The best user acquisition practices for hyper-casual games

by Lewis Leong on Apr 5, 2018

In the category of free-to-play hyper-casual games, there are two ways for publishers to monetize: via in-app purchases (IAP) or through advertising. In this post, we will focus on the ad model.

The ad model is elemental to hyper-casual, as it spreads out business risk over thousands, or even millions of users. The IAP model, on the other hand, relies on a few high-spending users to succeed. Because hyper-casual games are aimed at the widest audience possible and feature simple-to-grasp and instantaneous gameplay, the ad model monetizes an app’s entire audience at a low but predictable rate. The scale provided by engaging millions of users more than offsets the tiny lifetime value of each.

To survive this volume-driven market, publishers must adopt a fluid approach to product building, perfect the art and science of both A/B testing and cross-promotion, and be prepared to put less of an emphasis on player retention. With this in mind, here are a few thoughts on best practices for hyper-casual UA using an ad model.

Every ad counts

Since the entire monetization model for hyper-casual games relies on advertising, it is critical for developers to pick the right ad formats, A/B test them relentlessly, and fine tune for ad frequency, localization, and more.

The most common and usually most impactful integration, is a skippable video unit right after one or several core game loops, says Johannes Heinze, Managing Director for EMEA at AppLovin in PocketGamer. Rewarded video is also very effective. He notes, “When [rewarded video] is integrated well and offers real value to the user, it can easily add 30% to 40% more advertising revenue.”


Of course, ads are not just for monetization; they’re also a user acquisition tool. Playable ads, for example, are great for user acquisition for hyper-casual games because they let users try it out before installing. Video ads are also an effective way to passively let prospective players know what your core game mechanics are like before they download.

Hyper-casual games are so simple to play that even the short experience offered by a playable is enough to grab a user’s attention. The fact that the game can be downloaded easily and for free is all the additional incentive users need—so it’s no surprise that playable ads yield high click and install rates, making them great for user acquisition campaigns.

Beyond this attention to ad units, portfolio-styled publishers of hyper-casual games must commit to a healthy dose of cross-promotion to squeeze the most monetization and user acquisition opportunity from each app.

Cross-promotion and paid UA in non-gaming apps

An enormous amount of ad inventory and multiple titles means hyper-casual developers can cross-promote other apps from their portfolio at specific in-game moments when users are more engaged and likely to download other games—that’s an advantage every user acquisition pro must capitalize on.

Once you’ve built a portfolio which can be used to cross-promote, it becomes an efficient user acquisition machine, as long as you keep feeding the market quality new products. Some hyper-casual game developers take the concept of cross-promotion a step further and allow competitors to advertise in their app, which isn’t as counterintuitive as it sounds. Your users aren’t blind to your competitor’s games, no matter how much you want them to be. Additionally, your competition may not make money as an ad never gets 100% click-through rates, but you definitely will by showing that ad.

AppLovin mobile game competitors blog post

If a volume of hyper-casual gamers have proven their loyalty by installing and playing your game, getting yourself paid to offer them competitive content and calls to action might prove quite engaging, which could result in higher eCPMs. You do risk losing some users to competitors, but the key to a successful user acquisition strategy is knowing when that risk is worth taking.

Alternatively, a few hyper-casual gaming companies do not cross-promote as a strategy, but instead rely on doing paid UA successfully. When deciding your UA strategy, it all comes down to how comfortable you feel about cross-promotion, if you have a big enough portfolio to make it worth it, or if you even have the budget. And of course, applying a mix of both strategies may work well for you too.

A penny saved may be more expensive than another penny earned

The nice thing about the ad model for hyper-casual UA (cross-promoted and otherwise) is that hyper-casual gamers start monetizing immediately. This makes it easier to optimize user acquisition sooner, so it’s relatively cheap to acquire hyper-casual users. That said, the metric for measuring the success of hyper-casual games is downloads. Nothing else, including retention, even comes close as a KPI.

Just because retention may take a backseat to new, cheap users, it seems likely that the acquisition-retention dynamic of hyper-casual will change at some point, and the nascent mobile gaming niche will have its Moneyball moment. Some smart person will find a formula to figure out exactly when it’s worth investing a few extra pennies to try to save a likely-to-churn-user, or if it’s cheaper to just go out and attract two more. For now, publishers that want to acquire a many users in the hyper-casual gaming category would do well to build lots of games, invest in delivering compelling ad experiences, and cross-promote aggressively between their own portfolio of games and perhaps other hyper-casual titles as well.

Lewis Leong is AppLovin's Content Marketing Manager.