IDFA Changes and Mobile Gaming: A Survival Guide
(This article was originally published on Udonis’ blog.)
“The effects will be apocalyptic. All game publishers and advertisers should be afraid.“
These are just some predictions that surround the discussion on recent IDFA changes.
Are they true?
Well, it depends on who you ask.
Let’s go over everything you need to know about IDFA from how it works, and how it affects mobile game advertising.
You will also learn all about what is changing and what this means for your game. Most importantly, we bring you tips to minimize the damage.
IDFA Changes: What’s Happening?
Over the last couple of years, mobile game advertising has reached incredible heights. Personalized advertising played a huge — huge role in this.
This kind of advertising is only possible because of detailed targeting options. And detailed targeting comes from device identifiers, including IDFA by Apple and GAID by Google.
These identifiers became a crucial part of the advertising ecosystem. Everyone could access them — from advertisers and publishers to ad networks. Not only could they all access them, but they are dependent on them.
See the problem?
Relying on one particular thing, in this case, device identifiers — is risky. If that one thing changes, the whole system is in danger.
Now that we have the context covered, let’s talk about what’s happening.
In 2020, Apple announced a seismic shift — new privacy regulations starting with iOS’s 14.5 updates. The most important change is that IDFA will no longer be a default, but an opt-in feature. A year later, the IDFA changes are here.
Here’s everything you need to know about them.
First, let’s deconstruct what this acronym stands for. IDFA stands short for “identifier for advertisers”.
This Apple technology has been around for years already and we could say it is their alternative to what we all know as “cookies”.
Basically, it allows app marketers to measure advertising performance.
Let’s put it this way.
A user was playing game A and saw an ad for game B. This user really liked the game and went to install it.
Since game B runs user acquisition campaigns to get more players, IDFA plays a huge role here. There is a whole value chain involved in the process and all of them use IDFA. It helps them connect the dots. In this case, the dots are different engagement metrics that are linked to a certain device.
Now, IDFA has very important information — this particular player is responsive to ads. The advertiser can then track these users across games, apps, and all around the web.
If advertisers really like a user, they can tell the ad networks — “this is it, find me more people like this”. The ad network again uses IDFA profiles to deliver more high-value users like this one.
Want to know what other benefits IDFA brings to advertisers? Here they come.
- It provides behavioral data that helps deliver personalized ads
- Helps to recognize when users are suffering from ad fatigue
- Allows better retargeting based on previous actions
- Helps advertisers understand which ad platforms work best for ad installs (attribution data)
- It supports ad campaign data for better optimization
One thing is for sure, without IDFA, finding high-value players will become much more difficult. Moreover, advertising is not the only area that’s been affected by the change.
Keep reading to find out exactly what is different from now on.
IDFA Is Not Gone, the Rules Are Just Different
With IDFA changes, Apple is putting its focus on user privacy.
And for good reason.
It appears that iOS users are getting increasingly concerned about privacy. Until now, IDFA was a default feature. Nevertheless, users could go and deactivate it in app settings at any time (Limit Ad Tracking feature).
According to a study by Singular, as many as 30% of users did this in 2020. When Apple first introduced the option in 2012, 11.4% of users limited ad tracking. For comparison’s sake, only 2.3% of Android users opted out of Google’s ad tracking in 2020.
Yes, even though the feature wasn’t available in plain sight, that many iOS users went to opt-out.
From now on, the choice is not to opt-out, but to opt-in.
In fact, the IDFA notification appears in the form of a pop-up. This pop-up is a consent notice — it asks users whether they want to be tracked or not.
Acronyms to Remember: ATT & SKAN
Apple’s privacy system consists of several important parts. Besides IDFA, there are two more acronyms you should know about — ATT (App Tracking Transparency) and SKAN (SKAdNetwork).
ATT is the company’s privacy framework. It is what prevents developers from freely gathering user data for targeting purposes. ATT is actually what appears in the consent notice.
SKAN is Apple’s solution for attribution. And well, it’s quite limited. As such, it makes it hard to measure retention, lifetime values, and track user behavior.
IDFA Changes: The Consequences
Just recently, we’ve witnessed a historical growth in mobile gaming. A lot of game publishers are concerned that this change will push the industry in a negative direction.
Some even say Apple hit the reset button on game advertising.
It’s a fact — the game industry hasn’t seen this big of a change in the last decade. Up to now, almost all mobile-first businesses were based on performance marketing.
This was such a big change that Apple was pressured to delay it for a couple of months. This was done for one main reason — giving publishers and advertisers time to adapt.
Even Facebook was critical about this. They ran a few tests and concluded that the lack of personalized ads could decrease developer revenues by 50%!
This is certainly a challenge for all sides of the process, from developers to their monetization partners.
Let’s take a look at how opt-in IDFA is going to affect different areas of mobile gaming.
Without IDFA, mobile attribution changes drastically. Publishers have very limited and less granular data on their opt-out audience.
As a result, advertisers are dealing with a lack of data. Here are the main challenges they are dealing with:
- Very limited demographic data (only country data is available, no age or gender data)
- CPIs (or CPA) and number of installs are either not available or real data is attributed within 7 days
- The number of campaigns and ad groups is limited (e.g., 10 campaigns and 1 ad group on TikTok)
- The only exact data advertisers get are ad spend and CPMs
For these reasons, advertisers aren’t able to accurately attribute their ad spend across different ad campaigns and ad networks. All in all, campaign optimization is becoming extremely challenging.
Creative Testing Is No Longer the Same
Creatives have always been integral parts of game advertising.
Now, when campaigns and targeting are limited, advertisers need to change their testing approach. Before this, they could produce tons of creatives and test them all out.
They would test different concepts until they could find “winners”. After that, they would test even more ad variations. This approach no longer works nearly as well.
User Acquisition Spend Drops
This is one of the consequences that is happening right now. It is expected that, in the months that follow, advertisers will further reduce their ad spend.
Since their targeting options are limited, advertisers’ top-of-funnel UA metrics (CTR, install rates) decrease in quality.
As a result, this brings lower-quality users with reduced LTVs.
Until they figure it all out, advertisers will have to test how this change is affecting their campaigns on different platforms. Of course, with lower budgets.
Remarketing and Segmentation
If a lot of users opt out of IDFA, remarketing and audience segmentation will become very challenging.
Because of low opt-in rates, some advertisers won’t be able to collect enough data to create lookalike audiences and retargeting lists.
Some advertisers wanted to work around this and rely on email lists for ad targeting. However, they got a hard no from Apple — without opt-in, this won’t be possible either.
It’s pretty obvious that if new IDFA rules are affecting advertising, they are affecting ad monetization as well.
Ad monetization is also powered by getting to know users. Games strategically show users ads (interstitial, banner, rewarded video ads, etc.) based on their previous activities. This helps games boost user retention, in-app purchases, etc.
The lack of targeting data has a strong impact on the value of ads displayed in a game. As a result, eCPMs are declining.
Nevertheless, IAP monetization isn’t spared. All games that rely on some type of whales (whether through IAP or IAA) are affected by this change.
Other Advertising Channels
It’s interesting that owned media and web to app channels aren’t affected by the changes.
On the other hand, deep linking is partially affected. It became deferred and probability-based. This gives advertisers a few opportunities to work around the IDFA changes.
Mobile Games and IDFA Changes: A Complete Overview
Not everyone in the mobile industry is equally hit by these changes.
There are differences between apps and games, and between different game genres.
Want more details? Here they come.
Mobile Game Genres and IDFA
When it comes to mobile game genres, it appears that this situation has “winners” and “losers”.
It all comes down to the sheer nature of different genres.
Experts believe that one of the “winners” of this situation are casual games. Especially the hyper-casual category.
The thing is, casual games appeal to a mass market. They are simple to learn, fun, and addictive. For this reason, they don’t really need super-targeted ad campaigns. Therefore, not being able to target specific audiences isn’t such a huge problem.
On the other hand, it seems that things will be more difficult for mid-core games.
For example, different RPG and strategy games are all about finding high-value players. They’ve been playing these games for a long time and drive their revenues.
This is especially true for niche games that target very specific types of players. Now, finding them is going to become extremely challenging.
Opt-in Rates Estimates
How would you respond to “Do you want to be tracked”?
For a lot of people, this is a clear “No”.
Because of this, early opt-in rate estimates were pretty pessimistic. They were different, but they mostly ranged anywhere from slim 2% to more optimistic 20%.
These estimates came from logical assumptions that users are super-concerned about their privacy. Luckily, it appears that it’s not that bad.
According to an AppsFlyer’s study from April 2021, the opt-in scenario looks a whole lot better. They examined data from nearly 550 apps that were preliminary adopters of this feature.
The overall opt-in rate average was as high as 39%. Even though these numbers may not prove to be completely accurate, they certainly give marketers and developers hope.
However, there are also a few not-so-good news for gaming apps.
The opt in-rates for gaming apps were 31%. Non-gaming apps had much better results — 42%.
It seems that this has something to do with brand loyalty. Gaming apps attract users that don’t pay as much attention to the brand. They don’t feel a previous, personal attachment to it. This may be the reason why they are more cautious with giving tracking consent.
Opt-in Rates Across Mobile Game Genres
It’s interesting to take a look at opt-in rates for different users from different mobile game genres.
This data also comes from AppsFlyer’s opt-in rates research.
Casual games got the best results with opt-in rates of 36%. They are followed by mid-core games with 32%. Hardcore games also had good results with 30%.
On the other hand, social casino and hyper-casual games had lower opt-in rates — 21% and 12%.
As you can see, there are no major differences in opt-in rates for casual, mid-core, and hard-core games.
This is good news for mid-core and hard-core publishers. If these results turn out to be right, they will still be able to collect a solid amount of data on their audiences. This will help them keep building targeted campaigns and finding high-value users.
The fact that only 12% of hyper-casual players opt-in is not that surprising. It has something to do with brand loyalty that we mentioned earlier. For this reason, it makes sense that these players are more cautious with giving these games consent.
IDFA Changes: Tips for Advertisers & Publishers
Since all of this is new, mobile advertisers and developers haven’t yet found one brilliant solution for it. Instead, they are trying out different approaches.
IDFA changes affect all departments of mobile gaming studios. For this reason, it’s important to adapt as a whole.
Advertisers should look for alternative ways of gathering and understanding user data.
Publishers should work their hardest to get users to opt-in. Nevertheless, they need to create a strategy for those who don’t.
Here are some ways to work around the changes that might work for you.
Adapt Your Creative Testing Strategy
As we previously mentioned, these changes strongly affected creative testing.
Previously, a lot of game advertisers put focus on testing different variations of the same video (sizes, elements, colors, buttons, etc.). In this approach, the focus was on quantity. Now that campaign configurations are limited, this is no longer possible.
Ad networks came prepared for the situation. Facebook, TikTok, and Google all developed dynamic creative testing features. You only need to upload different videos/images, texts, descriptions, and CTAs. Dynamic creative testing will do the rest to help you find the best-performing elements of your ads.
However, this kind of testing will have a hard time replacing the good old one-by-one testing. The thing is, it doesn’t show exactly how each of the elements contributes to performance results.
This is one of the reasons why you should focus on producing more creative concepts.
In a situation where you can’t target specific users, different creatives are becoming a targeting method. They are also becoming a way to segment users by intent.
Even though this process takes more time and effort, their success potential is incredible. On average, new concepts have a 5% to 15% success rate (Consumer Acquisition). However, if they turn out to be successful, you will see results across the scale.
Extend The Pre-Install Journey
If you’re an advertiser, you should try and focus on web-to-app UA. As we already mentioned, this area is not affected by this change.
For this reason, it is a good idea to extend the user’s pre-install journey and gather user data in the process. Instead of driving users from the web directly to your app listing, you can guide them to your own website. There, you can place an ad that leads to the app store.
The main flaw of this approach is the extra step in the process. However, it comes with some great benefits. First, acquiring users on the web is cheaper than from in-app advertising. Second, you will still gain insights into your users’ web-to-app journeys.
Try App Clips
Apple’s very own app clips are starting to get traction due to IDFA changes.
App clip is a demo of an app people can interact with before installing it. It is a part of an app that allows users to do something quickly. For example: renting a car, scanning QR codes, or paying for parking. However, they are not limited to non-gaming apps.
In the same way, you can use them to give players a demo of your game. Most importantly, you can still gain insights into players’ pre-install journey. Therefore, if you use them, you will still be able to collect valuable data before users download your game.
Invest in Attribution Tools and Data Science
If you weren’t ready to invest in an alternative mobile attribution tool until now, the time has come. If most of your player base opts out, you will need to rely on 3rd party attribution.
This is where data science comes to light. The thing is, your game is sending you different types of signals, and your goal is to find correlations between them. This includes things like where your players came from, and how much they’re worth.
This way, you will maybe be able to get the necessary data you need for your UA campaigns.
Deliver the Notification at the Right Time
Even though you can’t choose whether to deliver the ATT notice, you have control over when to deliver it.
You only deliver it once, so you have to find the optimal moment to do that. According to AppsFlyer’s research, delaying the notice will bring better opt-in results.
Instead of delivering it right after the first game launch, you can do it after the initial engagement (e.g., after completing the game tutorial). It works better if you first deliver players some value from your product because this boosts trust.
As a result of delayed delivery, you may get consent from valuable, highly engaged users.
Use the Notice Space Wisely
A part of the text in the consent notice (the purpose string) is customizable. And you should make the best of it.
Apple has good advice on this — you should use this space to inform players why the app is asking for permission in the first place.
According to Kochava’s research on this, shorter is better. Consent notices that contained up to 12 words showed the best results.
The same research showed that certain words and phrases work better than others. Apps that used the words “your data”, “only used” and “personalized ads” had higher opt-in rates than others.
On the other hand, apps that used words like “track”, “target” and “collect” had worse results.
For example, you can try something like: “Your data will be used to bring you a better and personalized ad experience” “Your data will only be used to create a customized experience tailored to your interests”.
The key thing is to try and not scare users off, but to display them the benefits.
Utilize In-Game Learning
Earlier, developers knew a lot about their player preferences before they even entered the game.
However, without consent, they know almost nothing about them. And it’s frustrating.
For this reason, we can expect developers to introduce some in-game features that will help them learn about player preferences. Therefore, personalization of in-game journeys might be the next way to learn about your players.
Maybe: Focus on IP-Based Games and Cross-Promotion
This is not a straightforward tip, but another approach you can try.
Some say that IP-based games will play a huge role in the post-IDFA world.
In games like these, publishers have internal ways of identifying users by their metadata (including IP address). This is also known as fingerprinting. And the best thing about it is — at the moment, Apple does not have control over this method.
What’s the thing about IP-based games? Well, players see something familiar and they are more eager to install them.
Big brands include their IP in different games, and they want to have them. We have already seen good examples of this with Angry Birds and Candy Crush franchises.
In fact, big game and entertainment companies are doing that as we speak. This includes all sorts of mergers and acquisitions. According to Newzoo, the number of companies that signed such deals increased in 2021. And we expect even more of them in the following period.
The goal? Creating mega-userbases.
For publishers, this means efficient cross-promotion of their games across their mega-userbases. This way, the publisher doesn’t have to rely so much on UA on ad networks. Instead, they can find new users inside of their own ecosystem.
Nevertheless, fingerprinting also helps them collect valuable attribution data from in-app actions and ad clicks. However, the accuracy of fingerprinting is only 60% to 70%, according to Branch io.
It is important to point out that Apple has said they are against this. What are they going to do about it? We will just have to wait and see.
IDFA Changes: Over to You
As a part of the gaming industry, you need to adapt to IDFA changes. The worst thing you can do is to ignore them.
Since these changes are still fresh, everyone is still trying to find the best solutions.
Whether you’re an advertiser or a publisher, hope you found some useful guidance in this article!
If you feel like you could use some more help, feel free to contact us!
Since 2018 until today, Udonis Inc. has acquired over 150 million users for mobile apps & games. We’re recognized as a leading mobile marketing agency by 5 major marketing review firms. We helped over 20 mobile apps & games reach the top charts. Want to know how we make it look so effortless? Meet us to find out!