5 Things You Need Before You Scale UA

Are you ready to scale your mobile game to the masses? Are you set to fully turn on your marketing engine?

Editor’s note: This is a guest post written by Steve P. Young who runs growth for Pollen VC, the market leader in capital-efficient funding for mobile app developers and digital publishers. They provide lines of credit to app publishers allowing them to unlock their unpaid revenues and eliminate payout delays of up to 60+ days.

Too many times, founders think about scale before fully understanding what it takes to drive massive growth sustainably.

We have seen many game founders raise millions of dollars of VC funding only to squander it by incorrectly planning and executing their go-to-market strategy.

In this article, we examine 5 important things that you need in place before you scale user acquisition (UA) for your mobile game.

1. Set-up Proper Attribution and Analytics

You manage what you measure and before you can even think about scaling you need to have the proper attribution in place to measure the right metrics.

It’s important to know where your most valuable users are coming from, what is their life-time value LTV, what is your return on ad spend (ROAS), etc.

Without proper attribution and analytics, you will be running blind.

“The most sophisticated growth teams track an entire portfolio of metrics per acquisition channel,” says Eric Seufert, Founder at Mobile Dev Memo

He adds that “anyone thinking about the health of their product’s growth strategy should take a wide, all-encompassing view of their traffic mix in evaluating their acquisition and engagement metrics.”

Image credit: Mobile Dev Memo

You can track many of these metrics in different free and paid analytics systems such as Facebook Analytics, Adjust, Appsflyer, etc.

Once you start tracking your metrics, the next step is to fully understand your ROAS.

2. Understand Your ROAS

When game companies start their UA, they do not pay attention to the key metrics that will drive profitable growth nor do they check these metrics often enough.

While there are many metrics that you can track, and arguably each of them is important, the most important bottom line metric has always been ROAS. And understanding how to calculate ROAS is critical to your overall success.

Calculating ROAS tells you how much you have recouped of your advertising spend. When ROAS equals 1, it means you have made back 100% of your spend.

You can also track ROAS at different time points. For example, a D7 ROAS tells you how much you recoup in seven days, and a D28 ROAS tells you how much you recoup after 28 days. Getting this granular allows you to track your cohort performance more closely.

We, at Pollen VC, put together a UA metrics template to help founders and user acquisition managers simplify the reporting of their advertising campaigns and help them better analyze the performance of these campaigns.

When you are just starting UA, it is important to track every campaign on a daily basis, so that you understand what’s happening.

We recommend starting with our simple spreadsheet rather than complicated and automated dashboards at the beginning of any user acquisition practice.

3. Iterate Until You Have Strong Retention

You have to fight to be relevant.

“People who monetize as soon as they join your app are not the ones you want to count on. It’s the ones who stay for a long time, those are the ones who are going to sustain your revenue base,” says Chuka Ikokwu, Head of Analytics at Exploding Kittens and Founder & CEO at Divercity.io.

When we think about scale, we default to app downloads and other top of the funnel metrics. However, the bottom of the funnel metrics such as app engagement (or retention rate) is one of the most important growth metrics.

Without retention, all you have is a leaky bucket and sustained growth will be nearly impossible.

Average retention rates will vary on the type of game that you have, but here are the 2019 app retention benchmarks provided by AppsFlyer.

There are a few key strategies to help you increase your mobile game’s retention:

  • Regular updates
  • Community
  • Push notifications

Regular Updates

You have to continually provide updates to your game that your users will love. From new characters to new puzzles to new content, your users need a reason to come back to the game.

League of Legends is a great example of a game that has been providing regular updates for over a decade now and this type of culture has created a very loyal fan base.

Community

In our interview with Peter Hansen-Chambers, CFO at Hutch, he said that “mobile games are becoming more sophisticated and definitely require features that support social play.”

Once you build a community within your ecosystem, the community becomes one of the primary reasons that users keep coming back to the game. Whether it’s to share their latest wins, keep up with their clans, or just stay in touch with their newfound friends, the community becomes the driving force for retention.

Push Notifications

One of the most commonly overlooked tactics from a retention standpoint is the dreaded push notification. However, when properly executed it can become a lethal weapon in your arsenal.

One of the most creative ways I’ve seen it done is with Zinio. 

The company created a custom message with two calls-to-action asking if the user would enable push notifications. If the user said “yes” to enabling push notification, then they would see the native iOS prompt, if they said “no” the company would then have the opportunity to ask again in a few months.

4. Properly Soft-Launch Your Game

The biggest game companies often soft-launch their newest titles for months and even years with the goal of properly fine-tuning the game’s key metrics (i.e. retention, ROAS, LTV, etc) for the official launch.

They often strive to get their first 1,000, 5,000 and then 10,000 users all the while testing different game mechanics, monetization strategies, ad creatives and more.

They are not afraid to change key game dynamics if the concept is not proving to be successful. Some even discard the entire game scrapping months of development if the game is not hitting certain metrics.

Popular soft launch countries include Canada, Australia, and the Nordic countries. These markets tend to mimic the bigger and more expensive countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom.

5. Test Lots of Creatives

With programmatic advertising taking more of the acquisition pie, UA managers need to be focused on creative optimization.

The fact is that few ad creatives are successful and the majority will fail. The key is to properly set up your campaigns so that the majority of the budget goes to the best performing creatives and there is also a portion of the budget that is being used to test variations of high-performing creatives and testing new creatives.

It’s also important to remember that high production value often does not result in the highest performance. We have seen a $250 creative outperform a $5,000 one.

“When you are conceptualizing the different ways of approaching the messaging or coming up with different creative concepts, really put your users first,” says Jonathan Lau, Senior Manager of Growth at DraftKings.

Think about who are you marketing to? What demographic do they fall into? What type of interests do they have? 

And most importantly, where and when are they seeing this ad?

Shamanth Rao, Founder of RocketShip HQ, reports that there is a trend to using “stupid simple” videos – 3-4 seconds videos with one key message and one call-to-action.

Lastly, with the proper attribution, you want to run creatives that net the strongest retention rates even if they have a higher CPI than their counterparts.

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