When It Comes to UA for Mobile Games: Research First, Acquisition Second

Research acquisition

In an app-driven world, in-app advertising is the king of player acquisition.

But mobile ads don’t lead inevitably to success, even for mobile games with strong fundamentals. For users, ad fatigue is a very real thing. Only ads that offer users exactly what they’re looking for will be rewarded with good conversion rates.

Moreover, ads aren’t just a creative endeavor. Optimized ads require an understanding of player emotions and behavior, which can be reached more easily through research than trial and error.

We caught up with Christian Ress, co-founder of PlaytestCloud, to get his insight into how user research can help devs precisely target the right audience for mobile game advertising. Through focused mobile UA campaigns, devs can better understand—and improve—both their user acquisition and their audience’s interaction with the game.

Finding the bull’s-eye

An optimized ad—video, interstitial and more—is a well-researched ad. To compete with game studios that are spending tens of millions on TV ads alone, developers need to make sure their ads are targeted. That means, no matter how small their reach, ads are getting in front of the users most likely to be interested in them.

Targeting requires a deeper understanding of users. Devs should apply user research to test assumptions and narrow down broad demographic guesses into more detailed segments.

User research acquisition

Ress shares an example of how playtesting—a type of user research—can show that players aren’t always predictable: “Let’s say your playtests showed that Hay Day players love the new farming mechanic you have, whereas FarmVille enthusiasts don’t enjoy it as much. Based on this, focusing acquisition on Hay Day players will probably yield better returns and gives you a good starting point to narrow down the criteria for the optimal user acquisition.”

Think of it as a helpful road map for mobile game user acquisition campaigns. If devs start with a vague notion of who to target, user research allows them to focus in on players worth their budget.

Testing your ads and your game

While results from user research aren’t directly quantitative, they can help show why devs are not hitting key performance metrics for UA campaigns.

You might find out that they expect a vastly different game based on these materials, or that certain screenshots or themes are unappealing to them.

“If install rates aren’t high enough,” says Ress, “running a user test in which you show your ads and App Store page to players in the problematic target audiences can be revealing. You might find out that they expect a vastly different game based on these materials, or that certain screenshots or themes are unappealing to them.”

“User research can also explain retention rates that don’t meet expectations: If day-one retention falls short, then it’s possible that the expectations of the users you’re acquiring aren’t fulfilled by your game, or that your first-time player experience sells your game short to these types of players,” continues Ress.

More broadly, data from user research can pinpoint where and why players drop off or stop playing. It may be that a level is too hard or too complicated for the player’s current grasp of game mechanics.

User acquisition research

Ress shares a breakthrough moment for one of their customers: “Based on their soft launch metrics, one of our customers developing a match-3 game found out that an unexpectedly large number of players were unable to complete one specific level. They ran a playtest and found that players failed the level over and over again because it required a specific kind of matching combo that the players had forgotten about.” Knowing where pain pushes players away can help developers fine-tune the game to better appeal to their target demographic. When done correctly, game user research can improve install, retention and churn rates.

Doing player research at the early stages of development won’t eliminate the need for A/B testing, for either ad testing or game testing. What it can do is help developers make the process leaner and, more importantly, lead to players who will be the perfect target for your ads and user acquisition campaigns.