Social casino games stand out as one of the most popular and profitable app categories, able to combine appealing and addictive gameplay with engaging and effective advertising. Winning in this competitive market requires in-depth knowledge of the audience and deep insights into the ad creatives and campaign calls-to-action that will keep players coming back. Our host Peggy Anne Salz from MobileGroove catches up with Margarita Vasilevskaya, Director of UA at Scopely, an interactive entertainment company and a leading mobile games publisher. Formerly Head of User Acquisition at DoubleDown Interactive, the leading provider of virtual “fun to play” casino games, Margarita talks about how she has made the move from casino to mid-core games and the lessons around audience acquisition and segmentation that apply to each. Margarita, a Mobile Hero recognized for her app marketing expertise, also speaks candidly about mobile ad fraud, what app marketers need to know about attribution solutions and why it’s critical to work with transparent networks.
Hello and welcome to Mobile Presence. I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz, with Mobile Groove, where I plan, produce and promote content that allows my clients to reach performance goals and scale growth. And speaking of growth, that is really what it’s all about here at Mobile Presence, it’s about mobile growth, it’s about how you can grow your app, how you can grow your audience. I get into a little bit of both because this particular section is sort of like our bi-weekly mini-series where we have the UA experts on here telling us about how they do their daily job and why and how they are amazing at it as well because they have also achieved success that has earned them the title of Mobile Hero as chosen by Liftoff, a full-service app marketing, and retargeting platform.
So we continue our tour, our world tour of the Mobile Heroes of UA with Margarita Vasilevskaya, Director of UA at Scopely. Margarita, great to have you here on Mobile Presence.
Hi Peggy, thank you so much, I’m excited.
So I say “world tour” on purpose Margarita, because that is not the name I would expect from Scopely in Los Angeles, so tell me a little bit about yourself.
Yes, so I’ve been in mobile gaming industry since 2012 and did marketing a little bit prior to that on various fields. I started with indie game developers back in the day and built my way up to working with larger companies like GameHouse and DoubleDown and I just recently joined Scopely. I’ve always been fascinated about the industry overall, especially gaming. This is my life now, so…
Well, I have to say that it’s also a little bit of congratulations, I’ve been watching you and then to see you arrive at Scopely, that is amazing, it’s going to be an amazing 2019 for you I can tell. But, you know, you were at a casino, games company before, you’ve moved now into mid-core. It’s interesting, you move from genre to genre in games and there’s a lot of lessons you can take with you, there’s also a lot of sort of like surprise similarities as well as differences, so I guess my top question is you’ve been in casino games, what are you taking with you in the way of key learnings over to mid-core?
Totally, yes. So, overall, you know, I worked with casual games for a long time, then I moved to social casino space where I worked with some of the core casino games. Mid-core is an obvious next move for me and for my career growth. When you look in the gaming industry overall, there are two main pillars in terms of LTV drivers – social casino where the audience is highly engaged females, right, and the other side is the mid-core strategy on RPG for the male market.
So, that is basically mid-core and core is the last piece that I have not had experience with yet and it’s like the whole other side of inventory that I have not utilized, you know, like working with platforms like let’s say Reddit or Imager where I would gain nothing for a social casino project, for example, because my audience is not over there but mid-core and core audience is utilized in these very niches and pockets of traffic.
So, answering your question, what tactics I would bring from my experience working with casual and social consumer into mid-core, I would say that the tactics probably are going to be very similar, it’s just the different tools, right? Like I mentioned before, there are going to be different platforms that I will be able to use to for my audience.
But also when you think about it, your experience in keeping these casino games fascinating for a really broad audience, you know, mostly housewives, women around 45 and over, making them addictive, fun, you’ve got to do the same thing over at mid-core, it’s just with males, but the whole idea of like addressing that audience, maybe some of the creatives or the creative concepts that you will be re-using, can you give me an idea about the similarities – maybe the question is what are the similarities between guys and who like games and housewives who like to gamble? Maybe that’s it.
Well, to some extent, yes, but I think there is one common factor in both genres is the strong IP, right? So, in social casino, it’s no secret that strong IP is like land-based machines, real actual land-based slot machines that are being ported to mobile perform very, very well because it speaks to the audience, users who love to actually travel to Las Vegas and play these machines and then they would only have access to it through our games – that’s why social casino authentic content is very important.
And the other aspect is the visual component, right? So games need to be aesthetically pleasing and visual appeal and art style are extremely important. So, in both social casino and mid-core, these two components are very important and they need to be combined in the creative and messaging, of course.
And I also hear from what you’re telling me that some interesting new platforms, you mentioned Reddit, I’m hearing a lot about Reddit, like that’s going to be the untapped territory, we haven’t looked at it much before but it’s an interesting channel. I mean, could you give some insights into some untapped channels you think marketers should be taking another look at now because of course you’re at Scopely and you’ll have to be taking a look at them yourself.
That is the challenge that excites me a lot. I think another different core, mid-core audience from social casino is how advanced core users are – they are way more advanced is using the internet and utilizing various apps and websites and stuff like that.
So, that’s why I anticipate that reaching male audience is going to be way more fun, you know, for a performance marketer trying to find new pockets or new ways, and again answering your question, like what are other platforms besides of Reddit – I feel like any editorial, right, because I haven’t played ads, not like super – it’s not rocket science, it’s not that interesting – but having editorial ads, right, something – I don’t know if you’re familiar with Imager, for example, they rolled out their ad about a year ago, or a year and a half, and I’ve been watching a lot of brands doing really cool, you know, product placements while it looks like an engaging and interesting and funny and witty part but it’s promoting a product, right, and users get involved into like a story that is being told or a funny meme but it’s being applied over there and they respond – that is what I find fascinating, you know, like the area that performance marketers can play like take more advantage of.
So you’re talking about the platforms, the untapped opportunities but recently you also shared a blog where you shared some lessons about what you learned at your other companies and what you’re bringing over or what you could offer as really actionable advice to growth marketers in games, but I guess in all categories, and you’ve called out another one which is not rocket science but I thought you put it so eloquently which was all about cross-promotion. Now, cross-promotion has evolved a little bit from the early days, I’m just curious why you called it out as being super important and how marketers should approach it?
Totally, yes. So you can look at it this way, right, like overall as companies are growing their portfolio of apps, right, they need to start looking at their user base as a whole, not by product, so this is the utopia – you want to have your unified user base where you see how users are traveling or, sorry, not traveling, migrating off from one app that belongs to your portfolio from one app to another, right? So when you are launching new games, I think it is important to keep in mind the cross-promotion strategy because sharing your existing user base is key, right, this is what the whole multi-app portfolio idea should be based on and you can look at it the following way…
If you are acquiring the user for game A, acquired a user for game A, let’s say three years ago and you paid let’s say $10, over time you might have spent another $15 for the same user on re-engagement ads to continue to have them active in your game and when launching the new games, like game B or C, my advice is to of course exclude that user from user acquisition, paid user acquisition targeting because later on you can use cross-promotion tactics, free cross-promotion tactics to move that user from game A to game B, right?
It makes sense, you’re going to let your data point out to you, your valuable, your highly valuable, your less valuable segments and then you’re going to show them different experiences.
Totally, totally. And you’re right, when I was talking about going with less valuable segments out of the gate, there are a few reasons for that. First of all, it highly depends on the stage of the product you are cross-promoting to – usually, new games require some time to prove its monetization ability, that’s why I recommend to save more valuable add-ins for later. The other reason is that you don’t want to drive highly valuable payers out of the flagship game or a donner game as I call it to a not-civilised product. There is always the risk that the user might stop playing the donner game after installing the new game and the best-desired scenario is to have users actively playing and monetized in the new game in addition to the donner game, not instead.
And probably the third reason is that a decent percentage of cross-promoted non-payers in the donner game might actually monetize in the new game, so it is valuable, you know, to start with the last like lower LTV or non-payer segment and just see how they behave in your new product. These segments will help you grow and actually reach the goals that you might have for the new game when you’re just launching it and after that you can slowly start moving to cross-promote and more valuable to these segments.
That’s actually very smart because you’re also going to get a little bit of focus group research in there because you’re putting them into a new title, seeing how they’re going to react so it’s like, one, monetization, other plus is actually insights into whether or not you have a potential commercial hit on your hands so it wins on two levels. We do have to go to a break right now, Margarita, but when we get back I want to hear more about that blog you wrote and especially how you’re deep diving into one of the key topics these days which is ad fraud and your approach to it and to attribution. So, listeners, loads of reasons to come back, which I want you to do, so don’t go away, we’ll be right back.
And we’re back at Mobile Presence. I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz with Mobile Groove and we have today Margarita Vasilevskaya, she is Director of UA at Scopely and also a Mobile Hero. I’m just curious, Margarita, Mobile Hero, quite a title – what do you think you did to earn it or why do you think you’ve been recognized as a Mobile Hero, someone who has nailed UA?
To be honest, I still feel like, you know, I’m not quite there, I want to continue learning, I don’t know everything so it’s a great nomination, I love it buy I don’t feel like this is something that speaks to stop learning or something like that, you know, like there are so many awesome people in the industry that I am looking up to and who have not been recognized as a Mobile Hero yet. So, yes, I’m just taking that award or nomination with a humble mind and I’m just going to continue what I’m doing and I will continue learning.
And that’s so true, Margarita, because UA is not where you’re ever a master or a Jedi, it’s always moving so fast and another area that’s moving even faster, I mean, I do not envy you in your position because I read about it all the time, write about it all the time – ad fraud, mobile ad fraud. I’m counting so many different types, smarter types, I mean, nine types if you take Adjust and counting, human bot, otherwise, lots to be watching and you also are focused on attribution ad fraud, not just in your blog, I would imagine, but also in your job. I guess the question for me is, you know, what is the most important thing you need to watch in attribution?
In attribution and fraud in particular, I would ask just to clarify the question? So, you know, 2017 and 2018 have been my years of learning and growing my expertise and knowledge on fraud topics. Fraud is evolving very, very fast unfortunately and I feel like the bad actors are a couple of steps ahead of us and good actors like mobile attribution partners who are trying really hard to build new tools and help advertisers to audit, monitor and detect.
So, some of the key things that have been helping me with DoubleDown, for example, right, because every company is different and the products are facing, different products are facing different fraud scenarios. I always like to say that in terms of overall fraud situations for a company, the higher your budget is, the higher tolerance for fraud you will develop and this is true because to some extent if your KPIs are not purely ROI driven, right, part of it has to be DAU, you need to continue driving volume into the game, you cannot eliminate all the fraud and unfortunately this is the reality nowadays.
So, to some extent you have to continue dealing with it, I think every company needs to determine what is their level of tolerance, right, what they need to be cutting off immediately and what are the things that they can stomach for a little longer.
To your point right there, just to stop for a moment, Margarita, that’s an important point to hone in on. You’re going to have to determine what your tolerance is because stopping it is impossible, it’s always going to be there, there are always going to be smart – you outsmart them, they outsmart you, it’s like an arms race, really. So, that’s an important piece of advice there – what are you suggesting that app marketers, therefore, UA managers rather, what they need to watch in order to guard against fraud? They can’t outsmart it, they have to allow a certain tolerance level but what else do they need to be doing?
So, there are two types of fraud that I classify on my end, right? So there is one fraud that you can like none of the advertisers would tolerate is fake users, right, or imitation of in-app activity, like with bots or whatever. So while you are actually spending money on non-existent users, so people are skimming you.
The second type of fraud is when ad networks or whatever are like, affiliates are skimming the industry, right? They’re stealing traffic from other traffic sources through click injections, for example, or click flooding. So basically they are driving actual real high-quality users into your game but they’re doing that in expense of other, you know, like clean actors, basically, clean networks.
So, I guess the question of tolerance, right, like you wouldn’t tolerate fake users in your game or any fake activity of course, right, but probably you can develop a higher tolerance for a network that is driving you high quality installs at a cheaper price even though they are cheating overall.
So, you know, as an advertiser, I have been facing cases like that and it truly fascinated me because I totally see companies, gaming companies or any other product companies and UA teams who would take advantage of that situation right there, their graph would move better because they’re spending less, their CPIs are lower for the high-quality traffic but at the same time when you allow things like that to happen, you are helping to pollute the industry and the ecosystem that we work in.
So, to me personally, I’m against any type of fraud, I don’t have any tolerance to it at all and I personally believe there are pretty loud cases that just, you know, hit the news fit with a well-known ad network that got accused of fraudulent activity and Google Play took some action and actually removed certain apps.
Saw that recently, absolutely. Did a clean-up of those SDKs and others as well.
Yes, yes, exactly. So I am, you know, and you know there is a mobile measurement partner who actually called them out, right, and I think this is a very, very brave move considering that no-one else ever went public with this information or accusation like that. So I want to believe that we are going to face a change in the fraud tolerance or even like fraud situation in our ecosystem very soon.
I want to see people start changing their opinion and, you know, being more open-minded and like be more spoken, I guess, about what’s going on. Maybe not handling fraud cases in-house but rather talk about that and share with the industry what’s going on because I don’t know a single company that has not had a bad case or an outraging cause of fraud activity, and unfortunately in a lot of cases, the offenders are well-known companies but no-one is speaking out about that.
I can hear you’re outspoken, you’re going to do some of that speaking out and it’s really a good point though because your distinction is that it’s the affiliates, it’s the re-brokers, we’re not going to say anything in general here but the advice I’m hearing is very much to watch it and one way I guess to watch it and avoid it is to stay with the networks that are more transparent from the very beginning. Is that correct?
Well, yes, I mean this is the general – I give the advice of staying with a transparent network for as long as possible because this is a smart tactic or like available luxury, let’s put it this way, that you have when you’re launching a new product, you don’t necessarily – you are taking advantage of having a new game on the market so you are taking more out of regular clean networks rather than when your game gets more mature and you need to start going into the rapid holes to look for additional traffic. That’s when you’re getting exposed to the fraud activity is when you’re trying to expand your UA adverts and you basically run out of the – I’ve been calling that honeymoon period in my blog – when your game loses this newbie factor.
So, unfortunately, you cannot stay with the clean networks for forever, right, you will need sooner or later, you will need to start experimenting and going out and taking risks and everything, and in terms of tactics, just like general hygiene on how to look at the traffic performance using your mobile measurement partner and you know audit it and making sure that nothing funny is going on there. I mean, I have had established processes within the last three companies that I worked at, they have not changed much, I mean, I know that I love seeing mobile attribution partners to actually roll out new tools, new dashboards for fraud detection that are giving us more – advertisers more flexibility to apply different tools for example.
So just a quick example, how heavy your game is…
Actually, Margarita, we do have to go to a break right now but I love the idea that you’re going to tell us how we need to interact with our attribution partners, how we can get the best and most out of the dashboards and tools they’re introducing. So I want to stop you on that moment, on that thought and listeners, don’t go away, we’ll be right back.
And we’re back to Mobile Presence. I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz and we have today our guest and Mobile Hero, Margarita Vasilevskaya, she is Director of UA at Scopely. Margarita, right before the break, we were diving into I think one of the hot topics of 2018, of course, 2019 guaranteed which is attribution and you’re talking about how to work with your attribution partner, which is really important because they give you the tools, they give you the dashboard but the results are what you make of it. So seeing that you’re focused on this, maybe you could share a couple of tips or high-level pieces of advice around how to get the best results?
Totally, yes. So, the mobile attribution partners or even third-party partners that are helping to detect fraud, they’re providing us with a tool but it is totally up to us how we’re going to use it and if we will be able to basically make good use out of it, right, repeating myself a little bit. Overall, the tactics that have been helping me and what I’ve seen working very well is the custom applied filters or rules or attribution. For example, if you know how heavy your game is, if the game behavior is unusual, you know, at an average on the market and you know that it might take no less than 30 seconds to download the game, it might be wise to apply a rule of let’s say, all the installs that are happening within less than 30 seconds after the click should be discarded because they might be showing suspicious activity. What is the likelihood that someone would be able to install the game faster, right?
The other cool trick that has been helping me a lot is to look at the uniqueness of traffic that one or another network is bringing and that just brings us back a little bit to the topic that I touched base a few minutes ago is the two types of fraud, right? The one is where ad networks or like bad actors are skimming good traffic sources. So that way, it’s called the multi-touch report, basically, you’re looking at how many networks touched that user before they installed your game and in a lot of cases, you can calculate the uniqueness, the unique percentage of traffic that one or another network is driving you and based on that you can make assumptions of how valuable this ad network is to your UA advert. If you are able to buy the same traffic from, let’s say, three other channels that you are working with, what’s the point of continuing spending with one or another partner?
So, I mean, these types of things have been helping me a lot. Again, fraud is advancing so fast, there are so many new things that are getting harder and harder to detect unfortunately and again I’ve run across these cases where even mobile attribution partners sometimes are saying OK, guys, like for example we would detect something funny with a traffic source, with a new traffic source that we just started testing and our mobile attribution partner would tell us like “Guys, you know what, this is a new type of fraud – we’ve never seen that before and we do not have a way of detecting that yet”. And that’s when, you know, like sometimes I feel helpless in these situations – like I don’t know what to do, right, our tools are not advancing fast enough while the bad actors are.
To your point, it’s true, the bad actors are smart – I was at an event where they don’t even need a lot anymore, literally you can have like a MacBook and you can still wipe out somebody’s ad budget – click injection, I think it was. But to your point though, it’s really optimistic and it’s inspiring how you’re using things like rules to set up some traps to catch them because they’re going to continue so it’s not really about catching them but more tricking them. So, for your example about how an app weighs a certain amount and takes a certain number of seconds to download, I mean, easy, set up a rule – if it’s less than that, then it’s got to be fraud because it can’t physically happen that anyone can download an app faster. So, it’s really helpful what you’re sharing. I want to encourage all of our listeners to go and check out your blog as well. But in the meantime, Margarita, how can people stay in touch with you? You have your dedicated page over at heroes.liftoff.io but how else can they maybe catch up and since you’re so into learning, maybe even have a little bit of a knowledge sharing session?
I’m always into networking and meeting new people and yes, people who know me in the industry could testify that I’m a very sociable person. Yes, I think the best way to reach out to me would be through LinkedIn, yes, I think that’s my favorite professional social network.
OK, and we’ll have those in the show notes as well. And my friends, that is a wrap of yet another Mobile Heroes mini-series here on Mobile Presence, more amazing companies, the whole quarter, the next quarters are filled with those shows. If you want to read up of course on Margarita or any other of the Mobile Heroes in the series, then it’s heroes.liftoff.io.
And if you want to keep up with me throughout the week or find out more about how you can be a guest or sponsor on Mobile Presence, then you can email me, email@example.com.
As I said, it’s a wrap of yet another episode but of course you can go back, and you should go back to check out this and all earlier episodes of our show by going to webmasterradio.fm or you can find our shows on iTunes, Stitcher, Spreaker, Spotify and iheartRadio simply by searching Mobile Presence. So until next time, remember, every minute is mobile, so make every minute count. We’ll see you soon.