Highlights from GDC: Hosted Panel on UA and App Monetization

Mar 30, 2022
By: Jonathan Harrop
Last week Digital Turbine and AdColony had the honor of hosting a panel during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco – which was likely the first in-person event in a very long time for many people. After a warm and delicious breakfast, the first in three years for many of us, the panelists took the stage – well, their seats anyway. Joining Jonathan Harrop, our VP of Global Marketing & Communications were:
  • Brian Murphy, Head of Gaming at AppsFlyer, an attribution and marketing analytics platform
  • CK Wang, CEO & Co-founder, Kooapps, a mobile gaming studio with about 25 million monthly active users, maker of and Pictoword.
  • Darren Markovitz, Head of Monetization at Together Labs (formerly IMVU), an avatar-based social chat network
  • Joel Brodie Head of Growth and Operations at GameRefinery, a Liftoff company. Joel works daily with feature-level data for first-tier mobile game developers worldwide.
Harrop came out swinging and asked the panelists right away what they thought about the most significant change of the past two years: Apple Privacy. From Apple’s announcement about AppTrackingTransparency and SKAdNetwork to the final rollout and execution – what the company did right and where they may have misstepped.

Everyone agreed that Apple could have done better

The primary complaints were that the entire initiative was sudden and came off as badly planned, with little warning and a short deadline, disrupting the whole market with little emphasis on execution. Additionally, panelists noted that Apple was not transparent nor communicative about iOS 14, providing little to no guidance around specifics like probabilistic attribution. Companies are still working on fixing numerous issues, and “it’ll still be one or two years before everyone figures out fully what to do about it,” CK Wang observed. “But they got the word ‘privacy’ to be the number one thing everyone’s talking about,” said Joel Brodie. “And as stressful as that has been for everyone, privacy is a good thing for society, for Apple’s brand, and, long term, for everyone in this panel and this audience,” he remarked. Overall, the panelists had to admit that ad tech had gotten a bit complacent before WWDC 2020, and Apple shook things up and forced everyone in the industry to innovate in a responsible way. And, as Markovitz pointed out, if they hadn’t, the disruption would’ve happened at the government level. So overall, it was a challenge that pushed for positive change, and now that Google may be taking similar measures, much of the work that has been done will be even more valuable. “At least everyone already has that mindset and understanding,” said Harrop. Google has actually begun to roll out its latest privacy changes. The panel was mainly complementary to Google’s approach of waiting for industry feedback of their SDK runtime privacy and Android advertising ID (AAID) requirements. Google has learned from Apple’s rollout was the consensus from the panel.
“It’s absolutely true that privacy is critical across the board. And people can determine whether or not what Apple’s intentions were, but at least it got us to think in a different way where things aren’t done purely at the user level. It spurred a new way of thinking. And that’s great.” Brian Murphy, AppsFlyer

How developers adjusted – shifts and trends in game design

GameRefinery’s analysts deconstruct games by 50 different genres and 260 features, then run data models to uncover the proven models and design of top-tier mobile games. Brodie, then, was well-positioned to share how iOS 14 changed game design – and how it didn’t. “The prediction was that everyone was going to have to redesign the first 24 hours of the gameplay experience to optimize on a signal for a SKAdNetwork (SKAN) attribution,” Brodie said. But that didn’t happen. Why? Because most game advertisers are not using SKAN as a default measurement; instead, they were (and still are) using probabilistic attribution with MMPs. What did change, however, is that they lost retargeting and reengagement. “Game developers had to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, in order to keep and retain users. Because once you lose someone, they’re gone for good,” Brodie said. To keep gamers, developers now have shifted focus on live events and meta-events and increased the scale from zero to a thousand, he said. CK Wang presented another alternative. Without IDFA-based remarketing, influencer marketing has become a stronger source of fine-grain retargeting. “You still follow the same accounts on social networks, on TikTok, on Facebook, on Instagram. So broad-based retargeting is what we’re using in gaming now.”

Four positive trends that Apple catalyzed, according to the panel

  1. Innovation in data science and machine learning
  2. Creating an environment where we have to be more careful about how we define what user data is and how it can be utilized
  3. They fostered a more competitive, dynamic games industry, where mid-sized game developers don’t have to worry about their in-app purchase whales getting targeted and picked off by a company like Zynga bidding $50 CPI.
  4. Opening up conversations about cohorts, different types of creative (e.g., rewarded video), measurement (CPM), and leaning more into contextual advertising. ​​
“Creating cohorts and making these decisions at a slightly lower degree of confidence, you can still drive a very successful business. We’re going to see people make decisions with a little bit less data, but come out with the bottom line that’s exactly the same.” Darren Markowitz, Together Labs (IMVU)
Finally, Harrop asked the panel what has been on their mind for the past few years and what they are most excited about in the near future. For many, it was about the people – younger generations starting their careers in gaming on purpose vs. falling into it later, and some of the new tech hubs we see globally. For one, however, it was the game industry in general: “In 2019, gaming wasn’t the hot industry,” said Wang, “It was a content business. I think COVID helped as people stayed home, and then the metaverse, and then NFTs. All of a sudden, everybody wants to make games. Zoom’s making games. Netflix wants to make games.” “For a while, I thought maybe the gaming industry was shrinking, that people were moving to other industries. But I think the last three years have really turned that around,” he concluded.

About GDC

GDC has grown from an informal gathering of 25 developers to a week-long conference with more than 26,000 industry insiders. In 2016, GDC commemorated the 30th edition of the conference, which initially focused on computer games. The conference program has diversified to other gaming consoles, handheld devices, mobile devices, online games, and the VR/ AR space.
By Jonathan Harrop
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