Episode 16: How to Use Creative Strategy to Build Successful Mobile Game Ads with Vungle and Rovio

Mobile GameDev Playbook podcast by GameRefinery

MobileGameDev Playbook podcast is now available on video too! In this episode of The Mobile GameDev Playbook, we’re discussing how to use creative strategy to build better mobile ads. We look into what creative strategy is, how it’s implemented and what might change for user acquisition in the post-IDFA world.

Vungle joins our podcast for the first time since acquiring GameRefinery earlier in the year – bringing all its mobile advertising expertise. Angry Birds developer Rovio also joins in the chat to discuss all things creative.

Dive deep into the topic with host Jon Jordan, Vungle’s Global Head of Creative Labs Gavin McNicholl, Mobile Pod Lead Natalie Suthons, and from Rovio, we have Senior Performance and Marketing Specialist for Small Town Murders, Jussi Naapuri, and Performance Marketing Manager for Angry Birds Dream Blast, Ann-Marie Pelkonen.

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Topics we will cover in this episode:

  1. Latest trends in mobile game advertising
  2. Video is still king, but playable ads are on the rise
  3. Why it’s important to get a real understanding of what you’re looking to learn with A/B testing
  4. How do the best creative processes work?
  5. How Vungle and Rovio have prepared for the post-IDFA world?
  6. What else do we expect to see in the world of mobile advertising for the rest of the year?

Introduction

Jon Jordan: Hello, and welcome to the Mobile GameDev Playbook. Thanks for tuning in for another episode. Welcome to our first video episode as well. Very exciting. I didn’t do my hair, annoying; I didn’t know. Anyway, this is the podcast, now videocast, that provides insights into what makes a great mobile game. What is and isn’t working for mobile game designers and all the latest trends. I’m your host, Jon Jordan.

Today’s episode will go into really great depth into an area that’s undergoing a lot of dynamic change at the moment. That’s looking at the best practice around the creative strategy for being successful with ads and ad placement from a mobile game perspective.

To talk about that, we have four experts coming at it from different angles. We have the game development side and the adtech side; they are both sides of the same coin but broadly different approaches. We have two people from Rovio and two from Vungle. From Rovio, we have Jussi Naapuri, who is a Senior Performance and Marketing Specialist leading the Small Town Murders game. How is it going, Jussi?

Jussi Naapuri: Good to be here.

Jon: Good, and also we have Ann-Marie Pelkonen, the Performance Marketing Manager for the Angry Birds Dream Blast game. How is it going, Ann-Marie?

Ann-Marie Pelkonen: Good. Thanks for inviting me.

Jon: You’re going to be taking us through how you see this very important part now of making a successful mobile game. On the adtech side, from Vungle, we have Gavin McNicholl, Global Head of Creative Labs. How’s it going, Gavin?

Gavin McNicholl: It’s good. I’m really excited to talk creative.

Jon: Natalie Suthons from the Mobile Pod Lead, that sounds like a very excellent job title to have. How are you?

Natalie Suthons: I’m very well, yes, and I’m very pleased with that job title as well, it’s great.

Jon: Sorry, a Motion Pod; what is a motion pod?

Natalie: The motion pod at Vungle is a cool group of motion graphic designers, but we also focus on mainly the video units, but the entire VCL is broken up into little pods that we all collaborate with, so we have an interactive pod, a beyond gaming pod, yes, that’s how our teams work at Vungle.

Jon: That actually leads us to the first question; I think not being an expert in this area like you guys, but I’ve come to dabble, I twist in and out, and I occasionally hear things going on and what’s going on in this space. Terms are thrown around like, get creative with your creative, which is a lovely buzz phrase I understand as a journalist that’s great as a headline. I’m not entirely sure what it means, using “creative” in two different ways. I thought maybe to start if we go around the panel and talk a little bit from your perspective what does this kind of creative mean and the term get creative with your creative. Maybe Jussi, do you want to go first? We’ll go with the game developers first.

Jussi: Yes, creative is basically synonymous with an ad, so that we use the word to describe a video, a banner ad, or even a playable, basically a bit of a generalisation of all of that.

“Creative is basically synonymous with an ad so that we use the word to describe a video, a banner ad, or even a playable – basically a bit of a generalisation of all of that.”

Jussi on how Rovio define ‘creative’

Jon: Ann-Marie?

Ann-Marie: I think Jussi put it well.

Jon: No more additions. Gavin, I guess you’re looking at it from a slightly different point of view in the sense that you’re the adtech and funnelling all these kinds of clients. What does creative mean from your perspective?

Gavin: I guess from my perspective, having been at Vungle and in the ad world for over nine years now, creative has definitely gone through a lot of changes, but at Vungle Creative Labs, it’s essentially what is in front of that user. It can be a video, an interactive experience, a 360 experience, a playable experience. Ultimately it’s about telling stories and engaging users to get excited about apps and games.

Jon: We’re already delving now into the second level of terms, 360s, and storytelling. I guess we’ll get into that, but Natalie, on the subject of creative.

Natalie: Yes, absolutely; as Gavin was saying, often it’s the first thing that a user will see. It really sets the tone for your brand. Our job really is to get it right from the beginning to get the best chance of something converting to that person and seeing an advert or, as we say, our creative, and then downloading and enjoying that game.

“Often it’s the first thing that a user will see. It really sets the tone for your brand. Our job really is to get it right from the beginning to get the best chance of something converting to that person and seeing an advert or, as we say, our creative, and then downloading and enjoying that game.”

Natalie on how Vungle define ‘creative’

Gavin: I would also say and continuing to get it right for our advertisers.

Jon: I guess from a very specific point of view, we have people trying to encourage people to play and download and be engaged with their game. I guess Jussi, from Small Town Murders, do you want to explain a little bit about what that game is, the genre, and how you’ve been thinking about your creative. Now that I know the term, I can use it properly here. Your creative process for that kind of advertising?

Jussi: Small Town Murders is a narrative match-three game, and it’s about solving murder mysteries within a small town. You meet a few characters and then follow their journey. When it comes to creative, we approach it in a way that makes sense in the games universe; if it’s about solving crime, that can mean many things about arranging evidence. Putting things together to catch different suspects and also using match-three but not necessarily always.

Basically, even when you’re putting an alibi together, maybe you’re merging a few pieces here and there, then you can tie a merch mechanic into that. There’s a lot of things we can borrow, a lot of things we can come up with ourselves. Definitely, when it comes to narrative, that’s one of the most important parts of the creative strategy that we’re running.

Jon: How would that reflect in the creative that you do? You’ve got your characters; would you very much focus on the characters, and that would be your way in?

Jussi: Yes, we never want to make it too complicated, of course, we have 50 to 100 different characters, but we focus on the ones that matter. We also don’t want to make the gameplay too complicated, so that’s something that we always consider: how can we use our main mechanic in the game to tell a narrative?

Jon: Ann-Marie, you have another, a match-three game but slightly through a different lens; I guess it has characters and narrative but not quite in the same way. How do you approach it?

Ann-Marie: Yes, Angry Birds Dream Blast is one of our biggest games. As you said, it’s a puzzle game, but it has a very unique core in terms of that it’s very physics-based. The core is the star of the game. We, of course, do have the Angry Birds IP, and then we have the characters in there, and there are some dream world and story in there in terms of events and all sorts of this stuff, but much less focus on the narrative compared to Small Town Murders then.

Jon: I guess for somebody working on something working on a big IP like Angry Birds, that’s great because people know what Angry Birds is, but I guess, for you working on one specific game, there is coordination between what the other Angry Birds games are doing that you don’t want to be– I guess you want to be doing the same thing, but also you have a particular game that you’re working on in the Angry Birds franchise. How do you differentiate yourself?

Ann-Marie: As you said, the key is the differentiation between if you’re doing multiple games with the same IP because we don’t want to go after the same demographic and the same audience, of course, there’s going to be overlap because audiences usually are going after a broad audience as well, not very super niche, but we want to make sure that there is a different look. It’s a different angle to the IP, et cetera.

“The key is the differentiation between if you’re doing multiple games with the same IP because we don’t want to go after the same demographic and the same audience.”

Ann-Marie on how they differentiate Angry Birds Dream Blast from other Angry Bird games

Jon: Gavin, from your point of view, what are the trends you’re seeing? We are going to have a few things mentioned now. I guess we know the ads; there are many types of ads now, I think we probably still got a bunch of banner ads and interstitials, and now we have cooler things like playable ads. Do you see any trends in the way that ads are being deployed?

Gavin: Absolutely. The space is definitely becoming more competitive. More ads out there vying for users and UA buyers are getting a lot smarter and likely a lot more sophisticated, especially in their creative strategy and the two words “creative strategy” actually wasn’t something we had a couple of years ago, but now we have a pod within Vungle Creative Labs which is the creative strategy pod.

“The space is definitely becoming more competitive. More ads out there vying for users and UA buyers are getting a lot smarter and likely a lot more sophisticated, especially in their creative strategy.”

Gavin on how UA is changing

Essentially what we’re looking to do there is understand the needs of our advertisers. Different advertisers have different needs. Let’s say a hyper-casual publisher that’s churning out a good amount of apps every single month has very different requirements to, let’s say, a legacy, a classic IP like Angry Birds. They need a different type of creative approach that comes from the type of creative you’re producing.

What is your objective there? Are you looking for scale? Are you looking for quality? Do you want to unlock new users and specific publishers? You can do that with creative strategy, but ultimately and we really believe this, it comes down to the concepts we really see in this space, especially with GameRefinery. These concepts can come from really interesting places.

Natalie: Just to add to that, what Gavin said about GameRefinery and talking about Small Town Murders there, I think for us a big trend, and the thing the future creative will be looking at is user motivations. Recently we were using GameRefinery, the analysis tool there to look at Small Town Murders. One of the big things that have been coming up is role-playing.

“I think for us a big trend, and the thing the future creative will be looking at is user motivations. Recently we were using GameRefinery, the analysis tool there to look at Small Town Murders. One of the big things that have been coming up is role-playing…It’s how you come at creative and really depends on those initial motivations comparing it to the game and maybe the publisher that the user is also watching the add-on.”

Natalie on how GameRefinery player motivations are being used for Small Town Murders playable ad

I believe that our interactive pod right now they’re working very hard on a playable that is text-based, and it’ll be like an interrogation. You can still be that role-playing detective interviewing a suspect. It’s how you come at creative and really depends on those initial motivations comparing it to the game and maybe the publisher that the user is also watching the add-on.

Video is still king, but playable ads are on the rise

Jon: In general, anyone can answer this. Do we see playable ads– I believe they’ve been around for a few years in various forms. I guess they’re harder to do well because they’re almost like making little games of themselves. Are they becoming a much more important part of gaining a user who will like the game rather than showing the same ad to them?

Ann-Marie: Yes. I could maybe go first on that. For Dream Blast, playables have been perhaps a bit more important than the average game. It might be just because it’s very easy to make playables comparably to puzzle games than thinking of mid-core or something else. I would say the playable has not taken over video. Video is still king, there’s no doubt about that, but there are interesting developments happening with playables.

If you just like, look into Facebook or Google, for example, what they’re doing with their playable betas, whether it’s cloud playables or just bigger playables. The whole venturing into a more immersive and more rich experience is not just an ad if we can say that. It’s like you said, it’s an experience, it’s a snippet of the game, you get a feel for it. For me, that’s very interesting where we can go with that, but it might be that we’re not there yet, fully.

“There are undoubtedly interesting developments happening with playables. If you just like, look into Facebook or Google, for example, what they’re doing with their playable betas, whether it’s cloud playables or just bigger playables.”

Ann-Marie on the development of playables in gaming ads

Jussi: Like Small Town Murders, we’re working with quite a few narratives. When you’re using many different narratives, a lot of other maybe game mechanics, you have your video. That’s going to have one element which needs to carry through into the whole game, through the first time user experience through the App Store and the playables. That has to be solid. A lot of things can go wrong if you’re testing those elements too much.

Jon: I guess at this point I will ask the question; maybe other people are thinking about it. We have seen from some companies; I guess, a slightly elastic attitude to playable ads and the content in the playable ads and the actual game. Obviously, this must work because otherwise, they wouldn’t keep doing it. I guess from the game point of view, can you see why people would stretch the envelope a little bit of the playable edge of doing and the game just to, if I were to guess, they want to drive downloads?

Gavin: Yes, I could definitely talk about that. We actually have an internal phrase for such creatives. We call it atypical creative.

It’s essentially creative, but atypical. It deviates from the representative of the core gameplay mechanic. I think this trend is coming from a place, if you’ve noticed, overtime games are becoming more complex. You see the rise of the metagame, so you’ll have a core gameplay functionality and then metagame, the focus, so a bit of that. The decision then becomes what do you want to focus on in your playable units? Most advertisers will likely be going live with a playable experience that is very representative of gameplay, but you can also experiment with these mini-games. The real question is actually what do you select to focus on when it comes to these mini-games.

We’ve done a series of testing around this. While you can deviate from your core gameplay representation, you will see some negative impact there. While you may see an uptick in, let’s say, your conversion rate, there is a possibility that your retention might be down. Obviously, if you place a playable, they will like it a lot, they download the game and then are unable to access that content, their retention could be pretty poor there. You need to focus on what you want to highlight here, and this is something that we’ve used GameRefinery for. You can be a bit more experimental with the themes of your game, but as long as you’re staying true to the core, the motivations why the users like this game, you can be a bit more elastic as you say with that content.

“We call it atypical creative. It’s essentially creative but atypical. It deviates from the representative of the core gameplay mechanic…Most advertisers will likely be going live with a playable experience that is very representative of gameplay, but you can also experiment with these mini-games. The real question is actually what do you select to focus on when it comes to these mini-games.”

Gavin on atypical creatives i.e. playable ads that don’t feature in-game

Natalie: Yes, I can pick up here. Gavin said it’s quite balanced with working with, as we call it, the atypical side of things. One of our significant challenges is avoiding fatigue with our users. Especially if they’re seeing that same advert a million times, they know it’s not going to be the actual game, and it can quickly turn people off. At the same time, the atypical approach can help with games with a large IP, like Angry Birds.

For example, we were working on a playable for Angry Birds. Our team decided to move away from the playable where you launch the birds at the piggy base; we all know that that’s what happens in the game. That’s how it works. However, we made it slightly atypical by reversing it, still very much keeping it in that world of that gaming universe. First off, you build up the base a little bit, construct that tower, basically building it to make it resistant to the bird attacks. If you have a sound structure, the birds won’t destroy it, and if you don’t, it just gets completely wrecked.

Then to compliment that, we made the video because, as Ann-Marie said, the video is still very powerful. If you can have that video that sells in the narrative, then lead to a playable, whether the user can give it a go. That seems to be a really good approach for actually buying people into the narrative of A/B test whether this will affect retention or conversion and see what the effect is on the network.

Gavin: I think it’s also interesting to know, which is very much a trend emerging right now. You have these more atypical style creatives going out into the space, and essentially the game developers are using them to test new gameplay features. It’s obviously a little bit cheaper to build a playable unit test and space; see if it gets an impact. Then build it as a feature to your app, especially if you’re looking to have that long-term retention and engage new users. It’s an interesting and exciting development we wouldn’t have had a couple of years ago, the concept of doing your game dev via UA experimentation. It’s pretty wild.

“You have these more atypical style creatives going out into the space, and essentially the game developers are using them to test new gameplay features. It’s obviously a little bit cheaper to build a playable unit test and space; see if it gets an impact. Then build it as a feature to your app, especially if you’re looking to have that long-term retention and engage new users. It’s an interesting and exciting development we wouldn’t have had a couple of years ago, the concept of doing your game dev via UA experimentation.”

Gavin on using atypical playable ads to game test

Ann-Marie: Yes, it’s super helpful to use for marketability, like early marketability testing and just verifying your game concepts, as Gavin said, without pouring too much cost into them to start with. I think the motivation to go for the atypical or fake; even creatives keep it fresh. You’re trying to get those users, but still, it’s a very, very tricky balancing act, like Gavin said. Do you want to lose on that retention or those post-install metrics?

Why it’s important to get a real understanding of what you’re looking to learn with A/B testing

Jon: Good. It’s a very good euphemism, atypical creative, isn’t it? Ann-Marie said it as most people would think it, but there we go. There was an exciting aspect there. We’ve mentioned A/B testing, which I guess people have an idea about. Does someone want to give an introduction to a little bit of what A/B testing is? I guess you could say it started as having one version of something and another version and see which one people like best. I imagine it’s fairly more complicated than that now.

Gavin: A/B testing is very important to us, but people often talk about it in very binary terms. You have an A creative, B creative, you set it live and whichever gets the most installs or conversion is the winner. We find you have to be a bit more granular than that. This is something that Vungle already looks to do with our clients. Get a real understanding of what you are looking to learn with A/B testing? Which publishers do you want to test on? Are you aware of the percentage of exploration both of these creatives are going to get? That’s ultimately going to impact the results you’re going to get.

I would always say this is my perspective. When it comes to A/B testing, there’s very much an attitude from common UX about when you do A/B testing. You move something, a pixel over this way, or slightly change the colour, actually finding doing more significant tests becomes more impactful. I would say be more granular with the data, understand what the objective of your A/B test is, definitely be more impactful with the change you want to have there.

Also, understand you will probably have to A/B test a lot until you find your next hit or that next big change that will instruct your creative strategy going forwards there. Granular, impactful, accept that it’s not always going to work; it’s how we would approach the testing.

“A/B testing is very important to us, but people often talk about it in very binary terms. You have an A creative, B creative, you set it live and whichever gets the most installs or conversion is the winner. We find you have to be a bit more granular than that. This is something that Vungle already looks to do with our clients. Get a real understanding of what you are looking to learn with A/B testing? Which publishers do you want to test on? Are you aware of the percentage of exploration both of these creatives are going to get? That’s ultimately going to impact the results you’re going to get.”

Gavin on how Vungle use A/B Testing

Jussi: One thing that I want to bring up is modularity in creatives, so that’s something that you want to keep in mind when you’re designing creatives is that you have these variables that you can test, whether it’s the gameplay, the characters, the narrative and all of that so that you already take the variation phase into the early phase of producing the creative so that there are lots of different things you can test. You don’t have to do that afterwards with too much difficulty. You are designing creatives with modularity in mind so that you can try as many elements as possible.

Gavin: I would 100% agree with that. An example came off this week; we were looking to produce a new playable for an advertiser looking to scale the Japanese market. We worked with them on some Japanese-specific creative in the past and got our team in Tokyo to make some nice anime versions of all of their avatars and stuff like that.

As we were designing playable, we said, “Okay, well, we want to be able to have this dynamically localised for Japan and test the impact of that, and then obviously you want to be able to switch out the assets on the fly, so in Japan, you see those as manga assets. At the same time, we’re thinking, “These manga and anime are incredibly popular in the west as well.” We can also test it with the English language but then with the Japanese artwork. Yes, being modular, always considering what you’re going to test as you develop; it’s also very important.

Ann-Marie: Just to add on the developer side, super important to also go into A/B testing with the hypotheses, and this is the boring stuff, but documentation taking those learnings and implementing it back to your creative strategy, that’s super important, in my opinion.

How do the best creative processes work?

Jon: That was an interesting discussion and to lead on to my next question, which I guess we already began to peel into, but when we’re talking about this creative production, obviously the game is the core because that’s the focus on what you’re trying to get people to engage with. It seems where the creative comes from and how that may vary on particular campaigns or something.

How from the game developer point of view and the adtech provider point of view, where does the actual– Who makes that strategy, where does that come from? Does that depend a bit on the game and the developer and where you are in the process, or is that something always that the developer will go, “Well, we’re good at making games; we don’t want to sully our pure hands with this advertising creative stuff and hand it all over to the adtech people.” How does that work out? I guess Gavin or Natalie, maybe you can from your point of view. How do you see that?

Natalie: I think it’s a relationship. We have a creative account strategy pod; for this reason, we want to– The stronger our relationship is with the clients and our advertisers, the more free will they give us with their creative. I often find out that this is the way that we get the most out of it, whether it means that we internally build the creative and make it for them or else we can advise on what we see is the best way that they could move forward with their creatives that they make.

I think for our creative and for our process it really starts with our team. As I said, we’re broken down into the pods and having different people from different pods all in the same room or really on the same Zoom call as it’s been right now, but that’s when the magic happens. You can then pitch ideas to the advertiser or often like the people they work with; they feel that they want to trust us, and that’s why we set up these things like these tests. We might be testing against a concept that they have, and it’s a really good way to build out those hypotheses and just build on each other’s work.

Gavin: From the Vungle side, we have a bit of an advantage over some of the developers we work with, namely we produce creative for thousands of Apps and Games. In addition to that, we have an understanding of how they performed on the Vungle Network. That very much informs the decisions we take with creative. With GameRefinery, we’re getting way more insights into what is performing where on the Vungle Network in which publishers, which advertisers, what elements of those advertisers you decide to see shared across advertiser publishers and then also in the creative.

It means that we’re able to not only come to our clients with that knowledge and say, “Hey, we think you should do X, Y, and Z because we’ve made a couple of creatives in the past, and they seem to do quite well.” We can pinpoint, we believe this is why this specific creative is appealing to users in this specific publisher because there’s something about, it’s creative that’s resonating with your app, but then also the users in this app. How can we pinpoint that, and how do we represent it with creative? It’s a lot of data, but it’s got to turn into something beautiful; it’s art and science. We look forward to working with our clients to find that balance.

Jon: Yes, you had– You have the ability? What’s preferred to do it in-house, or are you quite happy to hand it over to someone else? What’s the balance there?

Jussi: UA is usually the source of our creative strategy and ideas, but we understand that when you concentrate that ideation into a tiny group, that’s where the risk starts to come because we’re all boxed in our ideas. We try to collaborate with many people from the game team, whether it’s art, our team, designers, narrative writers, and we all get together to discuss those and deconstruct our creatives. When you have many people, you can then measure the– You can see the impact and how people feel about this concept and that concept.

I think we have been doing a lot of outsourcing, so we have both. We do it internally as well, but I think what we’re seeing is that there is the– The creative team is becoming ever more important and that developers can produce their creatives quickly as well and because of course, outsourcing campaign will take quite a lot of time, so that’s something that we’re doing as well and focusing on.

“UA is usually the source of our creative strategy and ideas, but we understand that when you concentrate that ideation into a tiny group, that’s where the risk starts to come because we’re all boxed in our ideas. We try to collaborate with many people from the game team, whether it’s art, our team, designers, narrative writers, and we all get together to discuss those and deconstruct our creatives.”

Jussi on working with others to develop creative strategy

Jon: Ann-Marie, I guess there’s also some pure concept that game developers sit there and they spend all their time very focused on the game and the designers designing things and the artists making art and programmers putting it all together. Things like advertising this like we don’t do that, is that pigeonhole stereotype breaking down now and actually because I guess a game team is what’s the game to be successful and if they can make the advertising better and the UA better, then why wouldn’t they? Are they generally quite broad-minded towards that, or is there still a little bit of we don’t do that thing, we just focus on the actual game bit?

Ann-Marie: Yes, I’m super happy to say that with Rovio, we don’t have those pigeon holes or silos anymore. We have a very eager game team in that perspective to participate a lot in the creative strategy and know and be very in tune with what’s happening on the ad side. That’s great, and we’ve always said that the ideas can come from anywhere as long as someone holds the keys to the car to maintain focus and the pipeline works; that’s super important.

To add to Jussi’s comment that what we do want to do is try and learn from our network partners, especially, for that reason, what Gavin said, because of the wider visibility. Of course, we can benchmark et cetera on the developer side, but just having that conversation and change of knowledge is super important as well.

How Vungle and Rovio have prepared for the post-IDFA world

Jon: There is– I don’t know if it quite counts as an elephant in the room sort of thing, but we’ve been talking about how this creative thing has created and attracts people into games, and we’re trying to bring our users into the narrative of what’s going on. A lot of that is, I guess, predicated on this big technology, UA stack that has been created over the last ten years. It’s a beautiful thing; it helps game developers spend their advertising in the right way. Unfortunately, it appears to some degree to be going away.

We’ve got this idea that Apple’s changing its privacy settings, this whole other thing about IDFA now being opt-in rather than being a default on. It’s just happening now with the release of iOS 14.5. We don’t know what’s happened yet, because it hasn’t happened yet. I guess from a general point of view, do you think that– How do you think it’s going to play out? I’ve seen a spectrum of attitude from people who think it’s a total disaster, and basically, the whole thing’s up in flames to some people thinking, “Well, it’ll be a bit of a bump in the road for a few months and then go back to normal.”

I guess, probably somewhere between those two things, but does anyone want to go first? I mean, I imagine at Vungle you spent a lot of time thinking about this stuff and planning around.

Gavin: It’s come up in discussion, I will admit that.

I would say, Creative will have to work a lot harder but to be honest, we’ve been moving in that direction already. You’ve seen it in this space; things are becoming more competitive. There’s only so much, especially for the UA manager. You can do things like bids and targeting, and I think this is why there’s been more and more of a focus on creative production, producing the right creative, how do you handle your target users. We’ve approached this in a couple of ways. We’re feeling pretty happy with our first released testing results on this. One way we’re approaching this post-IDFA world is essential. Can you target via a creative, which is a weird thing?

What we’ve looked to do here– we’ve done this with a couple of non-gaming apps. Essentially, imagine a video experience appears, and you ultimately have a choice. We’ve done it for Tiktok recently. “Hey, do you like cat videos? Or do you like dog videos?” I know Nat, and I am both cat people, so probably pick the cat. Essentially, the rest of the video experience is now relevant to that specific user. You could do the same thing with, let’s say, you have a mid-core game with a meta-core element. You could have– which do you prefer? Is it the core game, or is it the metagame? You’re able to start doing some targeting there.

Then also, when you’re tracking those analytics events, you’re starting to understand more of the decisions being made there. We feel quite happy about this new world, the zombie metric of CTR maybe getting put down in the grave, yet again. There was a push where you were seeing CTRs getting higher and higher.

We’re hoping that with some greater transparency there, we’re going to see more focus on the content, really showing users something that excites them, engages them, makes them click to download, and ultimately play. Ultimately, privacy and transparency is something all of us in the industry should welcome, so looking forward to this new world in which we occupy.

“One way we’re approaching this post-IDFA world is …Can you target via a creative? Essentially, imagine a video experience appears, and you ultimately have a choice. We’ve done it for Tiktok recently. “Hey, do you like cat videos? Or do you like dog videos?” Essentially, the rest of the video experience is now relevant to that specific user. You could do the same thing with, let’s say, you have a mid-core game with a meta-core element. You could have– which do you prefer? Is it the core game, or is it the metagame? You’re able to start doing some targeting there.”

Gavin on targeted ads in a post-IDFA world

Jon: From the Rovio point of view, have you had any company discussions and thoughts about how you’re going just to wait to see what happens or are you going to take new strategies when it comes to spending your ad money and getting the people that you want? Which may be harder now.

Ann-Marie: Yes, definitely we’ve had discussions on the Rovio side as well. We’ve been trying to prepare a lot. I think someone said that “You should not be in UA if you’re prone to panic.” This is not the first or the last difficulty or bump in the road that will come. We’re going to try and do our best to live in the new environment. Of course, this will be unfortunate in terms of granularity and what we’re going to be seeing on a creative level, especially if we think about networks in a broader scope. Then again, this is an opportunity to invest a bit more in creative and okay, this is such a cliche, but being more creative with your creative.

Ann-Marie: It’s an opportunity also, not only a panic situation.

“We’ve been trying to prepare a lot. I think someone said that “You should not be in UA if you’re prone to panic.” This is not the first or the last difficulty or bump in the road that will come…This is an opportunity to invest a bit more in creative and okay, this is such a cliche, but being more creative with your creative.”

Ann-Marie on UA in a post-IDFA world

Jon: I guess it seems to be some suggestion that companies like Rovio, which have a very large audience, and have lots of games using the same characters, at least one thing you can do is cross-promote. I’m sure you do a lot of that anyway, but that seems to be one obvious strategy that if you have people who are interested in characters and different types of games to promote those amongst your titles, is the most obvious way of not worrying about who exactly these people are because they already love your games.

Ann-Marie: Yes, we do cross-promote, so that’s at least something we’ll still have. I think on the network side, especially when we think about contextual targeting. All the knowledge that you have already gathered during the past years, maybe, about what genres, what publishers are, what device mixes everything’s in that ballpark works for you, the better you’re off.

What else do we expect to see in the world of mobile advertising for the rest of the year?

Jon: Good. Okay. I guess we’re coming to an end; it’s a good time to sum it up. I suppose you may be talking again about some other things that you’ve mentioned in the podcast, but how do you see it for the next six months or so in 2021. Will the role of creative change? Is it going to be broadly what we’ve seen before? Is it going to be an acceleration, maybe because of things like IDFA? How do you see that playing out? Jussi, how do you think you’re going to be addressing this for Small Town Murders?

Jussi: I think that we’re going to see many developers stepping outside the box with their creatives. Now that we’ve seen the wave of misleading creatives over the last two years, I think that trend is just going to continue, and developers have to keep their creative strategy fresh.

At least for Small Town Murders, we’re doing that by understanding that sometimes, broad targeting can work better, making creatives that appeal to the whole population and not just a niche of players that we know monetise well or connect with our game. That’s an art in itself. Is that how you make a creative that you know anyone can connect to, and maybe we’re working on that with the narratives and more storytelling within our ads.

Natalie: I have been doing something to follow up on that. I think a lot of creators are going to take more inspiration from what’s around us. I have an example actually about Small Town Murders. During the lockdown, it was at the time that everyone was talking about Tiger King, we were brainstorming ideas for Small Town Murders, and that game, as Jussi was saying was that the main creative ideas are usually around finding clues, going through suspects, and still trying to find the murderer. Whereas we wanted to flip the script on that, and uh – flip the script is such a great term.

They have this fantastic femme fatale character, so we wanted to maybe look at doing the creative from the murderer’s point of view. I don’t want to say any, like name any names just in case I get sued, but there is a– we did put in the potential of disposing of evidence by using a tiger, so if anyone’s watched Tiger King, they’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. I think those things, kind of, taking inspiration, just as I say, finding different angles of how you could present that creative while still keeping it in the world, still not completely going full atypical. I think that will continue to be the trend.

Jon: Gavin?

Gavin: I would say from my side, we would see an increased focus on granular contextual data, which oddly, I think is going to make the world more creative, which is an odd thing to say. We’ll see it. Having a better understanding of why users are playing games, what do they like about them? How is that represented in creative means you’re going to get better, more exciting, creative to research, communicating messages, makes our space a lot more enjoyable.

Actually, I have a little anecdotal story here. We started with it. We’ve recently made a video for a merge style title, and utilising a GameRefinery identified many publishers, what the users liked. Thinking and solving motivation to produce this video where and standard merge got to identify what you want to merge around.

Rather than just showing that happening, we’d like a freeze frame, basically says, like in American football, where the coach may play draws down, he’s like, “You’re going to go up this side, you’re going to go down that side, and then we’ll tackle that guy.” We have a similar thing, but with the drawings on the screen saying, “I’m going to merge this over there, this over here.” That was really impactful.

It brought to mind something that happened during the lockdown. I ended up playing a lot of Resident Evil 2 over Christmas instead of spending time with my family. I realised the most enjoyable part was sitting with my girlfriend and pausing in the game, looking at the map and saying, “I want to go from here to here, and you want to avoid this zombie here, with this herb in this box, and then come back around.” It was that element that was appealing to me. That’s like, “Hey, that’s crazy that we understand that element is appealing to this specific user, how do we represent that?” as they say, “More granular contextual data can make the world a lot more creative.”

Jon: Good. That has taken me back a long time, looking at the map in Resident Evil 2. Ann-Marie, how do you see things playing out this year?

Ann-Marie: Yes, like Gavin said, really knowing who your audience is, at least the core of it, making sure that your creatives can also appeal to the broad audiences since we’re not doing so much targeted targeting anymore? Then what else? There’s going to be more weight and developing bigger concepts instead of focusing on variations because that’s just going to bring bigger results and make more sense in this new normal that we’re going into.

Jon: Lovely, excellent. Thank you for that. I’ve got a new term now, going full atypical, that could be somehow a meme. I don’t quite know how that meme would be. I don’t know how you will get a cat going full atypical, but I’ll think about it. Maybe I should do some A/B testing.

Okay, thanks very much to the panel; we’ve covered a lot there. I hope it’s been interesting. Indeed, I’ve learned a lot.

Thank you, Gavin and Natalie, from Vungle. Thank you, Jussi and Ann-Marie from Rovio.

Thank you for listening and watching the podcast.

Every month we’re diving into aspects of mobile games, which is an incredibly dynamic sector, lots of things going on, but always say those things going on next month will be even more crazy things going on. Hopefully, we are going to be providing some good insight and helping you make some decisions.

Don’t forget to subscribe through the podcast channel of choice and I guess now through video podcast channels of choice. If you’re feeling very generous, reviews are great. Thanks so much for watching and listening, and come back next month to see what we’re talking about. Goodbye.

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