Have you considered burst campaigns for your mobile games? Here's a few hard truths about one of the more dangerous paid advertising techniques out there.
This article was originally published on the Monastery website in January, 2016.
When mobile phone carriers owned the industry, marketing mobile games was like shooting fish in a barrel. But times have changed. And these days, there's simply no gimmicks left. Whenever I see the hottest new technique, it's typically an ugly effort to game app store ecosystems or tempt users into spending unreasonably high amounts of money.
And one of the more insidious paid advertising gimmicks are what's known as burst campaigns.
A burst campaign, also known as bursting, is a paid advertising technique used to achieve maximum visibility in app stores. The way it works is a developer or publisher will spend a considerable amount of money on paid advertising that buys their game an influx of paid (or non-organic) installs. This spike in activity also spikes their app store ranking. And that high ranking serves as a faux trust-mark to potential players, which in-turn attracts organic installs.
Because if a game is in the top charts it must be good, right?
For free-to-play (F2P) mobile games, burst campaigns are often used to chase high quality players, users who spend money in the game, as opposed to low quality players who don't. Or better yet, it's used to hunt whales, a super tiny percentage of users who spend exorbitant amounts of money.
And for paid games, burst campaigns are often used to collect enough paid installs to break even regardless what happens afterwards. In other words, they want to at least break even on the cost of making a game while setting the stage to make even more money if their game is actually good.
Just as developers and publishers might pay for reviews, think of burst campaigns as paying for top app store rankings. But it's far more deceitful, because at least with paid reviews journalists retain the right to objectivity.
In my experience, burst campaigns are one of the more pathetic advertising techniques out there, as well as one of the most dangerous.
The biggest danger in burst campaigns, besides losing all your money (and I'll get to that in a minute), is for less experienced developers who achieve top app store rankings and simply believe they're experiencing success.
The legend around these parts is that installs equal profit, that if you've spent less than Fiksu's most recent average CPI (cost per install) then you're winning.
The reason some developers believe that is because the standard measurement for success is when your LTV (lifetime value of a player) remains higher than your CPI. And that's sometimes true, but just not for burst campaigns, especially not for F2P games.
Remember what you're chasing, high quality players and whales. Because that's where the real money is.
So you can see how a seemingly successful burst campaign can be very deceiving.
It's not uncommon to burst successfully, but have zero ROI (return on your investment) simply because all your installs turned out to be low quality players.
But that's not the only way to lose everything.
Let's say your burst campaing budget is $50,000. And let's say you've spent $25,000 and it's not looking so good, you're stuck in the 300's on app store charts. So you spend the other $25,000 because you planned to anyway, and now you've exhausted your funds just under 200.
You know that just like search rankings, if you breach the top 100 it makes a huge difference. And the top 50 exponentially more.
Do you cut your losses or keep bursting?
There's only 3 things that can happen now – you either walk away with nothing (1), keeping going and lose everything (2) or keep going and get lucky (3).
At this point your burst campaign feels a lot like playing blackjack. And this happens more often than not. These types of highly volatile paid advertising techniques rarely go exactly as planned.
Getting caught in the middle of a burst can cause you to lose all your money in more ways than one.
However, that's not the real reason burst campaigns don't work.
Talk to any mobile game developer out there and they'll tell you in some way, shape or form, that the biggest problem in mobile games is visibility.
And that's why burst campaigns are so popular.
But burst campaigns miss the mark in two, big ways. First, the vast majority of installs they bring aren't high quality. And therefore, second, the visibility they bring is temporary.
In other words, burst campaigns are a temporary solution to a long term problem. Anyone can buy installs, that's easy. But here's a truth money can't buy…
Installs don't equate high quality players.
The only way to fix the problem of visibility forever is with games that cater to your target audience, and an audience of high quality players who anticipate everything you do.
I'd be remiss if I didn't say that no top 10 mobile game developer that I've ever talked to, even in private conversation, has ever attributed their success to a burst campaign.
That said, if I can't stop you from bursting, here's how I recommend you move forward…
The safest way to do a burst campaign is with a lot of money you're willing to lose. In other words, view burst campaigns, and all paid advertising for that matter, simply as experiments – money exchanged for education.
But let's be real about what you're doing.
Yes, you're trying to give your game and your company the best possible chance at success, but you're doing so by tricking players into thinking you're something you're not.
I'm all for faking it until you make it, but not when it betrays the trust of your company's most valuable asset…
Clearly, I'm no fan of burst campaigns. The heart of this technique means abusing the trust of your players, the very people you need (the only thing you need) to keep making more games.
These types of quick fixes and greasy gimmicks are why marketing has such negative connotation in the mobile games industry.
And although burst campaigns are a lot cheaper than they used to be, I think there's far better ways to spend what little money you might have to launch your game.
Call me old fashioned with my morals and business ethics, but more than anything, call me a high quality player.
Justin Carroll runs Monastery where he helps keep mobile games from getting buried in app stores. He specializes in attracting high quality players, not just chase them with paid UA. Learn how to build your audience with his free, 10 lesson course.