July 26, 2023

Reeling in success: User acquisition strategies to catch high value spenders for gaming apps

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High-value mobile gamers and how to identify them

5 strategies for acquiring high-value users

        1. Utilize lookalike audiences

        2. Leverage app performance analytics directly

        3. Create rewarded advertising feedback loops

        4. Predictive LTV campaigns

        5. VIP referrals

Keep high-value players invested with Mistplay

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Every mobile marketer hopes to land the big one. High-value players make up a fraction of any mobile game’s player base but will generate a vast majority of its overall revenue. And according to GameAnalytics CEO Ioana Hreninciuc, these players have increased their spending by nearly 20% since 20161, making acquiring them at a predictable cost more critical than ever.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for catching high-value mobile gamers, but there are user acquisition strategies you can implement that will help you increase your chances. The following tips will allow you to optimize your ad dollars, better predict which users are most likely to spend, and help you maximize the lifetime value (LTV) of your player base.

High-value mobile gamers and how to identify them

According to Business of Apps, 48.2% of mobile app revenue comes from in-app purchases (IAP)2. To drill down further, the vast majority of this revenue is generated by a small percentage of users. Some studies show that as little as 2% of a mobile game’s player base generates up to 95% of IAP revenue3

These high-value mobile gamers are the key to generating profitable revenue. Therefore, mobile marketers must adjust their strategies to find, target, and acquire these users at a sustainable rate, thus ensuring your mobile game can profit and grow. 

To do so, you must first know how to identify which of your current players can be identified as high-value users. This can be achieved by examining a few core metrics, including:

  • In-app purchases: Which of your players are making in-app purchases. Which players spend more than once? Examine the total amount of purchases, frequency of purchases, and the amount of money users spend.
  • Average revenue per user (ARPU): Higher-value users will have a greater ARPU rate than the majority of players. Revenue can also be measured among spenders by measuring ARPPU (average revenue per paying user).
  • Retention rate/Average minutes played: The more players return to your game and the longer players spend playing it, the more likely they are to spend money.
  • Lifetime value (LTV): The ultimate metric for determining how much users are worth once acquired, which considers how much revenue a user will generate over their lifetime of using the app.

Once you’ve identified a few critical metrics, then you need to work closely with your data team to perform an audience segmentation exercise to determine which players sit at the top your chosen metrics. Once you know who to look for, you can then implement one (or several) of the following strategies to maximize your high-value user acquisition efforts.

5 strategies for acquiring high-value users

1. Utilize lookalike audiences to target an audience similar to your highest-value players

A stylized image shows a hand holding a smartphone. Reflected in the glass are the silhouettes of three people.

Want to find users with similar characteristics to your current audience of high-value players? That’s where lookalike audiences4 come in.

Facebook’s advertising platform enables marketers to leverage first-party data around your game’s existing high-value users in the form of “source audiences.” From this source list, Facebook then works across different characteristics — such as demographics, interests, and other personal data — to generate a lookalike audience. This audience will have qualities that match your current high-value user population, ultimately giving you a better chance at acquiring them.  

To maximize the effects of these lookalike audiences, first you should closely examine the player habits and demographics of the top spending percentage of your current audience and create lookalike audiences that match. To ensure your lookalike audience is working to your advantage, craft your ad creative so it reflects the motivations or value propositions of your highest-value users. 

Once you’ve built your audience and created ads, it’s time to optimize. Facebook allows marketers to set the audience size via a percentage value. Higher numbers are broader, while lower numbers are a much closer match to your targeted lookalike audience. However, lower values aren’t always better – according to Gil David, founder of Facebook ad firm Run DMG, 2-3% is the sweet spot for most lookalike audience campaigns5. Some campaigns may even benefit from higher values, depending on audience demographics and your intended results.

To get the most out of your lookalike audiences, Facebook recommends creating multiple audiences and A/B testing them with the same ad creative6. Once you’ve determined how effective they are on KPIs like revenue per conversion or LTV, modify bids for each audience to maximize spend on the most valuable cohorts. 

👀 Related reading: 10 user acquisition channels marketers need to know in 2023

2. Leverage app performance analytics directly through Firebase audiences

Like Facebook, Google also offers a method for targeting similar audiences to your current population of high-value players. However,  Google implements these tools within its app development platform Firebase7 to leverage live game analytics data. This way, you can build audiences based on the actual data you’ve collected rather than build those audiences from scratch.

You can then connect your Firebase account directly to a Google Ads account and choose which in-app action you would like to optimize your ad campaign. While “in-app purchase” is the most obvious choice, you may want to target other user progression events, such as hours played per day, consecutive days of play, or the level achieved, depending on what your data tells you is most likely to maximize revenue.

Google also provides tools like Performance Max, which comes equipped with powerful features like audience signals8. These signals can help Google’s targeting algorithms to find lookalike audiences within its massive ad platform, further enabling you to hone in on an audience most likely to spend within your game.

3. Create rewarded advertising feedback loops

Beyond ad targeting, it’s crucial to build feedback loops in and out of your game that reward high-value mobile gamers for continuing to play and investing in your title. The longer your users are playing your game, the more likely they are to spend – and with high-value users, they’re more likely to spend at higher rates than the average player. 

To aid in maximizing LTV, loyalty-focused tools like Mistplay can help acquire high-value users and keep them playing by providing rewards beyond the experience you’ve built for them. Mistplay recommends titles to players through a sophisticated AI-powered algorithm, ensuring users match with titles they’re most likely to enjoy. Then, they receive points for spending time and money on your game, which they can then redeem for real-world rewards like Amazon gift cards. These systems enable players to get more value out of purchases they were already going to make, as well as encourage non-spenders to make their first purchase. 

An infographic shows the cycle of rewarded advertising.
Mistplay’s rewarded advertising loop for mobile gamers

This loyalty program enabled free-to-play mobile game studio East Side Games to boost its acquisition of high-value users, driving a 15% increase in installs, a 9.5% increase in D7 retention, and a nearly 8% increase in D7 ROAS. Want to learn more? Get in touch to discover how Mistplay can boost user acquisition and LTV of the high-value audience you’re looking for.

👀 Related reading: 5 essential elements of effective mobile game loyalty programs

4. Predictive LTV campaigns make revenue generation predictable

Any high-value user acquisition campaign aims to develop systems that can maximize ad spend on users with the highest LTV, whether that LTV comes from a quick influx of revenue upfront or through a long-tail investment. That’s where predictive LTV models come into play, which allow you to estimate the future value of your users and balance against other KPIs like customer acquisition cost to optimize predictive ROAS (pROAS). Thanks to modern technology, integrating predictive LTV models into your customer acquisition funnel can be automated and optimized on Liftoff's DSP via LTV Optimize.

LTV Optimize, a beta feature announced in late 2022, is an industry-first solution that makes programmatic optimizations so your campaign is reactive to a live predictive model. The feature uses machine learning to generate a pLTV (predictive LTV) score for users and ultimately optimizes your campaigns to acquire more users who are proven to convert.

According to Liftoff, early adopters of the feature have already seen a 14% increase in pLTV and 40% decrease in CPI on average compared to D7 ROAS optimization.

5. VIP referrals help high-value spenders bring in other players

According to McKinsey, word-of-mouth advertising is a primary factor in up to half of all purchasing decisions9. And when high-value spenders refer other high-value spenders to your app, it can pay off in dividends. However, there isn’t any one specific tool that can help you achieve this. Instead, you need to rely on built-in VIP referral systems to help encourage your high-value players to bring in friends to unlock valuable rewards.

One of the most popular methods of building a referral system is to allow users to generate unique codes or links within the game, which they can share via text message or social media. These codes enable new users to set up an account – once the new account has been active for a set amount of time, the new player and referral receive the specified bonus. These rewards can be in-game currency, exclusive consumable items or cosmetics, experience point bonuses, and other special offers for your game. For example, POP! Slots Casino gives free chips to users who create a new account with a Facebook or Apple log-in within 48 hours10, along with their referrals. 

If you want to do a more significant user acquisition push, consider a tiered reward system, which adds a gamified progression system to your referral program. These large-scale programs provide an incremental series of rewards once certain account creation milestones are reached. Your app can offer these tiered rewards individually or tie them to global player counts, which provide bonuses to all players within the game.

Whatever option you choose, remember to promote your referral program through social media channels and within your game through messaging and push notifications.

Keep high-value players invested with Mistplay

Acquiring high spenders is no easy feat, but Mistplay's unique loyalty platform can help improve your odds of success. Mistplay utilizes an AI-driven user acquisition algorithm optimized for spending, helping you acquire players most likely to make in-app purchases. Mistplay also rewards players for spending time and money with points they can redeem on real-world rewards, generating a feedback loop that keeps players invested over the long term. When combined, these tools help you develop sustainable revenue streams with predictable ad spend rates. 

Ready to find out how Mistplay can boost user retention and LTV for your mobile game? Get started today.

Need to brush up on your user acquisition fundamentals?  Check out our comprehensive article, “Mobile user acquisition: The modern developer’s guide


  1.  Ioana Hreninciuc, Mobile gaming ‘whales’ spending more than ever, according to GameAnalytics, PocketGamer.biz, January 2020
  2.  Nayden Tafradzhiyski, In-App Purchases, Business of Apps, July 2023
  3.  Moshin Ahmed, The Paradox of Whales: Loyalty, Engagement, and LiveOps in Mobile Gaming, LinkedIn, May 2023
  4.  About lookalike audiences, Meta, June 2023
  5.  Amy Gesenhues, Advertisers seeing dwindling results with Facebook’s 1% Lookalike Audiences, marTech, May 2019
  6.  Best practices to maximize your lookalike audience, Meta, June 2023
  7.  About audience targeting using Firebase data, Google, June 2023
  8.  About Performance Max campaigns, Google, July 2023
  9.  Jacques Bughin, Jonathan Doogan, and Ole Jørgen Vetvik, A new way to measure word-of-mouth marketing, McKinsey, April 2010
  10.  Invite your friends!, Playstudios Support, July 2022


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