Winner Takes All: An Expert’s Strategies For Social Casino Success

By James Haslam | October 27, 2021

Social Casino games are booming, but Apple’s privacy push threatens the health of the market. To continue to grow, marketers have had to learn new ways to reach users. No one knows this better than Saikala Sultanova, Senior Director of UA & Growth at Product Madness. We spoke to Saikala about the current challenges the industry faces. She shares her take on the Social Casino landscape in 2021, the impact of iOS 14.5 on the industry, and how to make the most of your creatives.

How have events over the past year affected Social Casino games?

The past 12 months have been a critical time for us, with preparations for iOS 14.5 taking up most of our bandwidth. Now that the updates are live, we’re working on further improvements. 

There are a few reasons why we’re always adapting. For example, one short-term challenge we didn’t expect was that everyone tried to move some of their iOS budget to Android. Obviously, the increase in demand impacted Android performance. It meant we needed to recalibrate our spend on Android too.

iOS 14.5 wasn’t the only unique difficulty. Covid-19 also created new challenges and opportunities. We saw immense growth in revenue, but a softer growth in our user base. This is because user behavior changed. Many people now work from home and spend more time on their phones. They are more likely than before to reopen apps they have already installed. But this also means that finding new users is much harder even if players are more engaged. That’s what most of us are experiencing in the gaming industry.

Have there been any surprises from iOS 14.5 since launch?

I think the biggest difference for everyone is getting used to SKAN and figuring out how to maximize the output from conversion values. I don’t know of any company that has nailed it just yet. There are still a number of limitations we have to work through. Three that come to mind are:

  1. Limited post-install data. With conversion values being set as they are, you can track far fewer events than before. 
  2. Changes to conversion window reporting. The recommended window is  no longer than 24 hours. This severely shortens the length of conversions we can track.
  3. With no official documentation on its criteria, Apple’s ‘privacy threshold’ further limits the data we receive.

How have Apple’s changes affected your work, in particular?

Let’s be honest. We’re animals of habit. User acquisition managers are used to laser targeting and retargeting. We’ve grown accustomed to knowing how our users behave every step of the way. We track users from play session length to how they convert down the funnel. This isn’t to say we won’t get used to new methods, but it will take a little time. 

A key point of focus is how we view our user base now. We view our iOS new users as blended, both organic and paid. That’s because there’s no way for us to accurately identify and separate which install is paid and which is organic. SKAN only provides delayed aggregated data, so it has become difficult to optimize. But it’s now universal, and we’re learning to operate better in this new world.

Has your approach to creative production changed in 2021?

We try to look beyond shapes, sizes, formats of ad creatives. In our operations with programmatic partners, we create and submit all aspects of an ad, so there’s no need to focus too closely on a single creative element.

When we do need a creative concept, we make a full set of everything so we can push the same creative concept at the same time on all channels. 

Before we get to a concept though, we test different iterations. If it’s something completely new, we test to see if it works. If there are signs of life and we want to put it into the main mix, we can do that after we identify the winners. 

Are there any secrets you’re working on?

Right now we’re trying to improve the first two or three seconds of our video assets. Regardless of whether it’s an interactive or a normal video, we need to fine-tune the first few seconds to make it even more engaging. 

We don’t necessarily want people to tap an ad straight away and download our game. But we do want to grab the attention of a potential user with a story and showcase the features of the game. 

Big wins and mega wins always work. But we are trying to diversify the ways through which we get to the big wins. We begin with something that grabs attention, then we go into game features, and we close with interactive end cards.

Admittedly, it’s harder to build a narrative or storyline with slots apps, but it is possible. This is an area we’re working on with our internal and external creative teams. We’re creating a variety of assets, from full-blown TV creatives to pure performance ads. 

Are spammy ads a topic of discussion when formulating ad creatives?

They used to be. They were popular with hyper-casual games mainly. These were the main users and abusers of misleading ads. But it seems to have gone out of fashion.

Advertisers are trying to step up their game by making high-quality creatives. Stories are important because there’s so much content and media out there. Our users are changing, but just as importantly, their mobile devices are changing as well. More people have high-quality devices that allow them to consume high-quality content. 

Do all these aspects make app production feel like a rat race for product and UA teams?

For the product team, it’s business as usual. For marketing creatives, it is an added cost, and it’s quite labor-intensive. But there are ways of outsourcing some part of the ad production and then resizing in-house, or vice-versa. There are different production structures that people practice to make it work. Basically it comes down to this: you have this budget and you ask yourself, “what can I do to get what I need?” Once you know, you need to be creative about getting the most bang for your buck.

If you were a marketer about to join a company that wanted to take its already successful game to the next level, what is the first thing you would do?

Let’s assume they have some budget and their game is in good shape. My recommendation would be to look at the target market and ask who they built the product for and how they are going to monetize.

Historically, casino games were consumed predominantly in the English language. There was no big need to localize them. But times have changed, and now there is an appetite in Asia, LATAM, and Europe—plenty of it. But it’s not just the content. You also need to localize the pricing and monetization mechanics because globally, consumers do not spend the same way they do in the US. IAP packages need to be different. CRM, Live-Ops, and offers need to be different. Think about the frequency of ads, the value, and the creatives. 

If it is a company that has the luxury of being flexible, I’d recommend paying attention to localization. You can reach more countries, more people, and expand your business further than you even know.

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