June 22, 2023
The world of user acquisition (UA) has changed dramatically over the last decade, and no one knows this better than mobile game publishers. Strategies that drove profitable UA ten, five, or even two years ago no longer yield the same results; with millions of apps on the market, it’s harder than ever to gain users’ attention – and even if you do, they’re often quick to abandon new apps, as Fortune1 points out. This has left publishers scrambling to find affordable and effective ways to attract not just any players, but those capable of generating meaningful lifetime value (LTV).
Publishers hoping to thrive in the modern ecosystem must be willing to explore strategic opportunities that lie beyond the beaten path. By embracing more progressive, longer-term strategies anchored around fostering an active community, identifying and rewarding loyalty, and pursuing net-new audience segments, publishers can earn their share of high-value player engagement.
Traditionally, “UA strategy” has simply meant the optimization of a paid performance-marketing media mix. In today’s increasingly competitive landscape, there is mounting evidence to suggest that this is no longer sufficient. 2022 SensorTower data saw almost every genre experience dramatic revenue decline2, with Newzoo3 optimistically calling it a “corrective year.” Experts like Deconstructor of Fun’s Eric Kress4 don’t see things getting better soon, explaining how “... the growth of yields continues to decline and that means not only are we getting lower downloads, we're getting lower quality of downloads.” Today’s landscape demands a new, cohesive approach that marries top-of-funnel efforts with post-install engagement. The strategies that follow represent ways for publishers to achieve just that.
As a publisher, you’ve probably spent your share of time familiarizing yourself with the most popular mobile user acquisition channels – but there’s a world of emerging channels that have the potential to connect your games with net-new audiences. Stepping outside the most time-tested tools comes with the potential for a high reward on investment.
Connected TV (CTV) advertising offers mobile game publishers a chance to tap into a rapidly growing and often previously-untouched viewer base. According to eMarketer5 the number of US CTV viewers will surpass the number of traditional cable, satellite, or telecom live TV viewers by 2024. This provides an immense opportunity for mobile game publishers to reach new, diverse audiences outside traditional mobile ad channels. By leveraging high-quality visuals and precise audience targeting offered by platforms like tvScientific (who recently launched a bespoke CTV ad solution for game developers) publishers can drive profitable growth through new audiences. According to VentureBeat6, an unnamed game publisher targeting global audiences generated over 60,000 users in just a month by advertising on streaming services like Hulu, Disney+, and more. Even better, new users attributed to the CTV campaign spent 37% more money in-game than organic users.
The growing world of in-game audio advertising is also well on the way to affording mobile game publishers a powerful way of reaching new audiences. Platforms like Odeeo and AudioMob are making a push to get the format seamlessly integrated with the gaming experience in hopes of capturing users' attention without disrupting gameplay. Many are banking on games increasingly incorporating social and multiplayer features, so the potential reach of audio ads extends beyond individual players to their connected communities.
Custom store pages, a marketing feature available on both Google Play and the App Store, allow for the tailoring of an app's storefront to better appeal to specific new audiences. By matching the store page with the fine-tuned messaging and visuals of the ads, the user acquisition funnel gets further optimized. Marketing performance can be increased even more if the first-time user experience within the app is also personalized to align with the ad and store page, creating a seamless and engaging user experience. This full-funnel customization can significantly improve install conversion rates by showcasing features and benefits that are most likely to resonate with the target audience of an individual campaign, allowing UA managers to ideally increase throughput for any campaigns that are intentionally targeting new (or existing) audiences.
A/B testing functionality is another valuable feature of custom app store pages, allowing managers to try out different page designs, measure their performance, and optimize accordingly. This feature is pivotal for conversion rate optimization, helping businesses to achieve maximum ROI from user acquisition efforts. While both Apple and Google offer their own tools for store page performance measurement, platforms like Storemaven also offer bespoke tools to help marketers dial in their store presence.
Many top-tier publishers are experimenting with out-of-home (OOH) including billboards, posters, and signage. And while it’s certainly a less common approach, a few notable examples suggest there may be value to be had for mid-level publishers as well. Supercell's multi-channel advertising campaign for "Clash of Clans'' included one of 2015’s most popular Superbowl ads as well as a massive OOH campaign, placing billboards and other advertisements in major cities worldwide.
While campaign performance specifics aren’t public knowledge, it did likely represent a strategic risk in pursuit of new audiences, as industry pundit Eric Seufert explains7: “If Supercell has already reached everyone it can through in-app ads, then there’s nowhere left to go but more traditional forms of media for acquisition. But at the same time, buying airtime during the biggest sporting event in the US — which 43mm people planned to watch at a party — may be the best way of convincing monetization holdouts that the game is just as social as watching football with friends and deserves their money.” Publishers encountering similar challenges could do worse than allocating a percentage of media spend towards placements in public spaces within their most engaged geographies.
There’s some overlap between loyalty and community, but while community development best serves social games, loyalty is a strategy that can be used for a much wider range of game types. A loyalty-driven growth strategy is critical for attracting and retaining high-LTV players and typically affects metrics like retention, stickiness, and the number of active users – but it’s possible to cultivate loyalty in players before they’ve even downloaded a new game from your portfolio.
Pre-order bonuses have emerged as an impactful user acquisition strategy in the competitive mobile gaming industry, especially when paired with downstream engagement. These incentives not only stimulate interest and early commitment but also foster a sense of anticipation and exclusivity around the game.
A prime example is Blizzard Entertainment's pre-order promotion for Diablo Immortal. To commemorate over 30 million players pre-registering on Android, iOS, and Windows PC, Blizzard offered the radiant Horadrim Cosmetic Set as a pre-order bonus. The unique cosmetic item created a distinctive look for each class and was only made available to players who completed the tutorial within 30 days of the game's release. This initiative not only incentivized players to pre-order the game but also encouraged early engagement upon the game's launch, leading to a better-retained launch-cohort.
Top-tier publishers like Playtika have learned the benefits of a portfolio-wide loyalty program. While not without development overhead, offering their most active players exclusive in-game benefits and VIP treatment deepens engagement ties and helps contextualize in-game achievements within a larger community. This affords the most engaged players even more reasons to play in pursuit of better retention and higher LTV.
There are also a growing number of loyalty-driven UA solutions yielding powerful results for mobile game publishers. For example, the Mistplay app helps Android users discover new games through personalized recommendations and rewards them when they actually play these games. That means users are already engaged by the time they jump into the game for the first time, and engaged players tend to stick around and spend more8, according to VentureBeat. East Side Games, for example, was able to drive +15% scale and 9.5% seven-day retention with our targeted ROAS campaigns. Check out the full case study to learn more.
While not technically a UA tactic, regular content releases boost loyalty and drive growth by keeping engaged players happy. Update releases also trigger notifications on the devices of existing users, often leading to a material percentage of lapsed users returning to check out new content. In addition to app notifications for existing players, Google’s “promotional content” feature helps publishers boost awareness of content drops and in-app events via Play Store promotion, which helps lead new players to your game. The “games as a service” or live ops approach – treating mobile games like an ongoing service, rather than a one-and-done product – may take more resources in the short term, but the investment is worthwhile for the long-term payoff9, as Sensor Tower data shows that 91% of the world’s top games utilizing live ops.
A community-driven mobile game user acquisition strategy is one that makes every possible effort to leverage the engagement and energy of your most active players, fueling an organic growth flywheel that continually draws new players into the fold. That only happens when publishers are able to build and maintain a dedicated community of vocal fans. There are a number of tactics that support this approach, and they all require transparency, participation, and openness to player feedback.
Your most dedicated players are a gold mine of insight and energy, and there is no shortage of evidence to suggest that the more you can engage them, the better: Among Us was first released in 2018 and initially didn't receive much attention. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the game gained popularity among streamers and content creators. The game’s developers, InnerSloth, took immediate action. They started (and continue) to promote fan art on social media, introduced streamer-themed in-game cosmetics, and took community feedback so deeply to heart that it changed the course of product development entirely. As Gamespot reported10 in 2020, “In response to Among Us' rising popularity, developer Innersloth has decided to focus on expanding the game's features and content instead of working on a sequel.”
This strategy is particularly well-suited for games with a multiplayer element, whether that’s cooperative or competitive. These types of players tend to seek each other out since multiplayer games tend to thrive with a strong community, and they’re also familiar with the publishers behind their favorite titles. For example, a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) with the community manager for Clash of Clans, a hyper-competitive strategy game with 76 million players and over $5 billion in lifetime revenue11, garnered hundreds of comments in around three hours12 and was then shared widely within the community.13
Whether you’re just getting your organic flywheel spinning or you’re looking to keep the momentum of an active community alive, influencer campaigns leverage the power of social proof to spark genuine interest and drive highly-valuable, attributable downloads. In the mobile world, influencer campaigns do more than simply boost brand awareness; savvy marketers can take a performance-oriented approach to deliver a positive return on investment. Multinational publishing powerhouses like Lilith Games, developers of AFK Arena, have used influencer campaigns to successfully market games with established Asian-market player bases to US audiences. As detailed in a Cloutboost case study, sponsored influencer content from 6 top-tier creators garnered upwards of 15m views and drove the title to #13 in Free Games on the U.S. Google Play store and #26 in Free Games on iOS.
Better still, mobile game influencer marketing has matured to the point that not only are there fully-functional platforms that can guide marketers from the entire engagement experience, but there are game-specific platforms that specialize in UA-focused campaigns for mobile games. These include platforms like Matchmade, GameInfluencer, and Wehype. Among their listed customers are mobile gaming dynasties like Zynga, Socialpoint, Nexon, Sega, and more.
Studies across multiple industries and disciplines, including everything from employment to retail to B2B, have found that referred customers are better retained and generate more profit than those that aren’t. In a post-IDFA mobile gaming world, creative user acquisition strategies like these are gaining traction for their ability to promote community growth. As Jenna Jokela points out in an article for GameRefinery, by encouraging players to invite new users in exchange for in-game items or premium currency, games like Match Masters, Dragon Mania Legends, and RAID: Shadow Legends have successfully kept player bases alive through the power of meaningful rewards that prioritize feature exposure, even tying them to the referred friend's game progression.
Some games have also experimented with re-engagement referral campaigns, targeting lapsed players by incentivizing current players to invite them back. Cross-platform powerhouse Fortnite has made a point to introduce this feature with its REBOOT A FRIEND program. In the Chinese and Japanese markets, games like QQ Dancer and Yo-kai Watch Punipuni have adopted this approach as well, with encouraging results.
UGC content leverages players' creativity and enthusiasm to generate authentic, engaging content that resonates with potential users, especially on platforms like TikTok, which tends to skew younger. These campaigns, which can include gameplay videos, fan art, or social media posts, can serve as a form of peer endorsement provided they’re able to achieve authenticity, which is often the greatest challenge.
These types of campaigns are most effective when built around real community-generated content, but many agencies are affecting similar if not equal outcomes by emulating the look of user-generated content in their ad creative. As app marketing agency Apptamin explains14 in a December blog post, “... everything is made to look like a regular TikTok. The actress is using her earbuds as a microphone (something a lot of users are doing themselves), and she’s complaining about her boyfriend refusing her help on the game. Her apparent frustration makes her relatable, so does her testimonial. And according to TikTok data, it kept users engaged throughout the entire video.” All evidence suggests that UGC yields strong results consistently, with dedicated industry UA agencies like YellowHEAD increasingly doubling down on the approach as a specialized service offering.
At Mistplay, our approach to user acquisition for mobile games focuses on rewarding players and fostering loyalty. As detailed in the case study mentioned earlier in this article15, we helped Canadian mobile developer East Side Games significantly scale acquisition efforts, leading to a 15% increase in installs. Importantly, East Side Games also saw a 9.5% increase in D7 retention and a 7.7% increase in D7 ROAS, meaning that those new players were sticking around and proving their value. To learn more about how Mistplay can help with mobile game user acquisition strategy, get in touch.
Need to brush up on your user acquisition fundamentals? Check out our comprehensive article, “Mobile user acquisition: The modern developer’s guide”