Japanese marketers play a smart mobile game with these strategies

Kazuki Ishii, Tetsuo Midorikawa / August 2016

Japan, one of the biggest mobile gaming markets in the world, also has one of the fiercest competitions amongst game makers. Creating, nurturing, and sustaining a strong user base is key to survival. Here are the stories of three brands that successfully managed to connect with users in those critical moments of interest, keeping their mobile game apps at the top of the heap, despite the highly competitive market.

Japan is home to 45.8 million gamers—that’s roughly one-third of the gamers in North America. Despite being a small country (population: 127M), it’s a major contributor to the global gaming market, with revenues reaching $5.16 billion in 2015.1 Key to the market’s clout is spend per user: Japanese gamers spend an average of $24.06 per game—about 4X more than the $6.61 North Americans spend.

Despite the fact that the Japanese gaming market is growing at 100–150% every year, smartphone game downloads from app stores were down 20% YoY in Q1 of 2015.2 And in the first half of 2015, the average time it took for a game’s user growth to slow3 seems to have sped up to about 30 weeks—a whopping 150 weeks shorter than the time it took in 2012.4

What does this mean for game makers? To start, the key to driving higher profits lies in getting users not only to download the game, but to keep playing it. Below are success stories from SEGA Games Co., Ltd.’s SEGA Networks Company; Ateam Inc.; and Mixi XFLAG Studio, companies that met Japanese users in their crucial moments of interest, spurring game downloads and sparking renewed interest in the games (i.e., reengagement).

SEGA Networks delivers its message to high-value users in their moments of interest

SEGA Networks’ goal was quality over quantity. Instead of just going for more downloads, it focused on attracting users with a high lifetime value (LTV). By studying when and how smartphone users conducted gaming-related searches, it determined the best ways to be there with its message.

SEGA Networks had run Search Network app installs campaigns with moderate success, but variations in the types of commonly searched terms and fluctuations in bid prices meant it was losing opportunities to be there when gamers were searching. To be there in key moments of interest more efficiently, SEGA Networks optimized its campaigns with automatic bidding and added a target conversion price. This helped maximize opportunities for ads to show up when gamers were searching on Google or Google Play.

The company also expanded its keyword list, covering all game-related keyword searches while simultaneously expanding bid opportunities by using a broad match. This allowed SEGA Networks to automatically suppress any bids on keywords that performed poorly and reduce the risk of skyrocketing costs, all while expanding the campaign.

"SEGA Networks’ promoted games saw a 27% increase in the number of keywords with actual ad impressions—and the number of app installs increased by 98%."

SEGA Networks’ promoted games saw a 27% increase in the number of keywords with actual ad impressions—and the number of app installs increased by 98%. In addition, because the campaign attracted interested users, the LTV was 5.5X higher among users acquired through keywords compared to users picked up via an average display campaign.

Ateam tailors creative for deeper engagement and continuous play

When Ateam Inc. learned that 45% of people check their smartphones while watching TV,5 it took action. For its new mobile game Unison League, Ateam developed coordinated ads that ran on TV as well as TrueView, YouTube’s skippable ads format. The ads on the two different platforms were creatively similar and focused on the user interface of the game, allowing consumers to get a feel for the game before purchasing.

The ads also contained unique and easy-to-remember keywords, like “uni-fri,” so when an interested user saw the ad and wanted to learn more about the game, Ateam had search ads ready to lead users to more information. Ateam also drummed up interest and familiarity with the game by producing a promotional video that appeared as an in-game ad.

The results? A 253% increase in searches related to terms used in the ads and a 79% increase in app name keywords. By tailoring its creative to meet the needs of people in their micro-moments, Ateam’s ads proved useful to potential users, delivering precise messages when they mattered the most.

XFLAG uses banner ads to reengage dormant users

With 30 million users, Mixi XFLAG Studio’s Monster Strike is the third-largest mobile game app in Japan. Despite having been released more than two years ago, Monster Strike is still adding active users, providing the game with a solid number of base players. In order to stimulate further growth, XFLAG made an effort early on to get dormant users to keep playing, while attracting new users to the game. 

"XFLAG produced banner ads targeted to these dormant users, increasing click-through rates by 20%."

Reengagement is difficult but essential to creating a profitable game. By measuring the return rate of dormant users on a daily basis with Google’s Analytics 360 Suite and Big Query, XFLAG was able to determine which users were least likely to use the game again. To lure back users, the company ran an advertising promotion, targeting users who had been dormant for at least seven days.

XFLAG produced banner ads targeted to these dormant users, increasing click-through rates by 20%. It also ran an app reengagement campaign that automatically loaded the game when a user who had already installed the app clicked on an ad, capitalizing on their moments of interest.

XFLAG managed ads effectively and efficiently with Google Ads6—and it paid off. The company saw an ROAS of above 100% over a period of 30 days among returning dormant users; the reengagement strategy also succeeded in contributing to profits. Here's the full case study:

What Japanese marketers can learn from mobile game makers

What do all these successful campaigns have in common? They were all built with an understanding of when and how Japanese gamers turn to the web in their moments of need. Regardless of what industry you’re in, here are some key questions marketers can ask themselves as they plan for micro-moments:

  1. Are we there in the moments that matter? To reach consumers on mobile, brands need to show up for the most-searched topics in their category.
  2. Are we useful in these moments? Create useful content that helps solve a problem or makes a consumer’s life easier.
  3. Is our mobile site or app meeting our customers’ needs? Go through your mobile site and app to make sure they're easy to navigate, promote reengagement, and present the right message at the right time.
  4. Do we make it easy to purchase? No matter where the consumer chooses to buy, the step from research to purchase should be a simple and frictionless one.
  5. Are we providing a seamless experience across channels? Think about how your channels work together to provide a cohesive customer experience.
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