The market for mobile and online games is a growth market. Most games today are free-to-play. This means players get the game for free and only pay to unlock special features or more levels in the game. Because only a certain percentage of the players of a game will spend money, every game company needs a big number of active players.

Working at TrafficCaptain, I have accrued a wealth of experience in the games sector of performance marketing. So here are my five key considerations for better games performance marketing.

1. Know your market and business

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? What you might not know is that affiliate programs account for almost 50% of the games business. As a games performance network, TrafficCaptain acquires players for all kind of games, such as MMOs, action or casual games – both mobile and browser based.

These segments are growing tremendously in revenue. All the while, PC gaming is expected to lose market share and consoles will only grow insignificantly. The fine folks at Newzoo have it all in one place for you:

People play more and spend more money on the games they play. Total market value will climb to $70.4 billion with 1.2 billion gamers on the planet by the end of 2014.

We will touch on mobile gaming a little later, but suffice it to say that the number of mobile players is ridiculous. Combine that with the fact that the vast majority of downloaded apps are games and you will conclude that your audience wants to play. A lot. So give them games.

For those of you unfamiliar with the business of games, there’s a big model right now called free-to-play. Free-to-play games make money via optional in-app purchases. Huge blockbuster titles like World of Tanks and League of Legends are taking an increasingly large piece of the pie that used to belong to independent developer studios.

As more big players follow suit, each individual acquisition per registered player has become more expensive. You see, free-to-play game companies are driven by key metrics like ARPPU (Average Revenue Per Paying User), churn and conversion rate. It’s all about getting players into the game, getting them to stay, and finally, getting them to pay. 

The US and Western Europe are strong markets when it comes to monetisation. Different regions prefer different things. For example, Brazilians and Russians prefer a realistic setting over fantasy games.

You need to choose the right games to promote in the right markets. I’m sure you know your audience well. If your website sells gear for winter sports, have a snowboarding game up there! Running an online pet store? A pet simulator would fit nicely.

2. Love your players

As you start evaluating the games you want to promote, you will notice that payout is not always the deciding factor. Casual games, especially in the free-to-play space, have low payout due to the nature of micro transactions. However, conversion rate is much higher here. And by higher I mean double to triple the amount a hardcore game usually makes.

Now, about loving your players. To me, a big part of loving someone is to make sure his or her life is enjoyable and uncomplicated. Have the same mindset with the games you choose to advertise.  For example, I’m a big fan of single opt-in campaigns. Confirmation mails often get lost in junk folder nirvana. You don’t want to lose a potential player because they weren’t able to finish their registration.

Some games make players download a client or force them to complete a tutorial before enabling them to register. This is mostly a means of fraud protection in CPP campaigns. However, a good amount of players shy away from these games. Browser based games with a quick and painless registration process avoid traps like these. Which leads me to my next point – landing pages!

Always look at games’ landing pages! Is there a clear call-to-action? This is the final barrier where players make their decision to jump in – or to walk away. Optional logins with Facebook or Google+ are always convenient and appreciated, by the way. Take a look at the landing page of Asterix & Friends, a great example of clear, easy-to-understand player guidance.

A few more tweaks to the landing page can drive conversion. Think beyond display or content marketing. Videos are very well accepted among players since they give off a rather informative and entertaining vibe instead of dry advertising where perceived value is certainly lower.

Lastly, make sure to avoid the pitfalls of geo targeting. Knowing what happens to players redirected from different countries is crucial. In the worst case, bad redirection will lead them to blank pages or error messages. Needless to say, this makes no money.

3. Create quality traffic

Okay, now you know why, how and what games to promote. From here on out it is all about delivering traffic. My best advice is to create your own games website. None of this will work if you are not into games or at least willing to dive into the world of online gaming. Have a look at the kind of site we get traffic from. They are completely packed with affiliate links to free-to-play games:

SEO is your go-to tool here. I’m sure you know your way around Google Trends and the like. But be aware of some finer delicacies when looking for the right keywords. ‘Browser games’ is the industry term. However, people perform way more searches for ‘free online games’.

Think like a consumer. What would they type into Google? More often it is not what those with huge knowledge about the subject matter would type.

View social media as complementary paths to your games network and create the big ones: YouTube channel with gameplay videos and trailers, Facebook Page, Google+ profile, you get the idea.

On Facebook, try using paid ads with catchy lines and intriguing pictures or push campaigns in the feed. I strongly recommend casual games for the Facebook audience. As your user base grows, so does your newsletter mailing list. Don’t sleep on the newsletter!

Also, look into media buying. Don’t be scared by not-that-incredibly-high eCPM and CPC averages. Traffic is mostly bought at cheap prices, so campaigns still turn a profit if done right.

4. Mind mobile

I am not the first to tell you that mobile is an immensely important space for business and gaming is no exception. Let’s talk about mobile gamers for a moment. The average gamer is 28 years old. Male to female ratio is almost 1:1. Advertisers hold mobile games in high regard because they monetise a lot better than online games. 51% of mobile gamers spend money for the game itself or in-game purchases.

One of the biggest challenges today is app discovery. Most users claim to rely on recommendations from their personal circles when it comes to downloading apps from app stores. Hence, ads have little effect on their decision. The optimist in me would call this ‘huge potential to grow’.

Speaking of app stores, iTunes is obviously king. Still, Google Play currently enjoys more rapid growth – both in number of downloads and generated revenue.

Check how much traffic comes from mobile devices. The average website has 18% of its traffic coming from mobile. For entertainment websites this percentage might be even higher.

I am begging you from the user perspective – create a mobile version of your website! Don’t make us zoom all over the place and make clickable buttons at least 40×40 px. It’s also smart to leave a visible link to your standard website.

Another approach to app discovery comes via syndication apps. You surely know ‘App of the day’ apps that serve as ad platforms for whatever content you’d like to promote. Creating one isn’t hard. Getting it approved by app stores is. Once you start serving ads to your users remember that most of these campaigns have daily caps.

If you are interested in brokering media, you have couple of standard media formats to choose from. Banners appear in apps or on mobile websites. Push notifications show ads on the upper bar of the user’s phone. App walls interrupt the game or any other app with offers. Dialog ads enforce an interaction with the user beyond closing the ad. TrafficCaptain’s best performing formats however, are video ads and rich media.

Mobile is a fantastic environment for performance marketing. Just make sure to…

5. Focus on high quality users

Incentivised traffic for mobile downloads has its ups and downs. Advertisers often use it for burst campaigns as it allows for a quick ranking boost in app stores.

As nice as it looks, incentivised users show the strongest diversification in quality. They come in masses and some even get hooked. Most leave after a short time, though. These are very low quality players. Check out this graph for illustration:

Two things in this graph surprise me. First, users from app discovery platforms are of higher quality than those coming via display traffic from ad networks. I believe ad networks will continue to improve performance over time as their targeting and retargeting gets better.

So far most platforms use algorithms that optimise campaigns to win as many clicks as possible. Not many analyse installs and quality. Second surprise, social media ads work great. Traffic from Facebook not only converts well, it also provides high quality users.

Let’s wrap this up! Once again, your audience wants games. Games are content, not ads. Grow with the industry. The gaming business is expected to grow around 15% every year on desktop and around 30% on mobile. Take advantage of it. No other affiliate offer can boast such numbers. Neither financial lead generating, nor e-commerce programs.