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5 Steps to Successfully Market Your Free-to-Play Mobile Game


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It is no secret that in the last couple of years Free-to-Play has become the main business model for mobile games. There is hardly a day without a new revenue-breaking record making industry headlines.

By moving monetization after the install and into the game, Free-to-Play has indeed unleashed the revenue potential for each player.

However, free games present clearly identified challenges for publishers when it comes to marketing and advertising.

With monetization now optional and taking place after the install, it’s important to know exactly at which price you can acquire a new user in order to turn a profit.

It’s a numbers game.

In this new eBook by AppLift, we present the 5 steps to optimizing your mobile game’s marketing and advertising efforts, both within and outside of the app stores.

Here’s a sneak peak!

1. Master App Store Marketing
Learn how to make the most of these powerful distribution channels, through discoverability and conversion optimization.

2. Go For a Wise Mix of Traffic Sources
Find out how to pick the right marketing and advertising channels for your game, both free and paid.

3. Plan your Launch
Discover everything you need to take into account to ace your launch!

4. Get Ready for the Long Haul
Get to know why mobile game advertising is a marathon, not a sprint…

5. Track Beyond the Install
See how to track post-install events in order to optimize your advertising spend.

Happy Mobile Game Marketing!

Published in: Technology, Design
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5 Steps to Successfully Market Your Free-to-Play Mobile Game

  1. 1. Steps to Successfully Market Your Free-to-Play Mobile Game
  2. 2. Free-to-Play is here to stay! • Free-to-Play has become the leading business model in gaming • If successful, it offers an unlimited revenue upside • However, it comes with challenges • Monetization takes place within the game, after the install • Marketing and advertising a Free-to-Play game is hard • You need to know at what price you can acquire new users in order to turn out a profit It’s a numbers game… • You need to concentrate your efforts on acquiring the best users at the right price… …within the app stores as well as… …outside of the app stores 2
  3. 3. 5 steps to successfully market your game Within the app stores: 1. Master App Store Marketing Outside of the app stores: 2. Go for a Wise Mix of Traffic Source 3. Plan your Launch 4. Get Ready for the Long Haul 5. Track Beyond the Install 3
  4. 4. #1 Master App Store Marketing App Store Optimization (ASO) is essentially about 2 things… 4
  5. 5. Discoverability (getting found) … 5
  6. 6. …and Conversion (getting downloaded) 6
  7. 7. Discoverability: standing out from the crowd It’s all about search According to Nielsen, 63% of people use the native search function of the App Store to discover new apps. Title Therefore, it’s essential to optimize all the information that will enable your app to show up as highly ranked as possible in search results (aka the meta data: title, keywords, description). Both on Google Play and the Apple AppStore, the keywords used in the title weigh greatly in the search algorithm. The title should be compelling but not too long (for instance, on iOS it gets truncated after 12 characters). 7
  8. 8. Keywords: they are key for a reason… • Apple and Google differ greatly in their ways of accounting for keywords, and so should you optimization strategy:         Keywords are included in a private list Use 100 characters, including commas; Keywords are specific to each local AppStore, and should therefore be entirely localized and not just translated; Don’t repeat the keywords already present in the title, don‘t leave spaces; Use only single words and single forms, avoid articles; Focus on the long tail: tailored keywords will make you rank higher; Your game’s category is automatically a keyword, no need to add it to the list.  Keywords are included in the description  Include your main keywords around 5 times along your description, while keeping it readable and cohesive;  Use phrases, they are as important as words;  Screen competitors’ descriptions;  Google’s roots are in search: use AdWord’s keyword tool as well as the auto-response search suggestions in Google Play to assess your keywords’ popularity;  It can be a good strategy to be opportunistic and include some trendy and/or seasonal keywords (Christmas, Olympics, Gangnam Style...). 8
  9. 9. Conversion: closing the deal Once people have reached your app page, you still need to convince them to download it. This can be achieved through the marketing assets present on the stores. These can be both visual (icon & screenshots) and written (title and description). Icon The icon is an essential element on all platforms, but comes at a premium on Google Play as it is the only asset directly visible from the search function. Visual assets are coutesy of Limited Make the content elements pop out The icon should make it obvious what the app is about Consider using a border so it looks good on any background 9
  10. 10. Optimizing conversion on the Apple AppStore On the AppStore, one search result is displayed at a time, therefore conferring a strong advantage to the first app showing up. The best way to optimize your game’s conversion potential is to go through a funnel of click stages, concentrating most of your efforts on the assets which are displayed first. At each of these stages, the users can either decide to download the app if they are convinced by what they see, click to find out more or leave the page. Ideally, you want to give the best impression as early in the process as possible. 10
  11. 11. #2 Choose a wise mix of traffic channels The main challenge when acquiring users outside of the app stores is the number and variety of channels available, both free and paid. 11
  12. 12. Free advertising channels outside of the App Store The most common practice to acquire users for free is to cross promote your game with other apps according to a barter scheme. This implies having ad offer mechanisms implemented in your app so as to be able to push other games. You also need to have a large-enough user base so as to be in a position to send traffic back. Cross-promotion can be achieved in two different ways: either directly with other publishers, which can turn out to be time-consuming, or through a 3rd-party solution, which will however in many cases require you to integrate an SDK in your game. 12
  13. 13. Paid advertising channels: do’s and don’ts Mobile advertising is a numbers game. The amount of money you can earn from a single user on average over the time they will be using the app will govern how much you can spend to acquire someone at a profit. Therefore, it’s essential to keep a tight handle on the cost of acquisition of your users, as on average your CPI (Cost Per Install) should always remain below your ARPU (Average Revenue Per User), in order to be eventually profitable. Now, with the great variety of traffic suppliers, advertising formats and billing methods, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself… 13
  14. 14. Should I buy CPM, CPC or CPI? Depending on the traffic source you can be billed on a Cost-Per-Mille (1,000 impressions), Cost-Per-Click (CPC) or Cost-Per-Install (CPI) basis Buying impressions and clicks tends to yield higher volumes, because there is more inventory available CPM Click-Through Rate CPC Conversion Rate CPI However Your resulting CPI (so-called effective CPI or eCPI) will then be the result of the click-through rate (in the case of CPM) as well as the conversion rate from clicks to installs. You’re taking on a risk Buying on a CPI basis is the best way to eliminate the risk associated with both the click-through rate and the conversion rate. 14
  15. 15. Should I integrate a proprietary advertising SDK? Many mobile advertising companies will ask you to integrate their SDK to track the installs they’re generating for you. This can sometimes be needed, either because you’re being billed on a CPI basis or simply to measure the effectiveness of the campaign based on eCPI, although you’re actually being charged for impressions or clicks. However tempting this turnkey solution might be, be careful not to lock yourself in and become entirely dependent on one company for your entire marketing strategy. It’s advised to keep analytics and tracking technically distinct (i.e. different SDK’s) from advertising, so as to remain flexible and have the option to easily switch partners in case you’re not satisfied with the results 15
  16. 16. Which advertising format? Now the next question is, how to advertise? There are numerous mobile advertising formats available: • • • • • • Display Content Emails Search Push Notifications … Display and content being the 2 most widely advertising formats employed, let’s focus on them. 16
  17. 17. Content Advertising: it’s about intent With content advertising, your game is brought forward in the context of a review or a recommendation. It is a powerful advertising channel: conversion rates as well as traffic quality are relatively high, because your app is discovered with intent. There are several suppliers of content advertising, such as: • Mobile review websites • Native discovery apps • Promo apps The latter will show case your game and send out push notifications to their users. Content advertising can sometimes generate high volumes, but generally it can’t deliver sustained installs over a longer period of time. 17
  18. 18. The galaxy of display advertising With display advertising, your game is simply promoted through creative artwork placed within an app or a mobile website. While conversion rates tend to be lower than with content advertising, display remains the best way to generate a large amount of installs over a longer period of time. There’s a wide array of the major suppliers of display traffic: • Ad Networks They can generate the largest volumes, but don‘t offer CPI billing. However, some will give you the option to integrate their SDK in order to optimize towards a CPI goal. Depending on the type of ad network, they might or might not disclose their publishers (blind vs. premium). 18
  19. 19. Major suppliers of display advertising • Mobile Agencies They have access to a wide array of traffic sources, but as a general rule don’t work with publishers directly and typically require a minimum test budget of at least $10,000. They don‘t work on a performance basis and some will ask of you to integrate their SDK. • Big App Publishers They sell their traffic to advertisers directly, cutting out the middleman. It can however be time-consuming to set up individual deals with each of them and they make it difficult to test traffic quality. • Affiliate Networks They work directly with publishers, and typically charge you on a CPI basis. They have access to a wide array of direct traffic sources (publishers, ad networks, email campaigns...) 19
  20. 20. Summing up… Limit your risks! Buy on a CPI basis as much as you can in order to reduce the risk and internal efforts associated with campaign monitoring and optimization. Diversify your traffic sources, or work with a partner who has access to them. Avoid commitment to minimum spends, especially if your budget is limited or if you want to test specific markets. Don’t lock yourself in with single “turnkey” advertising SDK 20
  21. 21. #3 Plan your launch 21
  22. 22. Consider a soft launch It is common practice to test your game and its monetization mechanics in smaller test countries before the official launch, so as to make adjustments before the big day. The English-speaking countries used for soft launches are Canada and Australia, as monetization patterns there are very similar to the US; if the metrics indicate that it’s working in Canada, then there is a good chance that it will work in the US as well. In Europe, provided that your game is in English, you can test it in smaller markets such as the Scandinavian countries, as this doesn’t require localization. Be aware, however, that traffic in these countries is much sought after and tends to be more expensive. 22
  23. 23. Focus and target Where to launch? You should focus your promotion resources on the countries that are most relevant for your game’s audience. Depending on its genre and content, you may not need to restrict the launch to the countries for which it has been localized. For instance, no need to localize extensively if your game is casual or if you are launching in Scandinavian countries. The main driver of your targeting decision should in all cases be the price of local CPI’s and monetization potential, i.e. conducting a geographic cost/benefit analysis. Which platforms and devices to target? The devices on which to launch will mainly depend on the type of gameplay you offer. If it requires a large screen to play in good conditions, we recommend focusing your efforts on tablets. As for the platform, if your game mainly monetizes through in-app purchase items, you should probably target iOS devices in priority. If your game’s business model relies on ad offers, spending budget on Android as well makes sense, as you will generally be able to acquire users at lower cost. 23
  24. 24. #4 Get ready for the long haul With Free-to-Play games, as monetization takes place within the game, it’s essential to take the whole user lifecycle into consideration and look beyond the install, which is merely the first step. 24
  25. 25. Look beyond the burst A question which often comes up when launching a game on iOS is whether to buy a campaign to boost it into the top ranks of the App Store’s free charts. To determine your rank position, the Apple algorithm indeed takes into account the downloads received in the previous days, with a strong focus on the past 24 hours. It’s important to note that your game’s appeal needs to be broad enough to benefit from a top chart exposure, as it does obviously not offer any targeting options! Provided that this condition is met, these so called “burst campaigns” need to be considered, because they can be a great way to gain visibility, acquire free organic users and bring your average CPI down. However… 25
  26. 26. …however… A burst can and should never be the end of your marketing efforts! Indeed, many publishers resort to burst campaigns and stop all advertising spend after their game has hit the top charts, hoping that once it has been discovered it will sustain itself on its own through the momentum. This (almost) never happens, especially if your game addresses a narrower audience of passionate players. Burst only Burst + Sustained Campaign 26
  27. 27. #5 Track post-install events With Free-to-Play, you need to keep a close eye on both the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) of your players and the average CPI at which you acquire them. Both figures will vary depending on the traffic source, which is why it is important to track the quality of the users generated by the various channels you’re using in order to optimize your advertising spend. And, as it can take some time for monetization to happen after the first app launch, you need to define and track events which will give you a good indication of the quality of the traffic. In other words: a proxy of the likelihood of the users to monetize at some point. 27
  28. 28. Which events to track? The relevant events to track in order to optimize CLV can fall into the following three categories: 1. Retention and Engagement Typical KPI‘s: specific in-game achievements, 3-day retention rate 2. Virality Typical KPI‘s: social media sharing rate, proportion of Facebook logins 3. Monetization Typical KPI‘s: ad revenue per time played, amount and frequency of in-app purchases Depending on the setup of your game, you will usually be able to assess retention, engagement, as well as virality quite early in the user‘s lifecycle. However, monetization might only come later as it is directly dependent on the two other KPI categories. This is why it‘s important to track events falling in the two first categories as well in order to get a proxy of monetization potential as early in the cycle as possible and adjust your ad spend accordingly. 28
  29. 29. How close are you to the traffic source? In order to optimize your marketing spend, we advise you to take into account the proximity of the source with the final traffic supplier. Indeed, the closer you are to your various install sources, the more you can optimize your spend between them. For instance, ad networks provide aggregated traffic from many publishers, so the data they deliver will not generally get any more granular than their average. There is a however a way to work around this, provided the networks can provide you with publisher ID‘s, which then allows you to optimize the traffic by its exact source. 29
  30. 30. Here’s your next step! Discover how AppLift can help you acquire quality users at scale for your Free-to-Play Game. Talk to us!  30