The gaming industry has seen many changes over the past few years, with significant changes from Apple making it more difficult for developers to target the right players and maximise revenue. Many teams are completely re-evaluating their user acquisition strategies to ensure that they can maintain a thriving mobile game.
In part one of this two-part guest post, we share Kwalee’s vice president of mobile publishing, John Wright’s insight into the state of UA in 2023. Shared originally as series on his LinkedIn, Wright highlights the challenges many developers face and offers valuable advice on how to best tackle them.
And don't forget to check out part two here.
So, if you aren't aware already, to say UA in 2023 is challenging would be an understatement. This becomes evident when we look at the major players in the gaming industry, including Kwalee, and notice that the number of game launches in the market has significantly decreased compared to two years ago.
One pivotal event contributing to this shift was Apple's deprecation of IDFA, which made it harder to target higher-quality users, resulting in a significant drop in revenue-based metrics (ARPU, ARPDAU, LTV, ROAS).
In 2023, marketability no longer holds the same value as it did two years ago.John Wright
From my perspective, an interesting point is the value of marketability tests (CPI tests), which have decreased substantially in the past two years.
As a publisher, you used to conduct 400-500+ CPI tests per month on a wide range of games. Essentially, this involved running a few gameplay videos on Meta, spending a few hundred dollars per test, and determining if the CPI was low enough to make launching a game a no-brainer.
In 2023, these tests have largely become obsolete because achieving a low CPI is no longer sufficient. Most developers are now opting to combine this initial stage with a more comprehensive evaluation of retention in a fully developed project, essentially a full MVP. Previously, you may have just done a screen recording of a single scene in Unity to get the materials needed to complete this type of test.
To sum it up, in 2023, marketability no longer holds the same value as it did two years ago. As a developer, you must create an MVP with at least 30-60 minutes of gameplay to test D1/D3 retention alongside the CPI. These tests now come at a considerably higher cost than you might have previously done (20-30X more).
We're all aware that UA has become more challenging, but it has also become significantly more expensive and less predictable.John Wright
Diversifying your UA platforms
Let's delve deeper into the increasing importance of having a broader testing strategy for early-stage games.
We're all aware that UA has become more challenging, but it has also become significantly more expensive and less predictable. Two years ago, you could achieve quite a bit by sticking with Meta up until the monetisation testing stage. At that point, it was crucial to introduce another channel, typically an SDK network like Unity, to assess the differences between the two platform types (IPM/eCPM/eCPI/ROAS).
Before the introduction of SKAN and the deprecation of IDFA, Facebook provided a simpler and more reliable environment. You could comfortably launch a campaign with a few gameplay videos, knowing that a certain percentage of the campaign would yield the desired target CPI, allowing you to move those games forward to retention testing.
Facebook, as a general rule, was also more cost-effective than other channels due to its massive scale. Now, I am seeing a complete 180 on that, with Facebook now becoming more expensive than the SDK networks.
This is why I strongly recommend not only testing SKAN vs non-SKAN campaigns on Facebook but also testing on an SDK network (like Unity) from the very beginning, whereas previously, this was typically done later in the general testing process.
Variety is key
Similarly, TikTok can make or break many game launches. Focusing on short-form content and influencers can be a game-changer if the stars align and you achieve virality. It's impossible to predict, but a single user-generated content video with the right influencer, or even a video from your own marketing team in the right style, can drive hundreds of thousands of users to your game at a minimal (one off) cost.
Don't limit yourself to just Facebook, Google, and/or SDKs because they worked in the past.John Wright
To summarise, diversifying your UA portfolio, much like diversifying your personal investments, has always been a wise strategy. However, the ease and affordability of Facebook made it the gatekeeper to success for early games.
Now, you need to be more adventurous, testing a more comprehensive range of channels at every stage of the testing process. Don't limit yourself to just Facebook, Google, and/or SDKs because they worked in the past; be sure to include DSPs and TikTok in the mix, especially in the later stages (soft or hard launch). It may be more expensive, and consequently, you'll need to be more selective in choosing your games, but in the long run, it will pay off.
Today, the game is more about quality than quantity, more about the qualitative aspects than the quantitative ones, both in the design of the games and how you ascertain if they will be successful or not.
Edited by Paige Cook
Discover more on UA at Pocket Gamer Connects. In this video from Pocket Gamer Connects Jordan in 2022, Phil Shpilberg shared his expert insight on trends in AI for UA in mobile games.