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For marketers of mobile games and apps, user acquisition is a lot like swimming in the dating pool. Smartphone users represent a vast population, with differing profiles and varying notions of what it means to play the game. Brands want games that appeal to as wide an audience as possible, yet protect time and resources from attracting incompatible matches. Striking a balance between getting noticed by the right players and avoiding entanglements with wrong ones can be complicated.

With Valentine’s Day in mind, here is some advice on how to attract and filter for high quality players with whom you’ll want to build a relationship, without sacrificing scale:

Know who and what you are looking for

Defining what “quality” users looks like using specific metrics or user behaviors will build a clear benchmark for success and help focus your optimization efforts. Consider these metrics and traits as indicators of quality:

  • Length of time spent playing the game or engaged in app
  • Passionately involved in the community and returns regularly; (e.g., daily active user)
  • Upgrades to higher game levels or advancements
  • Makes in-app purchases

Play the field wisely

Quality is always going to trump quantity when it comes to acquiring new users.


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When starting to build your user base, it’s worthwhile to target broadly at first using wide parameters (e.g., iPhone or Android users, men/women, geo-specific if needed).  Then start early to track and measure the quality of users coming in.  Once you can identify which sources are responsible for bringing in the high-quality users, you can scale up on what is working.

The more detail you have about your users, the better able you are to reach them, applying some of these advanced targeting methods:

  • Re-engagement; Encourage repeat app usage and maintain retention
  • Re-targeting; Target users based on their similar app interests, interest in a specific genre, or loyalty to a specific brand
  • Proximity; Hyper-local targeting and Geographically desirability (e.g., language-specific, regional/cultural themes, weather-oriented, local deals, etc.)
  • Past Clickers; If users have clicked in the past but not yet downloaded, this could be an indication of interest.  Perhaps they clicked but got distracted before completing the install.  It’s not uncommon for users to click on an ad several times before a download occurs.

The goal of optimization is to use your budget efficiently – gaining the highest quality users you can for the money you have, and earn more from them than you spend to acquire them.

Reward generously

A poll conducted by Unity Technologies last year revealed that nearly half of U.S. mobile gamers who play at least monthly  prefer video ads that give rewards. The findings were backed up again in a recent poll by Nielsen Media Labs (Jan. 2016), confirming that most online audiences prefer to get something of value in exchange for watching an ad.

There are many ways to be generous with mobile users.

Some games offer coins with which to make in-app purchases, an extra game life, or game tip in exchange for a viewer’s undivided attention.  Other reward ideas include game level advancement, trial of a new feature, character enhancement, or first-look at something new.

But beware the pre-roll ad.  A separate study from Nielsen reported, “when presented with a 15- and 30-second pre-roll ad, one in five respondents said they would simply close the video and stop watching it.”  Case in point: Ad placement is everything (See: Native Ads, above).

Live up to your profile

Showing off your assets is a necessity, but your game must be as entertaining, fun and good looking as your campaign says it is.  If new players encounter bugs or lousy features that don’t live up to their expectation, the money you spent convincing them to download your game will have been money wasted.  Stay on top of updates and keep the gameplay and visuals fresh.

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