Media buying is getting harder? Check out how top strategy game companies deal with it

Media buying is getting harder? Check out how top strategy game companies deal with it

[Abstract] Strategy games are trying to attract more players with medium gameplay.

CPM worldwide has been increasing over the past years. It's a generally accepted question that media buying is expensive and difficult. According to the 2021 Global Mobile Game White Paper released by SocialPeta, advertising platforms owned by Meta had an average CPM of $21 in 2021, up 34% compared to 2020. "Highly difficult media buying" and "highly expensive advertising" have become the highest priority problems facing many publishers.

Source: SocialPeta

Among all mobile game types, strategy games have the highest demand for media buying. According to SocialPeta's white paper, there were 1315 different creatives per strategy game advertiser in 2021, the highest number of creatives among all types of games.

Source: SocialPeta

And, creatives for strategy games were consumed very fast, with an average lifetime of only 31.5 days for a piece of ad creative, only 1.4 days more than that of arcade games which were consumed the fastest.

Source: SocialPeta

Because of the high reliance on media buying, strategy game companies have to make quick adjustments to their products and advertising. According to our observation of over 5 million creatives for strategy games, the major changes made to advertising and product strategies are as follows:

I. "Light gameplay" has become a new trend in advertising strategy games

Strategy games (especially SLGs) had a significantly decreased number of target customers, partly because the media buying market became increasingly sluggish after the intense competition in the past years, and also because many heavy gameplay gamers grew immune to the patterns of ad creatives for SLGs, especially the most commonly used UE4 storylines.

In order to reach more users with their ads, many companies started to make their ad creatives more casual. That was often done by combining the creatives with popular hyper-casual gameplays, because established hyper-casual gameplays are tested and verified by the market and are very attractive to gamers.

Similar patterns can be seen in the two ad creatives below. Based on the data retrieved from SocialPeta's backend data sources, both creatives received over 2 million estimated impressions within around 50 days. Obviously, it's a type of creatives well accepted by the market.

(Advertisers: The Ants: Underground Kingdom      Duration: 48 days      Estimated Impressions: 2.1M)
(Advertisers: Lords Mobile: Tower Defense       Duration: 53 days      Estimated Impressions: 2.3M)

This type of creatives can attract a lot of casual players in a short time, but according to the feedbacks from game companies, the retention rate of such casual players was very low. So it's advisable that game companies adopt such creatives based on their games and advertising demands, rather than overusing their games' value in ad creatives.

II. Live action creatives are sought-after by game companies

We used to think live action ad creatives, especially scenario-based ones, were usually for MMORPGs. In such creatives, actors or actresses, with extremely dramatic plots and exaggerating acting, connect the game in real world with the game world.

(Live action scenario-based creatives for some MMO game, using conflicts to show how in-game "power" affects the real life.)

The tendency had spread to the advertising of strategy games in 2021. According to SocialPeta's data, there was a popular SLG with over 70% of all its popular ad creatives associated with live-action in Q4 2021.

Lilith Games was the most outstanding among all the game companies that were exploring live-action creatives. When WARPATH was released in March 2021, a live-action video adapted from the game was strongly advertised. The video achieved great success upon its release, which urged Lilith Games to add more live-action scenarios into the advertising of its games.

Advertised on TikTok for 4 days to get nearly a million Likes (Rise of Kingdom)

Some game ad creatives that focused on UE4 also started to have a bit of live action at the beginning to attract gamers (State of Survival).

III. Mixed SLGs newly entered the market to make a showy display

In addition to the above new attempt at ad creatives, many new strategy games had concentrated their efforts on their gameplays. We can see that many SLGs that were released after 2020 had additional elements "X" added to their gameplays. The elements include merge, match-3, tower defense, etc.

Puzzles & Survival, a popular SLG of 37Games, has been one of the best-selling strategy games in Japan ever since its release.


More and more games made such a choice because of the gameplay mechanics of SLGs. It's hard for gamers to be familiar with or even very good at an SLG at the early stage, that's when lots of users choose to leave the game. For the purpose of increasing the retention rate of users, many games adopt the "+X" gameplay, so gamers can easily pass the early stage to move to the middle and later stage of the games.

Also because of the additional "X" elements, a game can reach a much bigger target audience with its ad creatives which can use light gameplay to increase general users or focus on strategic gameplay to attract hardcore gamers.

The first 30 minutes of Kingdom Guard, an SLG strongly advertised by Tap4Fun in 2021, is about tower defense.

In Conclusion

With the rising cost of media buying and increasing user requirements, the quality of games will need to be improved accordingly to satisfy gamers. Now more game companies have taken active actions to try new ways, either an SLG with mixed gameplay trying to expand its target audience, or the adoption of influencers or real people in ad creatives to help promote a game. We believe "change" will be a keyword in the gaming industry in 2022.