With multiple chart-topping hits like X2 Blocks and 2248 Puzzle, Inspired Square has mastered the puzzle and casual genre. It’s not easy to build and scale games from the ground up, but Shamas Akhtar Awan, Operations Manager, dove into the unknown to create popular titles.
From self-taught beginnings, Awan’s appetite for learning and unwavering curiosity helped establish Inspired Square as a studio to watch. In this interview, we sat down with Shamas to learn how he not only taught himself to code, but also mastered monetization and user acquisition over the last five years.
Unity: Tell us how you got started in the mobile gaming industry.
Awan: My background is in electrical engineering. I wasn’t working in the gaming industry. One day, the CEO at my place of employment asked if I wanted to work on a gaming project with a team of five people. I agreed, thinking it would be a great opportunity to learn something new.
I went back to my PC, opened up YouTube, and searched, “How to create a game on Unity.” The programming part was relatively easy for me since I already had experience programming in C#.
After some research, we decided to create a game called Dot Knot, as it seemed easy to develop. We learned about all aspects of the game’s development as it progressed, and took seminars and online classes since we’d never worked in the gaming industry before.
Unity: How would you describe your career trajectory at Inspired Square?
Awan: When I first started, I didn’t know anything and I had to learn everything, including user acquisition, monetization, and app development. For example, I’d work on a game where we had to integrate flow charts and set up prices, then incorporate UI designs and create promotional videos. My first focus was monetization, but really I handled a lot of elements. Most recently, I’ve shifted to leading user acquisition, which is a new challenge for me.
Unity: How did you begin monetizing your first game?
Awan: Initially, we focused on day 1 (D1) retention, day 7 (D7) retention, and play session times per user. We then launched with just in-app ads (IAA), but learned pretty quickly that ads alone wouldn’t suffice. So we integrated in-app purchases (IAP), which we learned step by step.
I also learn a lot from my account managers. They help with analyzing our strategy and recommending where to focus our efforts.
Unity: What were some of the monetization challenges you faced?
Awan: One of the biggest challenges was retention. We realized that some of the game features weren’t necessary and were actually causing users to lose interest in the game. So, we removed those features and focused on improving the core gameplay experience.
Another challenge was balancing monetization. It was important for us to find the right balance between monetization and user experience. We didn’t want to overwhelm users with too many ads or in-app purchases, as that would negatively impact their experience. So, we tried different strategies like offering rewarded ads and providing users the option to remove ads for a small fee. We also optimized the placement of ads to ensure they did not interfere with the gameplay experience.
Unity: How has the transition from focusing on monetization to user acquisition been?
Awan: At first, I thought it would be easy because I had seen how user acquisition was done. I knew how to set up a campaign and test performance in secondary markets, but I quickly learned that there were so many moving parts. You have to focus on things like lifetime value (LTV), retention, return on ad spend (ROAS), update creatives, and figure out which network works best. User acquisition is challenging, since you have to account for every dollar you spend.
A big learning curve for me was figuring out that each network has its own advantages. Account managers provide critical insight here because they know their network best. It’s important to be open to continuous learning because there’s always something new.
Unity: What are some of the user acquisition strategies that you’ve implemented?
Awan: It’s critical to regularly update your creatives. In addition, adding playable videos with gameplay has been a game changer. They’ve really improved conversion rates.
For our KPIs, we focus on either retention or ROAS campaigns. You need to create a balance between them because if you want scale, it’s going to limit your ROAS targets. Learning these small differences is important.
Recently, I learned that if there’s any holidays coming, making ad creatives specific to the holiday and running them in the countries that celebrate can really increase conversion. In my experience, the best conversions come from creatives that feature your gameplay. It’s my opinion that about 70% should be gameplay, and 30% can be celebratory or elements that make it more interactive.
Unity: What advice can you give to other mobile marketers to help make their games a success?
Awan: Follow the 80/20 rule: 20% effort can give you 80% results. Focus on the core things that will have the most impact. For example, if your app is crashing, fix that first, then go on to user acquisition or monetization issues. If you fix the app’s functionality, most other things should fall into place. This has really helped me.