It can be seductive for small mobile gaming developers to look to large mobile developers for guidance on mobile marketing. Given how important user acquisition is to a mobile game’s success, emulating the strategies of larger developers may seem like the easiest way to also replicate their revenues.
Large mobile game developers have huge budgets to spend across multiple channels and formats, have assembled teams of experts to run highly optimized campaigns, and can build their own tools and technology to eliminate the burden of manual labor and speed up decision making. To a small mobile developer without these things — and perhaps even without a single dedicated user acquisition specialist on the team — those resources could appear to be the single missing ingredient preventing a launch into the top grossing charts.
So when big mobile game developers speak about their marketing processes and tools at conferences, in blog posts or in industry trade magazines, the temptation to take their words as gospel is understandable.
But small mobile game developers shouldn’t listen to big developers about user acquisition, for three reasons.
Reason 1: Big mobile game developers benefit from an economy of scale
Companies that run a huge portfolio of many apps can afford to employ an army of marketing managers and large investments into marketing technology and infrastructure because those expenses are absorbed by a large number of games and help to optimize a huge marketing budget in terms of absolute dollars.
In other words, because the money spent by a large developer on marketing technology is spread across many games, the expense at the level of each individual user acquired through marketing is proportionally smaller than it is for a mobile developer with just one or two games. As a result, internal tools for large developers, despite their immense development costs, are potentially cheaper than third-party tools. That’s rarely true for small mobile game developers.
Small mobile developers need to think in very practical terms about where their money is best spent. While sacrificing margin to a third-party tools developer may seem like a waste, outsourcing that functionality actually gives the mobile developer the breathing room to focus on building out their portfolio. Instead of trying to emulate what big mobile game developers do as a result of their size, small mobile developers should emulate what those big developers did to get big in the first place, which in most cases is establishing a portfolio of mobile games.
Reason 2: In the market for mobile ad impressions, large mobile game developers are price-makers and small mobile game developers are price-takers
When a huge, publicly listed mobile game developer launches a new game, it often spends so much money across so many marketing channels that the average price of impressions jumps. This increase can be tolerable by the developer if it hits a highly visible position on the different platforms’ top downloaded charts or creates so much word-of-mouth buzz that lots of other people install the app. Because of this, large developers can reduce eye-popping CPIs to profitable levels in large launches when organic installs are accounted for.
Small developers, however, generally can’t do this; most of the time they simply don’t have enough money in the bank to run such campaigns. Because of this, decisions around how to launch a game should be made independently of what other developers discuss publicly.
With a game launch, small mobile developers should focus on making their games as big as possible under whatever resource limitations they’re restricted by. For many mobile developers, reaching a top downloaded position isn’t realistic; a more appropriate ambition — such as reaching a respectable position in a sub-category chart like strategy games or puzzle games, or in a smaller geography like France or Germany — might serve a small mobile developer better than taking a company-risking bet on reaching the top of a global chart.
It’s also important to consider that large mobile game developers may be able to justify taking a loss on a very large launch campaign if that launch has indirect benefits, such as a surge in the company’s stock price or valuation ahead of a prospective funding round. Small mobile game developers can’t take advantage of these opportunities and should therefore focus exclusively on what they need to achieve through a game launch. For most small studios, this should be reaching a point where the game can be grown consistently and profitably, creating a sustainable revenue stream for years to come.
Reason 3: Small mobile game developers should maintain focus on their core products
The large mobile gaming companies that talk openly about their marketing strategies and the tools they’ve built to help implement those strategies feel comfortable doing so because they see those initiatives as slight competitive advantages to their primary commercial pursuit, which is making games. When a big gaming company has achieved market traction and is comfortably positioned, it has no problem with broadcasting its achievements in other areas (like its user acquisition stack) because they’re not central to its main purpose.
Small mobile game developers, though, should focus on establishing a defensible market position with their products before they shift their internal focus to optimizing marketing spend. If a company hasn’t yet carved out a place for itself in the mobile gaming landscape, any effort and time invested into other areas is a distraction from the one thing that will ultimately be responsible for its long-term viability: product. Until product strategy is figured out, all ancillary internal projects are a tax against future revenues.