User acquisition insights with Ibrahim Akcali

Ibrahim Akcali headshot with adjoe and unico studio logos

Leading advertising and monetization platform adjoe continues the article series where industry experts answer adjoe’s questions with Ibrahim Akcali, Growth Lead at Unico Studio.

Within just a few years, Unico Studio’s games have reached millions of players. Today, Unico Studio has more than two million daily active users and has reached more than 500 million downloads.

Tell us a bit about your background and your journey to Unico Studio

After working in the capital markets industry for nine years, I wanted to change fields. Gaming looked particularly attractive to me.

At the time I joined Unico Studio, it had just been founded. Capital markets versus gaming – anyone can see that these are very different sectors, and it wasn’t an easy decision to make. But when it comes to growth management and UA, the main principles are similar in both industries. Growth doesn’t mean just focusing on scaling but also ensuring the highest profitability possible.

After three years at Unico Studio, I’m now Growth Lead and responsible for growing all 26 of our mobile apps.

How would you describe a good mobile game?

Last year, we started publishing and performing deep analyses for many games. I started to see that developing a mobile game with good gameplay mechanisms and graphics is actually just 20 percent of the overall business. You need to know how to continue to grow and monetize your app and which components you will use to generate revenue.

A good mobile game is one that manages to consider all sides of the business – whether it’s UA, monetization, marketing, or product – and is able to function holistically. That’s why I never see my job solely as user acquisition, and I never just focus on marketing.

Is there a right UA strategy?

Never check just one metric. Retention, session times, DAU … these metrics might be thriving separately, but you cannot ignore the bigger picture. You need to have a good understanding of factors that can influence the metrics, such as genre, channel, and GEO.

For example, 90 percent of our games are currently being monetized through ads. Here, good retention or session lengths is not enough for success. We also need to check how many ads a user views on average and how it affects our ARPDAU. Even if your users view a decent number of ads, it’s no good if your eCPM is still low. You will need to rethink your strategy.

How do you plan your soft launches?

It depends. For some games, the soft launch period takes over one year because we want to be sure that all features are ready to scale and there is no risk. For other games, it doesn’t take as long; we launch the game and continue to add new features later.

We try to carry out soft launches in affordable GEOs – but we still ensure that we observe that market’s user behavior. For example, India is not a good fit for us. Even though it’s a cheap market, user behavior doesn’t match the usual behavior we see with our games. Instead, we prefer Brazil and the Philippines for our initial tests. 

Then we launch in the US, with small budgets in the beginning to see if performance is promising. The US is our biggest market, so analyzing user behavior during a soft launch there is always highly insightful.

What do you think about having different Ad Formats in a game?

It depends on the genre. 

For example, we have a Sudoku app, a casual game for a niche market – for Sudoku lovers. Our average session duration for this title is quite long, at around 30 minutes. We don’t want to drive gamers to watch interstitial ads during these 30 minutes at the risk of disrupting gameplay, but we can show them banners.

Actually, our banner ad revenue in Sudoku is almost the same as the revenue we generate with interstitial ads, which is uncharacteristic of the market. This is an extreme example, but a good one to show how it is important to match the right ad format with gameplay.

And how about testing new Adtech solutions and channels for your campaigns?

It’s very risky to depend purely on the mainstream channels without testing new ad formats and new ad networks; we’ve learned this from our past experiences. Every ad format has its own dynamics, meaning you can’t expect high retention rates from every channel, but still you need their incremental effects to reach your maximum potential.

When I first discovered adjoe and Playtime, I was curious about its rewarding logic and the exclusive ad inventory. Rewarding users for time spent in gameplay or completing levels was also completely new to us. With instant and continuous rewards, users quickly became hooked on our games. After testing Playtime, we learned that we can reach highly engaged real gamers without paying for random installs. 

What is your advice to other UA Managers?

A UA manager’s primary job is to strike the perfect balance between scaling and staying profitable. 

In the gaming ecosystem, it’s never just about acquiring a large number of new users or driving your users to view the maximum number of ads possible. Finding the sweet spot is our challenge, and having the right data is the only sure way to overcome it. Instead of having an aggressive scaling strategy, I’d suggest taking it slow and testing it again and again until you feel secure enough to grow.

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