Get in the game! What mobile app publishers can learn from gaming

Scott Tomkins serves as the Senior Vice President of Global Revenue for Digital Turbine. With over 20 years’ experience in the mobile app ecosystem, Scott has influenced mobile-first strategies for hundreds of top mobile properties. He shares his thoughts on how mobile app publishers can learn from mobile games.

Discovery remains a stubborn challenge for app developers. A colleague pointed out to me in a recent report that there’s a lot of friction throughout the user acquisition workflow: a user sees an ad and, if interested, clicks on it, and is then taken to the app store. If still interested, that user will initiate an app install, and if the download occurs fast enough, the user’s interest leads to opening the app in short order. But there are some app categories that have leaned into frictionless ad experiences and have thrived. Other types of app publishers should pause to see what they can learn from them.

Scott Tomkins, Digital Turbine

First, let’s take a look at app install friction. While at first glance, the process seems straightforward it’s rife with obstacles for the app developer. Are users willing to interrupt what they’re doing to click on the ad? Once in the app store, will they see a competitive app that seems more interesting? Will they become overwhelmed with an abundance of choices and decide to forget the whole thing? And will they abandon the install process if it’s taking too long? In some instances, the app install abandonment rate can top 80%, which is a pity as the app developer has likely paid a high CPI for that user without reaping any business benefit whatsoever.

Friction is putting brakes on the app economy. Year after year, the number of users who install new apps is dwindling. Today, 67% of consumers say they don’t install any new apps. That’s a worrisome trend for what is arguably a critical sector of the digital economy.

Game publishers embrace frictionless ad units

The very survival of mobile game publishers relies on getting users to try and then become fans of their wares. Game publishers have been quick to embrace ad units that mitigate the friction in the install process. Playable ads have become very popular in the last couple years allowing advertisers to cut through the noise and see extraordinary conversion results.

But, lately, we’ve seen game publishers flock to another strategy that removes even more friction from the install process: preloads. Preloads aren’t even “ads” per se. The user isn’t interrupted and a battle for his or her attention never ensues. Rather, the mobile carrier or OEM preloads a mobile app onto the device before it is even assigned to a customer, making it, by the way, the ultimate privacy-compliant ad unit. At some point, the user will discover the app. Maybe not right away, but at some point.

Gamers respond well to preloads

Data shows that publishers have been smart to take the preload route. A recent Digital Turbine survey shows that gamers rank preloads as their preferred method for discovering new games. Not surprising, game publishers themselves rely on preloads at 5x the rate than other app publishers.

And the high open rates are only part of the attraction. With the ever growing competitive noise in the app store and content feeds, game publishers can be confident that their app will be seen — even if it takes up to 30 days for a user to discover their games. But they’re ok with that because eventually they are found and lead to users with a higher long-term value.

Their patience is often well rewarded, especially for developers seeking to enter new markets across the globe. Hundreds of millions of mobile devices are sold each year, offering the kind of scale typically found on Facebook or YouTube.

What can all app publishers learn from mobile games?

Mobile publishers aren’t the only ones who can benefit from preloads. Many types of preloaded apps experience high open rates and repeat usage, including shopping, ride-sharing and financial services apps, to name a few. There is an additional benefit to brands that are growing in usage and brand awareness, such as mobile payments apps like Zelle, Venmo, and PayPal. These apps should have a broad appeal to solutions like preloads — since it allows their recognizable brand power to work for them.

Global spending in mobile apps topped $100 billion in 2020, a mind-boggling number. And it’s expected to double by 2024! This growth will occur as consumers adopt new shopping habits and few brands can afford to let that opportunity skip by. Preloads may be a seamless way. to capture those new habits.