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The successes, mistakes and lessons from launching Diggy's Adventure on mobile

Pixel Federation's Matej Lancaric breaks down how the studio took its game to market
The successes, mistakes and lessons from launching Diggy's Adventure on mobile

Matej Lancaric is Head of Mobile Marketing at Pixel Federation.

Long story short, we have tripled daily active users and monthly revenues by launching Diggy’s Adventure on iOS and Android.

We were spending €1 million a month on paid user acquisition during global launch. Cool, right? But why would you care? Because not every game in the App Store is a hit. Diggy is our mobile hit, but in terms of numbers we are far from games like Pokemon GO or Clash Royale. Your game doesn’t have to be a hit to be profitable.

After successful global launch, Diggy’s Adventure made over €5 million in less than three months.

Diggy's Adventure

Diggy’s Adventure is our mobile game with a well written story that is full of plot twists as you progress through thousands of brain-teasers and beautiful locations such as Egypt, Scandinavia, China and Atlantis.

Diggy is not only a nimble tiny miner but also a hilarious character to spend some time with. Great adventure game meets puzzles. You can join the family of Diggy, Professor, Linda and Rusty on their journey to explore a world full of ancient civilisations and mysteries.

Development at Pixel Federation

I know there should be some market research activities before prototyping. Honestly, we didn’t pay very much attention to research in the past. Truth be told, our mobile games are ported from the web, we were not investing in Market Research

Researching key players in your game’s category can give you some great insights into what your target audience values in a game.

How are other apps/games named? Are they memorable? Which categories are they targeting? Which keywords are they ranking high for? An analysis could prove to be very useful in getting your game in front of the right audience.

The situation is different now. We recently opened a match-3 division and realised market research is crucial. You know, we are learning by doing. When we launched TrainStation back in 2015 our soft launch process wasn’t so good either, and look at where we are now.

Soft launch

Thank you, Diggy, for explaining the simple definition of soft launch. But why do we need to soft launch our game in the first place?

  • Lowering the risk of failure
  • Understanding our game performance
  • Understanding our audience
  • Collect feedback
  • Optimise first time user experience
  • A/B test of tutorials
  • Test marketing channels
  • Test creative assets
  • LTV > CPI
  • Kill the game, if necessary

A detailed view on 'what's the point of a soft launch?' will follow in my next blog post.

Dos & dont’s of soft launch

Soft launch KPIs

When it comes to creating a mobile game soft launch strategy, you should first have a clear understanding of your objectives. You should align objectives with KPIs before diving headfirst into a plan of action.

What did we do here with the setup of KPIs? We looked at numbers of our already-mobile-launched game TrainStation. We compared platforms and their performance. We saw relative uplift, which we included into the setup of Diggy’s Adventure KPIs. We also did this with retention KPIs, but I find monetisation metrics more interesting.


Each build has a changelog, so we can get back to every change we made in the past. Also, we wanted to track which changes made the biggest change in metrics.

Some soft launch facts

  • Duration: Six months
  • Platforms: Android, iOS
  • Countries: PH, MX, CA, NL, AU, CZ, SK
  • User acquisition: 80,000 users
  • Targeting: Female & Male, Age 25+, affinity

The creative part

In mobile games marketing, the quality of the creative has historically been less relevant. Developers used to be able to get away with a few screen grabs and maybe some gameplay videos that one of their ad partners made. This is also changing.

Creatives can be funny, dramatic and scary. They can stir emotions in your players and help them view your game as more than a disposable experience.

We’ve seen that the best-performing creatives are the ones that can elicit a reaction from the viewer, even if it’s a little ridiculous. No matter what kind of creative you use for your game, development and testing has also become more important.

We never realised that until last year. We were struggling big time. CPIs went up, conversion rates went down and we didn’t know what to do. We’ve reached out to our Facebook rep and this is how it looked like.

You know this situation, right? Six different issues and you get the same answer. After a couple of discussions our Facebook rep Ricardo invited us to their offices in Dublin for a Creative Hack. We realised that there is no need for changing the creative, but for changing our mindset and workflow.

Developers should consider working with both in-house artists and external creative firms to make a steady pipeline of static and video creatives for all of their marketing channels. You need to develop a creative cycle!

Once you have a diverse array of creatives, you need to test them rigorously to see which ones best meet your key KPIs and increase install rates.

Okay, you may ask what does all of this have to do with the global launch of Diggy’s Adventure? Trust me, a lot!

Here’s our gift to you: app store optimisation is your secret weapon.

Since May, our ad units are 100% video. This creative hack helped us to open our minds and think outside the box. We have developed a two week creative cycle and brainstormed the shit out of our heads. That’s how our global launch videos were made.


To grab attention within the first three seconds, we used an eye-catching headline that was clear and exciting even without sound. The video also included short questions, encouraging players to think.

“Can you solve it?” was connected with engaging copy “There is no riddle that can’t be solved. Test your skills in Diggy’s Adventure”. There was also a “Play Game” call-to-action button directing people to the app stores where they could download the game.

App store optimisation

With over two million mobile apps in the major app stores, getting your app discovered is one of the biggest issues facing mobile app publishers today. ASO is the process of optimising mobile apps to rank higher in an app store’s search results.

The higher your app ranks in an app store’s search results, the more visible it is to potential customers. That increased visibility tends to translate into more traffic to your app’s page in the app store.

The goal of ASO is to drive more traffic to your app’s page in the app store, so searchers can take a specific action: downloading your game.

Also, the ASO process requires a crucial understanding of your target customer base, including the keywords your potential customers are using to find apps similar to yours.

When you learn more about which keywords are being used, you will have a better understanding of the language of your potential customers - a crucial piece of any marketing plan - and you can home in on your keyword choices.

If you’re not using ASO to increase your app’s search ranking, you’re missing out on the largest discovery channel available to your app.

With hundreds of thousands of apps in each app store vying to rank above one another, the amazing reality is that the majority of publishers are not investing in app store optimisation. So here’s our gift to you: ASO is your secret weapon.

Spend time every week improving your ASO and you will meaningfully impact your app’s ranking and overall success.

Global launch

Facebook only

We decided to devote our whole advertising budget for the launch of Diggy’s Adventure to Facebook.

First, we have our own in-house team for managing Facebook ads. Second, we have great experience with Facebook ads compared to other ad networks.

Also, with over 600 million gamers on Facebook and Instagram, you can grow faster by marketing to a global audience thanks to various options of targeting.

We started with interest targeting, but we also looked at our existing customer base and identified the customers who were most valuable in terms of activity and in-app payments. Then we used Lookalike Audiences for international markets to find more people like them in the areas where we wanted to introduce the game.

Next, we targeted these groups with video ad units across Facebook, Instagram and the Audience Network – the entire Facebook family of apps and services.

To ensure we were targeting the right people, we created multiple audience segments (app event + demographic) using our own BI tool and Facebook Analytics. Then we created a Custom Audience from these segments and created further lookalike audiences for different countries.

The plan was to spend €150,000 for the first month after global launch date. Then I realised it would be a missed opportunity to stick with this plan and we raised the budget to €1 million per month. Yep, €1 million monthly spent only on the Facebook platform. Soon we recognised that’s not a healthy portfolio.

We had been working with ad networks in the past, but results (and also feelings) were mixed. There are tons of ad networks out there and we were probably working with the bad ones.

Fortunately, now we have reports like Appsflyer Performance Index or latest Singular Global ROI index so we can choose our partners wisely. We are finally starting to diversify our paid user acquisition channels and build partnerships.

Featuring Apple & Google Play

There were more than 70,000 games submitted to the iTunes App Store in Q4 2016. Yes, you read that right: 70,000 games!

To get your app chosen as a feature, it’s helpful to know how apps get chosen as features. Because it’s not done by some complicated algorithm - they’re actually hand-picked.

To better serve different countries, Apple actually has 155 app stores, each with a local editorial team. Former Apple App Store Marketing Manager Michael Ehrenberg explained that, each week, the local app store editors determine the best - and most relevant - apps for their specific users.

By having humans choose the apps, Apple ensures that the featured apps will be the ones most likely to appeal to local users.

Having Apple feature you on the App Store can make or break a mobile game, as it helps you stand out among a million competitors. But this is easier said than done.

We got featured by Apple once and by Google twice during global launch. A blog post about how we pulled it off will follow.

Success? Yes, indeed!

After successful global launch, Diggy’s Adventure made over €5 million in less than three months. We basically tripled our revenue. I think I should mention that we monetise our players only with in-app purchases. There are no ads in Diggy at all.

Well, it’s not completely true because we run rewarded video A/B test but only on 1/3 of our traffic. We wanted to be sure rewarded video doesn’t cannibalise in-app purchases.

After the mobile launch we set a new daily record during the Black Friday special offer of €180,000. There was a discussion about Black Friday because I found a couple of articles about the strength of Black Friday offers and realised this would be a missed opportunity. Diggy devs even added a new Black Box mechanic.

What I wanted to say is you should target specialised markets by incorporating regional festivals. Need to brush up on your world celebrations? Here’s a quick guide to popular holidays worldwide. Definitely worth it!

Metrics during global launch

These numbers are the best that we were able to achieve during global launch.

Metrics two to three months after global launch

This is how it looks like two to three months after launch.


Ad networks

What went wrong?

In gaming not everything goes according to your wishes. That’s our story, too. This is not criticism, we all did our best. Of course we made mistakes, but we learned our lessons.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and fail. And fail fast, as our CEO often says. It is hugely important to ensure that all the lessons from a failure will find their way into the next project. It’s these lessons that will make you and your next game better.

So yeah, this is how we did it. The lessons were learned (quite a few). Hopefully, we can benefit from all of these mistakes and lessons this year with our next mobile games in the pipeline.

What do you think about it? What should we improve?