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7 steps to grow your game with paid user acquisition

January 8, 2020 in Games | 11 min. read
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After countless hours of development and iteration, you finally launched your mobile game in various app stores. But this is just the beginning. How will you maintain the health of your app? Here we will break down seven steps to get started with paid user acquisition and explain why you need it to grow your game.

From the moment a user enters your game, you need to nurture them to ensure they want to continue to come back to play your game. Along with a solid monetization strategy, you can increase the lifetime value of current users by ensuring you have the best content, game mechanics, and updates while continuing to add more potentially high-value users through both paid and organic tactics.

A user acquisition strategy for mobile games entails generating installs. You’ll need to consider how to devise the right strategy and tactics to get the right users into your player ecosystem. You might be thinking, why do I need paid user acquisition? Why can’t I just rely on organic efforts? To grow your game business (or any business), you need to be able to predict and control your revenue and user growth. App stores are very crowded places, with millions of apps in the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. Cutting through the noise and getting people’s attention can be a challenge, and climbing through the app ranks or going viral is not something you can control or guarantee. Paid user acquisition enables you to grow your user base and help find players who will stay engaged with your game and, in turn, create high lifetime value.

Let’s focus on what you need to know to get started with paid user acquisition to drive installs.

1. The foundation of your campaign

Unity’s suite of user acquisition solutions helps developers gain valuable users at each stage of growth of their mobile game business. We’ve gleaned some data from the many advertisers who use our platform and their countless campaigns; here’s what you need to know about how to set up a successful paid user acquisition campaign.

Before you even start trying to acquire new users, think about the brand identity of your game. Who is your target audience, and what do they respond to (including the type of incentives that appeal to them, as well as the tone of your text and art)? This will help you craft the right messaging, have the right app store listing, and generate effective creative and concepts.


Step 1 summary: Figure out who is your target audience and what are the main features of your game that resonate with them.

2. Get your creative going

Creative refers to the ads you are going to run. Video is a common format that drives results for app downloads. Video placements in games tend to be a mix of rewarded video, where the user gains something of value for watching an ad (e.g., an extra life), and interstitial videos, which appear between screens of content.

You may want to experiment with different creative concepts or themes and then try different variations within that theme. Once you’ve identified a theme, you can test variations, including different icons, background colors, and lengths.

Unity’s ad platform is a bidding-based platform driven by our machine learning algorithm. The algorithm aims to predict the conversion likelihood of users – that is, how likely a user is to install a game when they see a particular ad – and optimize their conversion by showing them the most suitable ad. By using an assortment of creative, of varying lengths, the algorithm has more data and a better chance to find the right creative to drive the best results.

Another format that is gaining popularity is playable ads. With playables, users can actually play a snippet of the game advertised. Depending on the genre of your game, playables might be something you want to include in your creative mix. Casual and hyper-casual games are the most common genres to use this format and see success.


Step 2 summary: Create different variations of videos showcasing different creative concepts. A good starting point is a range of 5–10 videos.

3. Add attribution

What is mobile attribution? Mobile attribution refers to the process of tracking where users learned about your app and completed the action of installing the app. There is often an information gap between what users see before deciding to install your app and the point at which they actually install your app. Mobile attribution aims to bridge that gap.

Unity and other advertising partners require you to use attribution so you can ascribe installs to specific ad campaigns. For example, let’s say you see an ad campaign for Awesome Game through Unity, and then you decide to click and install. The attribution provider will fire that you clicked on the ad served from Unity and close the loop of where that install came from. Unity can then mark that they drove that install and charge based on the cost per install (CPI) that is set.

Setting up attribution is also crucial to truly understanding your return on ad spend (ROAS), including revenue share to the app stores, ad revenue, and in-app purchase revenue.


Step 3 summary: Third-party attribution is key when running campaigns both to properly attributing where installs come from and to holistically understanding all your paid user acquisition efforts.

4. Analyze to optimize

Campaign metrics are vital to understanding how effective your spend is and if you are getting the right return on your investment. This is commonly referred to as ROAS, or return on your advertisement spending. For example, if you spend $1,000 on advertising within a month and that campaign leads to $5,000 in revenue, that would give you a ROAS of 5:1, or $5. For every $1 you spend, you can generate $5. You will also want to determine your payback window, or how long it takes you to make that $5 in return.

Here are some additional important metrics to consider.

ARPDAU: Average revenue per daily active user (daily revenue divided by the number of active users)

ARPPU: Average revenue per paying user

ARPU: Average revenue per user

Impression: A single ad that appears on a web page/in an app when the page arrives on the viewer’s display

CPI: Cost per install

CTR: Click-through rate. Calculated as clicks divided by impressions. Measures how many people are clicking on your ads based on how many impressions have been served.

CVR: Conversion rate. Measures how many people are converting to an install.

eCPM: Effective cost per mille or cost per thousand impressions. Within Unity’s platform this metric helps determine how competitive an ad placement will be in the network. Calculating the eCPM in this capacity is eCPM = (CPI x CVR) x 1,000.

LTV: Lifetime value. The amount an average player will spend over their entire time with a game. This figure can also be linked to your retention because the longer a player stays, the more money they put into your game, be it through in-app purchases (IAPs) or viewing ads.

IPM: Installs per mille. Measures the number of installs per thousand impressions.

Retention (D1, D3, D7, D14, D30): The number of unique users who came back to your app after installing based on the number of days they remain (e.g., day 1, day 3, day 7, day 14, day 30 and so forth)

As you run your campaigns, you need to pay attention to the scale and quality of your installs. To understand the volume of installs you are generating, an important metric to monitor is the number of installs you get based on impressions served – the CVR. If your conversion rate is poor, then you may not be able to scale. In this case, many users might be seeing the ad but not choosing to install the game. You can raise the CPI (cost per install) that you are willing to pay, but then it might be too expensive to acquire those users based on the return you will make. If your conversion rate is high, then you know you can pay a lower price to get more users and still be competitive.

With regard to understanding the quality of these users and the value the users bring after the app is downloaded, you will focus on the post-install metrics, such as retention and return on ad spend. The return you make is based on your specific monetization offerings, such as the combination of ads and in-app purchase opportunities within your game.


Step 4 summary: Figure out what your game’s specific payback period is going to be – how long it takes to recoup your spend? Depending on how long is, use that time to let your data mature before making major changes.

5. Target your players

Once you’ve determined who your audience is, your messaging, the creative you want to use, and how you will analyze results, you need to think about setting up a campaign. How are you going to reach the right audience? At the onset of your campaign, a good strategy is to limit your targeting tactics. This is often referred to as a run of network (RON) strategy. To start, you can use geography and/or platform (i.e., iOS or Android) as your initial targeting method. This way, you still reach a broad audience and can gather data to analyze and help you determine various optimizations. Then once you’ve figured out the best optimizations for a specific country or platform, you can scale up by adding more countries and other targeting factors.

One way to narrow your strategy to reach players that are the most valuable to your game is based on where your ads run. This is often referred to as publisher targeting. As you start to analyze performance, you may realize that particular sources are not giving you the quality of users that not only convert yet remain as engaged users, and you may choose to remove those sources from your campaign. This is commonly called app blocking or blacklisting.

Conversely, you might want to target only certain sources to bring you high-quality users. This is commonly called app targeting or whitelisting.

No matter what kind of targeting you use, the more you slice and dice your audience, and the more accurately you can define them, the better the ads you can serve them to convert them into new users. However, by narrowing your pool, you’re limiting the scale of your reach. You’ll need to balance implementing the targeting strategies that get you the users you want with reaching a wide base of potential new users.


Step 5 summary: Create RON campaigns for your top geography, one for Android and one for iOS. If you don’t see installs, increase your CPI. After you have enough data from these campaigns, you can then begin adding other targeting tactics.

6. Test and tweak

When creating your game as well as managing your live game, you need to continually test new components, see what works, and make adjustments accordingly. User acquisition campaigns require a similar approach. Try things out, analyze your metrics, see what works best and what doesn’t, and then make changes in order to meet your goals.


Step 6 summary: Have a testing mindset and be willing to try out different approaches to figure out what works best for your game.

7. Tap into advanced tools

Once you’ve crafted your creative, targeted your audience, and got a handle on tracking your metrics, you might be ready to add more components to your campaign.

Source bidding may drive additional value once you have some data and performance analysis. Source bidding enables you to granularly price sources within certain geographies in a single campaign setup. This strategy enables you to bid higher for sources you consider more valuable, while not bidding as much for those you find less valuable (but which still give you a profitable ROAS).

While getting the install is important, it is more valuable to acquire users that will behave favorably after the install. If you can acquire players that are predicted to be most valuable, this is a great way to ensure you are spending your money strategically to meet your objectives.

Audience Pinpointer is a machine learning-powered solution that helps you find the players most likely to have a specific value beyond the installation of your app. There are two models to choose from:

  • Retention: Optimize for retention to acquire users who are more likely to play your game for seven or more days.
  • ROAS: Optimize for revenue to acquire users based on their predicted spend and maximize return on ad spend (ROAS) during their first seven days in your game.

Audience Pinpointer uses dynamic pricing so you can pay the right price across the entire user base. The dynamic pricing will adjust depending on the campaign model and your specific inputs, such as the ROAS goal you are hoping to achieve or maximum bid you are willing to pay as well as the predicted value of the user.

For maximum impact, we recommend running revenue-optimized (ROAS) campaigns alongside retention-optimized campaigns and standard CPI campaigns that optimize for the best install conversion rates.


Step 7 summary: After you have enough data and optimization learnings from a RON or basic targeting strategy, additional tools can help you become more efficient and focus on post-install metrics.

Start your campaign

These are just some of the many components to consider when setting up your user acquisition campaign. Ultimately, the best way to find out what works for your game is to test out different strategies.

To learn more about configuring campaigns on Unity, check out our knowledge base. Or head straight to the Acquire dashboard and get started.

January 8, 2020 in Games | 11 min. read

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