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Three Years Later: The Mobile Gaming Industry Post-ATT

Momchil Kyurchiev Momchil is the Chief Strategy Officer at CleverTap, a leading customer engagement platform. He is a visionary leader passionate about building & advising startups. He is a leading expert on user engagement & retention, sharing expertise as a TEDx speaker and industry thought leader.
Three Years Later: The Mobile Gaming Industry Post-ATT

With the third release anniversary of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) coming up in April, it seems fitting to review how ATT has fundamentally changed the mobile gaming industry and continues to make waves today.

BACKGROUND

A quick refresher: Back in 2021, Apple rolled out ATT as part of iOS 14 and started to enforce it in April of that year (in iOS 14.5). This new privacy framework first gave Apple device users the ability to allow or block app developers’ ability to track them. Before delving in, a little background of the various IDs inside Apple’s ecosystem: There are two major IDs, a vendor-specific ID called IDFV (Identifier For Vendors) – and a second ID called IDFA (Identifier For Advertisers). IDFA is a universal ID which is used across vendors and advertisers in the Apple ecosystem. This IDFA was key to being able to identify valuable users both for developers and advertisers. With that ID, advertisers could specifically target the audience that would best match their app. On the flipside vendors/developers could track installs from specific creatives into the app and understand what marketing channels and ads were the best yield.

The ATT privacy framework focused on the very valuable and crucial IDFA and put privacy controls into the users’ hands. With ATT, app users must directly opt-in to sharing this precious ID, otherwise the user’s IDFA will just be 0’ed out and non-identifiable. Additionally, iOS allows users to universally block tracking so even if an app wanted to ask the user, the OS would forbid it and the system permission ATT prompt would never get shown. What this meant is that most users could not be tracked unless they explicitly consented. This in turn removed the ability for advertisers and developers to effectively target since there was no IDFA to use unless specifically shared. Undoubtedly, this had a profound effect where CPI (cost per install) skyrocketed overnight (According to mobile attribution company AppsFlyer by +20%) since everyone was now essentially buying blind. This was on the UA (user acquisition) side. On the flip-side, since advertisers were now not able to effectively buy, this in turn hurt advertising rates CPMs (cost per 1k impressions) which meant earning less from advertising – a double whammy!

So with this single change from Apple, the entire mobile gaming space was completely upended. The hyper-casual space which relies on very cheap installs and then pumping ads inside the games to earn a profit had the viability of their entire business models called into question! However, now that we are three years in, the industry has started to adapt. UA now employs much more sophisticated models blending both paid and organic costs plus probabilities to effectively target and spend. And where possible, developers have shifted to gathering other identifiable information like email which can serve as universal trackers. Advertising has gotten to a new normal where buying for volume has become the norm vs buying for actions (since it’s nearly impossible to track).

RELEVANT TODAY

So how relevant is ATT now? Well, very. Apple strictly enforces the framework for any app store submission. If the app tracks anything, the ATT prompt must be shown and Apple will reject the submission if they don’t see it. Many developers have been in the ATT prompt merry-go-round where Apple says they don’t see it, but the developer insists it’s there and keeps re-submitting the app again and again. Suffice to say it’s not going away and with future iOS versions this privacy framework continues to evolve.

If you’re an app game developer looking to monetize via ads/sponsorships or buy UA you will need to be very familiar with ATT, it’s the new normal.

OKAY? ANY GOOD NEWS?

Is it all doom and gloom? Well, not really. Over time the big scary ATT prompt has now become the norm and opt-out rates have actually been trending down. When ATT was initially rolled out, mobile attribution company Adjust reported that 80-90% of users (depending on genre, geography, and culture) would opt OUT of tracking. These days the now ubiquitous ATT prompt seems to be more widely accepted, so opt-in rates have increased towards 25% to 40% (Adjust).

BEST PRACTICES

Does how and when you show the ATT prompt still matter? Well as with anything this depends. Many apps will go and prompt the user right away during app start. In the early days, pre-prompts were pretty common where educating the users “why” they should allow tracking was required, it was all new to users. These days, these pre-prompts have become increasingly rare. And while the limited customization options of pre-prompts are frequently utilized, the messaging tends to be very similar along the lines of “Allow tracking for a better ad experience” or “Please help support the game”.

One thing to watch out for regarding the timing of the prompt is delaying it too long. Many attribution partners will grab the IDs as part of the install so this means the ATT prompt needs to be shown before the install event happens. A consequence of pushing the ATT prompt later into the start cycle is that the install tracking will also be delayed, which can greatly impact installs and ultimately CPI. So be very careful in delaying the ATT prompt and keep in mind the impact this could potentially have to install attribution.

AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED, TRY AGAIN!

A not widely known/used trick is that apps can check the ATT status and direct users to the app game settings to toggle permissions. This is typically shown with apps requiring location or trying to switch notification settings. This same tactic can be used for the ATT prompt where the game app can check the current status and if it sees “denied” it can display a prompt. This prompt can remind the user why they should allow app tracking and then directly deep-link them into the individual app setting on the device to toggle the tracking setting.

In practice, it’s pretty hard to switch a user’s choice especially since they originally selected “do not track” but not impossible. In an environment where developers are looking for an edge, this can be a low cost solution with a good engagement platform to incrementally increase opt-in rates.

FUTURE

Apple takes privacy seriously and continues to march forward in providing more privacy protection for users. In iOS17, the rollout of link protection will make it even harder to track users as tracking parameters used in URLs will start getting stripped, forcing the industry to continue to evolve and innovate.

And Google is making similar moves by rolling out their own privacy framework called Privacy Sandbox. This is still being flushed out and going to the web first. But as mobile quickly follows, this will be another major disruptor on the Android advertising landscape just as ATT was for iOS.

TLDR;

In short, if you’re an app game developer and initially rolled out an ATT setup, it’s a great time to take another look and see what adjustments might be needed. Pre-prompt or no-prompt, timing, and asking users again are all great tactics to try and boost opt-ins. Privacy is here to stay and staying on top of Apple ATT changes as well as the upcoming Google Privacy Sandbox should always be top of mind for the savvy game developer.

Let me know what you think! Are you a game developer? How has Apple ATT been for you? What impact do you think Google Privacy Sandbox will have? Love to hear your war stories!

If you like this content, check out our blogs and the recent webinar with our partners at AppsFlyer where we talked about ATT, LiveOps, and everything in between.

Last updated on May 15, 2024