I have seen many disparate data points recently that when looked at holistically show how the free to play business model needs to evolve from relying on in-app purchases. While previously a strong in-game economy that generated significant revenue from in-app purchases was sufficient to create large profits for successful games, changes in the economics of the industry suggest in-app purchases will not be enough to support even successful games. The obvious answer is the advertising model, but even this model needs evolution to keep up with the times.
The data points
There are multiple data points that suggest CPIs (cost-per-installs) for performance marketing are not only increasing, but are likely to increase at the rate where they will surpass the lifetime value of acquired users for most games.
More apps, more spend
Most of the major game publishers are planning to grow through the launch of multiple new apps, particularly in the social casino space (where user acquisition costs are already high). While speaking colleagues recently, I learned that two of the major social slot companies have three new SKUs each planned for 2016, with planned spend of over $250,000 per day for each company already budgeted. They also expect their major competitors to each launch 1-2 new SKUs next year (and all in the first half of next year).
CPIs are simply a matter of supply and demand, and given that the advertising inventory is not increasing, it is inevitable that the cost of installs will increase. Even if the new apps are not targeted in your space, there is a limited number of people who will download a game and these companies will start to target your potential customers also because they will dry up their demographic.
Companies scapegoating user acquisition teams and agencies
The second data point is how many companies, including some of the biggest in the space, are replacing the leadership of their UA (user acquisition) teams and firing UA agencies they have worked with for several years. Many people I know have recently been approached for senior UA positions, and many of these people do not have significant UA experience. What is occurring is publishers are seeing a lower return on their advertising investment, or a negative return, and believe the problem is their UA team or advertising agency. Continue reading “Why your business model should not rely solely on in-app purchases”