Photo Finish Horse Racing got off to a sluggish start. The first mobile game from Orlando-based Third Time launched in August, but didn't come shooting out of the starting gate. According to App Annie, it spent most of its time on the outside of the top 200 most downloaded US sports games, sometimes dropping well out of the top 500. Its grossing position was a little better, wavering between the 50th and 150th rank. But there was a bit of a worrying trend; with horse racing's busiest season and the Triple Crown just a couple weeks away, the app was actually losing ground.
That's when Third Time's trio of veteran developers--Ian Cummings, Paul Fleetwood, and Brian Fleming--enlisted the help of mobile publisher Tilting Point to goose its user acquisition efforts.
"When I finally released Photo Finish into the wild, I immediately realized that I was in way over my head when it came to marketing the game," Cummings said in a Tilting Point blog post endorsing the company's efforts. "Despite time spent at Zynga and other free-to-play studios, I still totally underestimated the amount of work and skill needed to make the game stand out in the app stores as well as get discovered by interested players."
Tilting Point VP of strategy and insights Jesse Divnich detailed some of the company's efforts to GamesIndustry.biz.
"Part of the UA strategy here was to find countries where horse racing is very popular and target users there during major regional horse racing events," Divnich said. "For the US that was the Triple Crown but Saudi Arabia and Mexico, for example, have their own major horse racing events that we design UA campaigns around. A lot of research went into identifying the demographics of horse racing fans in each territory and doubling down on countries where horse racing is popular and cost-per-installs were low. We looked at the user segments where we were seeing a good return and using our projected lifetime value we then associated the appropriate amount of spend behind those campaigns.
"Since Tilting Point took over all the marketing work, that allowed the developer to focus on what they are best at: making the best game possible. Worrying about user acquisition, marketing, platform relationships, etc. only drains resources from optimizing their game. In this case we freed up developer time to implement a key new horse breeding feature that dramatically improved retention. This meant all the existing users and the new users we were bringing in would now stick around longer. It also gave us an opportunity to recommend the game for featuring as a major new update."
The Tilting Point-Third Time partnership began May 4, just two days before the Kentucky Derby, with Photo Finish near its all-time lows on the charts, standing as the 153rd top grossing US sports game, and the 523rd most downloaded. Since then it's risen as high as 34th and 36th on the top grossing and most downloaded US sports game charts. Tilting Point said daily downloads increased 14 times over while keeping the cost-per-install profitable, and revenue was multiplied 32 times over. Daily active users also jumped by 1,920 percent.
While the Photo Finish campaign has been a swift success, not every underperforming mobile game is going to be a user acquisition campaign away from success. Divnich said there are certain factors that make an app particularly well-suited to this sort of post-launch improvement.
"We are looking for great games that have solid free-to-play mechanics but they didn't get the marketing support or featuring they deserved. In the case of Photo Finish, it helped that horse racing is a niche genre without a lot of competition. There are several horse racing games out there but we couldn't find any others with the quality and mechanics of Photo Finish. That's the signal that let us know this game still had untapped potential. Developers should think about how much competition there is in the genre they choose before they develop a game."
He added, "In today's mobile market, it is about finding the right partner or publisher to complement your development team. Very few independent developers can launch a successful game on their own. The barriers to entry have never been lower, but the barriers to success have never been higher. The launch window for a mobile game is still a critically important time but it depends on the type of game. The lesson here is that all hope is not lost if your launch doesn't go well. For developers that choose to go at it alone, they must be prepared and know their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to marketing."