Panzerdog: A Unity case study
How does a small gaming startup with bright engineers acquire the marketing tools and expertise to jump into a highly competitive market? Panzerdog is a young company, but its founders are veterans who understand that gameplay is just the first step. And they knew that successfully launching a profitable game requires sophisticated monetization engineering as well.
User acquisition and monetization solutions lead to $1M in one month
CEO Alexey Sazonov and COO Sergey Kozyakov founded Panzerdog in 2016 with pre-seed funding from Finnish Aii Corporation and later received seed funding from Russian Mail.Ru Games Ventures. Its first offering, Tacticool, is an isometric 5v5 shooter released in early 2019 for iOS and Android. With an intriguing overhead view and excellent touch controls, Pocketgamer called it “tight and taut … Tacticool is a brilliant game, and we hope to see more of it in the future.”
Panzerdog is wholly a Unity shop, and according to Alexey, “Unity is a perfect match for any mobile game developer – not only as an engineering platform but as a powerful suite of easy-to-use, fully integrated monetization tools as well.”
- Over 3M downloads, 300K DAU, and $1M in revenue after a month of the Tacticool launch
- Enhanced collaboration and faster releases with Unity Cloud Build
- Comprehensive tracking of monetization behavior metrics with Unity Analytics
- Reached 70% ROAS within one month from users acquired from Unity
- Achieved a fill rate of 99% by using Unity Ads exclusively for monetization
Top performance from the start
The Pocketgamer reviewer also noted that Tacticool “could well be the sleeper mobile hit of 2019.” Panzerdog credits Unity performance tools such as the Profiler Window, Frame Debugger, Physics engine, and its integration with RenderDoc as indispensable factors in the game’s smooth performance. And Unity Cloud Build helped put it all together. “We’re a small team, so a feature like Cloud Build that speeds up and smooths the process of making builds is important. Using the Unity servers, we catch problems and iterate versions very quickly,” said Alexey.
Evolving their monetization strategies
As Tacticool coalesced into a viable game, Panzerdog started a closed alpha-testing period to improve game controls and optimization, among other issues. Alexey said, “After that, our soft-launch strategy focused on gathering monetization metrics and improving long-term player retention.”
The freemium game includes a mix of in-app purchases (integrated with Unity IAP) and rewarded ads. In a Unity survey, 71% of gamers preferred ads to IAP and premium pricing, while 62% regularly viewed ads for rewards; less than 10% of developers saw poorer retention, while 86% saw IAP stabilize or improve with rewarded ads. According to Sergey, “We set up Unity Analytics for metrics early to track which of our monetization tactics were designed well and which needed more work.” He added that they’ll start A/B testing with the monetization features and expand their A/B testing from there.
Cashing in on rewarded ads
Sergey continued, “As far as our monetization and acquisition KPIs are concerned, our main goal is for lifetime value (LTV) to exceed cost per install (CPI) within six months.” When Panzerdog added rewards early in the soft launch, they were concerned about effective, low-cost per thousand (eCPM), but the rates nearly doubled after they launched globally and the game gained popularity in Tier-1 countries.
Throughout the soft and global launches, Unity Ads helped Panzerdog balance the number of rewarded ad views they wanted to get from each player. Sergey said, “Unity Ads has all the features we need now and expect to need later. It’s very easy to integrate and test.”
They expect to integrate an ad mediation tool soon and more ad networks later to further increase eCPM. He added, “We’re going to stay within the Unity family. Integrating another company’s mediation SDK or framework would mean a bigger build size, more crashes, and harder support, and those are the last things on our list! Besides that, Unity has a much higher fill-rate in comparison to other ad partners.”
Investing in the community to acquire players
Panzerdog feels that the biggest impact on their game development has come from their existing community. During development, they were able to corral tens of thousands of beta users. Alexey noted, “This is a huge, articulate group that spawns new users, so investing in the user community is definitely worth the effort from a user acquisition (UA) standpoint.” They’ve also run dozens of test UA campaigns with Unity Ads and Facebook Ads to track if their updates are improving metrics.
Alexey added, “Of course, UA has its challenges, and marketing a shooter can be complicated. There’s plenty of graphic violence, but ad partners don’t want to show it in a family-friendly Match 3 game. So what’s an ideal ad for a shooter? I’m not sure!” In any case, they feel that their UA campaigns have gone quite well and their return on ad spend (ROAS) exceeds expectations.
Winning future gamedev battles
Panzerdog is currently working on new game modes, clans, improved matchmaking, and optimized network connectivity. According to Sergey, “We definitely want to build Google Play Instant Apps in Unity. We analyze community feedback daily and let that help guide our next steps.”
They also expect to expand their use of rewarded ads, a move the Unity survey strongly reinforced. In it, 70% of those surveyed that had integrated ads post-launch said that revenues increased. Of this 70%, 58% saw revenues climb somewhat as a result of the work while 12% saw revenues jump “a lot.”
Anticipating a long-term collaboration, Alexey said, “Unity lets us reuse source code and the ecosystem is awesome, whether it’s Analytics, Ads, Cloud Build or the Asset Store. It supports many target platforms, and you can build an iOS game and a few minutes later port it to Android. And if a platform-specific feature isn’t supported by Unity itself, there’ll be something available in the Asset Store made by the community.” Whatever the team decides to work on, it is proud of its Made with Unity (MWU) environment.