In this episode of Mobile Growth & Pancakes, Jonathan Fishman is joined by Alexey Gusev, Lead Performance Marketing at Goodgame Studios. They discuss the impact of ATT rollout on user acquisition with long-term monetization for games and how to engage with the new advertising landscapes.
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“There is no single right way of doing things, and testing and understanding your product is very important. So you need to understand your products; you need to understand your customer. You need to work with your product team and with the customer very closely. And then when you tailor that all together into a successful UA campaign where it will target the right user at the right time,…you will definitely see that on the results that you’re getting from those campaigns.”Alexey Gusev
- Alexey Gusev, who was previously the Senior Online Marketing Manager at InnoGames before joining Goodgame Studios as Lead Performance Marketing, became interested in online marketing while living in Russia, focusing on e-commerce and search engine optimization. When he came to Germany, he joined OTTO GmbH and Co KG as an online marketing manager. His job was mostly focused on website user experience analytics and management, as well as online marketing/user acquisition. Alexey’s work at Goodgames Studios is focused on game marketing, specifically on enhancing user acquisition and conversion rates.
- As a result of the ATT rollout, product teams and marketing strategies must now connect with audiences, boost conversion rates, and optimize user acquisition for long-term profitability by utilizing various new advertising landscapes.
- The measures that indicate UA success or channel profitability are no longer as straightforward as they once were, and new methods of obtaining good numbers of user logs and user retention rates are presently being developed.
- Even if it is not yet possible to attribute revenues to marketing channels and sources in a straight line, there is always an advantage in looking at things holistically and obtaining indications and indicators that at the very least point you in the right direction. And, with so many tools available, there is a bit more chance to optimize the funnels for each channel for each customer onboarding experience, which is an alternative to boost marketing success for user acquisition.
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Jonathan Fishman: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of Mobile Growth & Pancakes. I’m your host Jonathan Fishman. I’m the VP marketing here at Storemaven. I’m really excited to have today with me Alexey Gusev. He’s the lead performance marketing at Goodgame Studio. Hi, Alexey.
Alexey: Hey, Jonathan, a pleasure to be here.
Jonathan: Awesome. It’s a pleasure. Do you want to introduce yourself for a bit?
Alexey: Yes, sounds good. I’m Alexey Gusev. As you have announced, I’m the lead performance marketing in GGS. I come from Russia. You might hear that from my accent as well, or I hope not, I don’t know. A little bit about myself. I started dabbling in online marketing back in Russia when there was not much of them about marketing at the time, but I was already interested and it was more e-com focused, and search engine optimization, and so on and so forth.
After that, me and my wife, we have moved to Germany for studies and for master’s studies. Then I have joined OTTO as an online marketing manager, also working there actually like managing the agencies, so working for the online marketing user acquisition, and working on the product site as well, so webpage optimization and the rest. Then I have joined InnoGames, so the mobile gaming company and worked at ad networks department, which was taking care of video, DSP network [unintelligible 00:02:21], as well as their native network, so [unintelligible 00:02:24] odd brands of this world. Then worked on paid social for quite some time. In the beginning of the last year, I joined GGS to work on their portfolio of the games as well.
Jonathan: Awesome. Can you tell us a bit more about Goodgame? What type of games are you guys developing and marketing?
Alexey: Yes, absolutely. It’s actually quite interesting to describe what I’m doing at the moment at Goodgame. First of all, the Goodgame itself is the publisher and developer of mobile and browser games itself. It might be familiar by such titles as Big Farm: Mobile Harvest, Empire: Four Kingdoms, and many others. Simultaneously, we are also parts of these two front group. Me and my team are taking care of the marketing for games, not only for the internal studio, but acting some kind of marketing agency for the games from these two front group, working with a rather wide portfolio of the games from casual, mid-core to hardcore strategies.
Jonathan: Awesome. There’s no hyper-casual titles.
Alexey: There is no hyper-casual in the mix at the moment.
Jonathan: Awesome. Cool. Today, we want to do a quick state of user acquisition in early 2022. It’s been, I would say 10 months, 9 months since Apple has started to enforce the application of the IDFA and the ATT framework and broke attribution, at least in the traditional way that attribution is done. It’s going to be pretty interesting to see how things are in the moment.
First topic I want to tackle is and it relates to you guys because the type of games that you’re marketing have larger monetization dynamics like folks are monetizing over time through in-app purchases item. I guess before that, the way that you ran user acquisition is that you fed all different monetization events to networks such as Facebook and others to build lookalike audiences for extremely high quality, and that’s how you found your audiences. How user acquisition is working right now for such games with these long-term monetization profiles where you’re after these quality users and not just more eyeballs like a hyper-casual game, for example?
Alexey: Yes, got it. I still have it marks in my calendar, 26th of April, 2021. I will never forget that date. [chuckles]
Jonathan: I went to twiddle my hand next to this. You can’t see my [unintelligible 00:05:27] too, but I showed my kitchen here. [chuckles]
Alexey: [laughs] Definitely. As you have already noted, previously, how it was done that we have very sophisticated algorithms of Facebook, Snapchat, pay social, DSP networks, back with the purchases, back with the values, and that have helped to optimize towards the valuable users that we are looking for. Since the ATT are allowed, unfortunately, we don’t have that transparency of the data anymore, or we don’t have the transparency of the data to the same extent or on the same level.
Of course, there is a certain percentage of the IDFA users that still opt in and we still get them, especially when you’re running them on the higher levels, but for us, pretty much early on, that was the decision to double down on the SKAN and to try to understand it to be a bit earlier on the markets to try to run proper campaigns that are SKAN-focused. At the time or at the moment, it’s run with its ups and downs, I would say, first of all, because of the fact that the industry was–
Even at the time, given the fact that what’s like by the end of April, that was quite some time since Apple has been talking about that without many details though but the industry definitely wasn’t ready. Facebook algorithms were not prepared to take such a hit in terms of losing data. All the other paid social networks took bigger or lesser hit as well for the app networks that was lesser in extent because a probabilistic which is still existing.
Anyhow, given the fact that our games are monetized in usually closer to the day seven, or at least some of the games in our portfolio, we wanted to understand what kind of channels if not optimizing towards them, because at the moment, for example, Facebook optimizes only towards the 24 hours of data on SKANs. Even if you have the conversion value is up to or conversion schema up to the seventh day, it doesn’t truly take in this information whatsoever for the optimization there is.
Jonathan: What do you think about folks that are saying that you can find a really early on event that is like a proxy for decent revenues or like LTV, basically? Did you have any success with finding these events early on in the first 24 hours?
Alexey: Yes. Even before the ATT, we were running rather extensive experiments in terms of defined into proxy events. Unfortunately, what all those events or all those tests have found that the best proxy for the purchase is, unfortunately, purchase. We have tried, I don’t know, certain levels post which majority of the users to convert towards peers, at least there is a correlation between or high level of correlation between those events. We try the app shop opens.
For example, on the app shop open, algorithms are very smart. If you feed the data on the app shop open, this is exactly what you’re going to get. After some time, given the fact that it was not a standardized event on Facebook, in the beginning, we have seen a good positive effect of that, but after some time when the algorithm have learned, we have started to observe that they’re reg to pay, so registration to be in converted to pay a ratio has dropped quite substantially because algorithm was bringing exactly the users that were opening the shop and never coming back to that or never converting.
Jonathan: That’s what you asked for. I can imagine Facebook with that. [chuckles]
Alexey: Exactly. You feed in the data for that so you get what you want. I keep on hearing of some successful cases, at least from the account managers themselves since they’re motivating us to test that. At the moment, we were not able to find the successful events that is better in term– or at least on their other similar level and determine the purchase intent of the user better than the purchase itself.
Jonathan: Yes, it’s kind of nuts if you think about it because everybody is saying the same thing, the account managers on the ad network side, Facebook and whatever, are saying, yes, there are some folks that are really successful with it, like, go do this as well. They’re saying it again and again and I never heard anyone being successful with it at least at scale. I heard about some experiments at work at a really low scale, but it’s clear why they’re saying that.
Alexey: Nobody has ever seen those folks.
Jonathan: Yes. [chuckles]
Alexey: [chuckles] True. Coming back to the SKAN topic, originally, we have experimented quite heavily on what works, what not, and I’d say at the moment we have rather fleshed-out approach to that and there is also quite a lot of infrastructure around that. First of all, in terms of the SKAN itself, I’d say 63 conversion values doesn’t sound like much, but you can actually do quite a lot, or surprisingly, quite a lot of with that as in one of the smaller hacks that we’ve done with one of the strategies, genres, like first of all, you’re interested to get or to retain as many users as possible and lead them towards the seventh day, because majority of the high-value purchases for us for this game were happening towards the seventh day.
That’s why we have introduced a certain hard bit events that is fired rather regularly and is being updated 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, 5 hours, 14, and so on. That keeps the ticker or the timer go in and update it every time that the user basically plays or does something in the game. On top of that, we have subdivided the revenue buckets or figured out a certain revenue buckets, just not even to understand or not to be able to optimize or the value successfully, more so to understand whether we got the high-paying user or low-paying user or mid-tier user, because usually, that’s the best indication of whether the partner or the channel is profitable for us or not.
With that, we are, A, able to measure proper retention because the heartbeat is indicative of how user is logging in or logging out of the game, B, we’re able to generate decent volume of the purchase information, and C, we didn’t lose the revenue event information. There is obviously a downside to that, unfortunately, in terms of the technical integration SKAN was rather pain and thus if you don’t mind me saying that for our developers, because it is not as straightforward to understand that the whole logic of that, how it works, so that’s why we had to work very closely with them on the product and on those values and benchmark them again and again to make sure that it actually is working to be completely transparent that wasn’t process of even one, two weeks, it’s closer to one month, one and a half months to completely flesh out what we have for every game.
Jonathan: Got it. Getting that level of data back, what’s the success you’ve been seeing with Facebook and these type of the self-attributing networks after you implemented that? Is it–
Alexey: Yes. Again, the answer to that is not that simple. What we have observed, that’s not only something is happening on this SKAN side, something is happening on the partner side, and the example, let’s say, TikTok, Facebook as one of the bigger paid social networks there. TikTok for us was definitely very one of the best performing early channels, so I think, app event optimization on SKAN, that was the best partner that was scalable and it has lost it very long.
At the moment, we’re seeing that the Facebook first change was somewhere in the end of September, the second change was definitely at the end of November. We have observed it also by the spikes in the privacy threshold, in the volume of installs that have passed the privacy threshold on this SKAN site. There, you can see that something is going on that the partner is readjusting the campaign and I guess to no one is going to be the secret, that for Facebook they’re stuck them together, several SKAN campaigns, SKAN IDs, and that’s why you can get a bit more information out of those campaigns and that’s why you get the asset information and so on and so forth.
What we have observed that since end of November, beginning of December, performance for Facebook definitely have improved quite drastically. At the moment, we’re still experimenting heavily which partner does what’s in terms of the SRNs, but there is a great development of that, and at the moment, the performance that we are observing there is better than the– even the prefer ballistic that has been rather smooth and stable previously.
Jonathan: Oh, that’s impressive. Amazing. At that time when you identified the Facebook performance have dropped several months back, what was your strategy around expanding beyond these channels?
Alexey: Yes. At this point of time, and there are, let’s approach this in the following way, there were games that have had an established portfolio of the partners. I would say that they were affected to some extent, less to a lesser extent as then, yes, we had to phase out or decrease the ad spends on SRNs rather substantially, but simultaneously, we had partners that were able to run probabilistic with a fleshed-out polished portfolio of publishers with a good performance history data, so those were relatively fine in terms of the ROI performance.
For the newer games, that was a bit more complicated, unfortunately, and it was definitely a trial and error process and we had to go rather wide in terms of the partner launches on like a bit more than, not a bit more, but more than what we are used to. I don’t know for the regular game launch depending on how you structure, you start with Facebook, at Google, at ad network, and then you add all the other pay social networks or all the other ad networks and whatever other channels there is, but basically you’re covering the core ones.
At the moment, what we are observing that even between the probabilistic as the key networks, there are huge difference in terms of the performance for every new launched game and it takes– the competition is definitely higher, it takes a bit longer to get to the performance that you’re seeing. I think this is going to be more or less the silver line of all the talks, like online market isn’t– unfortunately, despite all automatization, all the algorithms and everything, online marketing is not becoming easier, it’s becoming more competitive.
Yes, there are good approaches. Yes, there is definitely revenue. Yes, there is definitely users on there, but to get to that golden nugget to that pocket of performance, it’s not unfortunately as straightforward as it used to be. You need to keep on testing, maybe dedicate in a bit longer time to the partner in order to make sure that you don’t leave any stone unturned, make sure that you also question the best practices sometimes because this is where it could be lined for you.
Jonathan: Yes. The way that I see it is basically Facebook and we all know that they at least intend to somehow solve the targeting problem that they have currently because they lost the most valuable user-level data that any ad network ever had, but we know that they intend to solve it over and it’s going to be a long process. I think, in their last earning call, they said it’s going to take about two years, and that’s what they estimate in order to solve, to get back good targeting capabilities.
Thinking about all the probabilistic networks, a lot of the work that’s being done there by UA teams and marketing teams around the world is really, I call it sub-publisher optimization in the sense of identify where their high-quality audience is, like which actual genres and type of other games they come from. Then doing the work that before ad networks did because they had all this user-level data so they could find users wherever they are and give you a stream of high-quality users, but now you have to actually tell ad networks where are the high-quality users for you.
So far when probabilistic contribution is still happening and we all know that it’s not a viable long-term solution because Apple has wrote it very clearly, black over white, that they ban it. All eyes are now on when are they going to start to enforce it, but probabilistic attribution isn’t a viable solution for all of these networks long term. They would basically fly blind. UA teams would have to tell them where do they want to advertise, where do they want to get users from.
I see across the industry, some teams doing this type of work over actually drilling down to understand where their top audiences are coming from and the results are pretty good. Like they are able to identify, as you call it, these pockets of gold basically of where their high-quality users are usually coming from and direct their UA spent towards these genres. That’s something pretty interesting there. Basically, these days, what are you guys measuring your campaigns based on? Is it solely SK ad network, conversion values, and verified installs? Is it something else? Do you rely on MMP data?
Alexey: Yes, it’s a mix of things, to be honest. Basically, what we were doing until rather recently is looking first of all on the all-in performance. The EROI for all of the marketing channels taken together with organic because that’s the only, let’s say, true data that we had at the moment. We knew that if we are able to hit certain performance on day 7, day 30, then we’re pretty much safe and our campaigns are profitable. Which was rather fine, but then when we were going to which partner, how to optimize, all those details, it was a bit more complicated. At the moment, we were going in majorly by the SKAN network data, and we build a special dashboard for that, also was able to extrapolate from the day one to day seven for some of the games through the high volumes of data.
At the moment though, there are other interesting solutions that, for example, AppsFlyer is offering– They have released a single story. I’m not sure if they have already made it open public. Anyhow, there is the single story of truth solution. Not sure if you heard about it or not, but it’s essentially the duplication between the IDFA and the SKAN network users that is available at the moment on the 24 hours, like within the context of the conversion studio that they have in that is up to 72 hours as far as I know. That was definitely handy way how to tackle the issues that we had of both combining the IDFA and non-IDFA opted in traffic. Whatever we are receiving from the SKAN, whatever we are receiving for this from the opted-in users, also comparing those channels to the probabilistic.
That was a definitely nice development in terms of what we have observed. At the moment, to cut the long story short, at the moment we’re observing the still overall EROI because that’s our own data and this is what ultimately we are sticking to, but when we are making the partner decisions, partner budget allocation decisions, we are looking quite a lot on the MMP data from the SSLT. We’re also trying to combine that with the learnings that we have internally for those products at the moment.
Jonathan: Awesome. I think that it’s looking at basically that truth as you call it, like the blended ROI of all marketing channels all everything together and understand if it’s profitable or not. That’s where you start. It’s basically, it’s like a synonym for how marketing was done all the decades. Given that we had such a deterministic way of attributing revenues to sources up until now until April at least, the industry got used to that type of measurement, but there’s nothing really wrong at looking at things holistically and getting signals and signs that to at least drive you in the right direction, even if it’s not the most accurate, I don’t know, 26.37% ROAS. That’s totally okay. I think more people are getting used to that as time goes by.
There’s one last thing that I’m interested if what are your thoughts about it. This is custom product pages. For those of you who don’t know, Apple basically released custom product pages about towards the end of December, and custom product pages allow you to create up to 35 variants of your different product page with different screenshots, different creatives. With that, they also updated App Store Connect Data, which is a data source that people are starting to look at more and more. They allow you now to filter the data that you see there, including sales data that is cohorted by the way. You can see cohorted sales data at a custom product page level.
What that means is if you’re in UA and you run a campaign and you send it to a specific custom product page that you know is getting traffic only from that campaign, there’s no other way for users to get to this page besides tapping on the ads and getting with the link to be set up, you would see the revenues over time coming in from that campaign. Then basically, you can calculate the return on ad spending an aggregated and privacy first type of way.
Of course, there is the value of basically matching the creatives on the product page to the creatives on the ad level and create these holistic experiences that can significantly increase conversion rates. What are your thoughts about this Apple is bringing back some more tools to allow marketers to maybe– some people I talked with called it Apple is trying to become their own MMP. What are your thoughts about that?
Alexey: To be honest, I like with this general reason with the security release. It does feel that they’re trying to go exactly in the direction of becoming the MMP for all things Apple and let us trust their data completely or rely on that. However, I still think that given more instruments, given more opportunities for the marketers is definitely some steps in the right direction. It gives us just a bit more opportunity as you have mentioned to optimize the funnel for every channel, for every user in a bit better way. As in it is rather obvious that the users that we’re getting from the pay social and the users that we are getting from SCK networks that we– the users that we’re getting from the native, they’re different kinds of one.
If we’re able to subdivide that and run every type of traffic through their own custom product page, also optimize the onboarding experience, there is definitely beneficial. At the moment, we are making– given the fact that the release was not that long ago, we are making our first steps to that with some early successes, I would say, but still, it’s a bit early to call it a ground break-in success or that this feature has changed the way that we are acquiring the users for of the iOS at the moment. However, it definitely has all those qualities to improve the quality of life for us as the marketers definitely. Bringing the ASO part and the user acquisition part, maybe even closer to other than it was before.
Jonathan: Yes, for sure. One of the most, and first of all taking a step back here, I think that as with any Apple feature, it’ll take time to really be adopted and we all now think about SKAdNetwork as– before it went out, people thought, “Oh yes, there’s SKAdNetwork. It’s going to solve everything.” We’re almost a year after that and still a lot of people, as you said, it’s like a nightmare to work with. Sometime the data doesn’t come back, there’s partial data, the privacy threshold keeps on changing.
I think as with any feature, they’re releasing it and they’re going to iterate on it. Eventually, it’s going to realize its potential and live up to the promise. One of the most beautiful things that is happening with custom product pages is actually, as you said, really bringing in ASO a new way together even more. Because what I noticed that is happening is that in most companies, is that the ASO team that is responsible for improving conversion rate on the product page site is holding a lot of data about how different audiences are responding to different messages.
They’ve been doing that for years. They’ve been testing in various ways. They’ve been testing on the Google side with Google experiments. They’ve been testing with tools such as Stormaven and learning about how different audiences respond to different messaging, so they have all this information, and on the UA side, like UA folks are starting to say, “Hey, the product page is a part of my campaign, why shouldn’t I– I mean, I’m running an ad creative about, I don’t know, the theme is around the [unintelligible 00:30:21] social casino marketing slots game, so there’s big win type of messaging on an ad creative, so why shouldn’t the product page speak about that, or if I’m marketing with a specific IP, a specific character on the ad creative, why shouldn’t they use that ad character in the product page?”
They’re requesting to use custom product page to improve the return on ad spend, and then it starts to, like, in most companies, they just start to work together on these custom product pages instead of just having it in silos as it was before. That’s something that they think is really beautiful. It is happening as a result of this release, but as you said, there’s still some– we still need to wait a bit until everybody adopted. So far, there’s I believe three ad networks that adopted it and the most recent one was actually Apple search ads. Over the next few months, we’ll see more and more of that adoption takes place.
Cool. We’re about to run out of time. I do want to ask you a few questions that we ask all of our guests, so, first one, if you could give just one tip to somebody that is aspiring to get into UA or progress in their UA career, thinking about everything that happened over the course of the last year or two, what would it be?
Alexey: I don’t know. I’d say that I will mention that there is no silver bullet or there is no single right way of doing things in marketing, and testing, testing, and testing, understanding your product is very important. You need to understand your product, you need to understand your customer, you need to work with your product team and with a customer feedback very closely, and then when you tailor that all together into the successful UA campaign where it’ll target the right user at the right time, of course, those are all loud words, but still, this is where it kind of magic happens. This is where the spike happens and then you will definitely see that on the results that you are getting from those campaigns.
Alexey: Yes, just don’t rely on the ready-made solutions.
Jonathan: I love that. What’s your favorite mobile growth resource? Like a lot of people give content recommendations here, somebody that you follow a blog that you read, stuff like that?
Alexey: For the last half a year, I think two resources were my main go-to ones in terms of getting the information. It’s definitely MDM, so my Mobile Dev Memo, big fan of Eric Seufert, and the Slack channel you’ll definitely can get a lot of very useful information from your peers there, and the second one, seconds, I think Liftoff is doing a very good thing with the Mobile Heroes at the moment. Also Slack channel, also quite a lot of interesting formats. I’m a big fan of their smaller launches, for example, where you can just discuss whatever topics with the peers from the industry, like in a smaller circle of like 10, 15 people, definitely had very interesting conversation in the last six months over there.
Jonathan: Awesome. Given that this podcast’s name is Mobile Growth & Pancakes, what’s your favorite flavor of pancake?
Alexey: [chuckles] That’s a good question. Two answers to that. If we’re talking about the traditional American-style pancakes, it’s going to be banana chocolate chip and peanuts paste.
Alexey: It’s definitely ticks all the boxes for me. The other one, given the fact that I’m coming from Russia and there are Russian types of pancakes, Blinis. it sounds pretentious but I love them with caviar. Like that’s awesome.
Jonathan: I knew that you were going to say that because I had a friend with a Russian grandma that I used to visit as a kid and she used to always feed us Blinis with fake caviar, it wasn’t real caviar. It was the fake one [chuckles] because she didn’t have money, but yes, I knew you’re going to say that. Amazing. One of the most creative answers to this question for this podcast.
Alexey: Thank you.
Jonathan: Finally, if folks want to reach out to you to chat about UA gains, marketing, anything, where can they find you?
Alexey: Yes, absolutely. LinkedIn, just type in my name and I’m going to be somewhere over there.
Alexey: Happy to have whatever chats possible. Yes.
Jonathan: Cool. Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure having you here today and we’ll chat soon.
Alexey: Yes. Thanks a lot, Jonathan, for having me, that was a pleasure.
Esther: That was Mobile Growth & Pancakes. To find out more about Storemaven and how we can improve app store performance, visit storemaven.com and then make sure to search for Mobile Growth & Pancakes in Apple podcasts, Spotify, Google podcasts, or anywhere else podcasts are found and click subscribe so you don’t miss any feature episodes. On behalf of the team here at Storemaven, thanks for listening.
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