Four Data-Driven Insights for Successfully Scaling Your Mobile Game
Making a great game is just the beginning
For most studios, developing and shipping a great game is just the first step in creating a successful business. Once a team knows that it’s onto something special, it’s time to look at how to scale the game to reach more gamers, maximize engagement, increase the Lifetime Value (LTV) of its players, and grow revenue.
But scaling a game without understanding what levers are available can be risky — it’s expensive, and it’s often hard to know if you’re reaching the right players, in the right regions, at the right time. But teams that take a methodical approach to scaling their spend rate, following the data, and testing the most important market and player variables can be confident when moving into this exciting growth stage.
At Tilting Point we’ve scaled dozens of free-to-play mobile games, and maintain a large, diverse portfolio that spans just about every genre and lifecycle stage. In this piece, I lay out four data-driven insights that we’ve accumulated over the years, which if applied properly, can help developers of any size scale their games effectively and efficiently.
Scaling a game can get expensive, and without a principled approach can become very inefficient, very quickly. It’s important that developers test cautiously in the early stages to help manage risks while maximizing the return on their investment. This should include smart user targeting, and prioritizing the right optimizations tests along with the investment. From here, once clear data trends show opportunities to test scale, it’s safe to ratchet up the spending.
As an example, a casual game in our portfolio had a period when its LTV and conversion were at all-time lows. What made the scenario trickier was that this was the same time when the User Acquisition (UA) scale needed to be tested to hit revenue goals.
Still, rather than rushing in order to produce mixed results, a measured approach was taken to scaling. With a thorough analysis of existing data, we discovered certain unique in-game conversion metrics that correlated with high LTV users. And after using this data to guide optimizations, good news began to unfold. In the first month, ad spend was increased by 30 percent, and then another 30 percent in both the second and third months. Improvements in performance continued after this, and after the three-month test, both LTV and Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) had grown 97 percent to hit new all-time bests.
Another critical factor to consider when scaling a game is which geographic areas and player types to target. For this, it’s helpful to understand user trends in different worldwide markets, as well as to have a deep understanding of your current players, to guide strategy towards generating the highest return on investment.
When first working with South Korean developer AN Games, their title Astrokings, a 4x space strategy game, was performing well across Asia, with dedicated fan bases in Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and China. But up to this point, there had not been a successful push in testing new markets in the west. To help solve this, a close look was taken at the game’s highest LTV players with a focus on identifying certain player profiles that would give the best chance of success when targeted.
Based on existing player data, it was found that the biggest opportunities for Astrokings to grow were in the US, France, Germany, and the UK — and that potential players with an interest in steampunk would have a higher affinity towards this game.
Utilizing this data, UA scale tests were introduced in each of these regions. And as scale tests progressed, further data revealed that the US, Germany, and Nordic countries generated the strongest efficiencies — so to leverage these insights, investments continued to lean into these learnings. And from here it was good news — overall Western revenue grew 300 percent.
Get to Know Your Top Players
The success with Astrokings was a great reminder of the deep importance of getting to understand players and what motivates them. Before attempting to scale a game, every studio should have a clear-eyed understanding of the top 50 percent of their paying players.
This typically involves items shown above such as age, gender, and interests, and also includes technical aspects like device, platform, network, and common post-install events. But that’s just the beginning, as teams can and should use this data to segment their players and create audiences that may be adjacent to the current top payers in order to help expand the scale of campaigns.
By thinking holistically about our players, great success was revealed when scaling our MMO Warhammer: Chaos & Conquest, our first co-development title created with Hunted Cow Studios. As player data was unearthed, it was found that players who engaged in chat tended to have higher LTV. It was also learned that players who spent less money but still engaged in chat had a network effect — perhaps creating a guild that then increased other players’ spending — so they were incredibly valuable.
This insight had a material impact on our UA strategy as we prioritized certain behaviors over just individual spending rate. As a result, eROAS doubled year-over-year (YoY), driving the game to all-time highs.
Finally, another major factor in developing a plan to scale a game is understanding seasonality, and how it can impact campaign effectiveness. While not every game has accumulated enough historical data to provide YoY insights, tools like AppAnnie and SensorTower allow studios to look at comparable titles and draw some conclusions with a fair degree of confidence.
When looking at seasonality it’s important to consider things like:
- If the game has live ops — do certain events tend to generate stronger users?
- How do holidays affect LTV and organic traffic?
- What are the YoY trends for LTV, organic traffic, and ROAS if available?
- What are the trends per quarter (Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4)?
Once your team has a handle on some of these factors, it’s safer to test the UA scale during times when LTV and organic traffic is shown to be higher for your game or comparable titles. It’s typically advisable to be more conservative when LTV and organic traffic dips later in the year.
We thought deeply about seasonality for Warhammer: Chaos & Conquest, looking at two years worth of data. Findings revealed that by tapping into specific audience segments that were overlooked in previous Q4's because of the holiday season, the cheaper ad inventory in that quarter would provide an opportunity to generate some of the strongest eROAS efficiency through the year.
Our guided assumption proved very lucrative, as after testing optimizations and introducing a YoY scale test, we found Warhammer’s profit had leapt more than 4x YoY, and eROAS improved 12% QoQ.
Key Points of Insight
While there are additional aspects to scaling your own unique game that may change the outcome, the practices laid out above should form the foundation of a strong long-term UA strategy for any game. Here are the key data-driven takeaways for the four main insights we’ve used to scale games with our developer partners:
- Avoid rushing to scale. Instead utilize thorough analysis of existing conversion metrics, to test scale incrementally.
- Construct profiles of your earliest top payers in order to drive efficiency when scaling to new regions across the globe.
- Prioritize certain behaviors other than spending exhibited by your most engaged players to improve eROAS.
- Build a plan that factors in seasonal trends, analyzing both QoQ performance for your new game, and YoY results from games in the same genre.
Scale Your Game With Tilting Point
There are literally hundreds of variables to consider when growing a new mobile game’s audience, and it’s important to ruthlessly prioritize and focus on what will move the needle. If you’re looking for a partner to help meticulously navigate this exciting growth stage for your game, the team at Tilting Point is here to help. Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org today, and let’s get started!
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Louis Herbert is a growth lead at Tilting Point where he uses his experience managing UA at Dropbox, Asana, Strava and others to help scale mobile experiences for a wide portfolio of apps. Louis started his career as a serial entrepreneur with two successful exits and invitations to Dreamit Ventures and Y Combinator. He has used these experiences to continue helping support the profitability of mobile games such as Warhammer: Chaos & Conquest, Match3D, Cat Game, and many more.