A Q&A With Wooga’s Melanie Zimmermann and Vinícius Gerez on Casual Gaming
Melanie Zimmermann is the Head of Marketing at Wooga, a mobile-first game developer in Berlin. Melanie has more than 10 years experience in games, serving as Head of Design at Disney Interactive (Club Penguin) and as Creative Director at Riot Games (League of Legends). She transitioned to casual mobile game marketing when she joined Wooga in 2017, and now leads a team developing campaigns for popular games like June’s Journey.
Vinícius Gerez is a Principal User Acquisition Manager with Wooga. He first joined the team in 2010 and spent the subsequent decade profitably growing Wooga’s player base through paid channels. He specializes in setting up and optimizing ad campaigns while accounting for budget allocation, results analysis, and team coordination.
Mobile gaming is a highly competitive space, particularly in casual gaming markets. What is your approach to reaching audiences and standing out from the competition in 2022?
Melanie: Strategy-wise, we invest in research and analytics. We want to know our players, the different segments, and what they are receptive to. We also pay close attention to their feedback, both direct and indirect. Everything evolves from there.
Our approach to Wooga’s marketing is to communicate each game’s feeling and sentiment using premium quality creative, attention to detail, engaging stories, and of course, our well-thought-out gameplay. We’re not going to get attention with a scandalous storyline that plays with voyeurism. We do use classic motivators of storytelling in our ads, but we’re not showing husbands who leave their wives for another lover, or babies freezing to death. It’s not true to our brands and doesn’t resonate with our audience.
One of the competitive strengths at Wooga is how our different teams and departments work together. For example, when we look at user acquisition, we’re not just thinking about the very top funnel — we’re considering the complete journey and how we can customize it for different audience segments. So it’s not just UA but every team working closely together to get the journey right. We have strong cross-team collaboration, which is super important for marketing and how we acquire new users.
Wooga is well-known for its Hidden Object games. Are there any unique messaging or creative considerations that apply to this casual gaming category?
Melanie: One of June’s Journey’s taglines is: “There’s a detective in all of us.” That’s the vibe our players like. They want to be detectives, but it shouldn’t be too serious. It needs a good pinch of humor. They don’t like gory stuff. They want to be protective detectives, but are mostly interested in solving mysteries and finding those clues. So our marketing content delivers that mood with visuals and messaging that aligns with the brand to stay relevant to our audience.
Keep in mind that one message or one creative doesn’t fit all. Many players like ads that are straight to the point and show exactly what gameplay they will get. A different audience segment might require you to change your strategy and test story-based 3D ads. That’s what we’re doing right now, which is where direct and indirect feedback applies. I think Vini has something to add about this.
Vinícius: I was thinking about animals and fruits. [LAUGHS] Never underestimate the power of fruits and animals. They’re a reoccurring thing in many of our successful ads. People are usually pleased if you have some cute dogs in a scene, but it’s the same with fruit — maybe not every fruit, but many of them. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen as much success with cake.
But yes, the key is reaching out to different people and tastes. Some people react well to minigame ads, such as videos asking you to find five hidden objects. There will be animated hands finding them in the video, but viewers can try to find them first. People respond very well to that.
Then you have other groups of people who respond better to a story with a short crime scene. For example, you could put three characters from the game, give some background insights and ask, “Which one of them is the culprit?” And you don’t answer in the ad. Leave it for people to learn by playing the game.
What kind of techniques help you retain casual players? What factors reduce churn?
Melanie: First and foremost, you have to develop games that are fun to play and continue to deliver engaging content, including new features and live-ops. Players want something new all the time. At Wooga, we have the luxury of having great stories that our players are excited to continue to experience, so they stay engaged.
Our games are developed with accumulated knowledge about our players. That’s the number one anti-churn tactic: Know your players and deliver content relevant to them. We are listening to them in different ways, with the help of player surveys and audience research, figuring out what they actually want, and delivering on that.
Then there’s the social element. At Wooga, we have community managers actively managing our strong player communities where people create genuine friendships. Some people meet in our Facebook groups, play together in teams, and then meet in real life. But the community managers are doing more than just moderating groups. They are brand ambassadors who are the faces our players know and who update them about upcoming events in the game. They’re also at live events and involved when we create brand campaigns.
Three years ago, we ran an online competition for June’s Journey and invited the winners to spend a week at our studio in Berlin. We flew them in from across the world, and the community managers were basically the hosts. It was a great way for the winning players to connect with each other and with us. And everyone had a blast. This makes the players feel connected to the community, the game, and the brand. It creates brand loyalty to produce positive and appropriate experiences for our players.
We apply these lessons throughout and across all channels at all times. Consistently creating relevant fun experiences is the way to brand loyalty, as it keeps players connected on a different level than just getting a random game out and playing it as a time-waster.
Vinícius: From the paid perspective, we also do re-engagement campaigns by coordinating with UA, CRM, and data analysis teams. We’ve got some synergy where the CRM team will send push notifications to users first, and then we try to reengage with people who didn’t react to those messages.
How does creative play into your UA strategy? What techniques boost downloads and conversions?
Vinícius: One main thing is to avoid fatigue. Having the same ads all the time will tire your players. So having a constant influx of new creative is always a good thing.
As for strategy, we try to make use of everything available in the market. We test all different kinds of ads. Static, videos, playables — even though the playable creative doesn’t always perform with our audience, we work on it because sometimes it pays off. We also pay attention to which channel players are using. Some will perform more successfully with static ads, so we’ll focus on static creative for those channels. If it’s video, we’ll produce more videos, and so on.
Finally, we’ll make sure we have all variations covered. For static, we produce a range of vertical, square, and to a lesser degree horizontal shapes for different smartphone screens. For video, we’ll do a variety of lengths, from 15 seconds – and sometimes even less – to a minute, so we can get into every available inventory and reach slightly different segments.
Something else that’s product-related is localizing our games to many different languages. We have gone far beyond the initial options for June’s Journey, bringing in one to three new languages every year. That’s very helpful not only for the product but also for UA. Every time we add a language, we can localize our creative and advertise to new audiences. Every time we got a better response from new players.
What kinds of metrics do you prioritize when analyzing user engagement data? Can you give an example of how your findings might inform ad creative or messaging?
Vinícius: We look at a few different metrics. At the very beginning, when we test a new ad, the IPM (installs per thousand views) and its consequent cost per install is most important. Even though it’s less important in the long run, which I’ll explain in a second. But CPI is what you look at immediately when pushing out an ad.
If an ad has good results, we’ll look at user retention. So if the creative brings people who resonate with the game, or if the creative led the user to expect something different [than they got]. We never try to have anything like that happen, but the creative might not be passing the exact message we thought it would. So retention is essential, and we’ll also look at reviews for the long run.
Finally, we look at the return on investment. We want to know if the users who entered through this specific creative are monetizing or not. So here you can see what I meant at the beginning: If the creative is generating enough money back, it will not matter as much that it had a high CPI to start with. Same applies with retention, if the creative is attracting people that stay for longer in the game, that could also pay off for a higher initial CPI.
I have an example that illustrates this process. It was the first more story-driven, detective-investigation-like creative we produced in a time when we were mostly doubling down on creatives that emulated the finding of hidden objects in our games. So we went from a simple minigame, where users would be asked to find five items in the creative, to a creative with a narrative, where a crime had happened and the people watching the ad should feel compelled to discover the culprit. The cost for this new creative was considerably higher than what we had with the traditional hidden object creatives. So our first impression was, “Maybe this is not so good.” But then we looked at retention, which was strong enough to keep going. Finally, after some time, we looked at revenue, and it was paying off.
It’s all about creative. Sometimes it’s more expensive, but if it brings the right audience, you’ll be monetizing high enough to make a difference.
Mobile gaming is a relatively young industry, but it moves rapidly. How has the field changed since you first started your career? What marketing trends do you see emerging in the next few years?
Melanie: When I moved to games in my career, it wasn’t for mobile games. I started with an MMO for kids called Club Penguin and later worked on League of Legends. Wooga was my first mobile games company, and one of the things that had me particularly excited was all the data you could acquire. But we all know how that went!
I’ve been in the industry long enough to remember when tracking and optimizing were very challenging. So I feel less spooked by the recent privacy developments. I come from a place when brand, strong creative, and varied iterations were how marketing worked, so Apple’s changes didn’t throw me off as much. As a marketer, it’s frustrating, but we are all in this boat together.
Vinícius: In the very beginning of mobile, there was this stereotype that older people didn’t play and women played less than men. We wanted to make it available and accessible for everyone. We wanted to make everyone a gamer. Go a few years in the future, and most people playing our games are female. We also don’t have many 20-25-year-olds. They’re more in their thirties and above.
I think mobile gaming gave this change to the world because console and computer gaming wasn’t quite so accessible to everyone. With mobile, it was easier because everyone already had a smartphone, and games needed easy commands.
A decade ago, it was hard to get lots of accurate data and then make sense of it. As privacy becomes essential, we once again have fewer data to work with. It’s making creative and research much more significant to marketers because you have to make up for missing numbers with creativity. That means producing even better ads or creatives and interpreting results more holistically. Thankfully creatives were always important for us. They never stopped being important, but across the industry, it’s coming back in force.
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