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How Super Free Games Broke into the Top-Grossing Games in 114 Countries

by Claire Tak on Jan 28, 2021

It’s a new year and a brand new Ask the Dev! 

In our first episode of the year, AppLovin’s VP of Platform, Dan Sack, spoke with Nick Talarico, CEO and founder of Super Free Games. The conversation centered around the growth, success, and eventual acquisition of Super Free—formerly known as Super Lucky. They’re known for making global phenom Word Collect, which was a top-grossing and top-downloaded game, followed by their wildly popular Trivia Star.

Through AppDiscovery, Nick and his team were able to scale their games quickly while taking advantage of the automation tools. 

In this blog, we’re going beyond a recap—we’re continuing the conversation with Nick in our first-ever, Ask the Dev Q&A! This is bonus content that wasn’t shared in the series, so be sure to scroll to the bottom to get even more insight from Nick. 

But first, let’s go over some terminology that is used frequently in this coversation:

  • ARPDAU: average revenue per daily active user
  • CAC: customer acquisition cost
  • CPI: cost per installs
  • ROAS: return on ad spend 
  • UA: user acquisition
  • Whale: In gaming, these are a small group of users who bring in the bulk of revenue through transactions or ads.

10 years in the making: Super Free’s rise to success

Super Free started almost 10 years ago and employs about 80 people in offices all over the world, including San Francisco, New York, Berlin, and Singapore, to name a few. Nick noted that nine of those 10 years have involved working closely with AppLovin! 

They started with social casino games and in 2015, pivoted to casual games and now, puzzle.  

Making the decision to invest in their creative team

The Super Free UA team is robust—about 25 people total. Nick recalled the challenges of acquiring new users and broke it down with the following example. “If you buy 1,000 users, you’ll get between 50 and 100 who monetize and one who is a ‘whale.’ The whales are carrying the weight of making your cohort’s return in whole. This was our casual game UA philosophy and it just didn’t work.”

He continued, “We had a hard time keeping our CPIs down and that’s when we decided to invest heavily in our creative team. The only way you can keep your customer acquisition cost down is by investing in creatives. It was a mental shift and took us a while to figure it out but when we did it was pretty good.” 

Strong UA and monetization with AppLovin

Nick admits they didn’t choose the right mediation partner right out the gate. 

“We switched to MAX, which gave us the toolset we needed for a small team to get the CPIs and ad ARPDAUs up to a level that allowed us to buy more. Since then, MAX has been our essential provider. I don’t see MAX going anywhere, it’s the relationship that’s served us so far.” 

On the UA side, Nick acknowledged that over the last nine years in working with AppLovin, he’s noticed the UA tools have become more robust and granular. 

He noted, “This sophistication has pushed us to get more sophisticated and grow in the direction that we need to be.”

Setting up new geos automatically and profitably 

Expanding into new countries, or geos, has been a profitable way to scale. This is interesting because Super Free doesn’t have huge businesses outside of English territories. 

Nick explained, “We’ve been able to add more territories where English is not native to the country. Because of AppLovin’s tools, it now takes less work to be able to manage. That’s added a nice chunk to our business!”

A great example would be Switzerland. Nick pointed out, “Switzerland has a fair amount of disposable income with many English speakers. But because the country is small, it wasn’t worth ‘turning on’ a territory like that. Since it’s all managed in one campaign and the budget per country, it’s not a lot of work.” 

He went on to say they focus on measuring and testing, but a lot of the focus is on their creatives. “It’s not as much of a slog as it used to be. We intelligently set it up and open up new geos profitably.”   

Super Free’s IAP boost from 7 percent to 20 percent

Nick’s team is always measuring and they saw a big profit boost from working with AppLovin. 

“The AppLovin system is set up to find high-quality ad ARDAU players but it actually fleshed out a lot of high in-app purchase players for us. On Trivia Star we went from 7 percent in-app purchase revenue to 20 percent, where the only change was using AppLovin’s tools!” 

Bonus content! Q&A with Nick

Q: When it comes to scaling your games, what have some of your biggest hurdles?  

For games in genres that are new to us, we don’t know how the ROAS curves will behave, so it takes a level of risk (and a level of faith). There’s an inefficiency that is just part of product line expansion, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t frustrating.  

For existing games, we’re constantly dealing with the opposing forces of needing more scale while keeping CPIs below a certain point, plus maintaining high quality for the cohorts we buy. 

UA is also difficult because you’re always trying to stay within scaling, CAC, and quality.  All three affect each other.

Q: What are the most important testing strategies to scale your games?  

We test a ton of creatives. Even after years of doing this, we’re trying to get better and discover earlier indicators of whether a new creative concept can become a winner.  From there, we look for better and earlier indicators on how much that creative can spend before it begins to saturate.  

Running these creative tests, combined with forecasted spend informs where we assign our creative resources.

On new games, we run tests on new creatives, new target audiences, new territories, etc. in order to build a high-confidence game profile (including product metrics) that we can use to forecast and determine a game’s viability.

Q: Are there any studios/games that you follow closely and why?

For word games, we follow PeopleFun pretty closely as well as PlaySimple. 

For trivia games, we follow Trivia Royale and Trivia Crack. And for puzzle games, we closely follow TripleDot and Athena Studios.  

All of these games and studios do really well with both product and UA. Their games are beautiful, pleasant to play, and rich with events and features. Their UA is aggressive and smart. There’s plenty of inspiration to take from all sorts of studios—we actually follow a lot more than these.

Q: What’s next for Super Free Games?  

Really just business as usual. We’ll continue to release new games and buy against them.  

Every day is an effort to get better than the days before. All of our teams including product, engineering, quality assurance, customer success, user acquisition, and design, take that approach. 

We make plenty of mistakes but with consistent focus and commitment to getting better at our jobs, we’ve been able to improve as a company, bit by bit.And that’s a wrap! Don’t forget you can see the entire Ask the Developer series on our YouTube channel!

Claire Tak is Marketing Manager, Content at AppLovin.