· 11 min read
iOS14 and IDFA Changes: What It Means for Developers and the Mobile Games Industry
- So what is IDFA?
- And what’s changing?
- What does this mean in practice?
- How will this affect the mobile gaming industry?
- Mediation and analytics won’t be highly affected, but attribution will
- In attribution, we’ll all be starting from zero again
- There’ll be a scramble to solve the problem
- Data science will become more important
- SAN networks will be severely impacted
- How will this affect studios?
- It might have an equalizing effect
- One type of studio will definitely be hardest hit
- Hyper-casual studios should be least affected
- So how will the mobile gaming industry look in 2021?
- We should expect a new period of growth
- We’ll see more innovation
- We're going to see a lot more focus on broader types of games
- We might finally see brand advertisers getting involved
- General tips for developers and studios
- Read up on data science
- Ask providers the right questions
- Tips for testing games post-IDFA
- Expect to change how you measure conversion values and how you spend against them
- Measure your LTV a lot sooner
- Try using ‘ad ops’
- Talk to ad networks about how to test
- Watch the full webinar to learn more
We recently held a webinar to discuss the changes we can expect to see from iOS14 and rule changes to IDFA that are due in early 2021. It was an interesting, lively discussion with GameAnalytics and Tenjin, answering some of developers and publishers’ most pressing questions.
We’ve had some time to reflect on all the topics we discussed. Here are our takeaways:
So what is IDFA?
IDFA stands for ‘identifier for advertisers’. It’s what allows advertisers to follow users through the experience – from seeing the ad in another app and then actually ending up in your app.
Apple first introduced it and it’s exclusive to iOS Devices. But there’s a similar system on Android. Users do have the option to disable IDFA, but it’s always on by default.
And what’s changing?
From some point in early 2021, the default for IDFA will change from ‘opt-out’ to ‘opt-in’. So the first time you go into an app, it’ll ask you if you want to be tracked in this way.
Apple originally planned to roll out this change with the release of iOS14, but it’s been delayed to an unconfirmed date. It should happen within the next few months. At the moment, roughly 30% of users actively go into the settings and disable IDFA. Once the default changes, most developers expect around 90% of players to opt out.
This will make for a fundamental change for the industry – one that most people aren’t on top of. We asked our audience about it in a small survey, and 75% say they’re ‘not prepared’ for the IDFA change.
What does this mean in practice?
IDFA has mainly been used for very granular, targeted advertising purposes – targeting a specific type of highly engaged, high spending user.
But soon, advertisers won’t be able to submit IDFA to Facebook to target specific people. Apple even went a step further by saying in their terms of service that you can’t even do this with emails anymore. If they catch you doing it with emails, they’ll ban you.
So the market for those types of ads will basically go away.
You can still use tracking links that don’t have IDFA and they still work with non SAN ad networks. The ones that people will really be shocked by are the SAN ones where all of those direct connections and MMP exclusivities for those APIs will break.
Apple is really clamping down on advertising to specific users. And if you try to work around it, Apple will catch you and ban you. We think it’s a much better idea to pay the toll now and get your systems up to date so you don’t have to change the way you do things.
How will this affect the mobile gaming industry?
This depends on who you ask. Some people are taking a blind approach to the change – either ignoring it completely or assuming opt-in rates will be high enough for them to carry on as normal.
Others have come up with specific methodologies to work around the changes, but haven’t had any confirmation that they’ll actually be allowed by Apple. Some people think they’ll rely on fingerprinting technology. But Apple has said they’re against this.
We think the IDFA changes will cause a major shift in how marketers should be measuring their ROI – or even verifying that they’re getting return on investment. It’ll mostly affect companies that help developers figure out their attribution methodologies.
Mediation and analytics won’t be highly affected, but attribution will
It’ll soon be better to have an attribution tool than to not have one. This being said, not everybody is ready to pay for attribution. Some won’t have enough player volume to get attribution that’s accurate enough to be worth the money.
In attribution, we’ll all be starting from zero again
When attribution was first introduced on mobile, it took at least four years to become standardized. The IDFA changes will likely start this cycle over again. Third-party IDs are definitely out, in our opinion – we expect Apple to ban anyone trying to use third party IDs to track across different publishers. So we really will be starting over again.
There’ll be a scramble to solve the problem
Whenever there’s a problem to be solved, there’s money to be made from the solution. So we expect lots of people racing to create the first product that fits the niche. This won’t be easy though, because it all depends on the solution being accepted by Apple. And then we’ll see how Google reacts and so on.
Data science will become more important
We’ll be moving from a very deterministic world using IDFA to a non-deterministic world, using other kinds of signals you can get from an app. Computing and interpreting these signals for attribution purposes will need data science expertise.
SAN networks will be severely impacted
Half of the users have unlimited ad tracking. And in those cases we actually see a drop in, for example, Facebook spend, or spend on a SAN network where integrations completely rely on IDFA. So if you’re using an attribution partner that has an integration with a self attributing network, like Facebook or Twitter or Snapchat, all those connections will be severed when IDFA is opt-in.
How will this affect studios?
It won’t make things easier for any studios. But it will affect certain kinds of studios more than others.
It might have an equalizing effect
Not everyone has attribution. But the information that attribution provides is very valuable at scales. So if you’re a smaller or mid-sized studio, the playing field for you probably looks a little better in comparison to bigger studios. The gap of knowledge between studios will also get a bit smaller. So if you do use the information you have, you should become a bit more competitive after this change.
One type of studio will definitely be hardest hit
Any studio that relies on a small group of highly profitable users will suffer from this change. They won’t be able to tell when they’re buying these players or not. They’ll have a much harder time figuring out how to get ROI on ads.
But at the same time, these are usually the studios that can afford to buy the best tools available. So they’ll also find very sophisticated data teams and get the best advice in the industry.
Hyper-casual studios should be least affected
For hyper-casual developers, the economics don’t really change – because they rely on users who have very small individual value, but very high value as a big group. So being unable to target specific users shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
People have been waiting for the hyper-casual wave to die down, because it’s powered by ads. But really what iOS14 is doing is making it even more necessary to do many ads per user, which suits hyper casual fine.
But we’re seeing this trend of consolidation in buying hyper-casual publishers to get a bigger user base to advertise to. With advertising to specific users becoming harder, we might see this trend accelerate.
So how will the mobile gaming industry look in 2021?
These changes to IDFA come after a year of huge economic turmoil. So with all things considered, we can make some fairly strong predictions for the year ahead.
We should expect a new period of growth
It’s not like users have stopped liking games. Many businesses in the industry have been affected by the economics of 2020, and advertising now becomes a little trickier, but we should see more money coming back into the market. As this happens, it’ll push CPI up to some extent, and also ECPMs. We’ll continue to see an effervescent market where more studios will be making money and launching new games – and new entrants will still be coming in.
We’ll see more innovation
Whenever there’s a fundamental change to regulations, there are always opportunities for anyone who can solve the problems it creates. Without the ability to advertise directly to specific players, the ways those users seek out new games will change. And there needs to be new technology to support that.
There are so many unknowns with how the platform will work and how the marketing will change. There’ll be many new companies offering up creative new solutions – some of which will work and some won’t. So expect to learn some new acronyms within the next year.
We’re going to see a lot more focus on broader types of games
As we mentioned before, the IDFA changes are much more of a challenge if you focus very specifically on a small group of high-paying players. So the types of games that create this monetization model will suddenly seem like a riskier investment.
Games with broader appeal that can cultivate a much larger player base will now seem like a much safer bet for developers and publishers alike.
We might finally see brand advertisers getting involved
The increasing ‘snackablity’ of games is leading more and more people to integrate mobile games into their lifestyles. Brands are finally realizing that regular consumers, not just gamers, play games while they’re on the bus or sitting in a waiting room.
So the purchase experience for brands and the gaming experience are much more intertwined than they used to be. This was hard to ignore in 2020, when many people were deprived of the leisure activities they’d usually use to fill their idle time.
If brands do choose to dip their toes into the mobile gaming market, it’ll probably be small experiments to start with. But it’s slowly going to accelerate as economies start to recover.
General tips for developers and studios
Read up on data science
Developers will need even more data understanding, because you have less granular data to work with. You have to rely much more on correlations to understand your attribution, where your players are coming from, and how profitable they are.
Ask providers the right questions
You need to know how each of your providers is handling things in relation to Apple’s terms of service. You don’t want to get your app rejected for a reason you don’t understand, or for the ways they actually calculate an attribution or the ways you will measure your ROI.
You don’t want to go into some type of ‘black box’ scenario where you don’t know anything about what’s under the hood. So you need your providers to show you exactly how they’re complying with the terms of service.
Tips for testing games post-IDFA
Expect to change how you measure conversion values and how you spend against them
We expect to see less testing in Facebook and similar platforms, and more in non San networks – simply because they’re cheaper and there’s no real ability to tell the difference between users.
When you start thinking about testing, you test to scale. And while you can still buy ads on Facebook that target certain specificities, scaling beyond that isn’t as applicable anymore. That’s going to be a shift where you’ll start to see more testing within non sans.
Measure your LTV a lot sooner
It used to be that, for prototypes, you only looked at engagement metrics like retention, playtime, and CPI. But now you’ll need to assume a certain LTV, based on the engagement metrics.
Try using ‘ad ops’
Ad ops is like live ops, but for hyper-casual games. You measure your ad frequency from the prototype stage and run A/B tests in the same way you would for your core mechanic.
This is important because you’ll now have more variation in how your ads perform. So look at the increases in LTV from changing ad placements or types. You’ll need to know this very early on to get a predicted CPI.
Talk to ad networks about how to test
All the ad networks are doing very different things with conversion values. Some are ignoring them. And the ones that are using them are doing so in very different ways.
So this is a big unknown for developers. When you go out there and talk to ad networks about how to test, try to really understand what they’re doing with conversion values.
Watch the full webinar to learn more
We went into more depth on these topics in the full webinar, which you can watch on our YouTube channel.