How PONOS Built a Community Through YouTube

The following story originally appeared in Chartboost’s quarterly Power-Up Report. This edition focuses on the power of influencer marketing.

Mobile developers looking for alternative ways to promote their mobile games would be crazy not to think about YouTube. The global video service and its army of content creators wield a lot of power and influence, beating Facebook for daily video watching eleven times over and reaching more 18- to 49-year-olds than any U.S. cable network.

So it’s no surprise that mobile game developers are linking up with popular YouTubers to help direct eyes in the crowded and competitive app stores.

PONOS, a mobile developer based in Kyoto, Japan, recognized the power of YouTube early on, after organically creating videos around its popular Mr. arcade series (Mr. AahH!!, Mr. NooO!! and Mr. Ninja) helped the mobile titles flourish. Since then, Sean Koble, localization specialist and international business coordinator at PONOS, says that tapping into the power of mobile game influencers on YouTube has been a key marketing strategy for the studio—particularly for its quirky tower defense game The Battle Cats. YouTube videos—both organic and collaborative—have helped the game reach over 25 million downloads worldwide.

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Recognizing authenticity

Mobile gamers see a lot of ads, many of which are unrepresentative of the actual products and leads to an element of suspicion, says Koble. Seeing a game played on YouTube, however, offers an accurate—and often entertaining—picture of what to actually expect, and it’s delivered in an authentic manner.

“Having a game demonstrated to you in a funny and engaging way—by someone who you trust to be a gamer with common interests and irritations—gives a much more authentic sense of what you can hope for as a player,” Koble says.

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Tapping influencers

Partnering with YouTube influencers to help promote The Battle Cats was an easy marketing call after online gaming communities responded so well to the game itself, says Koble.

“When we saw the strong response to The Battle Cats in gamer communities in Japan, Asia and North America, we realized that the best way to reach out to our target players was to simply show a respected fellow gamer enjoying the game,” Koble says.

One of PONOS’s most successful partnerships has been with YouTube star iHasCupquake, who has over 4.6 million subscribers. Koble says it worked because her personality aligned well with the offbeat nature of The Battle Cats. Finding that kind of match is tough, says Koble, but it’s a key to success.Ponos-Feature-Valkyrie

“Finding channels that are followed by the right balance of casual users who enjoy the game for its weirdly cute design and character collection aspects, and the core users who appreciate the intense strategy of the late-game is a challenge,” he says. “But Cupquake provided that mixture perfectly and in high volumes. Her bright, genuine personality and willingness to be goofy really helped to present the game’s cute irreverence and the straightforward fun of the experience.”

More recently, PONOS teamed up with YouTuber Generikb, which, Koble says, has been a fantastic promotion for casual players. “We’ve been seeing great results from a series of ‘Let’s Play’ videos,” he says. “Thanks to Generikb’s friendly way of guiding potential players through the early-to-intermediate stages of the game while effectively highlighting the fun scattered throughout with exuberant reactions.”

Securing users

YouTube video creators can give a mobile game a real jolt in install numbers. Koble explains that teaming up with iHasCupquake, for example, sent “a strong and steady flow of installs our way.” That included a spike of several thousand new users when the videos first came out and a sustained positive effect over the following weeks.

And while community word-of-mouth is what really ignited The Battle Cats‘s initial growth, Koble says that YouTube influencers have proved a valuable part of maintaining that organic momentum.

“The presence on YouTube of The Battle Cats-related content has been critical in keeping the game fresh in players’ minds across dozens of updates and integration of new features,” he says.

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Growing organically

While PONOS’s influencer partnerships have generally revolved around larger channels, The Battle Cats also has a wealth of organic YouTube content created by fans, too. Proving that once the game gets played on a platform like YouTube, others will join in to stream the content, too.

These smaller fan channels have been valuable in helping build a brand image and community for The Battle Cats, says Koble, and it’s important not to undervalue their role in user acquisition and retention, particularly in the early life of a mobile game.

“Personally, before I take a risk on downloading a new game app, I like to check out gameplay videos of mid-game stages to confirm that a game is going to head to a place that is worthy of my investment,” says Koble. “The smaller channels are often more able and willing to fill that niche than larger channels who feel the need to maintain general appeal by constantly changing up their gaming focus.”

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