Contrary to what many players expect, game design isn’t an entirely artistic endeavor — it’s also a science. In 2019, developers utilize data analytics to better understand players, while finding new ways of engaging and retaining them. Nowhere is this trend more clear than mobile gaming. In 2019, developers use exhaustive data sets to create data-driven game experiences that players will still enjoy as art and entertainment.

Tapjoy recently met with Kenneth Wong, director of research and monetization at Hothead Games, to discuss the trend of data-driven game development.

 

What We Learned:

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Hi, Kenneth! Thanks for chatting with us. Can you tell us a bit about Hothead Games and your role within the company?

Hothead Games has been around for about 13 years. It started life as a traditional video game studio, producing downloadable games on XBLA, PSN and Steam. I joined the team eight years ago, just as it was making the transition to mobile platforms. Since that time, I’ve worked in UA, monetization, game consultancy, and even UX.

Right now, I manage Hothead’s advertising revenue and market research. A big part of what I do is find gaps in the industry that could be prime business opportunities. If one of these gaps seems particularly promising, Hothead can develop a game for that specific audience.

 

How does your background in marketing and analytics help you in your role as Director of Research and Monetization?

Analytics is an essential component of what I do. In a mobile setting, that’s your tool for precisely understanding what users want so you can more effectively cater to them. How much time do they play? What sorts of games do they engage with? This research is vital because you’re only as good as what you know about your users.

 

How does Hothead balance the creative and marketing/monetization aspects of making mobile games?

There’s no single recipe for bringing these elements together. Hothead’s process is to give our designers and programmers as much information as possible to make the best decisions. On the product/creative side, we do theme testing, competitive research, and user research to inform the product team on the potential of certain themes and art styles. Once a game is in its infancy phase, we build prototypes and ask users what they think. Later on, we might conduct a soft launch and gain valuable qualitative feedback.

Once we have a game with which people will engage, we can spend more time focusing on monetization strategy that tailors to the game play and meta. The monetization model is highly driven by the type of game we are building.

 

What are some of the monetization challenges of modern mobile games?

Competition from other studios is our biggest challenge. Most new games have a very short lifecycle because the barrier to entry is so low. It’s a real challenge to be profitable in that kind of timeframe. The flip side of this problem is that mobile gaming has matured. Gaming’s most valuable players — those investing the most time and money — don’t jump off and find another game right away. The top 20 or 100 games on app storefronts don’t move around like they used to.

That’s why advertising has become so important to game developers. Advertising lets us directly profit from ad revenue during a short lifecycle. More importantly, ads enhance the viability of your game without the necessity of being a top-grossing IAP game.

 

What role does data play in mobile game development, and how has this evolved over the years?

The data collection and analytics process has absolutely evolved. At first, data was primarily used to improve UA and understand the attribution cycle. Now we need it to get the CPI as low as possible, calculate engagement rates, measure the payback window, optimize ad placements, and more. If nothing else, game developers need to get sophisticated about data because the competition will overwhelm them otherwise.

Ironically, privacy is also a driver of data technology. Since we need to be careful about personal information, we use identifiers that match different cohorts. And as you scale to serve broader player bases, machine learning comes into play to track and analyze everything. These evolutions aren’t about to slow down anytime soon.

 

What are some of the most important things you’ve learned about UA and monetization of mobile games in your time at Hothead?

I spent time thinking about why some of our projects fail and how they fail. The worst thing anybody can do in this industry is to believe they already hit their plateau. If you’re not trying to do better, the market will pass you by. Platforms and ad networks will introduce new guidelines and features, new types of ad formats will appear; it’s continually evolving. As a developer, you need to be ready to deal with the new changes.

 

What mobile gaming trends excite you?

On the game design front, the rise of hyper-casual is fascinating. It’s a great model that frees studios to be creative and experiment instead of releasing the same type of game over and over. If you look at hyper-casual releases, you’ll see all kinds of games and genres that are doing well. You never know what the next big hit will be, and that’s very exciting.

On the marketing front, the evolution of advertising monetization models is an important trend. If handled correctly, you can have successful ad-monetized games that thrive alongside IAP-driven products.

 

Looking ahead, what can we expect from the future of mobile games, and how does analysis and data collection affect that forecast?

Advertising and machine learning will combine to power the next phase of analytics and data collection. In turn, the insights we gain are going to drive in-game personalization to the point that every user will have a unique game experience. Every player can experience something different, and watching that develop will be fascinating.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our discussion with Kenneth Wong, where we’ll take a closer look at market research in game design. For more insights from our Mobile Champion developers, check out our interview with Bryan Davis, Senior VP of Big Blue Bubble.

In the Tapjoy App Spotlight, we take a deep dive into the engagement, retention, and monetization strategies employed across the mobile industry’s most unique and successful titles. Through industry data-driven analysis, we identify the measurable relationships between development decisions and business outcomes to offer publishers actionable insights they can use to build successful portfolios.

After more than a year in app stores, the mobile version of the popular PC game ARK: Survival Evolved has achieved a remarkable level of sustained success. Translating this massive multiplayer survival experience from PC to mobile was no small feat. War Drum Studios began with an ambitious vision to load the mobile app with a full suite of features, and they worked closely with Studio Wildcard to make it happen.

This on-the-go version features the full online survival experience contained in the PC and console versions of ARK, including a gigantic island to explore, 80+ dinosaurs and primeval creatures to tame and train, multiplayer tribe mechanics, and of course, crafting and building.

Studio Wildcard

Thanks to ARK’s brand recognition, unique design, and an aggressive content release cycle, the mobile app has already become massively popular. With minimal paid user acquisition and an innovative adaptation of its native PC gameplay loop, War Drum Studios has managed to execute a seamless transition into mobile environments, fostering engagement with an expansive and valuable new audience.

 

Key Insights

  1. How War Drum Studios made the leap from desktop to mobile
  2. A steady stream of new content keeps users engaged
  3. ARK’s rewarded monetization & IAP strategy
  4. Brand recognition fuels the app’s current performance
  5. Global Android Reviews
  6. Global iOS Reviews
  7. Conclusion: ARK is far from extinct

 

How War Drum Studios made the leap from desktop to mobile

From the start, War Drum Studios set out to simplify mechanics without compromising aesthetics. While the title had to be optimized for the limitations of mobile interfaces, it was imperative that this not come at the cost of the exploration and discovery experiences to which the PC version owed its success. That said, fitting ARK’s expansive open-world survival gameplay onto mobile devices presented a number of technical and design challenges, some of which Art Director Morgan Hughes discussed in a presentation at the 2019 Unreal Engine Conference. What was originally intended for long-term, curiosity-driven gaming sessions on desktop would need to be scaled down to offer meaningful and compelling gameplay interactions at a fraction of the time and with fewer input capabilities.

Features had to be cut and systems rejigged. The number of in-game creatures was reduced to roughly 80 in the interest of concision and size while user interface elements were scaled up to accommodate touchscreen inputs on tablets and phones. A more forgiving combat system was introduced in order to fuel a time-based virtual economy that promoted regular scheduled engagement at shorter intervals as opposed to longer sessions.

The cold-open approach to survival gameplay that’s common to desktop survival titles also had to be replaced, knowing that mobile users are often likely to churn within even the first few seconds of gameplay. A more curated experience was developed, as War Drum Studios added a linear quest system designed to better orient players with its mobile-specific systems and encourage pursuit of meaningful rewards as early as possible. Players were introduced to all aspects of the virtual economy, including rewarded ad placements and power of premium currency, within the first intended session. This ensured they were well educated by the time the game’s open-world aesthetics were reintroduced and monetization strategies could be put into place.

Finally, by treating the mobile version of ARK as its own entity, the developers at War Drum Studios were able to give players experiences that are exclusive to this version. Speaking with Tapjoy, War Drum Studio’s Lead Community Manager Jordan Kleeman said, “Since we treat this as a separate product from the PC and console game, there’s lots of things we’ll do that are unique to the mobile game, like weekly dungeons. This sort of mobile-only content keeps a steady stream of users coming back to ARK week after week.”

 

A steady stream of new content keeps users engaged

The mobile version of ARK: Survival Evolved is unique in its approach to user acquisition, in that it makes little to no use of paid advertising. While paid UA is often a staple of mobile game marketing strategies, they are actually the minority contributor to the title’s DAU. Organic acquisition, thanks in large part to its existing brand recognition and frequent content release cycle, has been sufficient to drive a steady flow of high quality installs for the entire year that it’s been in the market.

A quick glance at the game’s version history shows that it’s not uncommon for the developers at War Drum Studios to push 1-3 and sometimes even five releases per month. Each update involves exciting new content, rather than just bug fixes. Kleeman regularly releases developer update videos which review upcoming app features. The studio’s commitment to fresh content allows them to consistently reactivate their existing player base with update notifications for fresh content, ready to be consumed.

As Kleeman told us, these updates are “incredibly important” to ARK’s ongoing mobile success. “The games industry is moving more and more towards live service games,” he said. “It was important to us… to make sure that we’re constantly releasing new things to keep our players engaged and give them reasons to keep coming back.”

This is the kind of developer activity keeps users equally engaged, and that sustained user engagement has earned ARK a substantial visibility in the app stores. ARK: Survival Evolved has benefited from hundreds of store category/country feature placements on the Google Play store in the past month alone. ARK has been featured across 16 countries in the following categories:

Many of these featured placements have been in the “Best New Updates” section, which provides a visibility boost in addition to the natural spike in DAU resulting from update notifications that players receive whenever new content is released. Frequent content updates have kept players engaged and a strong relationship with store platforms has kept ARK visible to new users allowing for continued organic growth. It’s this virtuous flywheel that has allowed War Drum Studios to consistently keep ARK in the charts. These app store features have enabled ARK to maintain a consistently high rate of new downloads, despite the absence of a paid UA strategy.

 

Estimated July 2019 Downloads (via SensorTower)

 

ARK’s Rewarded Monetization & IAP Strategy

Unlike desktop, ARK’s mobile version employs the free-to-play business model. Revenue is generated through rewarded ad placements and in-app purchases; according to Kleeman, “the split is probably 30% ad revenue, 70% in-app purchases, with most ad revenue coming from our offerwall and rewarded ad placements.” ARK uses rewarded ads as part of their core engagement loop, providing players the ability to level up, progress through content faster, or acquire the Ancient Amber virtual currency. The app also offers a number of “free gifts” in the form of valuable objects, including food, medicine, or armor. These free gifts can be acquired by watching a rewarded video ad every two hours.

As the game’s only hard currency, Ancient Amber figures prominently into ARK’s virtual economy. The use-cases of this currency are tied directly to gameplay mechanics, as opposed to timers or cooldowns. While this can lead to a relatively low average revenue per paying user in other game genres, the sophistication of ARK’s gameplay systems and economy design provides ample opportunity for players to derive value from repeat purchases. Paying users typically convert on multiple premium items, making for an active late-game community responsible for generating the majority of the game’s revenue.

That said, ARK does offer things like timers and cooldowns too. “We have a wealth of in-app purchases,” Kleeman explained. “‘Paying for convenience’ is sort of our motto for the items we sell in-game.”

To further cultivate this dynamic, War Drum Studios employed a VIP program monetization strategy. It uses the relatively new subscription based monetization functionality provided by Google and Apple to offer its most devoted players a better class of gameplay experience designed around frequent engagement. The “Primal Pass” IAP can be purchased on a monthly or annual basis and includes the following features:

 

Estimated July 2019 Revenue (via SensorTower)

 

Ark Survival Evolved

 

Brand recognition fuels the app’s current performance

ARK’s powerful brand recognition has allowed it to sustain consistent profitability and reach. The decision to optimize in-game assets for older devices allowed it to thrive in geos where current gen device adoption is lower. At the time of writing, App Annie data places ARK’s Android version among the top 10 grossing Android apps within Mexico (#6), Ecuador (#7), Saudi Arabia (#7), Colombia (#9), and India (#10).

“We knew making the transition from console and PC to mobile would be a challenge, but our investments in mobile-specific game aesthetics paid off. ARK is also a powerful brand, and that brand recognition has been a primary driver of our success on mobile. Our PC community is already highly active and engaged, and many of these same users have taken the liberty to review our mobile edition publicly and positively. There’s always active discussion on our forum regarding the ARK app and we are incredibly grateful for this vibrant community.” – Marc Diana, VP of Partnerships and Marketing at Studio Wildcard.

In addition to the top grossing charts, ARK benefits from prominent visibility in its gaming sub-category charts on both Android and iOS

This sustained community engagement and consistently high review scores have increased the app’s visibility radically, resulting in a steady flow of organic downloads.
 
 

Global Android Reviews

Ark Android reviews

Key:    = # of positive reviews,     = # of negative reviews

 

Global iOS Reviews

Ark iOS reviews

 

ARK is far from extinct

War Drum Studios has managed to translate unique open-world gameplay, varied monetization strategies, and a strong content development machine onto mobile platforms in order to make ARK: Survival Evolved a major success story. Though theirs might not be the most universal approach, it’s a valuable reminder not to underestimate the potential of a strong franchise to navigate new environments and generate value for its creators.

 

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In 2019, some user acquisition professionals are spending less time on manual optimization thanks to advancements in machine learning and automation. Growth marketers have the opportunity to refocus their efforts on creative optimization. Beauty subscription brand IPSY takes this to the next level with their data-driven creative A/B testing tactics.

Tapjoy met with VP of Growth at IPSY, Alessandra Sales, to talk about how her digital marketing experience fed into IPSY’s love of tech and helped her succeed in the mobile marketplace.

 

What We Learned:

 

Hi Alessandra. Can you start by telling us about yourself and your role within IPSY?

I joined IPSY about a year ago as the VP of Growth, focusing on acquisition and advocacy. In marketing, “growth” is a nebulous objective, but my primary focus is acquiring new high-value subscribers. I strategize about brand building and top of funnel objectives, but I also work on reducing churn and converting users who don’t make it to the transaction stage. I also work with the team to promote the option to upgrade subscription packages among existing users. We have the Glam Bag, which is our classic subscription, and then we have two more products — the Glam Bag Plus and the Glam Bag Ultimate. Our team is cross-functional: We have engineers, product managers, creative designers, and UA managers.

 

You’ve worked in a variety of marketing and user acquisition roles for brands like IPSY, Smule, and Zoosk. What makes D2C beauty brands stand out in their approach to mobile growth marketing? In what ways are they similar to other businesses?

In my previous roles, I marketed software and services, but now I am promoting a physical product. In general, the approach to brand marketing is pretty similar. We leverage similar channels. We are very strong with social because our demographic is skewed towards females.

Because we are selling physical products, the strategy is inherently different than that of software companies. Non-digital marketing tactics like direct mail can be very powerful. Branding is also critical because we exist in a crowded market. It’s very important to connect with new subscribers, but also to grow the power of the brand.

 

What mobile advertising formats or creatives have the biggest impact for IPSY? What makes them resonate with your target audience?

Video is the most successful ad format we employ. It’s particularly effective for direct response campaigns. We highlight real people from our community, and that resonates with our audience. Unboxing videos, bag reviews, and testimonials are very effective. Rewarded advertising that incentivizes certain actions or engagements works well.

 

What are the most important metrics D2C brands like IPSY should monitor closely, and why?

Because it’s a subscription business, we have two major KPIs: Subscribers acquired every month and every quarter, and churn rates. We use machine learning to analyze our users’ risk of churning, and to segment users who might be ready to upgrade. Some users might have a better LTV upgrading, while others will have a higher LTV if they stay on the basic package. We also use this data to see how we ought to target them.

 

What kind of considerations go into IPSY’s A/B testing that are unique compared to the broader D2C ecosystem?

We A/B test at every opportunity. We do a lot of tests on social because it’s easy to test on Facebook and Instagram. Our campaigns are typically broad, and each ad set within that campaign has a specific creative theme. We select variants around messaging and visuals. For example, we may test variables such as copy, photography, music, and ad focus (i.e. product-focused vs. people-focused). All of our tests are hypothesis-based. These A/B tests are very rigorous, and IPSY is special in that sense. We have a team of 70 creatives who assist with growth initiatives.

 

What best practices would you recommend for retailers who have just started expanding their mobile marketing presence?

The most valuable thing about digital marketing is that you can test at a fast pace and get results at a fast pace. Make sure that you have a robust data infrastructure to make the right decisions.

 

Effective data management is a growing priority for many brands. How does IPSY manage its data infrastructure, and what kind of impact has that had for the organization?

Data is what makes us different from other retailers and commerce companies. We make sure that both the product and the data is as good as it can get. We try to be as rigorous as possible in data collection and management, so that the data can guide us effectively. Like most D2C brands, we own the entire conversion funnel. We track everything from the moment they land on our page.

 

How do you increase subscriber LTV at IPSY? What kind of marketing strategies show strong results?

The primary way we increase subscriber LTV is by using machine learning to target users with the right push at the right moment in the funnel. We’ve found that the best way to increase user LTV and retention is by giving a personalized and delightful experience every month. We carry many different brands and products, and based on quiz presences and previous ratings we decide which products to send you.

 

What are the biggest risks and challenges D2C brands face in terms of mobile marketing? What can be done to address them?

Competition is the biggest challenge. When we compete in the mobile marketplace, we also go up against brands who are not our direct competitors. For example, fashion subscriptions become our competitors on mobile. In a mobile app campaign, my bid is also going up against a mobile game bid.

 

What would you say is the biggest industry trend (or trends) within the mobile advertising space right now? Where do you see it headed in the next few years?

Developers are getting smarter. When I started working in marketing, there were a lot of manual optimizations made by the UA team. In the past, DR marketers were optimization freaks out of necessity. Now, thanks to advances in automation and signal optimization, we’ve freed up their day-to-day to focus on other non-analytical tasks. Facebook is following the automation trend, and soon 100% of the ecosystem will be doing the same. Because of these advances, marketing departments have become more multifaceted — instead of being made up exclusively of analytical types, there are often a few creatives in the room as well.

 

What has IPSY done really well? What achievements are you proud of?

Even before I started working here, I was a big admirer of IPSY. I was a subscriber and I love their growth hacking strategies. For example, they introduced a waitlist, and there was this great referral program. That enabled the company to scale its user base when demand rose above fulfillment capabilities. People could get off the waitlist if they share how great IPSY is on social media. About 50% of users were using this trick, and they got the bag a few days after they subscribed instead of having to wait. We also created a strong influencer program in the early days. We have about 8,000 influencers that we work with in the US, and we have a stellar relationship with them. Our office in LA has four studios and we let influencers use them for free — that’s one of the perks of being an ambassador. We also host events throughout the US, and people respond really well to that.

Tapjoy would like to thank Alessandra Sales for taking the time to join us. For more insights from our Mobile Champions, check out our interview with Susan Borst, VP of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).

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Known for its casual gaming phenomenons like Words With Friends and Farmville, Zynga is a global leader in social games. We spoke with Head of Global Ad Sales Gabrielle Heyman and learned more about the kinds of engaging mobile ad campaigns that resonate with players.

What We Learned:

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Hi, Gabrielle! Could you please introduce yourself and describe your role within Zynga?

I’m Head of Global Ad Sales, which means my team partners directly with brands and agencies via both private programmatic and direct I/O. We specialize in mobile in-app media with a focus on video and engagement solutions for advertisers.

 

What are Zynga’s overall best practices for connecting with consumers?

Players are at the core of everything we do, whether it’s making games or delivering ad experiences. The first thing you see when you enter our HQ in San Francisco is a sign that says “What will our players thank us for?” Zynga is social mobile game publisher – and our mission is to connect the world through the power of play. Our best practices focus on connection and engagement; most of our features, as well as many of our ad experiences, revolve around that.

 

Hundreds of millions of people play mobile games every single day. What has your experience taught you about the majority of these players and their gaming habits?

Globally, billions of people play mobile games – the young, the old, across nearly all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Play is universal. Since the first iPhone was released, there has been a seismic shift in how people consume entertainment, and that includes gaming. People play because it’s social, it helps them destress, and it’s quick and easy to play anytime on the go. There is a mobile game for everyone, and since most are free to play, the barrier to entry is low.

 

Zynga pioneered so many mobile advertising and monetization trends we’ve watched unfold over the past decade. How has Zynga’s approach or strategy changed over that time, and why?

I started at Zynga six and a half years ago, just as we were beginning our shift from web to mobile.  It used to be significantly easier to get a game to the top of the charts, and we used to release games more frequently. These days, the market is far more saturated. Nearly 50,000 games were released on the iOS App Store and Google Play in Q2 2019 alone. It’s more expensive to break through the clutter.

A few years ago Zynga decided to double down on our live services by continuing to program engaging features in our forever franchises like Words with Friends, Zynga Poker, and CSR Racing 2. Words with Friends just had its best quarter in its history, and it’s mostly ad-supported. We’ve also become more selective about the games we release; we are more stringent in the greenlight and release process. Finally, we’ve acquired some amazing game studios, bringing new audiences and talent to the mix.

 

Two of the most popular ad formats in mobile gaming are video and playables. How does each compare in importance to marketers? What are some of the best applications of each?

Video remains best in class to brand advertisers. And video really is one of the best kept secrets in mobile gaming. We have a lot of quality, viewable, high-VCR impressions. We are seeing a lot of demand from clients running first impression takeovers when they want to make a high-reach splash.

We give brands a choice between opt-in video and interstitial video. Interstitials are one of the most flexible and misunderstood ad units around. They can accommodate video, playables, and statics. For interstitial video, 15 seconds is the gold standard in terms of max length, but clients are also finding a lot of success with six-second video and vertical video. Opt-in video has more flexibility on length since there is a value exchange, so we accept up to thirty seconds there. Opt-in is what consumers prefer, but advertisers are still playing catch-up on leveraging that unit.

 

You’ve partnered with IAB in the past to educate brands and agencies about advertising. Why is this work important? What initiatives on this front are you particularly excited about?

Mobile gaming is still underrepresented in the brands advertising mix, so it’s important for the industry to come together to advocate. The IAB Games committee allows us to align on advocacy work for the category. More consumers game than advertisers purchase ads in a gaming environment. Our work in the past has included education on playables, opt-in video, app.ads.txt, and more. This year, we’ve had a presence at several IAB conferences, and we look forward to continuing this important work.

 

What are the biggest challenges mobile advertisers face in the next five years, and what can be done about them?

So much changes in six months that I can’t even begin to ponder what five years in the future looks like. Certainly, 5G will bring huge technology innovation in games and mobile. In the short term, mobile in-app ads need to sort out some lingering ad tech challenges, mostly around conversion, attribution, and measurement. We’ve come a long way, but most of ad tech has been built for a desktop and mobile web world. Just today I heard of a major automotive company who banned mobile apps because their ad server couldn’t track attribution. I was disappointed that their solution was to just ban mobile in-app media – this is where their consumers are spending most of their time and researching their next car!

 

Which current mobile trends are particularly exciting to you? What innovations are you looking forward to moving ahead?

We are just at the start of a revolution in how people consume entertainment, and mobile gaming is at the forefront. I’m proud that gaming has held user privacy in such high regard – with the California Privacy Act and GDPR I think this aspect of games will be embraced by brands and consumers alike. I’m also excited to see new applications that will help society. Imagine a game which gives you carbon credits and you can manage your negative contribution to the environment and trade carbon credits with neighbors. I’d love to see that!

 

Are there any people in mobile whose work or achievements you admire?

I had the privilege to work at Yahoo! during the aughts and it’s been so fun to see so many of my colleagues build mobile businesses at some of the giants like Facebook, Snapchat, Google, Amazon, and so on. I’ve been lucky to have some amazing managers at Zynga – Ben Webley is now at Facebook and Julie Shumaker is at Unity. My current boss, Scott Konigsberg, has a PM background so he is teaching me to be even more rigorous in applying data and learnings to our strategy moving ahead.

Tapjoy would like to thank Gabrielle Heyman for taking the time to join us. For more insights from our Mobile Champions, check out our interview with Bryan Davis, Senior VP at Big Blue Bubble.

Mobile gaming is an incredibly competitive industry, and keeping players’ attention for any length of time can be a challenge. Game developer Big Blue Bubble is defying the odds, creating memorable titles across a variety of genres and branching out into the PC market. With 15 years of experience, this dev knows a thing or two about retention — one of its most popular mobile games has been going strong for seven years!

To learn more about Big Blue Bubble’s approach to making mobile and PC games, Tapjoy spoke with Senior Vice President of Business Development, Bryan Davis.

 

What we learned:

 

Hi, Bryan. Can you start by telling us about Big Blue Bubble and how it came to be?

Our founder, Damir Slogar, began his extensive video game career in his native Croatia in the ‘80s. In 1999, he immigrated to Canada, where he continued his professional career as a lead programmer. In 2004, Damir established Big Blue Bubble, built upon the leadership values and vision that he cultivated in his years of industry experience. Big Blue Bubble has created award-winning titles for a variety of gaming platforms, including our flagship mobile franchise My Singing Monsters.

 

What can you tell us about the latest games from Big Blue Bubble? Are there any upcoming projects you’re able to share with us?

We have a couple of exciting titles coming to players this year. In October, we have our worldwide release of Super Dinosaur: Kickin’ Tail. Players will team up with the heroes from Skybound Entertainment’s cartoon and comic series Super Dinosaur in this action-packed mobile game. They’ll take on daring missions and weekly challenges in a deadly PVP arena!

At the end of the year, Steam players will get the chance to play Foregone in early access.  Foregone is a combat-focused action-platformer that combines the challenging gameplay of Diablo and Dark Souls with fluid pixel animation popularized by Dead Cells.

 

We hear that Big Blue Bubble has some impressive retention numbers. What strategies do you typically use for that?

We look at making sure the fun factor is really at the core of our games. Part of this involves revisiting our UX. We look at each update as an opportunity to optimize and improve the experience for new and existing players. Retention is a byproduct of making sure our players are having fun and, of course, inspiring worlds of creativity.

 

Big Blue Bubble works across a range of genres including traditional RPGs and platformers. What has been your experience working in these fields, considering how many modern mobile developers focus on casual or hyper-casual markets? Are there any unique challenges to marketing or UA that you’ve faced?

We have had great success with RPGs, platformers, and other genres in our 15-year history. Our amazing team plays everything under the sun, so for us, it’s always exciting to utilize that talent and have the opportunity to showcase what we can do.

Regarding UA strategy, we’ve been extremely lucky with My Singing Monsters. We’ve seen higher-than average-conversion rates, notably due to art direction and how accessible everyone finds our game. Like most core-based games, we’ve faced the same challenges in terms of spending with a positive ROI and volume.

 

In 2017, you published Zombie Bloxx on Steam. You’ve also announced Foregone for PC. What prompted the decision to expand to PC markets?

What works best for the game experience is what drives the decision on where our games end up. We’ve seen great success with PC and Console games in the past, so jumping in with  Zombie Bloxx as our first cross-platform game releasing on both PC and mobile wasn’t really anything that new to us. We’re always looking at how best to enhance/present the gaming experience for the player, which, given the type of story we wanted to tell in Foregone, we felt were the PC/console environments.

 

Most mobile games have a short lifespan, but My Singing Monsters is still going after seven years! What makes it stand out? What has the team done to extend its lifespan?

My Singing Monsters is extremely unique in giving users the ability to create both their own worlds and music! This is the key to the sustained success we’ve seen. Our amazing team has been busy with new, ever-creative content and keeping an active audience. We’re constantly seeing updates with new monsters, music, worlds, and depth of gameplay.

 

My Singing Monsters is also expanding into a TV series and toy line. Are these initiatives expected to attract new mobile players and what is BBB doing to prepare for them?

Building a multi-media franchise, beginning with a consumer products program and an animated series, has been a natural extension of our brand. We fully expect to attract new users and generate an even broader audience with this program. Working closely with our partners, we are integrating reciprocal callouts to each arm of the program to ensure growth for all lines of business. As each toy line and the animated series roll out, new users will be introduced to the game, and game players will be introduced to the products and series.

 

Big Blue Bubble is based out of London, Ontario — far outside of the typical tech bubbles of cities like San Francisco. Are there any unique challenges when competing with mobile developers around the world? Or are online storefronts creating a level playing field?

Having our main studio in London holds many advantages for us: the convenience of a large city like Toronto in close proximity, a thriving game industry, and a city that really supports our tech sector. We feel we have a niche here that allows us to attract industry professionals who see the appeal of being at an agile indie studio. Online stores and the access mobile gaming has provided to users all over the world certainly gave us a foot in the door globally when we launched My Singing Monsters.

 

As a developer, what are the biggest untapped opportunities you see in mobile gaming? Which ones will Big Blue Bubble pursue?

I would love to see more studios to go out on a limb to really experiment with new and unexplored multiplayer game designs. Also, a fundamental use of devices to their full potential to expand in-game playability. We’re always exploring new and interesting ways to interact with our games, but we’ll keep that under wraps for now.

 

Which current high-level mobile trends are particularly exciting to you? What innovations are you looking forward to moving ahead?

A full 5G rollout is definitely exciting and I’m looking forward to seeing how games will innovate.  We’ve been hearing VR/AR/etc. for years now, but nothing compelling for the mainstream. Once the barrier of use is resolved, I would love to see how this progresses as well.

Tapjoy would like to thank Bryan Davis for taking the time to chat with us. To learn more about Big Blue Bubble’s approach to game development, check out its website for a full list of titles.

Data is king, and its power is growing. In 2019, data plays an important role in marketing decisions around the world, and often requires powerful automated solutions to be leveraged effectively. One such solution is Adjust’s Audience Builder, which helps marketers drive retargeting campaigns without relying on third parties.

Tapjoy recently met with Adjust Senior Sales Engineer Tom Tran to discuss Audience Builder and the importance of data to mobile marketers.

 

What We Learned:

 

Hi, Tom. Can you start by telling us about yourself and your role within Adjust?

My name is Tom Tran and I’m currently a Senior Sales Engineer at Adjust. My goal is to help our clients navigate the mobile marketing landscape and establish the most secure and effective ways to find, target and measure their mobile users. Before Adjust, I spent about 10 years at both large and established media companies as well as more agile marketing technology companies.

 

How has the marketing industry changed over the past ten years? What’s remained the same?

For me, the biggest change in marketing now versus 2010 is the role data plays in marketing decisions and budgets. Marketers today have an unquenchable thirst for data to drive their decisions. No longer do the most sophisticated marketers rely on their gut instinct and look at bottom-line numbers such as clicks or total installs to analyze their performance. The best and most successful marketers I see tend to have a need to back all results with data. They have business intelligence tools and data scientists that look at advanced analytics such as ROAS, retention and engagement to determine the value of their marketing dollars.

That said, marketers’ ultimate goals remain the same: Engage and retain users.

 

Can you tell us about Adjust’s Audience Builder and how it works?

Adjust’s Audience Builder was built to help marketers leverage their own data to drive their retargeting efforts without sacrificing control of their data to third parties.

With Audience Builder, marketers are able to create segments of users, or audiences, based on characteristics such as events, time of install, revenue generated, or time spent in app, and then send those audiences to their preferred network partners such as Tapjoy, to retarget their desired users. This opens up a much larger opportunity for marketers to re-engage their existing users as they are not limited to channels that offer their own audience segmentation.

 

How are automated solutions like Audience Builder changing the role of advertisers in 2019?

Tools like Audience Builder allow marketers to be a lot more strategic with their marketing efforts. As the price of CPIs go up across the board, effective buying becomes critical. Performance marketers have to be more strategic with where and how they spend their marketing budgets. For example, our studies have shown that acquiring a returning lapsed user is more cost effective than acquiring a new user.

With Audience Builder, marketers are able to identify those lapsed users or users that drive the bulk of their revenue or purchases and re-engage them to bring them back into the app. Marketers can also create exclusion lists to prevent marketing dollars being inefficiently used on showing ads to users who are already engaged with the app.

Ultimately, marketers equipped with the right tools to efficiently and effectively target their users are going to have the upper hand in the marketplace than those marketers using a spray and pray approach.

 

Advertisers and marketers keep hearing that data is king, but what are some of the steps that marketers need to take to make sure their data reigns supreme?

The first step in any successful mobile strategy is to gather and organize your data. That means getting a mobile measurement partner in place and set it up correctly from the start.

Then, it’s time to make sure that the data is sent to your backend, and you have the tools in place to visualize, understand, and act on the data.

Finally, demand transparency from all the partners that you work with along the chain. The more transparency the better – that’s why we advocate our clients work with partners such as Tapjoy who are able to provide full clarity from start to finish. This, unfortunately, is not the standard across the industry, so it’s up to the marketer to find out which partners are willing to work with them in this way and in a manner that helps them achieve their goals.

 

What would you say is the biggest industry trend (or trends) within the mobile advertising space right now? Where do you see it headed in the next few years?

Fraud continues to be a hot topic. As budgets go up, so do instances of fraud. So the job of policing and regulating app installs and in-app fraud is a never-ending battle that will continue to attract headlines as mobile budgets continue to grow.

From a mobile analytics perspective, marketers have more data at their hands than ever before. But this overload of data can be a huge challenge, as marketers need to work with a growing number of tools, platforms and dashboards. Consolidating data and channels will be key to increasing efficiency, and we’ll see this becoming a big focus throughout the next few years.

 

What’s something that excites you about mobile marketing in 2019, whether it involves Adjust or the broader ecosystem?

As a fan of data-driven decision making, I’m excited to see where and how high-level data analysis takes mobile marketing next. I’m interested to see if mobile marketing will follow a similar path to the finance industry where stocks and funds are being bought by machines and algorithms rather than people behind a computer screen.

Automation of these tasks will mean that marketers no longer have to do the heavy lifting to see where they can optimize.

 

Are there any people in mobile whose work or achievements you admire?

There are too many to list, but I admire and look up to innovators that change the way we think about what’s possible with mobile devices. The team at Niantic defined the entire genre of augmented reality and changed people’s ideas of what a mobile game can be. Meditation apps such as Headspace turn mobile devices — which are generally seen as a source of distraction and stress — into tools that help you relax and improve your mental health. There’s a lot of potential for continued growth in this industry as people learn more about the value of maintaining mental health in addition to their physical health.

Tapjoy would like to thank Tom Tran for taking the time to join us. For more insights from our Mobile Champions, check out our interview with Susan Borst, VP of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).

Mobile ad fraud isn’t a new issue, but it’s an increasingly pressing one as smartphones and apps become primary marketing channels. Reports on the subject estimate that total industry costs range from $6.5 billion to $19 billion — and that larger figure might be conservative.

Since mobile ad fraud has the potential to harm many parties — publishers and advertisers alike — it’s key to talk preventative measures. To this end, Tapjoy recently met with Adjust Head of Fraud Andreas Naumann to discuss how we can mitigate fraud across the in-app stack.

 

What We Learned:

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Hi, Andreas. Can you start by telling us about yourself and your role within Adjust?

I started working for Adjust in 2016. At first, I was a one-man team researching preventative measures for the most common fraud schemes. The culmination of this research was releasing our first iteration of the Adjust Fraud Prevention Suite in spring of 2016.

From thereon I was responsible for researching new schemes and building out a team of specialists supporting Adjust’s fight against ad fraud. In 2017, we started Adjust’s Coalition Against Ad Fraud (CAAF) as part of a concerted effort by industry leaders to mitigate the multi-billion dollar fraud market and its impact on advertisers’ ad spend.

 

What’s the big picture overview of 2019’s ad fraud landscape?

The amount of fraud has not changed significantly in the past couple of years. It has always been alarmingly high. However, advertisers’ awareness — and therefore also their suppliers’ — has risen dramatically since 2016.

This naturally has positive and negative effects. A truly positive development is that most marketers are educating themselves and willing to go the extra mile for their company. On the negative side, a smaller group of industry players are on the lookout for shortcuts and ways to take advantage of less savvy people. However, the digital advertising industry is currently on a decent trajectory to reduce fraud in its ecosystem.

 

What separates Adjust from the rest of the market in terms of fraud prevention?

Our approach from the start has been to identify the most granular data point that allows us to identify a fraud scheme. We utilize that data to make a deterministic decision that we can use to deny attribution of fraudulent installs or of legitimate installs to fraudulent sources.

As a result, we achieve three things that are still not common in the MMP or anti-fraud space.

  1. The cash flow to fraudsters is cut, meaning fraudsters can’t try and run with the money before anybody checks fraud reports.
  2. The advertiser does not have to negotiate reimbursements, freeing marketers to focus on campaign improvements.
  3. And finally, we still attribute to the correct demand source after we have identified the fraudulent one. This means eCPMs for legitimate campaigns targeted by fraud remain stable and campaign success is not impaired.

 

At Tapjoy, we’ve noticed a significant increase in third-party fraud providers. Who are these providers, and how do they fit into the mobile landscape?

Generally speaking, the more people fighting the good fight the better. But only a few providers exist with the knowledge, means, and willpower to genuinely tackle fraud. Since there is fierce competition and basically no transparency in the space, a lot of misinformation is pushed from newer anti-fraud vendors. It is making the situation worse rather than better.

A common practice I see over and over when consulting with advertisers on anti-fraud vendor trials is dialing up “fraud detection” to the max without any regard for the long term effects. They do so to get advertisers hooked on massive chargebacks during the trial period. Naturally, partners cannot sustain this process for long, and false positives bear the risk of killing perfectly fraud-free campaigns by reducing publisher earnings below accepted the opportunity cost.

The hard part of fraud mitigation is doing it correctly, precisely, and proactively. Simply flagging fraud isn’t productive, but preventing the correct amount is.

 

What are some of the emerging trends you see in mobile ad fraud?

The last evolution we have seen is spoofing of installs and events. Fraudsters are exploiting the communication structure the ad tech world is based upon. Solving this problem is not necessarily hard, but it is resource intensive.

The pool of exploitable advertisers is currently shrinking so fraudsters will be more aggressive. Unfortunately, solving this problem on the technical side is not good enough. We have secure software builds, but they need to be adopted by advertisers. In the coming years, advertisers that do not show diligence in protecting themselves from the simplest attacks — the ones that have been solved technically — will be exploited more than ever before.

 

What can mobile developers, publishers, and advertisers do at an organizational level to make the in-app stack more challenging for fraudsters to operate within?

Keep your SDKs updated. One update per SDK per year would solve a lot of problems.
Provide all data points throughout the user conversion funnel. The journey starts with the user seeing an ad (impression), so your measurement should as well.
Work towards full transparency. There is no merit in running blind campaigns for anybody if the traffic is legit.

Measuring or preventing fraud cannot be based on opinions. Make sure to agree on definitions and when in doubt, make sure they are part of the IO.
Try to establish transparent definitions when working with third-party anti-fraud vendors as well. Fraudsters can’t hide from a good fraud filter just because they know how it works.

 

Do you think anti-fraud experts will ever find themselves out of work?

Marketing budgets are only increasing over time, and so is a fraudster’s incentive to steal from them. Ad fraud has been around for the past 20 years and, in one way or another, will most certainly be around for the next 20.

Tapjoy would like to thank Andreas Naumann for taking the time to join us. For more insights from our Mobile Champions, check out our interview with Susan Borst, VP of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).

Mobile advertising is an incredibly high-performing marketing channel, but we often forget how new it actually is. Most attribution standards have only been established in recent years, partly thanks to companies like Singular — an MMP that started life as a mobile analytics platform.

Tapjoy recently met with Singular co-founder and COO Susan Kuo to discuss how her company successfully merged analytics and attribution into a unified solution and what that means for today’s app developers.

 

What We Learned:

 

Hi, Susan. Can you start by telling us about yourself and your role within Singular?

I’m the COO and co-founder of Singular. In my day-to-day, I oversee business development with our partner ecosystem that spans across a thousand plus publishers, ad networks and other various marketing automation and analytics providers.

 

Singular started out as an analytics product, but transitioned into mobile attribution. Why was this transition important to Singular?

When we first started Singular, the mission of our platform was very simple: To give marketers a single source of truth to understand their ROI at the most granular level. But we quickly realized that in order to deliver on our mission to advertisers, we were beholden to the standards of existing mobile attribution at the time. No one in the industry was taking ownership to connect marketing channels and attribution solutions in a way that supported standardized data governance. In order to improve the industry standard, this meant that we would need to help marketers manage their data at the user level. This is why we decided to become an MMP, so that we have the foundation to build a best in class unified platform that provides both Analytics and Attribution in a single solution. Today, over 50% of the top 100 global app publishers use Singular.

 

What separates Singular from the rest of the market as an MMP?

The first three years of our business was dedicated to building our analytics solution. It not only connects to over a thousand ad channels, but the core IP also lays the foundation for understanding the taxonomy and hierarchies within each of these networks. Ultimately, that means that we can standardize marketing data sets across these channels so that marketers can see their ROI at the most granular and accurate level.

Until 2017, when Singular started offering attribution, marketers had to purchase an attribution and analytics solution side-by-side with different vendors. We are the only MMP to integrate all  a marketer’s conversion and install data with their overall marketing and campaign data. The result: Context and color around your marketing investments that is essential for optimization and future growth.

 

Along with Singular, you’re also one of the founders of THRIVE — a professional women’s community for the growth marketing industry. What inspired you to help establish this community, and what do you think of its progress so far?

One of the things that I noticed when we started Singular five years ago was how male dominated this industry was. Thankfully, there are more women in our industry today, in higher-powered roles than ever before. I’ve been very fortunate to have met some of the most amazing group of women in our industry. I can’t count how many times during off hours where we commented on how we would love to ‘get together more’ and learn from each other. 

So, this is really the purpose behind THRIVE.

It is a community that is aimed at connecting and empowering women leaders and influencers in growth marketing. The goal is to learn from each other’s mistakes and accomplishments both in and out of the workplace, and most importantly coming together and forming meaningful friendships. If you think about it, the very definition of THRIVE is growing together, and that’s really the objective for this community. 

We launched our first event at MAU in Las Vegas in May and I’m incredibly pleased with how the launch went. Not only was it one of the most well attended events across all of the adjacent events going on at MAU, but the overwhelming amount of interest from inspiring women across the industry who were keen on getting involved in the community. We came out of the event with some great topics for follow on events and will be looking to launch our second THRIVE event later this quarter here in the bay area, and more to come after!

 

What would you say is the biggest industry trend (or trends) within the mobile advertising space right now? Where do you see it headed in the next few years?

There are three primary trends we’re watching unfold in our space:

1. Expanded appetite for marketers to test new ad channels

There is a common misconception about the mobile advertising industry that there are only a few dominant media sources to work with. And yes, a good portion of spend in the market goes to Facebook and Google. But what some marketers aren’t aware of is that there is a considerable amount of good inventory and innovative ad units across other ad networks.

My advice to app marketers who aren’t doing this already is this: If you have the ability to scale beyond five ad networks, I definitely recommend trying this out. What we’ve seen in our data is that marketers who advertised on more than 5 ad networks — scaling efforts past Facebook, Google, and Instagram — had a 37% lower CPI and 60% higher installs with the same exact ad spend.

2. Growth of mobile apps that monetize through in-app advertising

We see that there is an estimated 60% growth in mobile apps that will monetize through in-app advertising. Emerging ad-supported genres like hyper-casual are a big part of why in-app advertising revenue is set to triple from $72 billion to $201 billion. Publishers need to make sure that their UA strategy and measurement vendor has a solid solution in place to factor in the in-app advertising revenue into the equation so that you can understand true ROI across your marketing channels.

3. A continued push for consumer privacy across dominant industry players

We expect to see tightening down of consumer privacy from dominant industry players like Apple. There’s been quite a bit of speculation across the industry that one of the likely outcomes can be the potential deprecation of IDFA.

At Singular, we’ve spent considerable time imagining and planning for a world where mobile apps and marketers would have to survive in a privacy-safe environment without a common device identifier like IDFA on devices. We recently launched an industry working group called MAP, which stands for Mobile Attribution Privacy. MAP is focused on defining the new standards around a privacy-first Mobile Attribution ecosystem.

 

What’s something that excites you about mobile marketing in 2019, whether it involves Singular or the broader ecosystem?

There has been quite of buzz over the past few years about AI. While I think it’s still very much in its infancy, I think we will start to see some initial advancements within our industry this year. For example, we will be looking to launch our Insights product later this year that will be aimed at surfacing benchmarks and predictive models that will enable marketers to automatically uncover insights that they are having to do manually (or worse, not at all). This is an incredibly exciting move for Singular as this has always been the vision for the company since day one, to build the core foundation and standardization of data centrality and data governance.

And only when this has been achieved, can we harness the ability to provide insights on top of this data and become what we consider the next generation marketing analytics providers, a true marketing intelligence platform.

 

Tapjoy would like to thank Susan Kuo for taking the time to join us. To learn more about how Singular helps developers grow more while paying less, be sure to download their Scaling Mobile Growth Report and learn how you can unlock breakthrough mobile growth for your mobile portfolio.