Case Study: How to Get Featured on Google Play and Adapt ASO to Different Countries
Full HP Ltd is an international mobile game development company with 40+ employees and offices in Rostov-on-Don and Cyprus. Their portfolio includes 8 games, among them Mad GunZ (a Google Play Editors' choice) and Blocky Cars (a Catappult Editors' choice). Mad GunZ has over 12 million downloads on all platforms, and Blocky Cars has over 32 million.
The company is actively involved in the life of the IT community and is a sponsor of the Sunflower game devs festival.
The Full HP Ltd team translates texts for Blocky Cars and Mad GunZ using Nitro professional online translation service, and agreed to share some of their lifehacks with us:
- how to maximize ASO optimization results
- how to get on the home page of Google Play
- how to monetize children’s games
- and the benefits of releasing a game on alternative platforms.
Mad GunZ and Blocky Cars are accessible in 12 languages. Tell us about your approach to the localization process.
Our process is as follows: players from Russia are the first to gain early access to the game. After the game has passed certain tests, we expand early access to MULTI-5 countries (English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian) and begin localizing the pages into these languages. For a while the screenshots and page descriptions are displayed in English for all countries. As soon as the game is released globally, we immediately add the standard languages in which all our games are released: besides the MULTI-5, these are Portugese, Arabic, and Asian languages (Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Thai).
Gradually, all the game pages in the store are localized into new languages, since this lets us reach the most users. It is easiest for us to translate these texts using Nitro, since the translations are frequently ready within a few hours.
While the translation is being readied we analyze keywords and select the most relevant keywords for the game, making sure that these words can be organically inserted into the text.
And where do you localize the game itself?
Previously we worked with a translation agency, but due to the time-consuming paperwork involved (an invoice had to be submitted and payment made via bank transfer before the translation work began) the process was quite lengthy. Plus, several terms in the game require explanation—in Mad Gunz, for example, the weapons have highly specialized names, and we needed to explain to the translators exactly what was meant.
For that reason we switched to Nitro completely. Our games don’t have all that much text, so Nitro suits us both for translating store pages and for localizing the game itself.
The texts are mostly brief: the games are for children, after all, and we don’t want to weigh them down with a lot of text. The largest text in the game is the user agreement. When we were featured on Google in Korea we had to translate the user agreement into Korean. The text was long and of a legal nature, and we translated it through the managers at Alconost. We were quite happy with the result; the text was translated quickly and with no issues.
One lifehack we use is this: standard phrases such as “play” and “menu” are used from one game to the next, so we save them in a translation memory. That way, instead of translating them over again each time, we simply use the existing translations.
New texts appear when game designers introduce new content into the game. For example, ten new phrases are created that have to be translated for the next release. We send them off to Nitro and add our comments for the translator. As a rule, no issues arise, but if the translator isn’t clear on something we explain via a manager.
You mentioned keyword analysis. Tell us how you work with ASO.
We are constantly rewriting ASO for specific countries if we find it necessary. For example, here is a screenshot with data for Turkey. When it was taken the page had not been localized into Turkish: the screenshots, the description, and everything else was in English. It shows the conversion rate for the page prior to localization of the app page. Only a small number of users were reaching us—15.8% out of 22,000 users who visited our page on the Play Market.
Conversion prior to page localization (Turkey)
As a rule, after page localization conversion of the total number of users who visit the page rises by 3-5%. We translated part of the description and all of the screenshots into Turkish. The phrases on the screenshots are short, and users are drawn primarily to the image. Only a few actually read the description.
Conversion after page localization (Turkey)
And here is what conversion looked like 2-3 weeks after localizing the store page: we saw growth of 18% (100% = 3,614, comprising 15.8% of those who installed the game prior to localization. Growth is calculated based on this number, since the number of visitors to the page also increased). We determined that localized screenshots work, but we need to select the best keywords for Turkey.
The same is true of Vietnam: the conversion coefficient was 18.3%, and it rose to 19.5% in the course of a few weeks. ASO takes a long time to pick up speed. To see how conversion will increase you have to observe and constantly work on keywords and screenshots, and then you’ll start seeing results in 2-3 months.
When conducting app store optimization and after regular A/B testing we determined that page conversion for our games in countries such as India, Vietnam, and Malaysia is 5% higher when the text and screenshots are localized.
Can you show us how the conversion rate had changed several months later?
No, because page localization was not the only factor there. In July we were featured, so our numbers rose sharply due to the featuring and the viewers it drew. Mad GunZ was one of Google’s top picks for three weeks on the home page. Far more users visited the page than usual, and so the conversion rate differs significantly from the usual numbers. We can only show a brief period, but page localization has quite clearly produced growth. The same is true in any country.
In Germany the effects of page translation were quite noticeable. Our conversion there was actually in the negative (a percentage of less than 50 shows that we are not gaining users).
Conversion prior to page localization (Germany)
When we translated the page into German and selected German keywords instead of English, not only did conversion increase (by 25%), but also the number of visitors to the page.
Conversion rate after page localization into German
Localizing the page, and especially the screenshots, is important. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on translating the description, it’s worth at least translating the screenshots and a couple of phrases from the description into the users’ native language. That alone is a huge improvement.
Our clients tell us that when you translate only the game’s page, while the game itself is in English, users may become frustrated and leave low ratings. Is this something you’ve encountered?
No, because our game is localized into all these languages except Vietnamese, Turkish, and Hindi, and yet users in these countries have not complained.
Possibly users become frustrated if the game is not localized into the MULTI-5 languages (English, German, French, Spanish, Italian) and into Russian. These are very popular languages, after all, and if the page is localized into one of them the players expect the game to be in the same language.
We always add these languages, as well as Arabic, Thai, and the languages of Asia, of course, because these make up a large part of the audience we wish to reach.
You say you sometimes review and alter keywords. How often is this required?
ASO most often has to be rewritten in Japan and Korea, because there the audience is very specific and requires a particular approach.
We check our AOS regularly, going through every page. But there are countries where this is unnecessary, such as the USA. We track conversion to make sure it remains at the proper level, but we may conduct A/B testing of new words, icons, or screenshots.
In the USA we have the highest conversion rate of all, and our percentile is above 75.
It is interesting to note that if ASO is working beautifully in the States, and we take these same words and use them in England, Canada, or Australia, the ASO does not work at all. The same is true of Brazil vs. Portugal, and of the Spanish-speaking countries: what works in Spain may not work in Mexico, Argentina, etc.
We frequently conduct A/B testing with Google, which helps considerably to understand the direction we need to take in our description, which icon has drawn the most users to our page, etc.
We use a marketing tool that allows us to see how our game rates for a given keyword query. Using it we can also check our game’s chances of appearing based on the desired keyword.
For example, with Blocky Cars it is apparent that, after we optimized the page, conversion rose by 6%, from 19.3% to 25.3%—the equivalent of a 50% increase in the number of users (100% = 3,021—19.3% of those who installed the game prior to localization. Growth is calculated from this number, as the number of page visitors has increased). And the number of users rose from 15,000 to 33,000.
Conversion in Blocky Cars prior to ASO adjustment
Conversion in Blocky Cars after ASO adjustment
Let’s talk about profitability. Your games are translated into 12 languages. Was it worth it? Wouldn’t the 5 most popular European languages have been enough?
We have many paying users from the countries for which we’ve translated the game. I can cite our localization into Portugese: the language is not one of the MULTI-5, but players from Brazil are some of the best-paying in our games.
When we released Mad GunZ on an alternative platform, Catappult, at the time of release the game had only been localized into English.
Growth after localization into Portugese. The chart shows featuring and localization into Portugese. Top countries: Brazil, Mexico, Portugal, USA, and Vietnam.
We were featured (the largest jump on the screenshot), after which our numbers dropped back. Since most of the players are from Brazil, it was decided to localize the game and the app page into Portugese. After that the numbers started to climb again.
Here are our five most profitable countries:
The same countries top the charts for both games, and the numbers differ but little.
I see the USA tops the charts.
The USA is always near the top, since it is one of the highest-paying countries.
And then comes Japan.
Yes, Japan and Korea. But with them it is a challenge even to get them to install the game, and to induce them to make a purchase after installing. Considering their specific tastes, it is fairly difficult to arouse their interest.
We have a partner in Japan that places our games on Japanese platforms. There we see a certain number of downloads, but nothing that could compare with Google Play. One of the platforms on which we’re present is ONEStore, a Korean platform, and as you can see there aren’t many downloads there, either.
What about China? There are usually plenty of downloads at least from China.
In China we have 22 million downloads. There we also work through a partner, because in China you need a license to distribute a game. It is simpler to partner with a publisher. But despite the large quantity of downloads from there, profitability is less than it could be, since the profits are shared with our partner. The publisher has a certain selection of platforms with which it cooperates. In China we are represented on 30 platforms where the publisher distributes us.
In China alone there are 22.6 million downloads—even more than on Google Play!
Have you had to adapt the games themselves or your advertising campaigns to users in Asian countries? What preferential particularities have you noticed among them?
Naturally, Asian players have completely different preferences. When translating into these languages we use different texts than those for users from Europe. For Asia we have to adapt not only the text, but also the visuals: icons, screenshots, videos… For example, in screenshots for Asia the colors must be very vivid, and the text must be placed differently than in European and American versions of the game.
We have tried increasing the intensity and contrast; once we even made an anime-style skin for one the characters. In the end we expended considerable effort, but the result was not as impressive as we had hoped.
We tried replacing standard horizontal screenshots with vertical ones—we had heard that they were better for page conversion in Korea. Vivid colors on vertical screenshots went over well, but the downside was that the game itself was horizontal.
Asia has a very picky audience. Recently we conducted an advertising campaign on iOS for a number of countries, including Japan, and conversion for Japan was the worst of all.
Adaptation is not employed in the game itself, except for a few impermissible elements for Chinese child target audiences. In Mad GunZ we had one particular case: at first launch there is a tutorial, which for the European audience is conducted by a fairy (a bearded character wearing a fairy dress). But in China a man wearing a dress is unacceptable. They see it as unnatural. We gave him pants and a shirt, and he took on the appearance of a mid-level Chinese manager. With Japan and Korea we had no such issues. Mad GunZ is also present in Iran, and for them we also ditched the dress-wearing man-fairy.
Oops! The Chinese didn’t care for a bearded fairy wearing a dress. To the right is the adapted version for China.
As far as ASO, we try to use Asian trends in the description. For example, we noticed that for our target audience in Asia the most popular search term for games was “robots.” In Blocky Cars we had just introduced robots in the update, so for the European game description we stressed that the game included cars, while in Asian countries we emphasized that the game had robots.
You were featured for three weeks. Was this in the stores for every country? Or how does that work?
It was the Editors' Choice for the Battle Royale category, which particularly included Mad GunZ. Blocky Cars and Mad GunZ were featured worldwide at almost the same time, but in different categories. Mad GunZ was there for three weeks, and Blocky Cars for one week.
What determines whether you’re there for three weeks or one? How can you stay there for longer?
It all depends on how often the category changes. Battle Royale was one of the summer categories. The editors selected several categories, such as “Best Arcades,” “Battle Royale,” etc. The games selected for each category were posted on the home page. These categories change every three weeks.
In the category where Blocky Cars was, the games change every week. That category is called “New and Updated Games.”
What advice would you give to those who would also like to be featured? What helps accomplish that?
Mad GunZ simply caught someone’s eye. We try to maintain a certain level of profitability, with minimal bugs (crashes, etc., which prevent the user from enjoying the game), and to produce quality content, and all this led to Mad GunZ being selected.
As for Blocky Cars, here we reached out to the experts: we submitted a request stating that we had a quality game and that we wanted to attract more users by being featured. The requirements were the same: a specific profitability level and minimal bugs. Then Google sent their own requirements, and our technical experts adjusted the game slightly to comply with them.
We also had to add gameplay screenshots with no captions or processing—scenes of how the game actually looked. If a company wants Google to notice them, they should absolutely add at least one or two clean, non-Photoshopped screenshots.
How well are players retained in your games? Could you share some statistics?
Blocky Cars was released exactly five years ago. And we do have users who have been playing all five years. Not many, of course, but we do have them. The same with Mad GunZ: it was released in June of 2017, and there are players who have been playing since the very beginning (now 2.5 years ago) and look forward to updates.
The average first-day retention for Mad GunZ is 35%, and for Blocky Cars 33%.
D1—first-day retention; D7—seventh-day retention
First-day retention for the top five countries (Russia, Brazil, Thailand, USA, and Japan) varies between 30% and 39%. The highest numbers are in the USA and Japan. The numbers and the list of the most active countries for Mad GunZ and Blocky Cars are identical.
Stickiness for both games is at about 12%. There are spikes and dips, but that is about the average.
So what do you do to retain players?
Blocky Cars is five years old, and it’s been a long time since we’ve added new content to the game. Just recently however we released a large update that made our users very happy. After that, many of the old players returned to the game.
In late December, Mad GunZ saw a large content update. We try to add some thematic elements for holidays. For example, Mad GunZ has winter weaponry, which can only be acquired during the winter holidays.
Social networks are one way that we retain old users and attract new ones. Mad GunZ is represented on VK (in Russian) and Facebook (in English), and Blocky Cars is on VK, Facebook, and Instagram. We also use social networks to learn what players are needing and the issues they’re encountering.
Thanks to social networks we are seeing traffic overflow from one game to the other, since in the Blocky Cars groups we are able to tell people about Mad GunZ and vice versa. Players go from one game to the other, as the audience age for the two games is about the same: between 7 and 14-15.
We regularly hold network group contests and distribute promo codes. The contests are primarily intended for the player to receive in-game currency or game items.
Once we had a problem: players were upset about not receiving freebies from the developer. We solved the problem using promo codes and contests. We also have links to the social networks within the games themselves, with a description of the task for which players can receive in-game currency: join a group on Facebook (for users overseas) or VK (for Russian speakers). This appeals to our audience.
How did you happen to choose a child target audience for your games?
Our selection of the target audience was influenced, among other things, by the Minecraft craze in the USA. Children loved the game, and it remains among the most popular to this day. Furthermore, the game audience is actually growing, and the franchise is expanding. We thought it would be neat to give young gamers the opportunity to choose entertainment with a pleasing and familiar visual style, but with fresh gameplay. In particular, to this day the mobile market has nothing quite like Blocky Cars.
Never underestimate the value of the children’s games niche. Children spend more time gaming than adults, and they game together at school and at play. We often receive questions in messages from the community: “I’m at school playing Blocky Cars with a friend. His car is cooler than mine. How can I customize a cool car?” Or: “I wanted to play the game with a friend at school, but I couldn’t find him. How can I find him inside your game?”
How then can you monetize a game that targets a child audience? Children can’t make purchases from their own account; they have to ask their parents, right?
For today’s children, in-game paid items are like pocket money that their parents give them. In-game purchases can also be paid for from a cell phone account. We also have advertising, including offerwalls (that is, a player is given a specific task that has to be performed in a different game, and for doing so he receives in-game currency in our game).
Not long ago there was a case study that talked about how hard it is to create an app for children, since stores tighten their requirements. What can you tell us about that?
Recently stores have greatly stiffened their policies on working with children. Apple in particular prohibits using the installation of other apps on offerwalls, while Google permits using only advertising networks they have accredited.
For us the only real challenge is the requirement that there not be a lot of blood in the game itself and that the screenshots not show people shooting each other. Mad GunZ is a shooter, so we use Photoshop to move the characters a little and get rid of the crosshairs. Everyone knows what’s going on regardless, but no blood or violence is shown.
Recently we made new screenshots for the Battle Royale mode. In one screenshot we showed a character—a girl—standing on a shark, wearing knee socks and shorts. And Google chopped that screenshot: they refused to allow it on the marketplace, stating that the clothes “invited sexual actions.” But when the designers merged the socks and shorts and made them into pants, they no longer had any issues with it. And yet the character was made of pixels: there was no sexual innuendo whatsoever.
Our thanks to the Full HP Ltd team for sharing their fascinating experience!
The article was contributed by Alconost.
Nitro is the professional online translation service by Alconost. Alconost is a global provider of website localization services as well as the localization of applications, games, and videos into 70+ languages.
We offer translations by native-speaking linguists, linguistic testing, cloud-based workflow, continuous localization, project management 24/7, and work with any format of string resources.
We also make advertising and educational videos and images, teasers, explainers, and trailers for Google Play and the App Store.