5 Steps to Successfully Market Your Free-to-Play 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, Business

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

  1. 1. Successfully Market YourFree-to-Play Mobile GameSteps to
  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 aprofitIt’s a numbers game…• You need to concentrate your efforts on acquiring the best users at theright price……within the app stores as well as……outside of the app stores2
  3. 3. 5 steps to successfully market your gameWithin the app stores:1. Master App Store MarketingOutside of the app stores:2. Go for a Wise Mix of Traffic Source3. Plan your Launch4. Get Ready for the Long Haul5. Track Beyond the Install3
  4. 4. #1 Master App Store MarketingApp Store Optimization (ASO) is essentiallyabout 2 things…4
  5. 5. Discoverability (getting found) …5
  6. 6. …and Conversion (getting downloaded)6
  7. 7. Discoverability: standing out fromthe crowdIt’s all about searchAccording to Nielsen, 63% of people use thenative search function of the App Store todiscover new apps.Therefore, it’s essential to optimize all theinformation that will enable your app to show upas highly ranked as possible in search results (akathe meta data: title, keywords, description).TitleBoth on Google Play and the Apple AppStore, thekeywords used in the title weigh greatly in thesearch algorithm. The title should be compellingbut not too long (for instance, on iOS it getstruncated 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 entirelylocalized and not just translated; Don’t repeat the keywords already presentin the title, don‘t leave spaces; Use only single words and single forms,avoid articles; Focus on the long tail: tailored keywordswill make you rank higher; Your game’s category is automatically akeyword, no need to add it to the list. Keywords are included in the description Include your main keywords around 5 timesalong your description, while keeping itreadable and cohesive; Use phrases, they are as important as words; Screen competitors’ descriptions; Google’s roots are in search: use AdWord’skeyword tool as well as the auto-responsesearch suggestions in Google Play to assessyour keywords’ popularity; It can be a good strategy to be opportunisticand include some trendy and/or seasonalkeywords (Christmas, Olympics, GangnamStyle...).8
  9. 9. Conversion: closing the dealOnce people have reached your app page, you still need to convincethem to download it. This can be achieved through the marketingassets present on the stores. These can be both visual (icon &screenshots) and written (title and description).IconMake the content elements pop outThe icon should make it obviouswhat the app is aboutConsider using a border so it looksgood on any backgroundVisual assets are coutesy of King.com LimitedThe icon is an essentialelement on all platforms,but comes at a premiumon Google Play as it is theonly asset directly visiblefrom the search function.9
  10. 10. Optimizing conversion on the Apple AppStoreOn the AppStore, one search result is displayed at a time, therefore conferring a strongadvantage to the first app showing up. The best way to optimize your game’s conversionpotential is to go through a funnel of click stages, concentrating most of your efforts onthe assets which are displayed first.At each of these stages, the users caneither decide to download the app ifthey are convinced by what they see,click to find out more or leave thepage. Ideally, you want to give the bestimpression as early in the process aspossible.10
  11. 11. #2 Choose a wise mix of traffic channelsThe main challenge when acquiring users outside of the app stores isthe number and variety of channels available, both free and paid.11
  12. 12. Free advertising channels outside of the App StoreThe most common practice to acquire users for free is tocross promote your game with other apps according to abarter scheme. This implies having ad offer mechanismsimplemented in your app so as to be able to push othergames. You also need to have a large-enough user baseso as to be in a position to send traffic back.Cross-promotion can be achieved in two differentways: either directly with other publishers, whichcan turn out to be time-consuming, or through a3rd-party solution, which will however in manycases require you to integrate an SDK in yourgame.12
  13. 13. Paid advertising channels: do’s and don’tsMobile advertising is a numbers game. The amount of money you can earn from asingle user on average over the time they will be using the app will govern howmuch you can spend to acquire someone at a profit.Therefore, it’s essential to keep a tight handle on the cost of acquisitionof your users, as on average your CPI (Cost Per Install) should alwaysremain below your ARPU (Average Revenue Per User), in order to beeventually profitable.Now, with the great variety of traffic suppliers, advertising formats andbilling 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) basisCPMCPCCPIClick-ThroughRateConversionRateBuying impressions and clicks tends to yield highervolumes, because there is more inventory availableHoweverYour resulting CPI (so-called effective CPI or eCPI)will then be the result of the click-through rate (inthe case of CPM) as well as the conversion ratefrom clicks to installs.You’re taking on a riskBuying on a CPI basis is the best way to eliminate the riskassociated with both the click-through rate and theconversion rate.14
  15. 15. Should I integrate a proprietary advertising SDK?Many mobile advertising companies will ask you tointegrate their SDK to track the installs they’re generatingfor you.This can sometimes be needed, either because you’re beingbilled on a CPI basis or simply to measure the effectivenessof the campaign based on eCPI, although you’re actuallybeing charged for impressions or clicks.However tempting this turnkey solution might be, becareful not to lock yourself in and become entirelydependent on one company for your entire marketingstrategy.It’s advised to keep analytics and tracking technically distinct (i.e. different SDK’s) fromadvertising, so as to remain flexible and have the option to easily switch partners in caseyou’re not satisfied with the results15
  16. 16. Which advertising format?Now the next question is, how to advertise?There are numerous mobile advertising formatsavailable:• Display• Content• Emails• Search• Push Notifications• …Display and content being the 2 most widelyadvertising formats employed, let’s focus onthem.16
  17. 17. Content Advertising: it’s about intentWith content advertising, your game is brought forward in the context of a review or arecommendation. It is a powerful advertising channel: conversion rates as well as trafficquality 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 appsThe latter will show case your game and send outpush notifications to their users.Content advertising can sometimes generate high volumes, but generally it can’t deliversustained installs over a longer period of time.17
  18. 18. The galaxy of display advertisingWith display advertising, your game is simply promoted through creative artwork placedwithin an app or a mobile website. While conversion rates tend to be lower than withcontent advertising, display remains the best way to generate a large amount of installsover a longer period of time.There’s a wide array of the major suppliers ofdisplay traffic:• Ad NetworksThey can generate the largest volumes,but don‘t offer CPI billing. However, somewill give you the option to integrate theirSDK in order to optimize towards a CPIgoal. Depending on the type of adnetwork, they might or might not disclosetheir publishers (blind vs. premium).18
  19. 19. Major suppliers of display advertising• Mobile AgenciesThey have access to a wide array of traffic sources, but as a general rule don’t work withpublishers directly and typically require a minimum test budget of at least $10,000. They don‘twork on a performance basis and some will ask of you to integrate their SDK.• Big App PublishersThey sell their traffic to advertisers directly, cutting out the middleman. It can however betime-consuming to set up individual deals with each of them and they make it difficult to testtraffic quality.• Affiliate NetworksThey work directly with publishers, and typically charge you on a CPI basis. They have accessto 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 reducethe risk and internal efforts associated with campaign monitoring andoptimization.Diversify your traffic sources, or work with a partnerwho has access to them.Avoid commitment to minimum spends, especially if yourbudget is limited or if you want to test specific markets.Don’t lock yourself in with single “turnkey” advertising SDK20
  21. 21. #3 Plan your launch21
  22. 22. Consider a soft launchIt is common practice to test your game and itsmonetization mechanics in smaller test countriesbefore the official launch, so as to make adjustmentsbefore the big day.The English-speaking countries used for soft launchesare Canada and Australia, as monetization patternsthere are very similar to the US; if the metrics indicatethat it’s working in Canada, then there is a good chancethat it will work in the US as well.In Europe, provided that your game is inEnglish, you can test it in smaller markets suchas the Scandinavian countries, as this doesn’trequire localization.Be aware, however, that traffic in thesecountries is much sought after and tends to bemore expensive.22
  23. 23. Focus and targetWhere to launch?You should focus your promotion resources on the countries thatare most relevant for your game’s audience.Depending on its genre and content, you may not need to restrictthe launch to the countries for which it has been localized. Forinstance, no need to localize extensively if your game is casual or ifyou are launching in Scandinavian countries.The main driver of your targeting decision should in all cases be theprice of local CPI’s and monetization potential, i.e. conducting ageographic 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 alarge screen to play in good conditions, we recommend focusing your efforts on tablets. As for theplatform, if your game mainly monetizes through in-app purchase items, you should probably targetiOS devices in priority. If your game’s business model relies on ad offers, spending budget on Androidas well makes sense, as you will generally be able to acquire users at lower cost.23
  24. 24. #4 Get ready for the long haulWith Free-to-Play games, as monetization takes place within the game, it’sessential to take the whole user lifecycle into consideration and look beyond theinstall, which is merely the first step.24
  25. 25. Look beyond the burstA question which often comes up when launching agame on iOS is whether to buy a campaign to boost itinto the top ranks of the App Store’s free charts.To determine your rank position, the Apple algorithmindeed takes into account the downloads received inthe previous days, with a strong focus on the past 24hours.It’s important to note that your game’s appeal needsto be broad enough to benefit from a top chartexposure, as it does obviously not offer any targetingoptions!Provided that this condition is met, these so called“burst campaigns” need to be considered, becausethey can be a great way to gain visibility, acquire freeorganic 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 aftertheir game has hit the top charts, hoping that once it has been discovered it will sustainitself on its own through the momentum. This (almost) never happens, especially if yourgame addresses a narrower audience of passionate players.Burst only Burst + Sustained Campaign26
  27. 27. #5 Track post-install eventsWith Free-to-Play, you need to keep a close eye on both the CustomerLifetime Value (CLV) of your players and the average CPI at which youacquire them.Both figures will vary depending on the traffic source, which is why it isimportant to track the quality of the users generated by the variouschannels you’re using in order to optimize your advertising spend.And, as it can take some time formonetization to happen after the firstapp launch, you need to define and trackevents which will give you a goodindication of the quality of the traffic. Inother words: a proxy of the likelihood ofthe 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 EngagementTypical KPI‘s: specific in-game achievements, 3-day retention rate2. ViralityTypical KPI‘s: social media sharing rate, proportion of Facebook logins3. MonetizationTypical KPI‘s: ad revenue per time played, amount and frequency of in-app purchasesDepending 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, monetizationmight only come later as it is directly dependent on the two other KPI categories. This is whyit‘s important to track events falling in the two first categories as well in order to get a proxyof monetization potential as early in the cycle as possible and adjust your ad spendaccordingly.28
  29. 29. How close are you to the traffic source?In order to optimize your marketing spend, we adviseyou to take into account the proximity of the sourcewith the final traffic supplier.Indeed, the closer you are to your various installsources, the more you can optimize your spendbetween them. For instance, ad networks provideaggregated traffic from many publishers, so the datathey deliver will not generally get any more granularthan their average.There is a however a way to work around this,provided the networks can provide you with publisherID‘s, which then allows you to optimize the traffic byits exact source.29
  30. 30. Here’s your next step!Discover how AppLift can help you acquire quality users atscale for your Free-to-Play Game.Talk to us!info@applift.com30