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Casual Connect 2017: Maximizing your global reach via smart UA

by Lewis Leong on Aug 24, 2017

With limited budget and fierce international competition, how do an indie devs maximize their global reach? By smart user acquisition (UA), offers one panel. In our last in a series of posts on Casual Connect 2017, we look at a panel was moderated by Josh Burns, founder of DigitalDevConnect. Joining him on stage was Vlad Ceraldi, director of development for Hothead Games, Shinataro Kanaoya, CEO of Chorus Worldwide Games Limited, and Mikka Luotio, director of developer outreach at Tilting Point.  

Breaking into Asia

One recurring topic throughout Casual Connect 2017 was breaking into the Asian market, especially China, Japan, and Korea. Many companies see Asia as an intimidating locale to break into, but “there’s no real reason to be intimidated [by Asia],” said Kanaoya.

Ceraldi agreed, calling China the “bellwether for specific trends,” citing enormous mobile adoption. “The phone is their console and PvP (player versus player) was successful there before any success stories in the US,” he continued.

Casual Connect 2017 Vlad Ceraldi

But in order to succeed in Asia, you have to stand out. “If a game looks too similar to another, it’ll just get buried,” said Kanaoya. “In our case, our filter is ‘Do we like the game?’ Do we think it’ll stand out in its own right?’”

Tilting Point took a data-focused approach when it came to expanding into Asia. Looking at the data, Tilting Point noticed that 60% of downloads for one of its games originated from India. When it investigated further, it turned out that someone pirated a beta of the game and distributed it. “Ironically, pirated games could also be a beacon of sorts,” said Luotio.

Adapting to local tastes

When looking to do UA in other countries, it’s important to understand and adapt to local tastes—what works in your home country may not translate in another. “I’m generalizing a little bit here, but sessions tend to be longer in Asian games,” said Luotio. “And in some cases, the visual style isn’t suitable.” Luotio qualified his statement, saying that the rise in eSports has united people across countries for specific games.

Casual Connect 2017 panel - doing smart UA

But adapting to local tastes is still a complex issue that mobile game devs are trying to navigate. “No one’s cracked this nut about key differences [between countries],” said Ceraldi. “Culturally, the complexities that gamers seem to accept in the UI in some Asian territories don’t mesh well with the rest of the world.”

Kanaoya agreed with Ceraldi, citing the difficulty that Japanese role-playing games have transitioning over to the West. “Look at Honor of Kings,” Kanaoya continues. “It’s daunting for most Western players.”

UA potential outside of Asia

While it’s easy for China and Asia to dominate the conversation because of enormous potential driven by high mobile adoption and an upwardly mobile middle class, other countries shouldn’t be ignored.

“One country that has surprised me is Taiwan,” said Kanaoya. “I think it’s a similar situation to Finland where they know the home market isn’t big enough to be sustainable, so they’re looking to expand globally.”

Ceraldi said he’s seen success in Russia over the last year and Hothead Games has been looking at Brazil as an area of expansion. “The downloads in Brazil are meaningful,” said Ceraldi, but also stated that the revenue coming from Brazil still isn’t very high.

Casual Connect 2017 panel - doing smart UA

Luotio agreed that South America is an area of interest. “South America is interesting because a lot of hardware has been introduced that’s high-performance but low-cost,” he says. This means Brazilians are able to run more demanding 3D games, which will benefit the mobile gaming industry as a whole.  

For small teams looking to expand beyond their home market, Brazil, China, and South America all offer good starting points for growth. However, small teams and indie devs shouldn’t be beholden to these countries, as success can be found in unexpected places. “We found success working with influencers that have a big local reach,” said Luotio. “One guy in Turkey increased our installs by 900% simply by making videos.” Luotio continues, “Look simply at different genres that are trending in different countries, as it might make more sense to localize in those countries first.”

While expanding globally may seem like a daunting task, data and analysis can offer up hints on where to expand. Small teams don’t need big budgets to be successful if they’re smart about identifying potential markets and doing smart UA.

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Lewis Leong is AppLovin's Content Marketing Manager.

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