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Apple’s privacy changes have reduced advertising costs for mobile puzzle games

Moloco's Henry Wang on planning for the future
Apple’s privacy changes have reduced advertising costs for mobile puzzle games

Henry Wang is director of product marketing at Moloco

He has five years of experience working in the mobile programmatic space across both demand and supply side.

Puzzle games are among the most opportunity-rich in the modern mobile gaming industry.

Accounting for $6.9 billion in global revenue in 2020, their simplicity, approachability, and compatibility with IAP-based monetization represent a perfect storm of commercial viability.

This is especially true when supported by a comprehensive growth strategy, but every category is having to adjust to life in the post-IDFA world, and puzzle games are no exception.

The effective retirement of IDFA on iOS was thought by many to represent an obstacle to marketers who have relied on device-level identifiers as a means of acquiring users through paid user acquisition channels, especially when it comes to reaching high-value users.

Unlike heavily ad-supported genres like hypercasual, puzzle game marketers have always needed to allocate material resources for reaching the kind of big IAP spenders that make up a large percentage of their bottom line.

These types of players have historically been more common on iOS, making Apple’s privacy changes more pressing for marketers tasked with acquiring them at a profit.

Fortunately, while the release of iOS 14.5 has certainly reconfigured the competitive landscape, the release of iOS 14.6 produced a substantial benefit that far outweighs the challenges.

Unpacking the impact

Data from the programmatic advertising ecosystem suggests that the release of iOS 14.6 triggered a material decline in advertising prices for puzzle game marketers at large.

The ability to target and acquire high-value users through traditional methods may have dwindled, but it’s a market dynamic that has affected all competitors equally, effectively negating its competitive impact.

On the flip side, the overall cost of driving installs for puzzle games on iOS (formerly up to 300% higher than Android) has dropped to being nearly equal to that of Android in the months since the release of iOS 14.6.

Not pictured above is the consistent volume of campaigns in operation, which has been largely unaffected by the release of iOS 14.6, suggesting that the transition to the post-IDFA world has been a smooth one for most puzzle app advertisers.

“The ability to target and acquire high-value users through traditional methods may have dwindled, but it’s a market dynamic that has affected all competitors equally.”

Budgets seem to have been gradually adjusted to account for the new competitive landscape with no noteworthy drops in demand.

Perhaps most interesting is the fact that install costs for Android have remained steady throughout the entire year, reverting largely to the mean after only a slight uptick following Apple’s updates.

This likely indicates a brief period of experimentation in which marketers reallocated resources towards Android in hopes of leveraging its remaining support for device-level identifiers before rebalancing to previous standards shortly thereafter.

How puzzle game marketers can move forward

While some reversion may occur, especially as Android makes its own changes to how it handles user privacy, the current trend suggests that iOS now offers lower acquisition costs than it did prior to the release of iOS 14.5.

While puzzle games may not have been the most dramatically impacted compared to genres like sports & racing, which saw a stark divergence in advertising prices by platform, the take away for marketers should be the same — Apple’s privacy changes are an opportunity, not a threat.

The question now is what strategies will be the most effective in the new mobile marketing ecosystem. Here are a few to keep in mind:

  1. Diversify your channels: The quickest way to mitigate risk during this transition is to avoid concentration of resources in any single channel. Instead, diversify your media spend across several channels to insulate yourself from uncertainty. This approach also helps you identify new high-performing channels that you can optimize during future campaigns.
  2. Optimize for ROAS: The ideal post-IDFA tech stack is one that can effectively facilitate return-on-ad-spend (ROAS) performance advertising models. While this may increase your CPM in the short term, it will also minimize unnecessary spending and maximize revenue for each player acquired.
  3. Invest in experimentation: With such low acquisition costs, now is the perfect time to experiment with new creative and targeting strategies. Take modest risks, conduct A/B tests, and find ways to connect with audiences that don’t rely on user identifiers. If you succeed, you’ll be ahead of the curve when it comes to acquiring and engaging players in the privacy-first environment.

The changes occurring within the puzzle game space are far from unique.

All app categories are undergoing contrasting developments as they transition from IDFA-centric practices to privacy-forward, contextual tactics. Mobile marketers that invest in the strategies listed above will be positioned to navigate these and other changes with grace and stability. 

You can find out more about Moloco's services via its website.