With literally millions of other apps out there, and likely hundreds or even thousands in your vertical, standing out and having a strong launch is harder than ever. There were 90 billion app downloads in 2016, so how do you ensure a good amount of those downloads are for your game? By sweating the details on your UA strategy before you launch, that’s how. Put in your time and create a strategy that will set your game (and company) up for continued success in the long run. Here, I talk about a successful UA from Product Madness’ recent game, Cashman Casino.
Setting a UA budget
Your UA strategy is something you should be thinking about from the beginning of development. You’ll need to make some difficult choices, not the least of which will involve your budget. You’ll likely have a good sense of what your overall budget is, but knowing what you’re able to spend is only the first step. Next, you need to figure out what portion of your budget is going to go to user acquisition. It’s a difficult balancing act between making the best game possible, but still ensuring you have ample budget left for UA. You could make the best game in the world, but remember, it’s also important that people play your game. Planning for UA spend upfront allows you to better model ROI for your game and predict how to hit your business goals.
The soft launch phase
Everyone knows the tried-and-true method of the soft launch. Beyond focusing on your gameplay and monetization, you should focus on and optimize for engagement and retention, identifying which levers you can pull in your gameplay to maximize session length and return players. UA is the top of your funnel. Once you get a decent number of players, you can test, iterate, and ultimately monetize and retain them. It’s likely that your test market has different spending habits than your core market, so think about monetization further down in the funnel, after you acquire your players.
Choosing a good ad network is crucial to reaching new users, but also, will help you pick the best region for a soft launch. We work with AppLovin, because they have significant global reach. We soft-launched Cashman Casino in New Zealand and Canada (which are the standard soft launch markets if your game is launching in the US and/or UK) after an initial launch in Singapore to ensure tracking and SDKs were working properly. The key in choosing a region for a soft launch is to pick one similar enough to your launch region and offers enough scale to get the data you need.
Plan for your optimal launch window
From the beginning of development through the soft launch phase, it’s difficult to pin down a release date. After you’ve developed and tested your game, you can get a better idea of the right time to launch in your core markets. Once you are about a month away, you should be able to get even more granular about when you launch, taking into consideration what time you have the best chances of getting more users. When will your users be most likely to download your app? During the summer? Spring break? Thanksgiving or Christmas? These are all times when people have more free time and are playing a lot of games.
Your core market launch
Before launching, double and triple check that you are ready. You only have one chance to make a first impression, and while you can always recover, that’s just more money spent. Everyone has different budgets and different goals, but in general, you should spend as much as you can afford to at launch. Go big, and make sure the users you are buying are good ones. By partnering with a performance-focused ad network, we were able to target core quality users right away. When your UA partner has proven expertise, you can rely on them to guide you on acquiring quality players and knowing what to pay for them. We keep track of how our users monetize and their retention metrics by having our analytics and trackers all set before we launch.
Once you’ve launched in your core markets, UA burst campaigns can quickly increase your user base and your game’s rank in the charts. Some people make the mistake of only having one ad or one set of ads, so make sure you have multiple sets of creatives ready. If you have multiples, not only can you run tests to see which is most effective, but you’ll also avoid showing the same ad to a player while doing your bursts. For Cashman Casino, we use all ad formats, but have found rewarded video to be a particularly good staple of our UA strategy, because the players acquired through it retain so well.
With a performance-based network and strong tracking in place, you can take revenue from your game’s IAP and put it back into UA, and also see when and how much you can put against your continued UA. For example, with Cashman Casino, we were able to get to 1 on the Casino category charts on Dec 23rd, within a few days of launch (we took advantage of the Christmas window). We stayed among the top three the whole holiday week, and still remain there to this day. We were getting quality users because we have excellent LTV modeling, so this was not just a “vanity” chart position. That means all we had to do was give our ad network partners CPI and a volume we want (we know the LTV in our game at 7 and 30 days) and they delivered the users we needed at the price we knew would allow us to hit our ROI. The initial burst and continued support to maintain our chart position also increased our visibility and organic downloads.
Being a part of a team creating a game that’s enjoyed by millions is why most of us got into this business. Sure, a lucrative hit is also a big incentive, but it’s the sheer joy of gaming that keeps us motivated. So there is nothing cynical about having a robust budget to spend on UA. What better way to honor your creation than to ensure it finds its way into players’ hands?