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How Do You Conduct a Gaming Soft Launch Campaign?

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When you have a new gaming app that you plan to release worldwide in 2020, first, you’ll want to start with a gaming soft launch campaign.

Facebook is a great place to start; however, what worked for Facebook user acquisition advertising in 2019 won’t work as well in 2020. User acquisition advertising evolves fast. If you plan to advertise in 2020 as you did in 2019, you’re going to lose money during your gaming soft launch campaign.


Soft Launch Campaign


Why is this happening? Facebook pivoted toward algorithm-driven advertising last February. Their new requirement for Campaign Budget Optimization is more evidence of the algorithm taking over, and Facebook’s Power5 recommendations for advertising best practices proved this further. Both Facebook and Google have simplified and automated a lot of the levers user acquisition managers used to rely on. 

Now is the time for you to prepare your accounts for that acceleration by structuring them for scale. To take your game from soft launch to worldwide launch using Facebook’s 2020 best practices, here are our recommendations.

It breaks out into three phases:

  1. The Soft Launch
  2. The Worldwide Launch
  3. Worldwide optimization and scale


Phase One: The Gaming Soft Launch, Including Pre-Launch Creative Testing

Gaming soft launches give you a great opportunity to pre-test creative, test campaign structures, identify audiences, and help evaluate monetization strategy and lifetime value model. By the time you’re ready for the worldwide launch, you’ll have found several winning creatives and have a strong sense of the KPIs necessary to achieve and sustain a profitable UA scale. 

Gaming soft launches tend to work best if you focus on a limited international market. Pre-launch in an English-speaking country outside of the US and Europe; Canada, New Zealand, and Australia are ideal picks for this. Choosing countries like those lets you conduct testing in markets that are representative of the US, but without touching the US market. As you are not launching in the US, it will not spoil your chances of being featured by Apple or Google. 

Once you’ve got the market selected, pivot to:


Identifying the most efficient soft launch campaign setup

A simplified account structure, rooted in auction and delivery best practices will enable you to efficiently scale across the Facebook family of apps. The best way to avoid problems is to structure your account for scale based on Facebook’s best practices. Facebook defined those best practices in Facebook’s Power5 recommendations earlier this year. But – in evidence of how rapidly the platform evolves – they fine-tuned their best practices again lately in their Structure for Scale methodology. 

The gist of Structure for Scale – and of what Facebook wants advertisers to do now – is to radically simplify campaign structures, minimize the amount of creative you’re testing, and to use targeting options like Value Bidding and App Event Bidding to control bids, placements, and audience selection for you. Facebook is building up a considerable body of evidence that this approach results in significant campaign performance improvements, though if you’re a UA manager who likes control, it can be an adjustment.

While it is best practice to let the algorithm manage placements and bids, we do still have quite a lot of levers of control over specific parts of campaign management, such as:


Lever #1 Increase Audience Size

Increase retargeting windows beyond 1 day, 3 days, or 7 days and make sure retargeting increments align with website traffic volume. Bucket Lookalike audiences into larger groups and minimize the audience overlap. For example: 0-1%, 1-2%, 3-5%, 5-10%. Once you have about 10,000 installs you can move to AEO (App Event Optimization for purchases). Then your audience structure can shift. And once you have about 1,000 purchases, you can move to Value Bidding and reselect your audiences again.

Lever #2: Combine Placements: Select automatic placements for better results

The more placements your ads appear in, the more opportunities you have to reach or convert someone. As a result, the more placements your ads are in, the better your results can be. And you won’t get penalized for letting the algorithm test new placements. After the Learning Phase, the algorithm will just not show your ads where they don’t perform. It can do the placement testing for you.

Lever #3: Increase Budget Liquidity: Select automatic placements for better results

Increase your campaigns’ budget-to-bid ratios. Calculate daily budgets based on the cost to achieve Facebook’s 50 conversions per week threshold. Use Campaign Budget Optimization. Our current best practice for CBO is to separate prospecting, retargeting, and retention into separate campaigns. Otherwise, CBO will push the budget toward retargeting and retention. Focus on a split of roughly 70% prospecting, 20% retargeting, and 10% loyalty (loyalty is optional). Segment your budget at this high level, then let CBO do the work within those objectives.

Lever #4: Bid smarter

Never underestimate the power of choosing the right bid strategy. Make your pick carefully (and test it) based on your campaigns’ goals and cost requirements. Whatever bid strategy you pick is basically giving the Facebook algorithm instructions on how it should go about reaching your business goals. If you’re using a bid cap, make sure that the cap is high enough. Still not sure what’s high enough? The average cost per optimization event your ad set was getting when you weren’t using a cap can be a useful starting point. Just keep in mind that bids are often higher than costs. So setting your bid cap at your average cost per optimization event could result in your ads winning fewer auctions.

Testing and optimizing creative

We believe creative is still the best competitive advantage available to advertisers. Because of that, we relentlessly test creative until we find break-out ads. Historically, this focus on creative has delivered most of the performance improvements we’ve made. But we’ve also found that new creative concepts have about a 5% chance of being successful. So we usually develop and test at least twenty new and unique creative concepts before we uncover a winning concept.

That’s far more work than most advertisers put in, so to stay efficient we’ve developed a methodology for testing creative that we call Quantitative Creative Testing. QCT, combined with some creative best practices, allows us to develop the new high-performance creative concepts that clients need to dramatically improve their return on ad spend (ROAS) and to sustain profitability over time.

Our overarching goal with all this pre-launch creative is to stockpile a variety of winning creative concepts (videos, text, and headlines) so we’re ready for the worldwide launch and can launch in the US and other Tier 1 countries with optimized creatives, audiences, and a fine-tuned Facebook algorithm.


Phase Two: Driving a Worldwide Gaming Soft Launch

Now, let’s shift into the worldwide launch with tested creative, optimal campaign structure, and a monetization strategy that gives you the payback window you want.

Start by casting a wide net with different campaign structures to identify top-performers and scale them quickly. Also, focus on:

  • Which geographies to use: test worldwide, the US, and Tier 1 minus the US to see which performs best.
  • Testing audiences: use lookalike audiences as soon as you have enough purchases to start working with that data. Use our Audience Builder Express tool to create hundreds of super-highly targeted audiences with just a few clicks.
  • Which optimization goal works best: choose Mobile App Installs (MAI), App Event Optimization (AEO), or Value Optimization (VO).
  • Developing a campaign structure grid: use spreadsheets that block out campaign structure and different campaign settings including ads sets, the budgets for each campaign, and more. They’re basically a blueprint of the entire launch.

You also want to get the campaigns out of the learning phase as quickly as possible because it tends to suppress ROAS by anywhere from 20% to 40%. Getting out of the learning phase typically requires 50 conversions per ad set per week. Also avoid any “significant edits” to top-performing campaigns and ad sets, as those would put those campaigns back into the learning phase. Facebook’s system defines a “significant edit” as a campaign budget change of 40% or more or any bid change greater than 30%.

Balance budgets within one to three days of launch so you can then shift spend to top-performing segments. Reduce spend from underperforming geographies and optimization goals, and then reallocate it to top-performing geographies and optimization goals. Then, increase the budgets for CBO campaigns and ad set budgets. 

This will help you achieve a successful worldwide launch – the exposure will have gone global. The gaming campaigns will be profitable and operating with the best efficiency you can deliver for now.

Phase 3: Achieving Worldwide Optimization and Scale

Now it’s time to optimize what we’ve got and make it even better. Here, you’ll want to optimize on Audience Expansion, Creative Testing, and Creative Refresh.


Audience expansion

Fire up our Audience Builder Express tool and start isolating specific audiences. In addition to the standard in-app event audiences (registrations, payers, etc), we’ll build and test audiences based on key KPIs. Carefully expand audiences to avoid audience fatigue as much as we do it to avoid creative fatigue. 

Creative testing

Just as audiences burn out faster with high-velocity campaigns, creative burns out faster, too, of course. So we have to be aggressively testing all the time. To find creative that performs at the level we need, we usually have to test twenty ads to find one piece of creative good enough to replace control. That means we need a constant stream of new creative – both new “concepts” (completely new, out-of-the-box creative approaches) and new ad variations. Our creative development work is about 20% concepts and 80% variations. This creative testing machine is running all the time, fueled by creative from our Creative Studio.

Creative refresh

Even with all the creative development and all the audience expansion tricks, creative is still going to get stale. So we have to be slowly rotating new, high-performance creative into ad sets all the time. We don’t just stop showing one piece of creative and jump over to the new ad. As you probably know, even if a new ad tests well, it doesn’t mean it will beat the control. So we do careful “apples to apples” creative tests to ramp up new assets.


Soft Launch Conclusion

So that’s how we’re running gaming soft launch campaigns that scale to worldwide audiences on Facebook using their newest best practice, structure for scale. This process is working well and we’re constantly testing, tweaking, and enhancing it. That’s the fun thing about user acquisition on Facebook: It’s constantly evolving.

soft launch

Read our blog post, UA Media Buying Model, and see how it works in tandem with our Ad Concept Model. Learn the media buying best practice strategies for Facebook Android, Facebook iOS SKAN, Google, and TikTok.

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