User Acquisition & Creative learnings with comments – 2022

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Started this tradition two years ago, half drunk after the Christmas dinner when I saw a lot of predictions flying around. I sat down and wrote about what I’ve learned that year. Here we go again, since you can’t predict almost anything in our ever-changing gaming industry! 

Sit back, relax, grab a Christmas Margarita or eggnog and enjoy the learnings of 2022 with my lovely comments! 

But where to start? There were so many important things that worked so well. I already shared a bunch of them in my previous tips, so this time I am going to mention those that made the most impact on my UA ops! It’s quite a lot of learnings, definitely get that eggnog. Here you go:

UA diversification

Having Facebook as the one and only UA channel is dangerous and the times when you could use FB up until the $1M monthly spend are gone.

If you put all your eggs in one UA basket, you are playing a very dangerous game. If you’re running your UA on one channel, what if that stops working? 

I start thinking about diversifying the UA portfolio after hitting around $20k/month on one channel. Depends heavily on the game genre and monetization strategy, but you get the point. 

I always tried to maximize the spend in one channel. So, doing the diversification of the optimization strategy first and then move slowly to other channels, step by step.

By diversification of optimization strategy, I mean running all types of optimizations on the campaign level: MAI, MAI + Purchase, AEO (tCPA), VO (tROAS), AdROAS.

This usually helps me grow the budget on one channel to something between $50k and $250k. I know I know, that’s a very big range. If your game is monetized by ADS and IAPs 50:50 then it can be even more than $250k per channel. If the monetization is more towards 90:10 one way or another, it’s going to be closer to the $50-100k range.

Which channels should you have in the UA mix? 

Meta

Google Ads

Unity

TikTok

Applovin

Ironsource

From high priority to low priority.

TikTok is the UA winner of 2022

You still underestimate the power of TikTok. I’ve been saying this over and over again in the last few months. Open up your TikTok account and start running the campaigns ASAP.

I know it’s pretty annoying not to be able to target every country, but when you have your account manager, you are good to go.

Anyway, there are other things I wanted to share. Mainly, the performance is so freaking good. I can see 4x lower CPIs on TikTok when compared to other channels (mainly Facebook) and the quality is even better.

Just a few days ago, I opened up a Purchase campaign on TikTok for an action game. D1 ROAS 72% with $1.7 CPI targeting UK, DE & France as T1 campaign on Android.

I guess here we have a winner of the UA for 2022!

Some useful tips:

Discover trending hashtags daily and use them in ads (to multiply reach)

  • Use 1 – 5 hashtags to get closer to your target audience.

In creatives use real-life people and situations to look like native content

Ideal creative length 9-15s

  • but if you only have longer 20s+ videos, use them to start
  • then focus on shorter video production

Use vertical format (in high quality – 720p)

  • but the square format works well too!

Add background music to your ads to make them more enjoyable and native

Start leveraging TikTok creative gallery and using their music gallery as well.

  • I run a split test for one creative using random music vs trending music on TikTok.
  • TikTok trending music had 20% lower CPI and 14% ROAS right away
  • frequently check TRENDING SONGS IN THE CML 

The ad copy is important, the words are metadata for the platform.

  • The CTA is essential. It is better if it is simple and direct: Download now!, Play Game, Install

Start with lowest cost bidding and then switch to cost cap to control the CPI/CPA

Rotate creatives frequently – every week

  • Minimal changes needed (different button color, background music, length, etc is enough)

  • use TikTok native video editor to produce quick and dirty iterations of your videos

    • refresh your campaigns with these new iterations

    • repeat weekly

    • EZ!

Use Organic posts in UA campaigns!

  • I frequently check engagement on organic TikTok posts 
  • posts with the highest engagement are added to campaigns ASAP. Try this!
  • Dirty (Sanchez) trick: Use this in other UA channels as well, you will be amazed by the results!

Web2 vs web3 UA

How does UA operate in the blockchain gaming space? What are the differences between web2 and web3 marketing or UA?

I think we need to distinguish two phases of the blockchain game’s lifecycle.

Before the game is live: community building, social media hype approach, NFT pre-sale, airdrops, etc.

After launching the game: more traditional UA comes into place that consists of marketing campaigns on Twitter, Reddit, Google Adwords, TikTok, and Facebook.

Let’s take a look and make a comparison between web2 and web3 marketing activities:

Web2

Traditional UA – Facebook, Foogle, Ad networks, TikTok

ASO

AEO, VO optimisation (ad roas vs iap roas)

AEO engagement events

Influencer marketing

Fb fanpage, TikTok organic content

Data.ai/Sensor tower/Mobile action/Social Peta

MMP tracking

Marketability tests 

Web3

Facebook, Youtube, TikTok (Twitter, Reddit)

Landing Page CRO

Discord, Telegram

KOL / airdrops

Written AMA, live AMA, Twitter spaces

Medium blogs (developer updates, news, announcements)

Dapp Radar, Nansen, Rarity Tools

Whitelists contests, Tokenomics, Litepaper, Whitepaper

Google analytics, Matomo, Segment, Mixpanel

NFT Pre-sale market validation 

Guilds

Email marketing

To be completely honest with you, there is not a super big difference between web2 and web3 UA! 

Besides the community-building part, you still use Facebook, Google, or TikTok to drive traffic to your game. Doesn’t matter if it’s pre-reg, sign-ups, or traffic to the actual game on the web or mobile.

It’s the same UA, but different optimization goals on the campaign side. That’s it. Full stop!

Scaling a game is really hard work

I mentioned this before, but people still think scaling the game is only a marketing team’s job. You can only scale your budget until the LTV allows you to do so.

Scaling a game is not only a function of a killer user acquisition operation. It is also a function of an LTV.

Eg. If your LTV is $5, you can run profitable campaigns until you hit $4.5 CPI (or any other CPI that you calculate based on your margins)

This is very simplified because you need to take into consideration a payback period of your campaigns = when you want to see your money back.

Is it D30, D60, D90 or D365?

What can we do from the UA point of view:

  • Creative optimization

  • Channel diversification

  • Ios14 campaigns

  • Campaign optimization diversification

    • Depends on game monetization

      • 50 50 split IAA vs IAP

      • ANDROID Purchase + VO + AdROAS

      • IOS VO + purchase (ADroas only ad networks)

  • ASO (conversion rate optimization – store asset testing)

    • Create a seamless expectation flow

      • Creative -> store visual design -> game

All of this is hard work and can help you maybe improve your numbers by 20%.

Google AdROAS

I am still getting questions about Google AdROAS campaigns, even though I mentioned it millions of times. 

If your game is monetized by ads, reach out to your Google representative to get guidelines about AdROAS campaigns. So-called “Ad ROAS” campaigns are regular tROAS campaigns but optimized for ad revenue. They can also be called Ad-based tROAS campaigns

They were initially made for AdMob only, but since last year you can run them on any mediation out there (even your own internal solution) by optimizing for revenue from ad mediation. Do this even if you have 30% of ads vs. in-apps.

Works like a charm, get on it ASAP!

Here are some best practices: 

Google AdROAS campaigns work with shorter conversion windows (3 to 7 days) but need to be able to capture 90% of the conversion value happening. You need to wait for 2 or 3 cycles (6-9 days or 3 weeks) to evaluate the campaign.

On the other hand, a general higher data volume is required for tROAS bidding. 

I usually set a 3-day conversion window for AdROAS campaigns and a 7-day window for regular tROAS campaigns. But a 7-day window for AdROAS campaigns can work well too. Experiment with it to find a sweet spot. You could potentially use 1-day window as well!

Set a realistic tROAS target

A high ROAS target could mean a longer ramp-up period. So set a lower ROAS bid initially, then gradually increase the target ROAS as the campaign stabilizes. 

For example: if you’re aiming for 50% on day 7, put 20-30% into the campaign.

Campaigns Optimization & setup

You could gradually increase the Target ROAS as the campaign stabilizes, to achieve better ROI (This may come at the expense of campaign volume.). Only make small, incremental adjustments (10-20%)  to avoid volatility. 

When increasing your bids, do the hamburger approach. Every other day, increase the budget, then increase the bids, then increase the budget, etc. In between these, add new creatives.

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Low budget User Acquisition

Keeping the campaign structure super simple – using 1 network only.

Targeting your top 5 GEOs revenue-wise in one geo bucket.

Most probably here I would go with Value optimization or something that could give you the best possible results in a simple structure.

If you have an ad monetized game, then AdROAS it is.

Even though I bitch about FB, I would start with Facebook from D0. Use this strategy until I see a decline in numbers.

Then move to Google and use tROAS right away.

You could argue that with low budgets you won’t be able to get enough signals, but honestly, you don’t have too many other options.

With ad monetized games, start with Google AdROAS right away. You already read how to set it up!

Target the Top 5 best GEOs in one campaign. Until you get some money back from the campaigns, try Unity AdROAS. Oh, btw! Did you know you can run Unity AdROAS campaigns with Singular now easily? Yep, that’s right!

Here, start with the best country (I would assume it’s the US).

You need to go through the CPI campaign, but it’s not going to take too long until you get to AdROAS.

Do this until you get comfortable with your cash flow and start opening up other UA channels with the same strategy.

Soft launch in 2022 and beyond

In Softlaunch, developers should use at least three UA channels from Google, Facebook, Unity, Applovin, TikTok, IronSource, or Snapchat, then benchmark them against each other. Why?

So you don’t end up killing your game based on the numbers from only one channel.

In my own experience, we run FB campaigns and KPIs were pretty far from the goals we had. We wanted to kill the game, but we decided to run a test on Google and Unity. The results were amazing on both channels. Not that we didn’t kill the game, but global launched successfully. Be careful when making decisions!

While soft launching your game the north star metric you’re aiming for is Impressions/DAU (Imp/DAU). In order for your ads to have a significant impact on the magic number you need to exceed or hit 5 imp/DAU. With a proper mediation setup here’s what you can expect in terms of the bottom line:

  • 5 Imp/DAU – $0.06 – 0.08 AdARPDAU

  • 6 Imp/DAU – $0.08 – 0.11 AdARPDAU

  • 7 imp/DAU – $0.12 – 0.14 AdARPDAU

  • 8 imp/DAU – $0.15 – 0.20+ AdARPDAU

*The main caveat here is that Felix has seen some games reach as high as $0.23-0.52 AdARPDAU with just 5 Imp/DAU as their inventory converts super well with advertisers.

This is very much connected to your User Acquisition activities in the soft launch period. You need to be aware of what to aim for and what kind of campaign optimization to use. Keep in mind, different optimizations, different AdARPDAU (and different LTV)

For more detailed insights, please check out my updated soft launch framework

IDFA apocalypse bullshit shenanigans

Following the announcement of ATT, Apple’s privacy-centric attribution framework SKAdNetwork (SKAN) is your new boss. Since the beginning, everybody said most iOS users will deny access to their user-level data in versions 14.5 and above so you are pretty much fucked. After some time, we found out that 40+% players actually share IDFA.

The ugly truth still is that you rely on SKAN to measure the success of your campaigns. I do too!

SKAN has turned mobile UA upside down on iOS, introducing completely new mechanisms to balance data privacy and marketing measurement.

Expect delays in your reporting from 24 – 72 hours from the actual install or subsequent in-app conversion event. This is a result of Apple’s delay framework. Conversion value updates from your app may delay reporting beyond 48 hours depending on your conversion model. 

The overall sentiment around IDFA is/was that it’s an apocalypse. When looking at the profitable campaigns I see under my belt this year, I am pretty optimistic. 

Is it hard? Yeah!

Is it possible to run profitable campaigns on iOS? Hell YEAH!

Is it going to get any easier next year? Hell NO!

 Currently, limit conversion values to events that occur within the 24 hours following the first app open. This is the golden rule for iOS profitable campaigns! This may mean not configuring some events that tend to occur days or weeks after an install. 

Try this campaign structure:

T1 campaign Purchase optimisation: US, UK, CA, DE, FR, AU, KR, JP, CH

T2 campaign Purchase optimisation: DK, FI, NO, SE, NL, ES, IT, HK, SG, NZ, PL, CZ, SK, BE, AT, IE, TR, UAE, SA, TW, TH

ROW Value optimisation

I usually group all tier 1 countries together not looking at the language, but only LTV (lifetime value), then create a tier 2 segment and the Rest of the World. This is based on LTV for a specific game. Based on the level of budget I take the US out of T1 and run a standalone campaign.

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Creative learnings & tricks

Create a perfect expectation flow for your players.

Creative & ASO/store alignment is a really important part of the whole mobile marketing strategy.

You are setting certain expectations for your players when they see your creatives.

You show them a creative concept A, but you have in your Appstore icon with theme B or C.

That is not going to work. The same thing applies to fake creatives. Same principle! Read about how to 10x your game revenue with fake ads here!

Keep this in mind when creating your ads and preparing Appstore visuals such as icons and screenshots. Create one seamless experience for your players.

Conversion rates are going to explode!

Creative testing process

What is your creative testing process? I have used multiple ways for different games. In my opinion, there is not only one universal process that fits everybody. Let’s take a look at what I’ve used in the past:

  1. IPM based

MAI campaign in Tier4 country (ideally India, but depends on your game genre) winner->BAU

  1. Multistep

MAI campaign in Tier4 country (ideally India, but depends on your game genre) winner->Tier1 AEO, winner->BAU

  1. Value optimization

Worldwide VO campaign, new creative concepts tested on adset level, winners->BAU

  1. AAA BAU

Facebook AAA BAU campaigns, remove underperforming creatives, and add new concepts

The question I am getting a lot: What is the best performing creative? How much money should I spend on creative production?

Answer: I have no fucking idea! You can spend 100k and not have a single good performing creative or a creative winner.

What I would suggest is the following:

  • Have a brainstorming session

  • Come up with 5-6 totally different ideas

    • by totally I mean this:

      • gameplay iteration

      • slightly fake creative approach

      • UGC type of creative

      • lose-upgrade-win scenario

      • ask a question (Who would win? What would you do? What is your favorite food? you got the point..)

      • memes

  • produce 3-4 creatives

  • test, evaluate & iterate

Don’t forget. Creatives are about emotions. Nothing else matters!

Fake ads

Why do developers use fake ads? Do they even work? Well, guess what! Misleading ads work pretty well and they bring a lot of money into the developer’s pockets.


Running and growing a game is not an easy job. You need to involve a lot of departments in this! It’s not only on the marketing side of things. You need to work very closely with the game team, data analytics, and ideally live ops as well.

Scale/budget is always dictated by your game’s LTV as mentioned in the latest UA tips. Marketing = UA + Creatives + ASO can help you by 10-20% here and there. But you won’t be able to scale your game only with marketing tricks & hacks. That’s impossible. But is that really true? The CPI vs LTV equation is really important. And if you are unable to drive the LTV up, then you need to do whatever it takes to lower the CPI down – below your LTV. WHATEVER IT TAKES! Do you hear me?

Mighty Party by Panoramik Games example

Mighty Party is a turn-based strategy RPG that is an excellent example of combining action, strategy, battle RPG, and turn-based roleplaying games. We took the best from different genres to create an amazing experience for you in the world of Massively Online Role-Playing Games. BUT THERE IS A TWIST! A fake one!

The mighty party was earning $1Mil/month in October 2020 with 500k installs per month. The month before (September) they acquired 90k players with $700k in revenue over the month. Here comes a game update on the 29th of October 2020. Suddenly downloads and revenue went up and keep increasing quite heavily. You might ask, what did they change? Take a look and read the original article about FAKE ADS! Don’t be lazy, it’s pretty good. 

You already know why is it happening. Running and growing a game is not an easy job. The CPI vs LTV equation is really important. And if you are unable to drive the LTV up, then you need to do whatever it takes to lower the CPI down – below your LTV. AS I SAID, WHATEVER IT TAKES! 

Lately, we have seen many games trying to implement the practices behind fake ads into actual products which are definitely new. 

This again evolved itself as it first started as an attempt to prolong the illusion that the game is the same as the fake ads

This was done rather crudely through “duct taping” the fake ads into the onboarding funnel between the levels where fake ads playable were played by the user and then the real core gameplay of the game would be inserted in between.

After a while, the fake ads would disappear and the real game would take over as seen in the example below. 

First impression of Kingdom Guard

Actual gameplay

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jqHT-e4Gg8

What to expect?

Currently, we are mainly talking about RPG or 4x genre, which have primarily super HIGH CPIs. 

How to tackle this? 

We discussed the fake ads already, but implementing fake ads into the gameplay seems to be a solution. Creating illusion for players and keeping them engaged in the game a bit longer. 

” I’m still interested in doing puzzles that pop up once in a while. However, I’m on the mobile version and the puzzles seem to be gone after Chapter 3.
This website says there are puzzles in Chapters 4-7…but I can’t seem to find them?”

Puzzle excited Hero wars player

Tweet

X-Hero did it well recently, but Kingdom Guard and Top war seem to be masters of this. 

In the upcoming months and next year, we are going to see more genres implementing this strategy to tackle the ever-increasing CPIs. 

What didn’t work

I shared what worked the best and had the biggest influence on the UA performance. Obviously, there are some things that didn’t work at all: 

Google iOS 

I had a hard time running iOS campaigns on Google. Five days of delay, fluctuation of CPIs/ROAS, no tROAS campaigns. Okay okay, tROAS campaigns were re-introduced for iOS. I saw some potential on a few games, but nothing very tangible. 

Apple Search Ads (for games)

There is only one game I could make ASA work for some reason. God is my witness I will keep trying. 

United States 

The US as a country is known for the highest ROAS numbers. But this year also for the highest CPIs and high competition. I tried to move budgets away from the US to other GEOs where it made more sense in the CPI vs LTV equation. 

TikTok

But wait! I already mentioned it was the UA channel of the year. The first half of the year was just terrible! TikTok made some improvements, I tested the shit out of it, and voilá. It works super well! 

Things don’t usually work as you would expect right away. It requires patience and a lot of testing. Keep trying! I know I will. 

My new friend – Generative AI

Midjourney is helping me produce thumbnails for my Brutally honest newsletter and for my articles. 


As you can see, it’s a lot of fun. The image below started the whole production. I am getting better and better at writing prompts to get what I want to see.

My prompt writing levels got immediately better after reading what others are putting in their prompts! Try that as well. 

Generative AI is bringing interesting usage to the ASO world. Not only in terms of visuals but also in description and text. Here are some examples of icon testing:


Deconstructor of Fun event in Istanbul

This was definitely a highlight of the year for me. I was invited to have a talk at Google x DOF event in istanbul..

Oh boy! What a great event full of awesome speakers and content. Well, check it out!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YL5E2-8zWGE

Subscribe to Brutally honest newsletter

Funnily enough, I started also sending a weekly newsletter. I thought I would never have time to do it or ideas/insights to write about. What started in March with 0 subscribers, is now in late December sitting on almost 2500 subscribers with average open rate 50%. Thanks a lot! 

If you haven’t done it yet, please subscribe to my newsletter. It’s so honest it might actually annoy you. If you are easily annoyed, please don’t subscribe. 

No bullshit gaming podcast two & a half gamers

In January, we started a new gaming podcast. Not that our industry needed another new podcast, but we felt we just had to do it. We were having these weekly calls anyway and when one of our friends said we should start recording it. There was no turning back. 

Our no-BS podcast is growing thanks to all of you and it pushes us forward. Please subscribe to our channel, if you didn’t already. It would make the world to us since we are putting a lot of effort to produce high-quality content. It’s also so much fun! 

https://youtu.be/erMhpmdw5dA

Personal shit stuff

When I spoke to Gus recently, he said an interesting thing:

You had a wonderful year!

Let’s unpack this a little. 

The year 2022 was indeed wonderful, but for different reasons than you might think. It was a fucking hard year! As I mentioned in my Linkedin post below:

The fact that I started this year with 50% less monthly revenue was really hard. But it was an eye-opening experience, which I am super grateful for. I learned a lot about who I am,  what is really important to me, and what I can achieve.

Thanks to this I could spend a lot of time with my daughter, and with my family, start our amazing no-bullshit gaming podcast and spend time thinking. 

I turned this into a positive experience and learning. Let’s not forget, life is hard but great. Enjoy it! 

Everything is possible. It’s a state of mind!

This year really thought me one important thing. Everything is possible! Being “busy” and not having time is just a state of mind. If you are struggling to find time, sit down, think about your processes, and activities, and organize your time better. It’s a game of priorities! 

If I can be 2nd fastest growing technology company in Slovakia, start a newsletter, podcast and write frequently while spending 70% of the day with my little daughter, you are doing something really wrong

Special thanks

Couldn’t have made it without you. Thanks for all the support!

Social Peta


Mobile Action


Felix Braberg


Adikteev


Tomáš Belák


Jakub Remiar


I guess that’s it for 2022! All of the above is what I’ve learned. Longer than both 2020 and 2021 combined. But there was a lot happening in my world. 

https://lancaric.me/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/lanco_video_loop_bezpf.mp4

What about your 2022?

Oh wow! You made it here! You must be very engaged. I like that type of player… Ehm, people!

Please share this article with your industry friends. It would mean the world to me. 

Also, subscribe to my newsletter. It’s so honest it might actually annoy you. If you are easily annoyed, please don’t subscribe. 

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