, there were many, many downsides that I will not talk about here. But having spending a lot of time at home, I had quite some time to reflect on how I wanted to spend my time, my energy, and who I wanted to work with. And I’ve been working in games for 1314 years now. And something that I’ve seen quite repeating in many organisations, and not only in games, I’m sure in tech, it’s the same. Companies are starting a lot out of passion with founders who are focused on games for creative part, then growing, maturing, and when crash happens, because it’s a different stage when you use grow from a project to game to a company and organisation. And a lot of things were overlooked into how do you grow sustainably and organisation how you have people with a personal monetization aligned with the mission of your organisation? Wherever values of your organization’s purpose think was topics we’ve talked more about over recent years. And it’s been a big gap in gaming. And I tried for many years to influence it in my position coming from product lead position or project manager and I understood it is really hard to change a culture or leadership bottom up. And it starts from the leadership starts from the leader from the founders, what’s your vision of your company? And why do you exist? So understanding when I was working at Purdue, but my rich will be limited trying to change things in my organisation, I decided to go beyond and create my own platform independently, to express about those topics about how can we build a healthier culture, great teams align, you know, motivations of people that drive energy, and thrive at work, work with passion. And this created a whole conversation in the community. But develop rising play to the podcast, I developed a masterclass online, to really have a conversation around conscious leadership practices. But I’m happy to elaborate but that’s how we started, where we realised the rich could be go beyond an organisation. And I don’t need to wait to be the CEO of a company to start to make a change. So it was a test. And it responded really well. And a lot of leaders contacted me and say, We need this, we need to have more of this conversation. I will help you in your mission. And that’s how we created this whole community of podcast guests sharing their personal story and the leadership practices.

Justin A Campell 4:09

It’s really interesting, the gaming industry and mobile Isn’t it right? Because like you said, you can focus on building a game and then we’ve seen in history that many groups have made games that have become then hugely popular, and then companies will sort of build around that. And then we see they grow also incredibly fast, right? They’re almost on steroids, some of them yes. And they face their challenges of use. Have you seen that as well

Sophie Vo 4:36

in most of my organisation, so I’ve joined so I was working at Gameloft, Wilga and row view and I joined them in pretty I would say not mature stage but growing stage. So it was super exciting, a lot of challenges, things to establish infrastructure and the reality as soon as well at some point when you are focus so much on the game, but not so much on the organisation, you start to become really slow, everything takes time. You’re losing people. So you have to make sure you still have people to execute your games produce things, you have to re onboard retrain. So moving I realised actually is while we are focusing too much on the wrong things, because it’s quite costly, not only monetarily, but also in terms of energy and focus to hire and onboard people and rehire people. And that’s where limit I saw in most of growing organisation, departure of talents, and then executing really fast without sitting down a little bit, you say, Okay, what’s our current mission? Are we still aligned with our values? Or do we need to evolve as an organisation? And I think we’re still young industry in that sense, where, you know, we we grow, we like we go on steroid, like you say, we rush, and then we crash some of us until you know, the game is not sustainable. So I’ve seen this multiple times. And that’s why I wanted to talk more about it, because I’ve seen history repeating, quite often through my journey in different organisation.

Justin A Campell 6:16

So you must be quite busy at the moment, then.

Sophie Vo 6:19

Yes, yeah. I have a lot of leaders who are have fixed to say, and they visit, we had the same observation. So like I said, at first, I feel quite lonely with my observation. But by going public and being expressing about it, I realised No, I’m not alone. We are several wants to want to be part of a change, to observe those things. But we haven’t only aligned or agreed on those conversations. And I think that created a movement and gave more visibility, oh, you need to have a culture as an organisation, you need to have at least a mission statement, purpose defined, because otherwise, you’re just working around the project making a game and when the game doesn’t exist, why are you here? You know, and that’s how team get dissolved. They don’t really have a reason to exist, except for game that we’re working on. It’s not a very strong motivation. Long term is fascinating. Yeah, we know it stops quickly, right? Games, they come and go market is changing, evolving. It’s not variable factor to just rely on a gamer.

Justin A Campell 7:28

I think die. You know, a lot of companies talk about like, a lot of startups talk about pivoting. So they pivot the pivot the pivot to try and get to that momentum. And on that, on average, some startups say that they will be pivoting three times. And then they either they either makes them or breaks them, right. gain in the game world is. So it’s not the same as it because you can have an absolute Rockstar game, and then the company will try and build many more games around it and hope that they will be success. And in many cases, that never really happens. Right? You must have seen that before as well.

Sophie Vo 8:01

Yeah, I think the main challenge with games, it’s replicating the success. And we have to attribute it to a lack as well. Like, really, there’s something that it’s time to market and the timing, there are some games that were successful at a perfect time when you know, the context of a competition, there was a gap. And it was either by luck or by intention. And when you try to replicate the success, at the same scale, it’s really hard. And I have examples of companies like King for example. They’ve they haven’t managed to replicate their Candy Crush success. And it will be I think, quite hard to do. So 10 years after, which is a very different context. So what happens when for those companies that are find success in a game, the game becomes the company basically. So King, I could say, for example, is a candy crush company. And you have other companies that have been just operating around a game. And pivoting I would say these days is kind of a norm until you find kind of a golden nuggets. And virtual reality as well, where it is hard to build the same success, especially when you have a point of reference as a company, too. So I think here, this is what maybe makes it difficult for teams, you can have a good game, or even a great game, but that’s still not enough. If it’s not reaching the 10x growth for your next unicorn. Right and that’s that’s a challenge for especially creative. We look at Supercell model as well. They are aiming really high, the bar is really high. And even a game that could be great, but a lot of other game companies would be happy to take for Supercell is not there and it can be quite discouraging over time. So it’s also a mental strain out would say to work in games, have something good in your hands, but understand your business and let it go.

Justin A Campell 10:07

Brilliant. Now you so you focus on leadership and supporting leaders and companies in building a stronger culture? What, what key advice with this and building work going on outside? So we might have to? I’m gonna have to edit that out and do that again. You mentioned that you help leaders, that is this a hang on a minute, sorry, Sophie will edit that out because it’s banging outside. Sophie, Sophia, you mentioned that you work with leaders in companies to become, let’s say, more conscious leaders to become better leaders and build better teams, are there any sort of really key pieces of advice that you would give on how to, you know, start building a stronger culture.

Sophie Vo 10:55

So I was writing also about it, and I get a lot of inspiration as well from Simon Sinek, we will start with why. So basically, what I mean by when I say consciousness is consciousness has many levels like to be quite aware of why you are doing things. And I think first is having the conversation with yourself, why you building this company, or why you are into this venture or mission. Because there will be a lot of hurdles, a lot of low points we have no all experience with. And when you would be very tempted to quit or maybe to compromise on your own values sometimes. And if you don’t have a clarity, why you wake up every day, or why you will go through the hurdle, then you start to make very inconsistent actions, behaviour and decisions, where no one actually wants to follow this or it’s, it has a multiplier damaging effect on an organisation and people. That’s what I’ve seen, like I said, repeating multiple times. So first, I think is the clarity with yourself. Why are you building this company? And we there’s no right or wrong answer. The right answer is yours. Right? Some are because they want to cash out, have an exit. And with this money, they want to do something with it, buy the house, invest in other companies, whatever it is, but you have to be clear why you’re doing it. And I would say beyond this clarity of what you’re doing it overs want to make an impact on the world create products and games, that we’ll have a long lasting impact on people and vessel, so a very vulnerable purpose and mission. And whatever you frame, I think it’s important and second step to verbalise it and communicate it to others who decide to join your mission. Because some of them, they may not relate to your mission. So it’s, again, to have the courage to say, well, I build this company where I want us to be rich, for example, I think this is kind of a less popular purpose. But I think it’s actually a good thing to be quite transparent about it. And if we cash out as co founders, we can invest in other entrepreneurs as doing projects or whatever. And that’s a good goal, right? And then being transparent with people who are deciding to join you. And from there from the mission, then you also clarify what are your values? So what is your ethos in terms of work, your inter personal relationship, and how those values are serving your mission. That’s how you build a culture. To me, a culture is not for example, you can build an organisation with the same values with a very different culture than another one based on the mission you have, right. So the culture you build it based on really what kind of behaviours, values in the organisation will help you execute the mission. And once you clarify all of that, it helps a lot to pick the right partners, co founders, first employees, what you do, where are your priorities? It comes really down to that and it said, maybe in a simple way, but these days, I’m talking to a studio that I may join, and it’s fascinating. After several years, we’ve been operating and it’s been working okay. But you see as well, they’re not they haven’t done align yet. You know, and this is like, for me, it is the first thing I would address but talking to so many studios and organisation because I’m an investor as well. It’s still something not to dress and I don’t know, what’s the broker? Maybe it’s a human, you know, rocker is uncomfortable. You know, it’s much easier to go on your computer and make a plan, work on tasks rather than sitting and you know, having conversation I try and talk about the deep and hard things. I’m really I’m wondering sometime why, you know,

Justin A Campell 14:51

I think people do struggle to talk about the deep and hard things. I think also they don’t see the value in it in the immediate effects. So they think I better have completed that project because It gives me immediate gratification, it gives me a success. However, if we sit in a meeting room or we have an off site event and we work on it for a day, what am I getting from it immediately, we were too much focus on the instant gratification, especially entrepreneurs as well, they often, you know, I consider myself an entrepreneur, I never thought I’d ever say that, by the way, when I when you know, when I was a young lad starting in my career, but also entrepreneurs move want to move very quickly. And that’s a struggle, because you can’t move quickly on these things, can you you’ve got to focus on it and make sure you have a clear vision, like you say you have a mission. And I love the way that you said that you can let maybe other people’s individual missions fit in with the company mission as well. Right. So you want the company to do well. But you also want to do well, within that organisation on an individual level. Yes, there’s one thing I just want to actually bring up with some some advice I received from an agency advisor. So it’s not necessarily to do with gaming, but the principal is on the same, same level. So there’s a recent survey amongst agency employees in the US. And the outcome of the survey was that people want more. They don’t want more money or perks, they want more information, more interaction. They want to know what’s going on on a micro and macro level in a business. What do you think about that statement?

Sia Kia 16:28

Hey, we hope you are enjoying this podcast. If there is subjects you would like discussed or questions answered, drop us a line at info at Shep harleigh.io. Future fires Your Guide to digital marketing.

Sophie Vo 16:44

I think this is why I’m fascinated about leadership conversation because it’s an endless craft. Because humans are evolving all the time societies and expectations. So there’s a shift in expectations, at work from employees, a lot of things have changed, I think pandemic amplified this even more, what is important for you, right? How do you spend your time and my understanding as workers, as humans, as workers, employees, it’s not anymore, like a factory job where you are paid, you know, like work for hire, you are paid to for an output, and when you get your money, and then you know, log off your brain for the day. So there are expectations that have changed, where you want to thrive, you want to grow, you want to learn in the work, you want to connect with others. So it sounds almost like a relationship, you know, like all those expectations that are really hard to be met by just one entity. But those expectations are here. I’m not saying that. They’re right. But it’s the demand that is there. And how does it translate them? In those things like having more transparency, visibility on what’s happening about the business for finances, I have the same desires as well. I want to know what I’m dealing with and not find out the next week. Okay, we are out of cash and our office is closing and it’s still happening, by the way. But uh, why is it important because having the sense of autonomy and ownership is part of the expectation. So of workers say people want to think and solve complex problems, they don’t want to be told and just execute. And this is what also give gives performance, right? Use your brain use your qualities, your skills, your intelligence, to think about a complex topic and with your own perspective. And by giving information to all the levels of an organisation, some organisation are structured this way, you give more chances for the best ideas for solutions to emerge, because it’s not only the top whoever knowledge or leadership who have knowledge whether wisest, you know, solutions, maybe people more on the field, like you’re really close to, I don’t know, consumers users, they have other insights that they will make better decisions. So I totally understand which direction and I think it’s a missed opportunity strategically and business wise when you are not sharing as an organisation as transparent as possible. You know, the 360 of the business. Of course, not everything is to be shared. But I think like wherever company is going with finances for growth, Heartstrings gives people at least substance to make better decisions. And I wanted to give an example how I ran my studio previously at voodoo. I was quite open about the rent rate we had as a studio. And so no surprises we have this number of months. It’s not to scare people. It’s just a reality of business. We are paid to for a job at the end of the day we are under a contract. And of course we didn’t expect did return. And I want everyone to understand this in the team. It’s not that we have to think and worry about it every day. But that makes it helps us to make smarter this decision and not distract ourselves with oh, it’s gonna be fine. We are secured all the time. No, you have to think how you want to spend the money and your budget and make better decisions that over levels.

That’s really, really good. And I’ve worked with agencies as well, some have tried to keep everything, undercover to also software companies to and some that have transparent. And for example, educating a a designer, what they are worth in the market, if they work on a project, and then they go and work for another company. What what are they worth? What’s their hourly rate? Where does that money go to? Where are the costs basis? How well is the company doing when they’re working on those projects, if you empower the individual employee that they’re aware of, they’re they’re more likely to, you know, sort of be motivated and get on and like think, Oh, I’m actually making a difference. I’m not just getting poured out to another, another business. And then yeah, same for people who work in a team. Like if they know where they stand, they’re more likely to contribute. One. One thing, I worked with an absolutely brilliant boss in my early days, Carol, and she always said to me, I trust you, you know, and those those three words, I trust you. It’s just really like, it was like, wow, you know, like, I’ve got this responsibility. And I’m going to do a good job because she said, I trust you. You know, so yeah, really, really interesting topic. Let’s move on to mobile marketing, and especially in the promotion of games in particular. I’ve got an opinion about it, I think it can be a little bit of a cowboy space some time. Do you? Do you think that the advertising and the promotion of games is getting better? Do you think the quality of advertising is increasing?

So I will come from more of the whole history. I’ve known also about games and how we acquired when I started, like 13 years ago, it was acquisition through. Carrier carrier, you know, like subscriptions, mobile subscription. And when you had the phones or server games embedded directly in responsive, I was aware of acquisition, so they’re very different time. And something that has completely revolutionised. The marketing of games is for free to play model. So when you have a free game, how do you market and how do you market profitably? So the trend that has been measuring over the past years was really performance marketing, paid marketing. I mean, these days, the best companies rarely rely on just organic traffic or you know, hope. But thanks to organic traffic, they will create their business and revenues. So what it means when it’s been very around performance marketing, we’ve seen different trends of it’s where you have a more mature games, what I call casual and mid core games, where it’s high value players, and their high value, you know, cost when it comes to acquisition, and they have specific targeting. So it’s all calculation of return on adspend. And it’s part of a strategy. So you have a team of data scientist, your manager, performance, marketing, also creatives, Product Marketing all together to optimise their service. And then you have a different model where I was working at Vudu, but it was very, very interesting in this strategy of marketing acquisition very, very low cost of acquisition very broad. But because the games are quick to play, then you build the return not only in app purchase, but on ad views at so inside the game. So within a week, if your cost of acquisition was low than just by watching ads playing, I don’t know 1020 times the game with first week, you’re paying back basically, as a as a player for the cost. So that has been the trend over the past years. And something that changed dramatically. Is you have a privacy of data, and not being able to target as we have all known and what I think has changed for quite the landscape of how we approach physician for high value players and high LTV games. And I don’t know what that means. I’m part of his change. But I think there’s been maybe I think it’s a good thing where maybe there’s been an imbalance too much in performance marketing, where it’s like a money game. You know, if you have a lot of cash Of course, you need to have a great product. But if you have a lot of cash and you can with confidence think that you can pay it back after several years, then that’s that’s how you buy market share quickly, right? So the companies that really stay in the top charts are the ones with a lot of cash flow. And now we there are some more conversation I would say, okay, maybe we have overlooked over type of form of marketing, but our brand marketing, product marketing, or even like there’s more consolidation between organisation for cross platform, mobile console online gaming Metaverse, or like a new Eldorado is a web free as well complete, you know, blank slate, how do we even acquire there? So to answer the question about the marketing of games, it’s been it’s been a while and because I think we are every three years three to five, we are rewriting the playbook on how to acquire players and that also creates new functions or you know, the usual marketers have to update their skills to adapt to you know, the market so I find it super interesting actually,

Justin A Campell 26:09

it does shifter Yeah, yeah, it definitely a lot of reshuffling going on it definitely does does change a lot. I feel like it’s matured greatly. I still think there’s a way to go. The the overall quality I think has improved, I think data has had a big effect on it as well. There’s one example as well that I just read today that Reddit has brought has acquired a company called spike trap. And spike trap uses contextualization technology to show the right ad in terms of the context of what’s going on at that particular time within the app, and relying less and less on user data. I think I think Facebook took it to the next level. I think Mehta took it way too far in terms of how much they could know about an individual user, I think Google as well, right. So that we can move away from that a bit more and start thinking about other ways the markets people is really good. Yeah. Less less reliance on data. What are your thoughts on then the creative play for for gaming advertisers? Where do you think creative is heading.

Sophie Vo 27:21

So it’s been also quite controversial. topic about creatives, because I don’t know how much you’ve seen in games. It’s been also sometimes you could see creatives quite far from the original concept of a game. And I mean, we’ve tried some of this as well, we do and the wind is only an acquisition. But in the long run, people, of course, see the discrepancy of what you know, they were presented and get into the game. So I would, I don’t know if it’s the most effective strategy in the long run, because it’s like having a huge net, and when you just catch a few fish, but if it’s like putting a lot of effort, you know, in in trying different tactics just so it’s not to fool players, but you know, like, maybe by accident, we will grab players. So that has been the strategy that has been going on for some time. And now they’re really, I think, a bit of a rejection of his model, because it’s not very sustainable in the long run. And back to what I find interesting when it comes to thinking about opportunities in brand marketing and product marketing is Do you understand the vision of the game you’re building? What is the experience you’re building for who so understanding your audience why these games resonate with your audience? What is the experience that they have emotions that we feel, and it’s a as a result, if product marketing are working really closely to understand really deeply the product they’re building, I think this is where you can be very creative with marketing message, to capture the essence of what you’re building. So it can be still seen as a misleading ad where it’s not representing exactly the product. But I think there’s opportunity when if you get the key message and I see this more in the Consumer Product Marketing, where you may not see the product at all in the advertisement, but we ID or you know, the the concept brought by the advertising message makes sense with the product. I think this is where the psychological connection that maybe we haven’t explored too much yet, in games, because we were so much on the data. I think it’s interesting and you will get closer to what we see you know, more in consumer product, like getting really the key message and maybe crafting this key message or emotion to different sub audiences you have once you understand really the type of product you build and with potential reach of audience you can have. An example I want to give is, for example, I think tick tock is an interesting platform where in the short video, you can play a lot with humour for example, if you really understand the product I can take an angle. And I find it great when marketing and product work together to come up with concept, but really get the essence of the game you’re building.

Justin A Campell 30:11

Yeah, fantastic. That’s really great advice. Brilliant. So you’re nearly time to wrap up. Sophie, you I’ve noticed you mentioned this before. And I’ve seen on your LinkedIn profile you invest in quite some companies. Just to wrap up to date, what what’s what do you look for in a company? When you think, oh, yeah, I’m going to invest in them. There’s something in there, what was the thing that really you look for in a company?

Sophie Vo 30:41

So I first look at it on a from a meta very meta level. So where do I see games going, you know, in general. So of course, there’s a traditional market of games with I’ve also been doing like mobile games, casual, like the more mature businesses, but the new businesses like Metaverse, for example of visible crypto, which I decided to stay away for a while. But as well, I look at what kind of game concepts and audience where there are gaps were invested, for example, in a company that makes a lifestyle product game, we’re aiming for a female audience for the five year old, that is almost like a lifestyle app. And I believe there’s still many opportunities to explore there. So I look more at on the meta level, what is the industry missing, and I believe that there should be more of this type of products or, or genre of games. And then the second most important factor is the team, the founders. So I like to look in the deck. There why, and when I don’t see it, I’m a bit a cautious because again, they are building the whole company around the game. And if this game is not working for them, which is likely to happen, what does that mean? So I want to invest in a long lasting team, you know, so are very committed to pivot to change, and persevere in the mission, no matter what the game is, instead of just this is this game. And if this game’s not working, we don’t exist anymore. Yeah. So So I look at teams and the track record, and how much they put thoughts into why again, they build this company.

Justin A Campell 32:22

Brilliant. That’s fantastic. It reminds me a little bit of slack, right, because slack originally started out as a game, and they were a gaming company. And then they built this little tool to communicate with each other. And the game didn’t do very well. But they were like, hey, this thing we built it’s really, really good. And slack is now like, obviously, yeah, absolutely enormous success. So if you have a good team, they went to try and build a game, but maybe they could build something else. Brilliant. Sophie, thank you so much for coming on the show some really good advice there. Also, you’ve given me some really good ideas as well. So I hope there’s some leaders out there that are gonna listen, and all but also some mobile marketeers. Sophie, thank you so much.

Sophie Vo 33:01

Thanks for inviting me, Justin. Pleasure.

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