Panda Pop Maker SGN Courts Lifetime Value With Playable Ad Units

PandaPopLike most app developers, SGN – whose games have been downloaded more than 700 million times – is looking for long-term love. But in the casual gaming space, retention rates usually leave something to be desired.

Only about one-third of users relaunch an app within 24 hours of the original install, according to Appsflyer. After 30 days, less than 4% of those users are still engaging.

A lot of that has to do with the app install ads that triggered the download in the first place.

The experience of downloading an app can often feel like going on a blind date. Users don’t know all that much about the game they’re downloading until they actually download it. Sure, it works out sometimes, but more often than not, the acquired user just isn’t that into you.

“Pre-screening a prospective player and being really fair with that player to make sure they clearly understand what they’re getting into before downloading has a big impact on quality – it’s a key determinant of the quality of the subsequent experience,” said Matt Casertano, SVP of game operations at SGN, creator of Cookie Jam, Panda Pop and Juice Jam, all of which are among the top 20 highest grossing apps in the App Store. Cookie Jam and Panda Pop are in the top 10.

SGN makes the majority of its revenue from in-app purchases, so acquiring the kind of highly engaged user who’s going to participate in that type of behavior is key.

That’s why playable ad units, which allow users to play a demo version of an app before download, have always appealed to SGN. It’s a way to vet users or, in a sense, to get users to vet themselves. But previous experiments with the format didn’t produce the volume SGN was looking for.

“The scale wasn’t there,” said Casertano, who noted that most of the providers that SGN had worked with were hampered by an ad network model and the need for direct SDK integrations to get access to inventory.

Searching for scale, SGN partnered with CrossInstall, a mobile demand-side platform that builds interactive HTML5 playable units and buys its traffic programmatically from MoPub and DoubleClick. On the supply side, CrossInstall is hooked into all the usual suspects, including Rubicon, OpenX and Smaato.

“Every week, we get updates from MoPub and AdX about all the new inventory they’re layering in that we have the opportunity to bid on,” said Bobby McFarland, president and co-founder of CrossInstall. “As MoPub and AdX get larger, so do we. We can sort of ride on their coattails.”

CrossInstall also tracks user behavior tied to device ID to create segments and optimize campaign targeting.

“We’re seeing device IDs flow in and out of apps in exchanges all day long, which we can use to build profiles on users and categorize publishers on the exchanges,” said Jeff Marshall, CEO and co-founder of CrossInstall. “We can see the breadth of categories and the types of apps that users interact with, to understand whether someone would be willing to cross over and try apps in different genres.”

It’s all in the name of lifetime user value (LTV), and “the rest of the industry is catching up to that fact,” said Casertano.

According to data released by Fiksu on Monday, the cost to acquire a loyal user went down down 8% in March, while the total number of apps downloaded among the top 200 free iOS apps went down 7% since April and 11% since 2015.

In other words, publishers do seem to be getting better at using data to run targeted campaigns and acquire higher quality users from the get-go. But at the same time, users are downloading fewer apps overall. That makes keeping and reengaging the users they already have all the more important for app developers.

Interestingly, Fiksu also announced Monday that it’s no longer going to report on straight cost-per-install (CPI) – a service it’s been providing since 2014 – noting in a release that although it’s still handy to be aware of CPI, it’s “no longer a good gauge of an app’s success [because] targeting, tactics and competition in specific categories can dramatically shift CPI for any one app campaign.”

That’s similar to how SGN sees the world.

“What dictates our growth strategy [is] being able to cost-effectively deploy our marketing capital and understand the positive and/or negative impact of our investment in terms of generating new players,” Casertano said. “We [view] our marketing expenditure as an investment.”

Using CrossInstall, SGN has generated a 158% higher average revenue-per-install for Panda Pop compared to its other ad partners and a day one retention rate of 67%, a high-water mark for SGN. It’s also seen what it says are double-digit increases in LTV and resultant revenue per user.

“We’re getting fewer window-shopping users from this unit,” Casertano said. “Moving the game play experience further up the conversion funnel removes those ‘play it once and decide you don’t like it’ users.”

Based on the success it’s seen with Panda Pop, SGN has started using playables for several of its other titles, including Cookie Jam and Genies & Gems. [Click here to play one.]

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