Gaming, Non-gaming, User Acquisition

User acquisition in gaming and non-gaming: Key differences

May 2, 2024
A split graphic illustrating the difference in user acquisition campaigns for mobile apps, with a young woman on the left holding a yoga mat and using a smartphone, symbolizing non-gaming apps, and a young man on the right intently focused on playing a game on his smartphone, representing gaming apps. The background includes a line graph overlay, indicating the analytical approach to user engagement trends in both sectors.

User acquisition is the heartbeat of mobile app marketing, but the strategies for gaming and non-gaming apps are vastly different. Each category demands a unique approach to attract, engage, and retain users effectively. To guide you through the distinct landscapes of gaming and non-gaming mobile apps, here’s an exploration of these differences.

Revenue streams and initial user engagement

Non-gaming apps: Revenue sources in non-gaming sectors like retail or services (think of ads you’ve seen in apps for lawn care providers, realtors, or IT security services) are varied. These apps connect the digital and physical worlds. In retail, the app may act as an extension of the physical stores, recreating the in-store experience in a more personalized and intimate way than an e-commerce website.

The retail app may also integrate a loyalty program, offering rewards and exclusive deals to drive engagement. This strategy leverages the app to boost incremental growth in physical store revenues. Retailers may even use apps to drive foot traffic with exclusive redeem-in-store offers.

Gaming apps: In contrast, gaming apps generally derive all revenue directly from within the app. This system creates a closed loop where every aspect of user acquisition focuses on immediate monetization. The gaming sector doesn’t rely on external revenue streams; instead, it focuses on in-app purchases and ad revenues. The approach is more direct: attract users, engage them intensely, and monetize quickly — before they churn.

Brand impact and user acquisition

Non-gaming apps: Branding plays a crucial role in non-gaming apps. Users frequently encounter the brand through everyday interactions with their phones. App icons effectively become tiny billboards for constant brand reinforcement.

These apps have much stricter budgets and are more conservative regarding best practices. Their acquisition strategy involves a higher barrier to entry, which shifts more emphasis to performance goals. Users take more time to consider the benefits before downloading a non-gaming app. 

This category benefits from longer user lifespans, allowing brands to nurture and monetize relationships slowly over time. However, session times will be shorter and usage (and consequently, purchases) will be less frequent in comparison to games. 

Ultimately, patience in conversion is a virtue, supported by a deep understanding of a well-established audience.

Gaming apps: The dynamics in gaming are markedly different. The decision to download and play a game often hinges on trends (or even impulse) rather than brand loyalty. Games, especially those in the hyper-casual segment, can spike in popularity swiftly and just as quickly fade.

However, the economics of gaming are different from those of non-gaming apps. Gaming apps are less focused on short-term results in their UA. They target campaigns based on potential lifetime value, focusing on those likely to frequently open, play, and, in the case of games with in-app purchases (IAP), buy. 

As AppLovin’s Andrey Kazakov has pointed out elsewhere, gaming apps “can test longer with the confidence that if their UA strategy generates some success over the course of the longer period of time, the whales (users who spend thousands on IAP) will justify their UA spend. This allows gaming developers to test for longer, eventually reach an inflection point in learning and strategy, and then see their acquisition efforts take off.”

Targeting and conversion strategies

Non-gaming apps: User acquisition in non-gaming apps is comprehensive, targeting users across various categories based on demographic, psychographic, and behavioral data. These apps often benefit from historical first-party data. They have at least a baseline understanding of who their best customers are, how to attract them, and how to keep them. They aim to bring existing customers into mobile and gently guide new users from awareness to conversion.

Gaming apps: Conversely, gaming apps are often starting from scratch and building a new audience. User acquisition specialists may operate like ad sales teams, looking for quick wins that directly translate into revenue. The full-funnel approach in gaming is all about fast acquisition and conversion. UA marketers tailor strategies to immediate engagement and monetization, like offering in-game currency or special offers upon installation.

The ecosystems within user acquisition

Non-gaming apps are often part of an omnichannel strategy that includes multiple touchpoints and a long-term user relationship. User acquisition may be as simple as adding calls-to-action and QR codes to existing marketing assets for some businesses.

For brands with lower market recognition, broader, multichannel marketing campaigns may be necessary to build awareness and trust. These brands may consider everything from in-app advertising to billboards to drive consideration.

Gaming apps, in contrast, exist in a more insular, fast-paced environment. Competition is steep in the market, so a strategic approach to campaigns is essential. Marketers must be creative with their visuals and messaging, data-driven in their targeting, and relentless in their optimization.

This distinction defines not only the tactical approaches in each but also the strategic planning necessary to succeed in these different arenas.

Understanding the differences is key to mastering user acquisition strategies in either field. Whether navigating the nuanced paths of brand-driven, non-gaming apps or diving into the gaming sector’s whitewater rapids, the right approach can drastically increase your app’s chances of success.

Of course, we’re barely scratching the surface here. User acquisition is a full-time job in either of these cases, and there’s far more to it than we can cover in 800 words. Fortunately, we have an entire library of articles about User Acquisition to help you succeed! Dive into UA in our Resource Center. 

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