TapNation’s Jatin Mittal on UA Strategies & the Power of Offerwalls

We interviewed Jatin Mittal, the Head of UA at TapNation to discuss the publisher's most effective user acquisition strategies.

TapNation is one of the world’s biggest mobile game publishers, widely known for its innovative approach to user acquisition.

Curious to learn more about their UA secrets?

In this interview, we talked with Jatin Mittal, the Head of User Acquisition at TapNation. We asked Jatin to share some of his knowledge and experience and tell us about the most effective UA strategies for TapNation. 

jatin mittal head of ua tapnation

Jatin, can you tell us about yourself and your role in TapNation?

Currently, I’m the head of UA and I’ve been with the company for a little over three years now. Initially, I started as a user acquisition and monetization manager, overseeing both aspects of the business. 

As our portfolio expanded, I took on more responsibilities, including managing the team, recruiting, and mentoring. Now, my main focus is overseeing user acquisition operations and leading the UA team, which consists of eight managers. 

I’m also heavily involved in our M&A (merger and acquisition) activities. Over the past year, we’ve been aggressively acquiring assets, particularly from studios with interesting games in their portfolio. So far, we’ve successfully acquired seven-plus games. 

One of our biggest successes is Thief Puzzle, which was one of our early acquisitions. Since acquiring it, we’ve doubled the game’s metrics, revenue, and margin. 

thief puzzle game
Thief Puzzle. Image source: Amazon

This success has shown us the potential of acquisitions, so we’re prioritizing this area. Additionally, I’m working on forging new partnerships with user acquisition channels, including incentivized and rewarded channels. I also dedicate time to collaborating with internal teams on creative automation, overall automation, data, and tech to ensure data-driven decisions, especially for the user acquisition team.

TapNation is experiencing a period of remarkable success, leading the Les Echos 2024 Growth Champions and reaching an incredible milestone of 1 billion downloads across its portfolio. What do you believe were the key drivers behind TapNation’s success over the past year?

I’d like to add that we ranked as the 14th fastest-growing company in Europe by the Financial Times. Perhaps very generic to say, but our growth has been possible because of our team’s dynamic evolution. 

Historically, we focused on hyper-casual games, but as the market has shown signs of stagnation, we’ve adapted. We’ve transitioned from hyper-casual to a mix of hybrid-casual and casual games. Today, our portfolio includes various game genres, not just hyper-casual.

One key factor to our success is the ability to evolve and diversify our portfolio. Another important aspect is forming strong partnerships for UA and monetization. 

Currently, we collaborate with around 35-40 user acquisition partners and 15-20 monetization partners, exploring less traditional formats and growth channels that perform well for us.

Moreover, making data-driven decisions is essential. Last year, we acquired an automation tool called UA Hero, which significantly reduced the optimization time for our user acquisition team. This tool allows us to make data-driven decisions, predicting real performance based on ROAS through the automation we’ve developed.

In summary, the combination of all these factors contributes to our success, and I believe we’re on the right track.

Hitting 1 billion downloads must be an incredible milestone, especially for you working in UA. You already mentioned this is partly to thanks to great UA and the help of automation tools, but how does this milestone reflect TapNation’s overall strategy and growth plan?

Yeah, as I mentioned at the beginning, the company’s focus on mergers and acquisitions has played a significant role. 

For example, one of our major games, Thief Puzzle, had about 9 million installs when we acquired it. Now, it’s close to 300 million installs, which is a remarkable increase over the past one and a half to two years. 

When I joined the company, we were still quite small, a startup with maybe 10 to 15 people. Since then, we’ve significantly built our processes and infrastructure.

Many industry experts say that CPI is no longer a primary metric in user acquisition, highlighting metrics that reflect user quality instead. Do you share this opinion and have you changed your approach to measuring campaign success in the recent period?

I’m really pleased that the industry is finally recognizing this, as I’ve been advocating for it for quite some time. About two years back, I had a similar discussion with Unity when we were collaborating on their annual Unity Gaming Report. 

One of my key points was to prioritize ROAS or engagement over cost per install. Now, more people are coming around to this idea because it holds true.

Compared to two years ago, a lot of ad networks have shifted their focus to ROAS optimization. This includes major channels like Apple Search Ads, Facebook Audience Network, and IronSource.

This means we’re no longer fixated on a specific CPI amount, whether it’s $1 or $3, but rather on achieving consistent retention and return on ad spend over time

So, in response to your question, yes, it’s crucial not to solely optimize for CPI. From our experience, focusing only on achieving a low CPI often results in acquiring users who might meet the CPI target but don’t contribute significantly to the game’s profitability. And in today’s competitive UA landscape — this is quite an issue.

Offerwalls seem to be a significant part of TapNation’s UA strategy for acquiring quality users. Why does TapNation prioritize offerwalls over other UA strategies, and how have they contributed to TapNation’s growth?

That’s a good question. We began exploring off-the-wall strategies around two years ago, a little over two years ago, to be precise. The main driver behind this exploration was Apple’s introduction of privacy changes, particularly the IDFA deprecation. 

This shift was relevant to us because most publishers, fearing the impact on privacy and uncertainty, redirected their budgets from iOS to Android

Consequently, this led to a spike in CPIs on Android due to increased competition without a proportional rise in supply. This pressured profit margins even on Android. At that time, we predominantly operated on iOS. As the ecosystem stabilized, we started exploring new strategies to distribute our games effectively and came across offerwall channels.

Initially, transitioning from CPI to CPE models was a challenge, requiring us to build expertise and adapt our approach. Over time, we gained proficiency and now collaborate with around 20-25 offerwall channels

mychips offerwall tapnation games
TapNation’s games on the MyChips offerwall

For some of our key games, these channels account for 90 to 95% of total user acquisition spending. 

On average, across all our games, they contribute at least between 10% to 20% of our user acquisition budget. We integrated several offerwall channels into our portfolio, with the scale varying depending on the game — ranging from 10 to 95%. 

To sum up, we’ve diversified our UA strategy to include offerwalls, adapting to the changing landscape of mobile advertising.

Okay, so you primarily made the switch due to new industry restrictions, and you’ve mentioned it’s a completely different world compared to traditional strategies. In your opinion, What specific advantages do offerwalls bring to the table compared to other UA strategies or channels?

I believe that our biggest advantage lies in a small recoup window

Let me explain what I mean by that. 

When I run user acquisition campaigns on major channels like Google, I spend a certain amount to acquire users. Then, I have to wait for about a month, maybe a month and a half, for users to really get into the game, engage with it, possibly make IAPs, or watch ads. However, with the offerwall approach, I’m seeing profitability much faster, sometimes within seven days, whereas it used to take around 30 days or more. 

This is because offerwall users are way more engaged — they spend more time in the game in a shorter period. We’ve observed a nearly 2x increase in playtime, a significant rise in the number of sessions, and better retention rates. And of course, this shorter profitability window is great for our cash flow. 

Can you share an example of a specific TapNation game where offerwalls have been a great help in driving quality users?

As I mentioned earlier, our portfolio consists of different types of games including hybrid, casual, puzzle, and RPG games. What we’ve noticed is that puzzle games tend to perform best with offerwalls. I believe it’s because they keep users engaged within the game. 

Currently, one of our biggest games overall is Color Water Sort, which is generating six-digit monthly profits solely through offerwalls. 

tapnation color water sort
Color Water Sort. Image source: Amazon

Additionally, we have other puzzle games like Parking Jam and Waddling, the latter being a new addition to the puzzle category. So, to summarize, puzzle games are performing the best according to our observations.

Do you think there is a reason these games perform so well with offerwalls? For example, are they easier to target, or do they simply have a stronger ability to hook users?

That’s a very good question. I was wondering about this myself, so I looked deeper into the data we have.

We’ve observed that, across all channels, when we segment the user base, the most engaged audience is typically made up of females over the age of 35. This is interesting because, typically, when targeting through natural channels, one might assume it’s Gen Z or younger people playing our games.

So, the first notable difference is that our audience is primarily composed of mature females, aged 35 and above. Secondly, we noticed that the engagement mechanics of each game play a significant role. In games where each level is unique and challenging, players tend to push themselves. With every level they pass, they seem to experience a sense of achievement and continue to play. 

Since you’ve hit 1 billion downloads, you must have players from all around the world. What are the top countries for TapNation? Are there any particular challenges or opportunities when using offerwalls as your UA strategy in different GEOs?

In terms of spin, revenues, and margins, the US still remains our primary market.

However, when it comes to installs, we see a trend towards Asian countries. In these regions, there’s a high volume of installs, resulting in lower CPIs. 

While Asian markets dominate in terms of volume of installs, the US leads in terms of revenue and spending potential. 

Additionally, we’ve noticed significant potential in the APAC region, particularly with offerwalls performing well in Korea and Japan

While offerwalls are effective in both of these markets, we’ve observed interesting differences in the mindset of users in these countries

For instance, in Korea, users tend to be less patient. They are more interested in shorter, simpler events, such as completing a specific level to receive a reward. On the other hand, in Japan, users are more patient and prefer deeper engagement with the game. They are interested in longer, more challenging events, like reaching a high level for greater rewards.

At the beginning of the interview, you mentioned how UA partners are a part of the reason for TapNation’s success. How do you approach the selection process to identify trustworthy offerwall partners like MAF?

The main challenge with offerwalls is dealing with ad fraud, especially because real money can be involved from the users’ side. 

For this reason, this is one of our main priorities while screening for new partners. To prevent this, we choose potential partners with in-house solutions that don’t charge us until users complete the required actions.

Firstly, we assess the sophistication of their technology in blocking fraud. Secondly, we consider scale. Today, many networks and partners have emerged due to the success of these channels, but not all have the same level of scale or effectiveness. 

Another important factor is attrition, which refers to the return over time. Regardless of the size of the channel, we invest energy into starting it. If the return over time is low, we’re not interested, at least for the time being. However, we’re supportive if the channel grows, but we need to be mindful of allocating our limited resources where we get the best return. That’s our approach.

I would definitely highlight that offerwalls are gaining more and more traction. There’s still a lack of awareness in the industry about this form of user acquisition. 

I’ve been talking with many peers and several publishers in the industry, and many of them have zero to no exposure to offerwalls. However, since we’ve been in the offerwall market for almost two years now, we’re very familiar with it. We’re also keeping an eye on new potential offerwall partners that are popping up on a daily basis.

To me, it seems like offerwalls are becoming a new normalized form of user acquisition that every company and publisher will need to consider. There’s a supply of users waiting to be targeted, and if the game is right, it can be very effective.

Additionally, the emergence of retargeting is also picking up pace, especially due to the introduction of Apple’s IDFA changes and Google’s upcoming privacy changes. We’re not sure how Google’s changes will look exactly, but we know it won’t be the same ecosystem we have today.

With retargeting, we’re essentially activating users that we’ve already acquired in the past. We have their IDFA and some anonymized data about them, so we’re sending targeted ads to them through web inventory and various channels. Just like offerwalls, retargeting is also gaining momentum, although it’s still in its early stages. It’s been around for a while, but it hasn’t been widely adopted by publishers.

To sum up, I believe that in a year or two, offerwalls and retargeting will become the new normal in user acquisition.

Lastly, could you share any insights or lessons learned from TapNation’s experience with offerwalls that might be valuable for other mobile gaming companies or UA professionals?

As I explained earlier, the mindset for running offerwall ad campaigns differs from the typical one. 

In traditional approaches, revenue typically comes first, with costs following. Let me clarify with an example: Say I’ve set a target CPE for level 100 in a game called XYZ. As users play, they generate revenue from ads, but there’s little spending until they reach level 100. 

Now, if someone unfamiliar with our approach sees a high ROAS at this stage, they might suggest increasing goals prematurely, which is a rookie mistake. We should wait for users to reach these levels before adjusting targets.

This flips the traditional user acquisition model, where revenue typically follows spending. Here, revenue precedes spending. This shift also affects how we set payouts. For example, determining the payout for reaching level 100 is crucial. My suggestion is to start cautiously.

There are two main setups: multi-event and single-event. Multi-event campaigns that consist of multiple steps usually perform better than standard ones. In these campaigns, we focus on pushing users toward the final event. To start, set up campaigns for deeper events, like level 500 in a thousand-level game. Then, monitor user progress and revenue benchmarks for every 100 levels. This data guides payout adjustments for each event in the multi-event setup.

Another strategy is to incentivize early events with higher payouts, rather than solely focusing on ROI. This keeps users engaged and motivated to reach the final milestone. These would be some of my practical tips and recommendations for optimizing ad campaigns.

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