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App Essentials for Entering the Russian Market: A Guide for Developers

Florence Broder Sep 25, 2015

The race is on. We’re constantly inundated with reports speculating which emerging economy is next in line to dominate the mobile world, with a familiar focus on BRIC nations. Despite the hype, one thing’s for sure – we should be taking these geos seriously. Brazil notably glided up the country ranking by three spots, to become the #2 country in Google Play downloads in 2014, while China led the pack in terms of revenue growth, finishing as the #3 country by iOS revenue. So how is Russia doing in comparison? Let’s take a look at this elusive market and explore how to tap into its immense potential.

To set the scene, this year mobile gaming is estimated to surpass $22.3B globally. Russia is vying for a piece of the pie, ranking 5th globally for installs and 12th for revenue (both combined iOS & Android figures). This clear gap in monetization is due to the fact that only 28% of Russian gamers perform in-game purchases or pay for games, compared to 45% of US gamers and 54% of Chinese ones. Yet this gap is rapidly closing as a result of strong industry growth, largely driven by both foreign developers and domestic gamers. With only 79% of the nation’s gamers on mobile (nations such as China and South Korea boast figures of 96% and 93% respectively), there’s still significant room to grow. So the outlook is certainly promising, although there are a few things to consider before diving into what appears to be a game of Russian roulette. Below are key insights from our Russian team to help you partner with this thriving app economy, firstly when designing your app and subsequently for developing a launch strategy.

1) Design

Become a local. Candy Crush didn’t even reach the Top 10 Charts in Russia, with many conceding that lack of localization was its downfall. Offering culturally-tailored content is crucial, from simply utilizing the language (only 5% of Russians speak English), to a complete content overhaul. A prime example of the latter, is the developer Ubisoft’s Russian adaption of Valiant Hearts, a game inspired by the Great War. They started by scrutinizing Russia’s role in the war, completely rewriting the in-game encyclopedia, and even hiring a historian to ensure that every minute detail was correct. As a result, Valiant Hearts won Best Narrative at The Game Awards 2014 and received a very warm reception in Russia, with an overall iOS rating of 4.5/5 from 4441 reviews.

At the lower end of the localization scale, there are tools such as Google Play’s App Translation Service. RV AppStudios used it to localize their app, Zombie Ragdoll, into 20 languages in 2013 and are now gaining a fast following in Vietnam, Russia, Philippines and Thailand. Or take it up a notch by partnering with the locals, whose insider knowledge of the culture and language is integral to avoiding costly mistakes. All Correct Games, who were responsible for Valiant Heart’s superb localization, and Universally Apps, are examples of companies that help implement every step in the process – right down to localization testing.

Take the Android Approach. At the end of 2014, Apple hiked up the price of the iPhone by almost 35%, due to the drastic fall of the ruble against the US$. As a result, it’s estimated that Android phones constitute almost 80% of Russia’s smartphone market, creating an obvious advantage for those apps available on Google Play. Unless you’re gambling on the tables turning anytime soon.

Develop for the Dual-Screen Device
There’s a new Russian-designed Android device gaining momentum in the market, the YotaPhone, which comes complete with a front and a back screen. This additional e-paper screen is ‘always-on’, and can be used as everything from an e-book reader to a power-saving alternative screen. Why take note? Firstly, there’s the YotaApps Store, where any developer can feature for free, and even competition in the Google Play Store is still sparse. Furthermore, the CEO of YotaDevices, Vladislav Martynov, has hinted at designing specialized second-screen software with developers in mind, making this the prime time to consider pioneering dual-screen apps for the promising YotaPhone.

Think Strategically. While the popularity of puzzle and casual games has dropped off in recent times, strategy and role-playing games are dominating Google Play’s revenue charts – so developers should go hard-core or consider going home.

2) Launch

Expand to Alternative App Stores – Recently at White Nights in Russia, Pavel Ryaykkonen from Nevosoft highlighted a persisting issue worldwide; that on a yearly basis, only an estimated 0.1% of apps gain free exposure from featuring in an app store. Russia isn’t the first nation to address the issue of saturated app stores by creating alternative ones. Yet the big three, Yandex.Store, GetUpps and MTS Apps Market, are seeing unprecedented levels of growth.

Yandex is Russia’s search engine superpower, generating 57.3% of all search traffic in the country. In 2013, they constructed Yandex.Store on the Android platform and launched with 50,000 apps. Only 18 months later, they had over 120,000. Plus there’s ‘New’ and ‘Interesting’ sections that offers developers a higher probability of having their app featured, “They all have a chance,” emphasizes Evgeniy Kim, a Key Developer Accounts Manager.

The second largest is GetUpps!, an app storefront created by MegaFon to piggyback on the Yandex.Store and home to over 50,000 apps. In third place is MTS App Market, which charges a subscription fee of 25 rubles (US$0.35) per week to offer users access to over 3000 premium apps. All three of these app stores offer increased visibility and improve an app’s odds of being featured. Plus they are Android-only; another reason to steer clear of iOS in Russia.

Socialize. Facebook, with roughly 25 million monthly visitors, doesn’t rule the social scene like in many other nations (lack of localization anyone?). By comparison, vKontakte (VK) attracts around 57 million monthly users, followed by Odnoklassniki with 43 million and Moi Mir (My World) with 31 million. Most likely you’ve heard about Mail.Ru Group, the emailing company that went on to control the three aforementioned social networks and dominate the Russian-speaking internet sector. However, what you should be focusing on is MyTarget, their mobile advertising platform. It utilizes both their social networks and gaming sites to reach a total audience of over 140 million and allows to you to toy with the usual range of ad formats and specialized targeting options. Beyond that, a noteworthy feature is VK’s focus on groups (40 million to be exact), which offer greater opportunities for zeroing in on clusters with particular interests. Plus, take a sneak peek at just how easy it is to launch a targeted group campaign on MyTarget:

Strengthened by the use additional features such as in-app share buttons and viral content creation, social media forms a powerful complement to ad-based promotion. There are some talented viral studios around, the most well-known of which is My Duck’s Vision, with half a million followers on YouTube and a solid track record of success. Another digital agency for content creation is Manufactura, who already works with top Russian clients such as Yota and Mail.ru.

Extend Your Reach. Despite some clichés concerning the amount of users and devices residing outside of the biggest cities (Moscow and Saint-Petersburg) the diffusion of technology and service coverage is no lower. The “big four” telecommunication giants, MTS, Beeline, Rostelecom and Megafon, constructed communication facilities on major transport routes stretching over 11,000km, with the aim of supporting an advanced cellular network. Plus users tend to buy smartphones more often than desktop devices, as they’re more affordable. As a result, mobile internet usage overtook that of computers at the end of last year, with 51% now surfing through their smartphone – a trend only exacerbated further by the pervasive use of social networks.

Now that we’ve drawn back the curtain and exposed some of the market intricacies, hopefully entering Russia with your next app (or your current one) doesn’t seem quite so daunting. In the design phase, developers should focus on creating localized Android apps, as well as considering new possibilities such as designing for the dual-screen YotaPhone. Gaming apps in particular should set their sights on the Strategy category. In the launch phase, entering alternative app stores and promoting through social networks are central to an app’s success. Plus don’t limit your geos to only the big cities, there’s plenty of potential elsewhere.


About the Author

EllaCullenElla Cullen is the Marketing Manager at IconPeak – a Mobile Advertising Platform at the leading-edge of user acquisition, with a YouTube Influencers program, media buying department and a new user-engagement app called Zatch. Lastly, this blog wouldn’t be complete without the insights from our Russian team, so a huge thank you to both Ekaterina Radyuk (Business Development Manager) and Denis Semenov (Product Manager). For more personalized recommendations regarding app promotion in Russia, please contact Ekaterina.