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The Evolution of User Acquisition in Mobile Gaming: The Strategic Shift You Need For Success 

The Evolution of User Acquisition in Mobile Gaming: The Strategic Shift You Need For Success With John Wright

In mobile gaming, staying on top of User Acquisition (UA) is no easy task, as we step into 2023, it's evident that the game has changed. The major players in the games industry, such as Kwalee, have witnessed a significant decrease in the number of game launches in the market, especially when compared to two years ago. John Wright, Vice President of Mobile Publishing, talks us through the key contributors and advice for keeping up with UA trends. 


The Impetus for Change with User Acquisition 

One cannot talk about the changes in UA without addressing the elephant in the room – Apple's IDFA deprecation. This move made it more challenging to target and re-engage higher-quality users. Metrics that were once the North Star for UA like LTV and ROAS - have seen significant drops. An interesting shift can be seen in the marketability tests, also known as CPI tests. These tests have undergone a large change in the past two years. Not long ago, as a publisher, conducting hundreds of CPI tests each month was commonplace. Essentially, this involved running a few gameplay videos on Facebook Meta, spending a few hundred dollars per test, and determining if the CPI was low enough to make launching a game a no-brainer.


A Costly, But Necessary Evolution

Fast forward to 2023, and these tests have become outdated. Achieving a low CPI is no longer sufficient, as most developers have moved to a more comprehensive retention evaluation, often involving a fully developed Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Instead of just a screen recording of a single scene in Unity, a 30-60 minute gameplay experience is now required to test Day 1 (D1) and sometimes even Day 3 (D3) retention, in addition to CPI. However, be prepared for higher costs ( around 20-30 times more than what was common in the past!) So, in 2023, the landscape requires that you, as a developer, invest more in creating an MVP with substantial gameplay to assess retention alongside the CPI. 


Diversifying Your User Acquisition Strategy

Now, let's delve deeper into the increasing importance of having a broader testing strategy for early-stage games. UA has not only become more challenging but also significantly more expensive and less predictable. Just two years ago, sticking with Meta until the monetisation testing stage could provide decent results. However, it was essential to introduce another channel at that point, typically an SDK network like Unity, to compare platform types in terms of metrics like IPM (Installs per Mille), eCPM (effective Cost Per Mille), eCPI (effective Cost Per Install), and ROAS (Return on Ad Spend).

Before SKAN (SKAdNetwork) and the IDFA deprecation, Facebook was considered a simpler and more reliable environment for UA. You could launch a campaign with confidence, knowing that a specific percentage would meet your target CPI, facilitating progress to retention testing. Facebook was also more cost-effective due to its massive scale. However, a complete turnaround has now taken place, with Facebook, for the most part, now becoming more expensive than SDK networks.

The Evolution of User Acquisition in Mobile Gaming: The Strategic Shift You Need For Success With John Wright

To navigate these changes, I strongly recommend not only testing SKAN vs. non-SKAN campaigns on Facebook but also experimenting with an SDK network like Unity from the early stages, a practice typically reserved for later in the general testing process. TikTok, with its short-form content and influencers, can make or break many game launches. Achieving virality is unpredictable, but a single user-generated content video with the right influencer, or even a video from your own marketing team in the right style, can drive hundreds of thousands of users to your game at a minimal cost.

To wrap this up, diversifying your UA portfolio has always been a wise strategy, much like diversifying personal investments. However, the era of Facebook's ease and affordability made it the gateway to success for early games. Today, you need to be more adventurous, testing a wider range of channels at every stage of the testing process. Don't restrict yourself to just Facebook, Google, and SDKs because they worked in the past. Make sure to embrace DSPs (Demand-Side Platforms) and TikTok, especially in the later stages (soft or hard launch). It might be pricier, and you'll need to be more selective in choosing your games, but in the long run, it will pay off. Finally, remember it's no longer just about quantity, it's about quality. 


Stay tuned for John’s part two of The Evolution of UA, where he will be delving into creatives for user acquisition and how to boost your averages and overall performance. 



Want to publish your own mobile game? Partner with us to access our expert development support and world-class marketing. Want to keep up to date on everything gaming, including more tips and advice? Follow us on social media (TikTok | Twitter | YouTube | Instagram | LinkedIn | Facebook) to get the latest news.


John Wright, Vice President of Mobile Publishing at Kwalee and a veteran of over 15 years in the mobile industry. Previously with ironSource and Luna Labs, Wright focuses on global mobile game publishing and developer support at Kwalee.

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