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Warlords of Aternum hits a bullseye with ad buys

How InnoGames increased user acquisition and ROAS with Audience Pinpointer

InnoGames – A Unity developer case study

How does a developer with an established, successful game continue to acquire high-value users while optimizing ad costs? To maintain and grow a healthy user base, InnoGames has advertised consistently with Unity Ads. And implementing Audience Pinpointer, a powerful Unity Ads feature, into their user-acquisition strategy has significantly improved their results and raised their expectations of being able to consistently acquire high-quality users via Unity Ads.

The project

Use Unity Ads’ Audience Pinpointer for gamer-level ad targeting

The goal

Improve retention rates and increase ROAS

Platforms

Android, iOS

Team members

12 engineers, 9 artists/designers, 5 support personnel

Location

Hamburg, Germany

With a number of award-winning browser and mobile games under its belt, including Forge of Empires, Elvenar, and Warlords of Aternum, InnoGames employs more than 400 from over 30 countries, currently runs seven live games, and maintains App Store and Google Play ratings of 4.7 and 4.5, respectively. To further optimize their user acquisition (UA) strategies and achieve their return on ad spend (ROAS) goals, InnoGames uses Audience Pinpointer to reach gamers with high day-7 (D7) retention rates.

The results:

  • 20% increase in D7 retention rates
  • 60% scaling of ad spend within one year
  • Fewer repetitive optimizations needed from marketing managers

InnoGames was born at night

Along with their friend Michael Zillmer, brothers Eike and Hendrik Klindworth put together Tribal Wars, their first browser game, in 2003. They started the game purely as a fun diversion for long winter nights, but it caught on quickly as they added new worlds. It became a full-time effort and they founded InnoGames in Hamburg in 2007. The company grew steadily, and with the increasing market dominance of mobile games, they made the decision to develop all new mobile titles in Unity.

From here to Aternum

InnoGames acquired Warlords from Wooga Studio in 2017. Using Unity, they continued developing the turn-based strategy (TBS) game as Warlords of Aternum, added massive content updates, optimized battle-balancing, and more. Many Unity features helped streamline development and enhance the game:

  • The C# AssetBundleGraphTool reduces tedious asset importing and bundling tasks, letting their engineers easily build and automate workflows for creating and changing asset settings graphically.
  • Lightmapping precalculates surface brightnesses in Warlords of Aternum’s multiple scenes and it stores results in a lightmap for later use.
  • ScriptableObject is a serializable Unity class that holds references to UI/GameObjects for battle-balancing. It makes it easier to manage changes and debugging by keeping shared data independent from script instances.

To further boost performance, InnoGames regularly leverages the asset cache server, draw call batching, editor scripting, and of course, the Unity Profiler.

Looking forward, the InnoGames team is particularly excited about implementing the new Unity Data-Oriented Technology Stack (DOTS) components – the Entity Component System (ECS), the C# Job System, and the Burst Compiler – which let developers take better advantage of multicore processors on mobile devices.

Stepping up monetization and user acquisition

Most InnoGames offerings monetize purely via IAP, and though the Unity Ads team has been a partner for many years, their efforts with ad monetization are just ramping up. According to Sebastian Goldt, Head of Performance Networks, “The CPM and fill rate are great compared to other sources, and we especially appreciate Unity’s dedicated Support, Client Partners, and Ad-Ops teams – they’ve made a big difference.”

InnoGames’ UA strategy has been diverse, with campaigns running on ad networks like Facebook, Google, and Unity as well as TV. They’ve tried a number of real-time bidding (RTB) and demand-side (DSP) platforms, if only to avoid relying on a single source. “With Unity Ads we have always been able to acquire high-quality users. And now, with Audience Pinpointer, we’ve pushed acquired-user quality even higher, which is quite impressive,” continued Sebastian. InnoGames first applied Audience Pinpointer with its Warlords of Aternum UA campaigns, focusing on gamers with high day-7 retention values.

Targeting at a more granular level

Audience Pinpointer is a Unity Ads feature that identifies gamers likely to have a specific value beyond an app install based on an advertiser’s goals. It enables individual-gamer, rather than cohort-level, targeting to enable better:

  • Retention – acquire gamers who are more likely to play a game for 7 or more days
  • ROAS – acquire gamers based on their predicted spend during their first 7 days in a game

At the moment of an ad request, and based on predicted D7 retention or ROAS, Unity’s machine-learning model uses real-time gamer valuation to dynamically decide on a bid for each individual gamer. The system updates constantly based on actual gamer behavior and the preferences of millions of gamers across Unity’s platform.

“Using Unity’s Audience Pinpointer solution, we scaled our ad spend by 60% from January 2018 to January 2019,” said Sebastian Goldt, Head of Performance Networks. Bidding adjusts automatically so InnoGames pays based on dynamically updated CPIs, maximizing their ROI. Another important feature for InnoGames is how Audience Pinpointer reduces the number of daily optimizations that used to be set manually. This gives their marketing managers more time to focus on creative approaches to improving their campaigns.

Committed to the Unity community

Besides user acquisition, talent acquisition is an important challenge for any studio. For InnoGames, becoming a Unity shop meant gaining access to a rich pool of Unity developers who could immediately contribute to game production. “Unity allows us to onboard new staff very easily,” said Armin Busen, Chief Product Officer. InnoGames offers internal Unity training and also hosts several Unity Meetups per year that typically draw up to 100 participants each.

Armin continued, “Unity is the real-time development platform of choice for all our mobile games. Warlords of Aternum is a good example of the power of Unity to bring a compelling strategy game experience to mobile.”

"With Unity Ads we have always been able to acquire high-quality users. And now, with Audience Pinpointer, we’ve pushed acquired user quality even higher, which is quite impressive.”

Sebastian Goldt, Head of Performance Networks, InnoGames

“Unity is the real-time development platform of choice for all our mobile games. Warlords of Aternum is a good example of the power of Unity to bring a compelling strategy game experience to mobile.”

Armin Busen, Chief Product Officer, InnoGames

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