Targeting Buyers, Not Users

The mobile app publisher Motion Math had an interesting challenge in monetizing its math learning games for kids. “Our payer is not the same person as our player,” says Jacob Klein, co-founder of the company, which started as a masters degree project at Stanford. Its suite of math games such as Motion Math, Motion Math Zoom, Motion Math: Hungry Fish are aimed at children 5-11. But those are not the people with access to the payment account, the ones who can authorize a buy.

As every toy manufacturer has known for eons, the product has to appeal to kids but get sold to parents. How does that work in the freemium app world? Here, your audience is given free access to the basic content of a game and then upsold levels or full access to the entire content of the titles. “We reached a million downloads this summer,” says Klein. “When you do a premium product, the conversion to paid is important. You need to have that big funnel.”

The company needed to understand how, when and why upgrades were being made, since that was a sign parents were at the controls of the apps. It was important to understand when to interrupt the game experience with the opportunity to upgrade. Motion Math used an analytics product from Apsalar that provided insight into trending metrics within the app, measuring across parameters like average revenue per user to determine for example how many upgrade menus a user had seen before ordering and average orders made per upgrade menu seen.

The Apsalar system lets the company do A/B testing of different versions of the free download to try out various level lengths, rates of upgrade menu interruptions, etc. In turns out that shorter level lengths earlier in the game help the new player get into things faster. But as the game wore on, players could handle much longer sessions in a level.

One of the critical lessons from the Apsalar analytics was that the parental audience is critical at the very earliest stages after downloading. Most of the upgrades and conversions are clustered heavily in the first two days after a download. “A lot of parents will download the app, play it themselves and then quickly decide to upgrade or not,” Klein says. “It is a different monetization timeline than for older players.” Typically a game maker might use a scheduled system of rewards to maintain a player’s engagement and help make the case that the game is a keeper. “The goal there is get them playing and playing.” Once players get absorbed, the maker will hit them with a paywall.

Having to appeal to payers rather than players, Motion Math took a different tack. “Now we encourage parents to play the first level and make that first level give the range of what the game provides," says Klein. "That's something we might not do if we thought it was just the kids playing for the first few minutes of the game.”

It was through these different split funnel analyses of conversions that Motion Math was able to optimize both design and upgrade prompts to improve the conversion rate from 2.1% to 4.3%.  

Even more interesting to Klein, the insight into app behavior helps the company better understand how kids are using the apps to learn. “From an academic perspective, a lot of what we know about how kids learn is based on a small sample size. We are learning so much more now about what makes people pick up math faster,” he says. The app environment is giving developers and marketers massive focus groups, rendering incredibly detailed metrics about how both payers and players interact with and respond to content.  

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