Strategy and Tact – Wooga’s Andrey Filatov shows us what makes him a true marketer
With over 10 years of experience marketing gaming and tech products, Andrey Filatov is a true marketer.
Even though he did spend most of his childhood playing games like Doom, Quake, and Warcraft, Andrey didn’t start his career in the gaming industry. Starting out at an ad agency as a strategic planner, he made his way to Microsoft doing some marketing for academic audience, then worked his way to e-commerce. After spending time in these positions, he was ready for the next challenge.
Andrey joined the gaming industry in 2012 at Game Insight, working as a Director of Marketing for a new, high-priority product, and building his own team. They worked on launching in Asia, expanding into different markets, platform iterations, etc.
Eventually, he made his way to the Berlin-based casual mobile game developer and publisher, Wooga. Andrey now leads the marketing team on a strategic and tactical level for a part of the company’s portfolio. He is deeply involved in all the marketing aspects from market & consumer research and brand management to user acquisition, ASO, influencer marketing, and others.
Andrey & Wooga have been long time partners with yellowHEAD, working alongside our ASO department. We sat down with him to ask him some questions about his experience in the gaming industry, his predictions, and a little bit more about the man himself. Here’s what he had to say:
You have a pretty extensive background in marketing. Do you have a preference of digital marketing over traditional?
I know this sort of distinction from traditional marketing and digital marketing is really on the market, but I do believe it’s just all marketing. There are some channels that are more suitable for your business or for your consumer.
Whatever you do, there is a research part, there is a brand part, there’s a consumer research part, and then you decide on the channels.
Of course, in an industry like mobile gaming, we tend to do a lot of digital communications, performance advertising for instance, App Store optimization and all of that.
I don’t like this kind of distinction. At my previous company (Wargaming), we used to do a lot of traditional marketing like TV or outdoor, special projects with celebrities. I was doing a lot of non-traditional marketing.
What have you found to be the best-performing media channels for your app marketing?
We’re not such a huge company, we’re 200 people with several titles and the marketing team is about 15, so we have to be very focused and really think about what we’re doing. I would say Performance Marketing, App Store Optimization (ASO), and being very consistent on the brand side of things. These are the three main pillars for us, as they all form part of the strategy.
Although we also do a lot of influencer marketing and tried to test different channels, these three are our bread-and-butter first.
How did you see these different channels impacting your growth?
ASO is impactful from many standpoints. On one hand, ASO is about the search optimization, and this is where we partner with yellowHEAD a lot.
We do a lot of stuff here, which means that doing App Store Optimization, you optimize your listings (titles, keywords, descriptions) in order to get organic traffic. There’s a lot of work done in 3 months, and then you keep optimizing by doing minor tweaks – whether there’s new keywords that came out or if there’s new competitors that come out.
You will also want to launch new languages, and you’ll need to do the search optimization part again.
For us, it’s a huge amount of traffic. More than half of our installs are coming from organic; mainly from search in the app stores. So basically, it’s like free traffic, which is great!
App Store Optimization also helps the conversion rate on the app stores. Conversion rates impact pretty much everything that you do, because people end up being in your store. They come there from UA, they come there from your offline activities, etc.
The store page could be a part of the 4 P’s of Marketing in the traditional marketing mix. The store page is basically your package in traditional terms. This is really crucial, and we always do something there, because we believe that’s really how you can move the needle – by optimizing your conversion rate.
Make sure you’re at the top level of your category.
There are endless ways to be creative with your campaigns. Typically, what kind of approach do you take to building and testing your creatives?
Let me start with where ideas come from, how we follow up, and A/B test it.
Ideas can come up from a lot of different sources. You can partner with agencies, like we do. Agencies, like yellowHEAD, give us ideas on what to try next and what has more of a priority. Should you test an icon first or maybe a screenshot? All of them have different significance just based on the experience.
What we do here is a competitive and marketing analysis. We think about the best positions, and how we can differentiate ourselves from what’s happening in the market. This has to be done all the time, maybe on a quarterly basis, because a lot of new games enter the market. Just based on the analysis, what could be your niche, how could you differentiate yourself and also where you can get some ideas from.
Finally, the results come from the product. Make sure your product works well, highlight a new feature that comes out, and change artwork every now and then.
Take Tropicats for example, it turned out that tournaments ended up being a big feature for us. This is something that really has a clear segment: users who like to compete in the game. All the others are more relaxed and just want to play the game, so the tournament is one of the features promoted in the stores.
We are also going to change some of the art in the game, switching the cats to 3D versions. This is something that should be reflected in your store page because you want your brand to be consistent as well. Although, sometimes you’ll get an idea to try something different.
The beauty of App Store Optimization is that you can clearly test that and learn what works for you or not. You don’t have to guess. So, how do we test? Like everyone else, we use experiments in the Google Play Console. It’s very straightforward. It’s free and it’s on your console.
We also figured out along the way, that in order to test something in the Apple App Store, it’s better to use a software that lets you emulate the store.
Back in the day, we used to implement the same from Google Play, but then we realized our conversion rate was not really improving for the App Store while it’s improving in Google Play.
We are now using StoreMaven for about a year, but you can also use SplitMetrics. These are the two biggest companies on the market, so whichever you like more. We are pretty happy about that. We run tests here and there and double-check to see if there are any correlations.
We are also very obsessed with ROI. If you’re able to achieve a 15% conversion rate increase in the App Store, then just take 2% of your Performance Marketing budget, and compare it to the cost of the software and the traffic for the test.
Normally, it’s worth it. Even for 1-month, it’s a good ROI. But yeah, you have to pay for it.
What are some things that surprised you along the way in your marketing techniques? Ex. your target audience was different than what you thought
The biggest thing I learned for myself when I joined Wooga, was when it came to creative production and the concepting of our ads (even for Performance Marketing), if I like the ad, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to perform.
Obviously, I’m not the target audience for casual gaming, I know that. Often, if I like a video and think “That’s a good ad. It’s really catchy and creative.” It’s not going to work.
This is a very different approach from Performance Marketing and brand marketing. You can’t just put your TV spot on Facebook and expect that it’s going to perform; it most likely won’t. It’s a different medium and such a different environment for the ad.
Your ad creatives should be simple and not super crazy (unless it’s a Super Bowl ad). You’re not going to win all the awards from the creative community. But surprisingly, it works.
I’m usually checking what’s going on with our competitors and colleagues from the industry. What ads are they showing to their consumers? It’s quite often very simple, and you can be creative within this simple framework. You can even do it from the game play you have. In order to be successful, we need to do things that we may not always like.
That’s really an interesting part of the job: no matter what you do, you are not the target audience. It doesn’t matter what you like, what you think, or what your gut feeling is on that, it may not work.
Of course, we know the demographics of our target audience. You can check it on App Annie and we do plenty of Facebook ads, so you know it from the data; it’s female 35+, they have kids, a family, they are working. It’s pretty straightforward.
For Tropicats, we did a segmentation study. We tried to segment the audience because there could be different segments. It was a big surprise for us that 30% are really competitive players, which is not so obvious for a relaxing, casual game.
Based on this insight, we built marketing campaigns that performed really well. The best campaigns that we had at the end of the year were directed towards the competitive segment.
Which emphasizes the point that you can have a gut feeling and some assumptions, but you can never know for sure.
We did a survey that was more qualitative but at the same time quantitative, and we didn’t get those insights from game data or from Facebook. It’s really something that we researched in a traditional and old school way.
What’s something about yourself that doesn’t tend to come up in professional circles?
There is something that I do start talking about, but it’s sort of my hobby. Generally speaking, art, going to the movies, and electronic music. Berlin is the perfect place for all of this, but last year I started a project called LunchMeOut.
I take portrait pictures on my camera of the people that I am having lunch with. There’s the food and the person along with a short recap of what we spoke about.
I have about 200 people covered at this point and you can check out the project at lunchmeout.com or #lunchmeout on Instagram. It’s something that my colleagues like, my friends like, people in the industry like, people want to be there.
I think it’s something really unique, because nobody has done this so far. There’s a project called Humans of New York, but this is a little bit of a different production and the idea behind it. I really enjoy it and am booked with lunches more or less.
Where do you see the industry headed over the next 5 years? Do you have any predictions?
I think one of the trends is story-driven games, and luckily Wooga is heading this direction.
What we see is that there are still games that are clearly focused on the mechanics, which is all about hyper casual games. It’s the latest trend, it’s booming. But on the other hand, for more complex games, story is a must.
I think all of you know players who played Homescapes or Gardenscapes, which was a huge success, and there’s maybe over 20 copycats that are more or less successful as well.
Having a story is really something that helps you engage with the audience to make them more involved and more immersed in your experience.
This is why Netflix’s booming. When you’re watching a series, you’re so captivated by the plot that you can’t wait for the next episode.
The same is happening to the games at the moment, so clearly stories are a big component. It’s not very easy to do. It requires a lot of talent, and making a good story is always tough.
I also feel like — I’ll call it hybridization — most of the core genres are already on the market, but innovation happens when you combine them. If you take one genre and combine it with another one; a lot of this is happening in puzzle games.
For example, Tropicats is a building game, a simulation game, and a match 3 game. There’s a lot of hidden object games that combine match 3 elements with an interactive story. So, I feel there is going to be more and more innovative games based on this hybridization: a combination of several different genres.
In general, I guess all of you have seen Google’s GDC announcement for Stadia. I’m not sure how it’s going to affect casual gaming at the moment, but I think we’re covered.
For the midcore gaming, hardcore gaming, PC gaming, and console gaming, which is a huge part of the industry as well, this is really a disruption if everything will work as they said. We don’t know how much it’s going to cost yet, but imagine you’re watching a YouTube video of a game you like, then you go straight to the game from any device and start playing right away. That’s really disruption.
I think that’s going to change the industry quite a lot. I hope it will grow exponentially.
And finally, just in general, maybe not related to casual, but AR & VR. It’s been very hyped for years, maybe 5 years, and I think the hardware is just not ready yet.
But they keep evolving and who knows?! The future could be like The Matrix movies where we’re all just connected and that’s how we play!
What is your golden tip?
Never forget the basics and try to re-read the classical books.
There’s a good book by Byron Sharp, a professor in Australia. It’s just an overview of marketing: what the strategy means, what the segmentation means, what the targeting means.
We tend to forget about it; we are so obsessed with ROI, CPI, how many downloads, growth rate, install rate… and I mean, that’s the job, right? That’s what gives success.
The value of marketer, what they bring to the company, is the strategy. Working on brand is something we’re going to do, and just try to release some kind of logo. That makes a huge difference nowadays for everyone.
As gaming becomes more and more mature, it becomes more and more competitive. It’s crazy. It requires more and more marketing maturity. This maturity doesn’t come from being better at Performance Marketing, but being more creative, work on better branding, doing better research, knowing your customers. Talk to your real customers. Schedule some calls.
We have video calls and talk with customers. We do this quite often and it’s such a huge inspiration when you talk to people. You see how they speak, what they look like, how they’re living, how they feel, if they like your game.
We have so much data, that we think that’s enough, and that we just need the numbers.
But this human touch. This is something that you can’t beat.
I would give these two pieces of advice. Ideally combine both worlds: the traditional and the digital.