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App marketing insights for hardcore and mid-core gaming apps

There are some particularities when it comes to mid-core and hardcore gaming apps. We dive into the strategies we’ve seen work, which KPIs app marketers should be tracking, and what are some pros and cons of different performance measurement methods.


What are hardcore and mid-core gaming apps?

First, how can we define mid-core and hardcore gaming apps? Hardcore gaming apps are generally games that require a high level of investment from players. This includes many massively multiplayer online role-play games (MMORPG), most multiplayer online battle arena games (MOBA), and first-person shooter games. An example would be Pixonic’s War Robots. Players are often extremely engaged in the world of the game, which is often complex and multi-layered, allowing for more offline discussion and engagement than more casual genres. Also, hardcore players tend to be among the most invested of all gaming app users. 

Mid-core games, by contrast, require slightly less investment. They fall somewhere in between casual and hardcore gaming app genres. Mid-core gaming apps share features with hardcore gaming apps including world building and resource management, but features that require more practice and skill are replaced by simpler controls. As a result mid-core games may have a bit less engagement than hardcore gaming apps, but they attract a higher number and broader range of app users.  

When looking at strategies, KPIs, and performance measurement for these genres, we see quite a bit of overlap between the two. Across the board, there are a number of successful commonalities that come up time and again. Let’s take a look at what we’ve found is the best way to set up a retargeting program for hardcore and mid-core gaming apps.

Audience segmentation and strategies for mid- and hardcore gaming apps 

One of the main overarching strategies we’ve come to rely on is targeting payers and targeting lapsed payers. 

When looking at the app audience for mid-core and hardcore games, it’s clear that the majority of revenue is coming from highly engaged paying users who continue to make repeat purchases. In the case of hardcore gaming apps, these payers are extremely engaged in the world of the app and drive the success of the app. For mid-core games, maybe there are many users who will never make a purchase, but it's essential to keep driving revenue from the smaller number of payers who have done so. Encouraging repeat purchases is essential to ensure that these paying users continue habitually using the app.

Our research for hardcore and mid-core gaming apps shows that the 97% of in-app revenue is generated by repeat purchases, and that the majority of targeted app users display an intention to become repeat purchasers. By contrast, only 36% of users targeted make a single purchase, driving only 3% of in-app revenue.

According to our findings, users who’ve already made a purchase are highly likely to make a second one. The majority of users who make a first purchase do make a second one and go on to become repeat payers.

When it comes to lapsed payers, this is where app marketers see the most incremental value. As shown in the graph above, the majority of users who’ve already made a purchase go on to continue making repeat purchases. These users can be influenced to make conversions in a number of ways, such as through push notifications, email and retargeting, with a multi-pronged approach being the most efficient way to target them. By setting up an uplift test and comparing the test group to the control group, it will be clear what effect retargeting had on these users’ behavior.

Another audience segment we find useful to target is new installers. These are users who’ve just downloaded the app and whose LTV potential may be unknown. While they haven’t yet demonstrated intent to convert, it’s been widely reported that between 70% and 80% of new installers churn on day 1. If there are any high-intent users in your cohort of new installers, without encouragement it’s likely that they will churn and never reach their full LTV potential within your app. By extension your UA budget will have been wasted trying to acquire them. By targeting them early in their user journey, app marketers can see which of these users will make a purchase, and which of them will continue making purchases into the future.

Activity windows 

When determining the activity windows for any strategy, it’s essential to run an audit of your app. This will give you an idea of user behavior, how often they are active or inactive, and insights about how to segment your audience. It’s impossible to give a single activity window for all mid- and hardcore gaming apps that will work every time. But what we’ve seen come up often is targeting payers between 1 and 14 days, and day 1 users (i.e. users who’ve just downloaded the app). When we look at the averages, it’s clear that these are some of the most useful segments to focus on.

On average around half of repeat purchasers make a second purchase the same day as their first. The number drops to 25% between 1 and 7 days. By upselling them early on in their journey, it’s possible to turn them into repeat converters.


On top of that, users who make a second purchase within 14 days of their first purchase are much more likely to convert a third time. On average, after 22 days, the likelihood of making a second purchase drops from 77% to 54%. Depending on the app, the specific difference between day 1 and day 22 could be more dramatic than the average.

KPIs for mid- and hardcore gaming apps

So how do you measure all this? That will depend on a variety of factors, but like most cases, we see some common threads among mid- and hardcore gaming apps. Here are some of the main performance metrics we use, along with their pros and cons.

‍Attributed ROAS, attributed activations or purchase CPA

Attributed ROAS and purchase CPA are some of the most common metrics our clients use because it’s easy to set up, fast to optimize, and allows for more granular optimizations by publisher, creative, SSP, etc. For attributed ROAS and purchase CPA, if everything is set up perfectly, these metrics can provide the best performance estimation of your retargeting campaign. For attributed activations, this KPI is closest to the fundamental goal of retargeting: bringing users back to the app. It is also a very frequent event as app opens are more likely to occur than purchases or other conversions. This frequency will bolster the algorithm’s performance and lead to more accurate results.

On the other hand, attributed ROAS doesn’t account for incrementality. While it’s a great measurement to show the immediate results of a campaign, it doesn’t offer a sense of the overall evolution of retargeting efforts. If this is something relevant, a separate incrementality test must be run over a longer period of time.

Uplift on open

As app opens are a very frequent event, ensuring statistically significant results for an uplift on open metric will be relatively easy. It’s not subject to a lot of test noise, and doesn’t require the sharing of sensitive data. As with any incrementality measurement, it’s a great way to prove that you’re not cannibalizing organic performance and get a great measure of your campaign over time.

The other side of this is that uplift tests take time to achieve statistically significant results. 

Uplift on purchase or purchase value

Similarly for uplift on open, this metric is an excellent way to prove the true success of your retargeting campaigns over time. In this case, when set up perfectly, uplift on purchase or purchase value will provide a true sense of the monetary impact of your retargeting campaigns.

That said, for whale-based games, the results can be volatile and noisy. And as with any uplift test, it requires time to achieve statistically significant results

Building a retargeting campaign

As mentioned at the beginning, mid- and hardcore gaming apps thrive when they have a core group of high LTV purchasers. Finding the best way to activate and upsell these users requires a carefully plotted strategy and a clear sense of what the campaign wants to accomplish. 

There is no single strategy that will work for all apps, but what we’ve seen so far is that 

  • Payers, lapsed payers and new installers are the three most common success stories for this vertical
  • Encouraging first- and second-time purchasers to make repeat purchases is essential   
  • New installers won’t have a chance to become high-LTV payers if they aren’t activated early

When looking to build a strategy for mid- and hardcore gaming apps, it’s essential to analyze the entire app audience to find commonalities between users and identify which users are bringing the most value to the app, or have the potential to do so. When measuring performance, weighing the pros and cons carefully based on your app’s goals will allow you to choose the right KPI for your campaign. Working with an experienced retargeting partner can help you identify the audience segments, campaign strategies and KPIs that will help your app grow to its full potential. Having launched many campaigns over years in the app retargeting business, Adikteev offers a complementary pre-launch analysis to give app marketers the clearest possible sense of their app audience before launching any campaigns. Get in touch today to learn more about how we develop custom strategies for gaming apps, and take your app to the next level.