Life in the Fastlane – UA Tips and Tricks, Tools & Techniques with Saikala Sultanova of Ubisoft Mobile

Aug 21, 2017

Mobile Attribution is clearly a must, but figuring out the best fit for your app and budget is not so clear-cut. In this episode our Chief Content Officer Peggy Anne Salz catches up with Saikala Sultanova, Director of User Acquisition at Ubisoft Mobile, to walk through the hard questions you have to tackle in order to identify the tech (and the partners) that will allow you to fight smart, not drive blind. Please note, Saikala was Head of User Acquisition at Space Ape Games when this interview was recorded. She has since joined Ubisoft Mobile as their Director of UA. Saikala is also a proud member of the UA Society.

MOBILE GROWTH: Continuing our trek through UA superstars, today we have Saikala Sultanova, head of UA at Space Ape Games, Saikala, I’ve heard so much about you, and I’m really excited to have you!

SAIKALA: Thanks!

MOBILE GROWTH: I have to be honest, the news about Space Ape Games is also very interesting. You’re on a roll – Tencent owns, Super Cell has taken a 62% stake in Space Ape games, we’ve all read that, and before that, I remember reading a lot of buzz around the news that the company had also tripled revenue; so altogether, I guess well done, right?

SAIKALA: Thank you. It’s been quite a year for us.

MOBILE GROWTH: So I’m just wondering, before we get into the rest of the podcast, what has it been like over there in your offices in London? Total partying since the news, or what’s going on over there?

SAIKALA: Definitely. It’s been a roller coaster week for us because of the Tencent, Super Cell partnership announcement, but at the same time, we were getting ready for Fastlane World to Revenge, a global launch. So all of these things happened in one week, and of course we’ve partied a lot, after work, and yeah, the whole thing is still circling in.

MOBILE GROWTH: Fastlane, that’s that game that also uniquely has influencers in it, right?

SAIKALA: Yes, that’s right.

MOBILE GROWTH: Space Ape games is obviously honor roll, because you’re making games people want to play, you’re using strong IP, you’re using influencers for that matter, to make the complete mix and to have a strong game to begin with. But of course, it’s also about UA, and it’s also about you and your team, too. So I’m just curious, is there something you have to do differently when it’s your own IP, or when it’s all about influencers, how does that impact your UA strategy?

SAIKALA: I think every game is different and impacts UA strategy in a different way. Comparing Transformers: Earth Wars and now Fastlane’s Road to Revenge, they’re completely different, so the way we figure out the UA strategy is also different. The biggest difference for us was, in comparing Transformers and Fastlane, is a mix of networks and countries. You are more popular in different countries to compare with real time strategy games, and the mix of networks. It’s very fragmented to compare with Transformers, where Google and Facebook dominates most of the ad spend. With Fastlane, it consists of ten different networks, and they are quite evenly split…it’s very fragmented. So some of will work for us, but it’s quite exciting.

MOBILE GROWTH: Just a point, because you raised it yourself, so I wasn’t expecting to go into this, but as you said: fragmented. So you’ve got ten networks for the one game, Fastlane, and you’ve got of course the typical ones for Transformers, [so] why the fragmentation? Does that make sense because it’s just a different type of IP, a different type of title?

SAIKALA: It’s because of the game design as well. Fastlane is designed to be more casual, mass-market, and naturally the LTV is lower. Fastlane also makes money from ads monetization as well as in-app purchases. So we take that into account as well, whereas Transformers is IP only, and has a much higher LTV. With much LTV, you have a narrow audience. So these are the things in which you have a give and take. If you want high LTV, you have a small audience to target. But then if you have a mass market-oriented game that everyone loves and wants to play, you would need to have a low LTV, hence the mix of networks.

MOBILE GROWTH: That’s really great, because we got a tip right there, right? If you have a certain type of audience, a certain type of approach to networks, high LTV, a little bit more focus, mass market, you can mix it up, you can do ten networks. That’s what I’m hearing there, but also of course, it’d be great to hear some other tips and tricks in UA; I mean, you can’t probably share it all, but give me just one more before we maybe dive into the tools and techniques as part of mastering UA.

SAIKALA: Okay, so there is another difference that happened and this is not just down to the game, but it just happened the way mobile networks have changed. These days, you can serve, create – video creatives as you know, it’s all over the world. But these days, a lot of networks… square, or landscape, so classic, in the past, so it’s always done in landscape. Now, with Fastlane being a portrait oriented game, game UI itself, naturally, landscape is not so useful. So luckily, all of the networks with their latest tech – not all of them, some of them – released portrait-oriented videos, video ads, and we’ve been able to buy it at scale with most of the networks that serve portrait orientation. And it’s been amazing. I think that’s one of the latest things, and we’ve started using that on other games. It’s just, you know, if you think about whether it’s Facebook newsfeed or whether it’s any other video ad network where there’s a full-screen orientation, when you display your game, and you show your game in the orientation that the game is, it just makes it look a little better.

MOBILE GROWTH: So what I want to get into now is the UA tools and techniques, because one thing is the strategy. We’ve been talking about that, but of course it’s all meaningless unless you get the right tool for the right goal. So, I know that you’ve been doing a lot of great posts, presentations, talks about this, so let’s walk through this together. When you’re evaluating your tools for UA, what do you look for at the top of the line?

SAIKALA: At the top of the line, [we look at] the look of the technology; and evaluated together with all of the teams that are involved, in one way or the other, classic with a tracking contribution provider. Whenever we decide to evaluate potential change or just evaluate the existing partner, we then look, go and talk to client engineers who implement the…code, then the QA team who actually test it and help us make sure it’s sized properly. Then we go and talk to data engineering, and then they test to make sure that we have their input in it as well, to see what else is important. And of course, there’s financial, commercial, and everything else that comes down to UA team also. But with all the tools, some of them we build in-house; so with one tool, place metadata into the creative name and figure out if portrait or landscape creatives work better for our game or not. We do that in-house, and that’s implemented directly in our data warehouse.

MOBILE GROWTH: Some of the quick wins, some of the things you should be looking for because they simply make a lot of sense and give you a lot of quick mileage at low costs. What would some of those be?

SAIKALA: The most important things would go down to three things. Your provider, if it goes down the checklist, how to choose your attribution provider. Your provider needs to provide you with more data. You need to have access to more data at any time, because once you have that, then you can figure out the rest for yourself, inside of your own data warehouse, and then keep it as well. Second, they need to support you. Customer support is very important. One thing is, you sign a contract, and you sign it for one year or whatever. It’s like Apple shops, they look after you, once you buy an Apple product, they look after you so well that it’s very hard for you to change for another product. So similar with an attribution provider, the aftercare with customer support and how fast and how relevant and how helpful they are is very important, and also very important that they’re in the same timezone or a similar timezone, so you don’t have to wait until 4PM or wake up at the crazy o’clock.

And the third thing that is very important is the dashboard design. People think it’s not that important, because you don’t need to use it everyday, but because so many of the teams use the dashboard, and if it’s designed in this seamless way that lets you do the task in as quick as possible time, then it’s a well-designed dashboard. If the dashboard is designed in a way that you have to click too many times to get where you want to be, then I’m sorry to say, it’s a poorly designed dashboard. In the end, in digital marketing, the rule of thumb is: get your end user where they want to be in the least amount of clicks. And end user is me. I’m an end user. If I have to click too many times, then I don’t like it. It’s not going to make me efficient.

MOBILE GROWTH: What about the UA mistakes out there? What are the biggest mistakes you see other people in UA making?

SAIKALA: There are so many! We’re all making mistakes all the time, and then even sometimes, when we think we’ve done them all, we find new mistakes! I think classics are when people don’t check if the data is accurate. It’s one thing and that’s classic when people use too much of the data from the SDK that it’s not server-verified. Another one is when UA manages to name their campaigns properly, and they just use some random names that in six or twelve months down the line, when they look at the data, they don’t remember what it was.

MOBILE GROWTH: What about mobile fraud? I’m just curious, since it’s such a hot topic. We’ve seen those reports about how much traffic is fraudulent – what’s the mistake you see around that?

SAIKALA: Well the only mistake, and I’m not sure it’s a mistake, not everyone has access to it you see, because lots of providers have that as a premium feature, but it’s more of – there is not enough education about mobile fraud. And fraudsters are very sophisticated companies or whoever they are. Whatever or however you try to prevent it, they’re already one step ahead of you, if not more. And this is why you need a good partner with a good fraud feature to help you with that.

There is so many variables to fraud: there are retention rates, seeing how quick they open the app. For example, we use apps flyer and they have a really cool feature where you can measure how many seconds from the install to app open for the first app launch, so if it’s too short, that’s a very red flag, it’s a big red flag for fraud. Because once you download the app, there is no way you can launch it in too short amount of time. Usually it takes – we measure, it usually takes between fifty seconds to two minutes on average, if the app is not too heavy, but if you see lots of installs coming in and that period of time is ten seconds or fifteen or something like that, something short like that, that is a big red flag that it could be fraud.

MOBILE GROWTH: That’s really interesting, and that’s so obvious, but you don’t think about it, but that’s true. If a human is using an app, opening up the game, it’s going to take a while. What I like here is that you’re sharing what you know, but you also do that really as, not just your day job, but as part of your other hat that you have on. Tell me a little bit about your knowledge sharing efforts. I understand you’re part of the invite-only UA Society, tell me about that.

SAIKALA: Yes, thank you for mentioning it! UA Society is a not for profit organization. We’re finally registered this year, so it’s an official brand. The aim behind it is for minds alike, with advanced knowledge in user acquisition and mobile ads monetization and things like that, to get together and be able to talk to each other, brainstorm, figure out a shared knowledge. Because we all work in different locations and companies, and often we don’t have enough time to talk about these things, but we share our own problems and see who else has a solution for it. So, last year, we’ve done it as a test to see if we can pull it off and run an event. We did it, it exceeded expectations, it was a really pleasant surprise. So this year, we are going to run another one, on Thursday, the fifth of October, at the moment. We’re in the middle of raising funds.

MOBILE GROWTH: And this is of course is an invite-only organization. It is the UA society, and it has to be vetted and approved. So, if anybody’s listening in and they think they’re a UA ninja and they want to connect or put themselves forward, how do they go about doing that?

SAIKALA: Well, it’s quite easy. It is an invite-only for the summit itself, but for those who are located far away from London, there’s always the website:

MOBILE GROWTH: And to become an actual member of the Society, that’s also something that has to be approved. So what is it? It’s a process?

SAIKALA: Yes. It’s quite a well written process. Basically, whoever wants just to reach out to us, email, with your information, introduce yourself, maybe your Linkedin, your URL, wherever you work – you need to be on developing or publishing side only, and you need to have a mobile app; not personally, but the company you work for. And what we’re going to do, we’re going to propose to the community, and it’s all then down to community to vote. And if we get a sufficient amount of votes and people approve, then they welcome you over.

MOBILE GROWTH: And for yourself, Sai,how do we stay in touch, or [find out] what might be next for you?

SAIKALA: Well, how to stay in touch with me is quite easy. I am on everywhere – Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ even. You can just email me at, it’s very easy. What’s next? Next is actually to get my head down and get lots of work done, because we have lots of work right now in the pipeline. The game launched, but the work is not over, we still need to continue. I just came back from Casual Connect in Singapore and did my talk on what are the the most impactful things in 2016 and 2017 in UA. So I think right now, I am going to just work on my day job.

MOBILE GROWTH: Yeah, absolutely, because of course, we all know what’s happened to Space Ape Games, and you shared about your talk about trends in 2017. So maybe we’ll have you back here on our podcast series, and you can tell us about what happened in 2017, if we matched those expectations and predictions you had, Sai.

SAIKALA: Why not? Absolutely, I’m always open to that.

MOBILE GROWTH: Excellent! Well, we’ll have you back!