When making your first mobile game in a small team, you often dream of money, fame and a long way. A good marketer can easily handle ASO, product positioning and monetization. But what can rookies do? What can you do if you have a team of 2-3 and don’t know much about ARPPU, fillrate and eCPM?

We teamed up with app monetization platform Appodeal and asked developers from independent studio FIFTYTWO. It’s a story of young guys who had good ideas and wanted to develop games, but didn’t quite understand how to handle monetization.

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Unilead: Tell us about yourself and your projects. How did you become popular and what promotion channels did you use for the first project?

FIFTYTWO: We’re FIFTYTWO from Russia. In 2014, we released our first game — JELLIES! with primary markets in USA, China, Russia and Europe.

In 2014, we released JELLIES! It was featured in Best New Games in almost all the countries and later in Best of June, App of the Week and others. We wanted to make JELLIES! bright, simple and exciting. It worked: both App Store editors and users liked it. We had 5 million downloads and 41,000 ratings with 4,7 average.

indie developer

Now we direct our efforts at our new game — Kenshō. The game is to be released in 2017. We want to start with App Store, and later Google Play and other platforms. There’s more release info on our website.

Unilead: Where did you buy traffic? Were you satisfied working with agencies? Was there any fraud?

FIFTYTWO: We have promotion partners. They didn’t buy traffic directly, and instead helped us pitch our game to Apple editors, and this got us in Featured. That’s our main source of traffic. Even now, 3 years after the game’s release, they often feature us on different App Store banners — that’s where we get our new customers from.

On top of that, some popular viners promoted us. In 2014, when we released JELLIES!, that was a reliable and relatively inexpensive promotion channel.

indie developer

Our partners have agreed upon an App of the Day promo with App Turbo. It’s a service where they advertise apps that become temporary free. Currently their app isn’t available in App Store, so the traffic has greatly lessened. However, 3 years ago we had 500,000 downloads within 1-3 days thanks to them.

indie developer

On top of that, there were articles, like the one on PocketGamer. We also sent our own devstory.

Unilead: What traffic attraction do you think to be most effective? What kinds of ads?

FIFTYTWO: For us, it was Featured. We also tried Apple Search Ads. Their traffic isn’t huge, but the install costs are low. Search Ads has a lot of nuances. You have to pick the right keywords for your game and set rational CPT limits. Certain keywords like ‘indie’ got us CPA of $0,50 and 30% conversion in the USA. We decided not to use some tags, like ‘multiplayer’, that didn’t fully fit our game. Apple slowly broadens the Search Ads country list, soon this service will serve as a solid platform to bring in new customers.

indie developer

Unilead: What about monetization? How did it change? What tasks did you want to solve with ads? Why did you choose Appodeal?

FIFTYTWO: Originally, the game had pay-to-play model with in-game purchases. After JELLIES! became temporarily free during App of the Week in App Store, we received 3 million downloads, and decided to leave it free-to-play.

Now about ads. When we were making the game, we didn’t fully understand how monetization functioned in a free-to-play scenario. In-game purchase conversions were low, so we wanted to monetize traffic using ads without changing the gameplay. However, we still added real-time multiplayer with leveling mechanic. It had a great effect! The amount of people playing multiplayer was the same as in singleplayer, but it didn’t effect monetization that much. We had good retention, yet in-game purchases were low, increased only by 20%.

indie developer

This is how we came to using ads. First, we connected Google AdMob and added InMobi via mediation. Then we came to Appodeal to increase fillrate and eCPM through ad providers and optimization.

Right now, we have eCPM at $3-10 and fillrate of 95-97%.

The format is simple. At the end of the round, fullscreen ad pops up, and the user can disable it with onetime payment. We also added rewarded video.

By the way, Kenshō will have pay-to-win model without in-game purchases.

indie developer

Unilead: How did you handle ASO for App Store?

FIFTYTWO: We didn’t do anything special. We tried 3 different icons and chose one of them. We refreshed screenshots a few times and added olive branches. We also added reviews from popular websites and bloggers (for Russia, we used local websites).

Unilead: What features do you plan to add to your project, taking into account latest iOS 11 announcement and App Store update?

FIFTYTWO: iOS 11 has many new cool features but we don’t know how to implement them in Kenshō yet. For games, AR seems to be very interesting. We will see how this new technology is going to develop.

We reckon updated App Store should give us new ways to tell about our game and bring in more customers. Featured isn’t just a bunch of banners now — it’s a way to show the game from different angles, tell its development story or how the soundtrack was created. Games mean something different to everyone. Some players look for good graphics, others think story and idea are important and third want to know people behind the project. Today, new section in App Store should satisfy everyone.

By the way, during Kenshō development we created and described a mobile game development system. You can read about it here.

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Unilead: Do you plan to use machine learning in your current or future projects?

FIFTYTWO: Not yet. Machine learning can be good for analyzing and monetization. I am positive that it’s possible to invent many new different mechanics using neural networks.

Unilead: Do you plan to release games on wearable tech or do you think this platform to be dead?

FIFTYTWO: We had an idea to make mini-Kenshō for Apple Watch. Just core gameplay, nothing else. It could be a good game to pass time while waiting in a queue. Right now, wearable techs complement smartphones, so you don’t have to reach into your pocket to check something trivial.

Unilead: What games do you play in your free time? What inspires you to create games?

FIFTYTWO: From recent additions, I enjoyed INSIDE made by creators of Limbo. It’s a strong game that leaves you with a good experience. Monument Valley 2 made a great sequel. We value attention to details, when every game moment is thought through. It inspires us to make beautiful things.

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