This article is based on my session at LevelUp 2021. Check out the video from the event.
Over the past year, there has been a solid shift of mobile game studios bringing their creative production in-house.
We’ve been able to learn first-hand and hear from industry conversations that the shift is triggered by three factors:
1. Control — Studios want and need to (re)gain ownership over creative testing and iterating to unlock that extra level of flexibility
2. Efficiency — They also want to save as much time, money, and resources as possible; having their creative operations in-house gives them the production and team efficiency they need
3. Performance — Studios understand that control and efficiency underpins their capability to drive incremental performance through creatives
But, adjusting to an in-house creative team can be hard work, and mistakes are bound to be made along the way. To save you the headache and help you get ahead of the curve, let’s dive into the 5 common mistakes we’ve seen studios make when building a solid creative process around a cross-functional team.
Mistake #1: Stop testing once you’ve found the winning creative
Countering common beliefs, testing doesn’t actually stop when you’ve found that winning creative. It’s a continuous process that should go on as long as the game itself.
As this is just as much about your creative culture as it is about creativity itself, you and your team should be on a never-ending hunt for the next “hero creative” by hosting regular creative review sessions and implementing strong feedback mechanisms.
Once you find a creative that performs well, work quickly to identify the core drivers. You want to be able to isolate them and create performance “checkpoints” that allow you to build on a strong base with each iteration. This will help boost performance significantly.
For instance, the team at Alictus changed the visual elements of the playable ad they built for their game, Money Buster, when they were still testing. As a result, it led to a +22% improvement in CTR. By fostering a “don’t stop” testing culture, they were able to see performance boosts with each iteration.
One particular ad format we actually recommend you to test are playable ads, which is a nice segue into mistake #2.
Mistake #2: Think playable ads can’t work for you
It’s important to think more about the experience you are trying to create for your users than the ad format itself.
Whenever we hear studios say that playable ads don’t work for their game or that video ads always outperform them, our first instinct is to get them to walk us through the playable they’ve tested in great detail. This is because playable ads do and can work — for any app or genre as well — but, only when the right playable experience has been created.
A great starting point is to continue testing. Find out what works and what doesn’t work and then learn from that. You can even draw inspiration from your top-performing video ad or even ads from different genres that have resonated with you.
All you need is to find a hook and keep an open mind that it may take time, but the end results will be worth it. Because if you get it right, you will unlock the ability to test and make iterations instantaneously, at any given moment.
Once you’ve mastered the above, take a look at additional in-game metrics such as LTV and retention, which often increase more with playable ads than with video ads. More importantly, you can expand your use of in-ad data, which brings us to the next mistake…
Mistake #3: Focus on IPM (only)
IPM is an all-encompassing metric that allows you to quickly evaluate the effectiveness of a creative. It can also help you understand the scale potential, together with your CPI, which is the cost per install.
But, focusing on this metric alone can only tell you whether your ad performed; it does not offer any understanding into “why” it performed a particular way. Here are two solutions that can help remove as much subjectivity from your analysis as possible:
1. Analyze in-ad events — This allows you to create a holistic picture of how users are interacting with your ad. You get visibility into what makes the users click and where they are dropping off. If you can measure this correctly and take action upon the learnings, you can drive next-level performance.
2. Understand key performance drivers — Here, we mean the elements (objects, characters, CTA text, the colour of the CTA button, etc) within the creative that contribute to performance. By doing so, you will get definitive learnings from each creative and apply them to each iteration you then make.
A great example of a studio that does this is Supersonic. They used in-ad data to better understand how users reacted to different levels of difficulty within their game, Archers.io. By analysing the results and then tweaking the parameters, they were able to drive incremental performance and better conversion rates.
Once you start analysing in-ad data, you don’t want to get stuck with what you are used to. It’s important to have little to no limitations, which we’ll dive into in mistake #4.
Mistake #4: Stick within the limits of your knowledge and skills
The best creative teams work together at every stage, and it takes a team with no boundaries to find ultimate success. While it’s important to have specialists for specific areas within your team, it’s key for everybody to contribute to each stage. For instance, your analyst can join your ideation session, and your developer can join any feedback sessions you may have.
By removing the boundaries, you unlock new areas of capability, efficiency, and most importantly, are able to experiment with different creative concepts — without worrying about feasibility or limitations.
Take a look at Homa Games and the creatives they built for Freeze Rider. Instead of developing creatives with the game’s existing themes, the entire studio team brainstormed new ideas collectively and ended up building ad experiences that only showed off the game’s core concept (e.g. a Lord of the Rings’ character ice surfing through volcanoes — as you can see below).
All this to say: by having a cross-functional team, Homa was able to take greater creative risks and find areas of performance they would have been blinded to previously.
Once you’ve invested so much in your creative team and processes, you want to ensure you’re maximising return and implementing what you’ve learned.
Mistake #5: Fail to apply creative learnings to your game
Just as your game design team influences your creatives, your creatives should also make it back to your game itself.
Creatives start the onboarding experience for your users with your game — so making sure they get a consistent experience from the creative they interacted with, to the app store page, and all the way to the game is vital. In addition, by implementing winning features from your creative, you would be improving your game (and retention rate) according to concepts that have been proven to resonate with your users.
For instance, Playrix’s title, Township, implements mini-games into their gameplay, which originated from the creatives that resonated well with their target users.
Coming as no surprise, these mini-games have been highly effective in boosting player retention.
And, there you have it; the 5 most common mistakes we see studios make when building out their creative team. But what’s more important is to turn them into takeaways that you can bring back to the rest of your studio team.
Overall, we recommend to always keep testing, know that playable ads can work for you, use in-ad data and creative data, build a cross-functional team, and apply your creative learnings back to your game.
If you can implement the points above into your creative workflow, you’ll be driving further creative performance than you ever have been — and in no time.