When Should We Consider Paid User Acquisition For Our Game?

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Have you been working tirelessly on your game towards a global launch, but haven’t thought about how you’re going to market it? If not, then now is the time to start thinking about that imperative marketing plan. In the past few years, the mobile games market has become increasingly saturated — making the barrier to entry and chances for failure higher, as people are inundated with new games every day. What this means is, marketing your mobile game will be even more crucial than ever to its growth and visibility in the marketplace.

So to get you started, here are some tips on how to create, implement, and evaluate an effective marketing strategy. While every game is different, these basic steps provide a great starting point to determine if your game is a candidate for scaled marketing.

Build a Marketing Roadmap

  • Start by creating a marketing plan to keep you focused and involved in accomplishing specific marketing objectives within a set time frame. A timeline will help make your long-term objective more achievable, as well as enable you to focus on the bigger picture when the day-to-day work feels tactical and menial.

Set Objectives

  • Align objectives and KPIs with Production/Development before diving headfirst into a plan of action. Consider the following business metrics the game is expected to achieve within the period your marketing plan will cover. It could be player retention, monetization rates, session length, IAP transactions, events, and/or other metrics of success.

Determine Target Audience

  • Identifying your target audience means getting the results you want, without wasting time and losing money on pushing the game to an audience with little interest in your game. If you don’t know where to start, take a look at your competitors to see where they’re investing the most effort, and do some quick market research on your potential players. If you run Facebook ads, Facebook Analytics will help provide more color about your users.

Find the Right Channels of Distribution

  • Research to determine your best sources of distribution. For those with considerably smaller budgets, decide on how and where you’ll acquire users utilizing all your owned and earned resources such as social media, email, and PR coverage before ultimately diving into paid advertising. Investing in the wrong marketing channel can be an expensive mistake, but secure channels to start are Facebook and video gaming networks where quality traffic and target audience are more aligned. Here’s a list of strongest performing networks to consider when testing paid marketing.

Marketing Analytics

  • Before you start to execute your plan, you’ll need to set up the right tools and services to track, analyze, and report your marketing performance. For mobile marketing, it’s very important to have a good attribution provider.
  • Attribution analytics tools such as Adjust or Kochava will measure where users are coming from, what your highest performing sources are, what your users do in your game, when they pay for something, when they leave the app, etc.
  • App store analytics such as AppAnnie and SensorTower are platforms that give you information on what happens when users enter the app store and how well your game performs within each app store.

Pre-Launch

  • Get a head start with ASO, choose your keywords, write a compelling description, test icons and screenshots, and A/B test your app store page to find the best assets that bring in the highest conversion. Compare your page to other top apps in your space and keep trying out new ideas.
  • Creative assets are actually much more important than most people think, but often don’t get the needed attention. A strong mobile game marketing strategy should consider doing a lot of creative testing as early as possible. Here’s why: The appeal of your assets will determine your cost per install (CPI) in the market and your ability to grow your game when it comes time to consider paid marketing.
  • As you create assets for your game, make sure to A/B test them against each other to find the combination that drives the best results by running some ads. For example, if you have an RPG game with a core art style, consider testing them against a more casual style to see which variation has better conversion. Test everything from themes, characters, composition, to messaging. Often through testing, you’ll identify what creative types and characters people like the most and iterate on those. This process also helps weed out creatives that users may find unappealing prior to a release on a large scale, and ultimately lowers your cost per acquisition.
  • In general, your genre and art style will heavily influence your CPI and fall in these 3 buckets: casual, midcore, and hardcore. Identify where you are in this range and try to predict what the market expectations are for your game by running art tests with this general rule in mind: CPI increases as the game becomes more core themed.

Determine if Paid Acquisition Works for Your Game

  • Testing during soft marketing is key to figuring out if marketing your game is viable. In this stage, we’ll need to gather an upstream user acquisition funnel and connect it to a downstream in-game performance funnel.
  • Paid user acquisition works when the following proves true: The average lifetime value (LTV) of your users exceed the cost of acquisition (CPI) to acquire a user into the game. As a reminder:
    • LTV = Expected Life x Average Revenue Per User (ARPU)
    • CPI = Impressions x Click Through Rate (CTR) x Install Rate (IR)
    • Player LTV > CPI = Success
    • If user LTV does not surpass CPI, focus on pulling all the levers to bring LTV up or CPI down. Keep testing until this simple equation works out for you. Continue to get a sense of what the conversion rates are in each step along the funnel and the churn rate. If it’s not too far off, then it’s worth spending time trying to make the metrics work out through creative testing, landing page optimization, increasing conversion along the steps of your funnel and trying to optimize your traffic sources.

Global Launch

  • You should have a solidified marketing strategy of all your planned activation channels at launch.
  • Update the app store listing with all your best promotional graphics, screenshots, and videos trailers.
  • If your game is featured, congrats! This will provide a strong push of installs for the first 7 days, but it’s tough to count on. Allow roughly 4 weeks, though it can be longer before your game establishes an organic baseline of installs.
  • Hopefully, you’re confident of the game’s expected lifetime value (LTV) by now, and it’s time to set goals to acquire as many users as possible at or below that LTV. Begin by testing out networks without commitment to your full budget, then run a test campaign with each network and acquire approximately 1000 users. Compare the lifetime value of those users to your original estimates and revise your CPI accordingly.
  • Keep testing and iterating until you have the best possible marketing mix.