Top user acquisition strategies for indie games developers

Tappx's Ignasi Prat dishes out some key tips for those on a budget

Top user acquisition strategies for indie games developers

Ignasi Prat is Chief Marketing Officer at Tappx.

One of the most difficult challenges developers face when launching an app or game is trying to acquire users. Generating critical mass will provide you with what every project needs to create cash flow and make the project profitable.

This is the order you must follow: First user acquisition, then game monetisation. In a highly competitive environment where retention is low and most people aren’t willing to pay for what they get, you have to be very good at building a user base without the costs associated with doing so, overpassing the revenue forecasts.

Many developers spend time reading about the user acquisition success factors of other games. They assume that knowing what they did to become so popular will prevent their failure. This is absolutely false.

Analysing someone else’s success can give you certain clues and insights. However, the strategies exploited by others are usually an opportunity, sometimes unique, that someone else has already used before you.

Why should it work again? And why in your particular situation? To prevent your project from failing, it is important to know why those who tried before you have failed.

In this article we will list some of the most important mistakes you must take into account to prevent your game from failing. Even if these actions won’t necessarily make you rich, they won’t cost you a penny, so the decision to take action on them should be taken without a shadow of doubt because they can help you boost your game’s promotion.

1. Not working during pre-release phase

You think you should start promoting your game at the time of launch. Big mistake. The promotion of a game should begin long before the project is finished, even before having a beta version. Combining the game’s development with the promotion plan will give you a number of clear advantages.

The first step is to generate demand or noise around the project through a content strategy that will spread through your web, blog and social media.

Calibrate demand by making some noise

The first step is to generate demand or noise around the project through a content strategy that will spread through your web, blog and social media accounts. This is called a web to game tactic, and the main goal is to take advantage of what web promotion can offer to derive this traffic into a prospecting database for the launch.

Research the media and journalists to pitch

This is another important task. List the platforms and media relevant for pitching to, and locate the influencers in your sector. Many of the social media management tools can identify influencers in your industry, but they are paid solutions.

By entering the query, inurl:lists inurl:game journalists, into a Google search box, you’ll automatically see Twitter lists on topics which you are interested in, then you can navigate to identify relevant influencers. Compile your own lists, then save to pitch later.

Be open with the gamer community

Be transparent and share how you are progressing with the development of the game. Try to gather your potential users’ reactions and feedback, with the ultimate goal of offering them a subscription in exchange for early access.

It would be reckless not to test what you’re working on and waste the opportunity to gain feedback from potential users. Reddit and many other forums can be a good place to start.

Define the metrics and KPIs for your game

What cannot be measured cannot be improved. Last but not least is the need to define the performance metrics and KPIs that will measure how well the project is evolving. Similarly, you should study and evaluate which out of the many analytics tools available you should use to measure your performance.

2. Thinking that you can only get users by investing money

Let's start with a fact: users are expensive, and it doesn’t look like this will change any time soon. Put simply, if you get two users at £5, this means that:

  • The price of your game must be equal to or greater than £2.50 to compensate for the cost of acquisition.
  • These users (at least one of them) contribute more than £2.50 during their customer life cycle, with in-game purchases for example.
  • The advertisements you show your user will give you an income greater than the acquisition cost.

Build viral mechanisms inside your game

Luckily, there is life beyond paid advertising. You can also build viral mechanisms inside your game based on rewards and incentives to increase your users organically.

To measure your viral efforts and effects, consider keeping an eye on the K-factor metric. Its basic formula is to multiply the invitations by the conversion rate generated by them. The result measures the viral growth and the optimal ratio should be above one.

Cross-promotion communities

Do not underestimate the power of ad exchanges and cross-promotion communities. Thanks to the network effects, they both offer a powerful opportunity to increase the visibility of your games, reaching potential users at zero cost.

It’s important to highlight that cross-promotion communities differ a lot from the companies that offer cross-promotion within their services. The latter is where you promote your games inside your other games, never in third parties.

This is of course positive, but you will never break the circle and expand beyond your current user base. Cross-promotion or ad exchange communities can benefit your game by providing instant access to the games of other community members that are willing to exchange promo ads in order to acquire new users.

Working on app store ASO will provide you with extra visibility, which will translate into a greater likelihood of growing organically.

This is one of the immediate benefits, but there are more. Not only for indies but for the big names in the gaming industry, especially direct publishers wishing to test their games across multiple geos or user targets.

This all helps to ascertain which ones are better or worse in terms of performance, or to optimise some game mechanisms to user behaviours before committing significant budgets into marketing and user acquisition.

To summarise, compile for free all the market and user intelligence to be more targeted with your actions.

There are only a few solutions on the market which can offer that. Take time to analyse the benefits and strengths of these communities and implement which is best aligned with your strategy.

3. Underestimating app store optimisation

Don’t think that it’s a waste of time positioning your app on the app stores. Working on app store optimisation (ASO) will provide you with extra visibility, which will translate into a greater likelihood of growing organically. ASO can significantly uplift your user base.

Work with the ASO on/off metadata. That is, pack your game with the basic elements to encourage downloads, that is, the ideal name, icon, teasers and screenshots and make a good description by focusing on your main keywords. When this is done, focus on ratings, reviews and link building.

4. Neglecting your offline presence

Each year there are many awards and competitions in the world of video games. Events like Pocket Gamer Connects can be a valuable platform to build networks around your game.

Each year they host events in different cities and they offer early indie prices. So you might be lucky and attend one of them near your city. Try to attend and network at these events as a visitor, participant or speaker. The world of mobile games is not as big as you might think.

We have listed four great tips to promote your mobile game for free (or almost free). As mentioned at the beginning of the article, these actions won’t guarantee your success. However, if you don’t take them into account in your project’s roadmap, they will guarantee your failure.

We have listed several steps that, apart from being essential, are cost free since they only require your time. In fact, some of them, like using a cross-promotion platform doesn’t require any of your time.

Now, all you need to do is put these steps into practice and hope for big successes. regularly posts content from a variety of guest writers across the games industry. These encompass a wide range of topics and people from different backgrounds and diversities, sharing their opinion on the hottest trending topics, undiscovered gems and what the future of the business holds.