2020 was a transformative and often challenging year for many industries. Even in video games where we saw huge growth, with many discovering and rediscovering a love of games. Rapidly changing player habits meant there was more emphasis on creative storytelling, and increased adoption of automation on platforms like Facebook. This brought focus on user and data privacy, changing many pillars of mobile app marketing. Working from home changed how game makers communicate day-to-day. While many are learning to understand and connect with new audiences.
With all this in mind, we spoke with Tatyana Bogatyreva, Director of User Acquisition at Gram Games, to get her take on what 2020 has meant for them.
Fares Saade, Senior Client Partner at Facebook: What have these shifts over the last year meant for Gram Games?
“The emergence of an exciting target audience, brand new to gaming, meant we had to move fast to capture their fleeting attention
Tatyana Bogatyreva, Director of User Acquisition at Gram Games: To quote Dickens: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’. For the games industry, it was the time of seizing growth opportunities and capitalizing on behavior shifts across existing, lapsed, and new customers. People turned to games for escapism, relaxation, and a distraction. This meant higher engagement — longer game session lengths, more frequent logins — and faster content consumption, contributing to growth in purchases. We swiftly adjusted our analytics system to catch performance swings and ensure ROI thresholds were met. The emergence of an exciting target audience, brand new to gaming, meant we had to move fast to capture their fleeting attention with innovative creatives.
Saade: 2020 started with a few challenges, including lifestyle changes brought by remote working. This also led to us identifying rising trends and even solutions and initiatives. Can you tell us about how you tackled these challenges and the opportunities you discovered in the process?
Bogatyreva: The saturated performance marketing space was uprooted by the pandemic, and we were faced with heightened competition in the casual and puzzle genres. The challenge was, and is, standing out despite the boldness of newcomers, market turbulence, and shifting consumer trends.
Agility and a rigorous testing mindset are critical to survival in this capricious new era. At the beginning of the COVID wave, we scanned the market for upsides, capitalizing on new demand patterns by reactivating lapsed players and attracting broader audience segments. Favorable auction dynamics allowed us to scale significantly with key partners like Facebook. Shifting to more flexible automatic campaign models unlocked further growth as powerful algorithms did the heavy lifting while we focused on churning out bold creatives.
Saade: During this rollercoaster period, we learned to be open minded about testing, scaling and measuring success when it comes to marketing, while moving quickly. Can you tell us about Gram Games’ philosophy towards user acquisition and how you approach your marketing?
Bogatyreva: Disrupting the status quo has been an integral part of Gram’s DNA from the early days of prototyping casual games. The fast iterative approach and rigorous experimentation is the cornerstone of our marketing strategy. We live outside the comfort zone, building internal tools when we’re unsatisfied with external solutions, automating instead of hiring, and harnessing our innovative energy.
Versatility and risk tolerance push us to capitalize on favorable auction trends, becoming an early adopter of new campaigns and betas. Joint strategic cooperation with Facebook allowed us to hone in on measurement and attribution, augmented by a meticulous testing schedule to explore new learning opportunities.
Saade: It’s important to have an effective creative strategy for succeeding in user acquisition. So, in a year where so many players are entering the video game universe for the first time, can you tell us how you built a strategy that resonates with these new users?
Bogatyreva: Our motto is ‘unleashing the power of data-driven story-telling’. Our continual feedback loop breaks the silos between designers and performance metrics, empowering artists to analyze results, set up A/B tests, and execute iterations. We emphasise perfecting the creative process — ideation, testing, deconstruction, reinforced by advanced analysis utilizing proprietary creative tools and Facebook’s robust A/B testing framework.
We’ve also partnered with Facebook’s Creative Shop to identify the key player motivations and expand our reach to untapped users. This meant a series of workshops which distilled core player experiences — discovery, collection, mystery — in Merge Dragons, into addicting video advertisements. Drawing inspiration from hyper-casual and meditation apps, we experimented with gratifying creative concepts, snappy intros, and vivid colours. Striking the right balance of polished flashy content with simple, realistic gameplay was key to yielding great results.
Saade: We started the year by focusing on diversification, primarily on your placements and geographies. I’d love to hear about the thinking behind this and how it’s helped Gram’s success.
“AI and automation are huge catalysts in the mobile ecosystem and will be critical in 2021 as we navigate the new privacy world order”
Bogatyreva: We perpetually push boundaries to avoid being stuck in a local maximum. Every quarter one of our KPIs is re-testing select paused marketing partners, geographies, and placements with a fresh mind set. Diversification counteracts the turbulence — especially during the manic 2020. There really isn’t a better time to venture beyond our performance marketing core. This year, we’ve tested influencer campaigns and TV advertising, both “out-of-the-box” areas we’ve traditionally shunned due to measurement challenges and KPI uncertainty. Investing into these bold beats and hacking our way into an unproven advertising realm will be critical for future resilience.
Saade: We’ve seen a lot of developments in automation recently, in game design and monetization etc. With your automation experience, you were an early tester of Facebook’s Automated App Ads (AAA) solution. This versatility is an advantage for Gram and helps Facebook’s Head Accounts team to identify emerging patterns. Tell us more about this.
Bogatyreva: AI and automation are huge catalysts in the mobile ecosystem and will be critical in 2021 as we navigate the new privacy world order. An ideal solution would eliminate day-to-day grinding — optimizations, blacklisting, creative analysis– freeing up time for strategic partnerships, new horizon exploration, and innovation. Gram enthusiastically tested AAA tools, enjoying early gains in efficiency and scale. Thanks to this new campaign model we saw a 30% decrease in CPI and have migrated to 80%+ of our total spend going through AAA.
After a rollercoaster year, we’re looking forward to 2021 as we continue to work with all our partners to help them reach their marketing goals, navigate change, and adapt to this ever-changing landscape of gaming. And while we continue to plan for new and returning gamers, stay open-minded about the role automation can play in helping you prepare.
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