Soft-Launch in 2017. Best Countries For Testing Your Game

Tuesday 04, April 2017
A successful soft-launch is the best way to optimize your game for widespread release. It allows game developers to save money and time by receiving early customer feedback and so on. But today we are not going to talk about the way to start your soft-launch campaign. We are about to answer the question “Where?”. The principal point in your decision on where to soft-launch your app depends on the markets you going to shoot upon releasing worldwide. soft-launch The fact which is not surprising for most of the people involved in the mobile game market is the dominance of Canada as the #1 soft launch country in 2016 – play and monetization patterns in Canada are very similar to the US. But what about 2017 trends and does Canada works well for everyone? To figure out it, we have chosen 20 the most popular countries for soft-launch and did research. We were considering countries around the world from 3 geos: EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa), NALA (North America and Latin America) and APAC (Asia-Pacific). And we have used some criteria in order to discover what country could be the best fit for a specific developer in 2017.

1. Cost of CPI for Different Genres and Geos

EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa)

EMEA is a broad and fragmented region with more countries than any other area. Culturally and ethnically diverse and quite attractive almost for every developer. The UK and the Nordic countries are considered as top-tier markets in EMEA. But exactly Finland, Norway and Sweden – the most popular EMEA markets. There prefer to soft-launch such big sharks of mobile games, as Rovio and Kabam. But it seems like these countries are quite expensive in a subject of the cost for install. Isn’t it? Let’s find out what we discovered about EMEA region. We have attributed every genre we were considering to 3 popular categories: casual (trivia, puzzle, card&dice), midcore (adventure, racing, sports) and hardcore (action, RPG, strategy). soft-launch   soft-launch  

NALA (North America and Latin America)

North America is the second largest region in the world with estimated revenues of $13,8 billion in 2017. Mobile segment is the most prominent and tasty part of video games cake. Here we have Canada, which was mentioned above as a leader on the soft-launch market. On the other hand, Latin America, which is the smallest region regarding revenues ($1,9 billion of revenues in 2017), but remains one of the fastest growing. And here we should emphasize Brazil as a country, which becomes more and more popular for testing new games.   soft-launch   soft-launch  

APAC (Asia-Pacific)

APAC now is the biggest and the fastest growing mobile games market with revenues of $24,9 billion in 2017. China, Japan, and South Korea are market leaders here. But Southeast Asia is overgrowing and urge growth of the whole region. Hong Kong and Singapore – very small, but incredibly innovative societies with a solvent audience. soft-launch   soft-launch

2. Device Penetration

Some countries have relatively low iOS penetration, and soft launching an iOS-only game in them would negatively affect acceptance rates. As for Asian countries, leaders by iOS owners are Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand. In Europe – Norway, and Sweden. But you better to think twice if you considering your iOS-only game for soft launch in China, India or Brazil. But, on the hand, it seems interesting to look closer at Thailand. This country has high (31%) percentage of iOS penetration and a quite low price for one iOS install ($0,86 average). soft-launch

3. ARPU and Credit Card Penetration

Average revenue per user (ARPU) – one of the most critical metrics in mobile marketing. It’s widely used by mobile games developers for estimating game indexes and making the complete picture of mobile market conditions. ARPU varies hugely across genres, but it also depends on a country. Japan is a full-fledged leader regarding ARPU. As for the end of 2016, Japan took the first place, thanks to role-playing games, which gives more money to developers from each specific user than any other genre. Second place due to the AppAnnie report on Average Revenue Per User goes to China, which long time was a quite lean market regarding ARPU. But over the past three years, China has moved from the bottom of the list of ARPU by country to the second place, increasing its ARPU by a factor of 10. So now you can get a not only bigger audience, but also bigger ARPUs from releasing your game in China. In the total number, three from 5 the richest for APRU countries, are from APAC region. soft-launch   But on the other hand is the fact that you cannot accurately test the game’s monetization in a country with low credit-card penetration. For instance, three the most populated APAC countries— China, India, and Indonesia— account for almost half of the world’s unbanked adult population. For India, credit card transaction rate is at 3.40%. Online transactions involving bank accounts is likewise low at a rate of 1%. Only 5% of the population using their bank accounts for online operations in Indonesia. In the Philippines, 3.50% of the population use credit cards to pay goods and services purchased online. So for proper game monetization testing is better to choose such premiere urban countries as Singapore and Hong Kong. (28% and 36% of accounts involved in the completion of online transactions, respectively). But, you can, however, test other metrics such as retention and engagement which resonate better across the globe.

4. Choosing the Country for Soft-Launch

Now, as we have explored few of the main criteria for the successful start of the soft-launch campaign, let’s look on a real case. Start Conditions: We have a young team of developers from Poland, going to release their first puzzle game for iOS platform. Goal: To acquire new users from US, Canada, Australia and the UK. Result: We’ve started from the broad range of different countries. But we’ve chosen only four countries (Finland, Denmark, Singapore and Hong Kong) for testing new puzzle game. Our choice was justifying due to the large covering of players and saving about 40% of our budget (in comparison with Canada). How we did it: According to starting conditions, we need mostly English-speaking audience with decent iOS-devices and online payments penetration and appropriate cost for install in the same time.


EMEA region, traditionally, was considered as a market with a sufficient number of English-speaking players and iOS-devices. Nordic countries could show the best results in this case. There is an exceptional number of people, who speak English (about 85%); a high percentage of people, owing iOS-devices (Denmark – world leading country by iOS-devices penetration); and prevailing place in Europe on the use of credit cards and completing online payments. Concerning the cost for install, the cheapest options are Finland and Denmark ($1,17 and $1,83 relatively). ARPU in these countries are $25,97 in Finland and $30,70 in Denmark, which is quite high index for EMEA (for instance, in Germany – $22,23, Italy – $25,42).

What about APAC?

New soft-launch “Mecca” is the Philippines, which now used in half of all soft-launch campaigns. Why so? There are different causes. English is the second official language in the country and the percent of people, who speak English even higher than in Nordic countries: 92,58%. Users are more close to Western-style behavior than most of other Southeast countries. And, finally, cost of install quite low: about $0,80-$1 for both platforms. But, traditionally, in Southeast countries dominates Android and penetration of iOS-devices keeps low. In the Philippines, only 20% of users own iPhone and/or iPad. So for an iOS-only game, it’s a quite small percent, especially with a low percent of card penetration and online purchases among players. Other popular markets for soft-launch in APAC are Singapore and Hong Kong. Though percent of people, who speak English is different: 80% in Singapore to 47% in Hong Kong, both countries have genuinely digital society with a high percentage of smartphone/tablets usage and online payments. These countries are the quintessence of West and East. So a lot of games could hit the market without required localization. As opposed to the majority of Southeast, Singapore and Hong Kong was mentioned by us for a high percent of iOS penetration (46% and 34% relatively). ARPU is following: $78,34 in Singapore and $64,82 in Hong Kong (which is more than twice higher than in Nordic countries). And, finally, the cost for install of the casual game would be around $2 in Singapore and $2,5 in Hong Kong.

More Soft-Launch Tips and Hints From Our Partners

The good practice before soft-launch is to collect game competitors analytics.

It will help you to find out in what countries they were soft-launching and what results they’ve got. You can get this kind of information, using AppAnnie, for example. Keep in mind, some developers using different accounts for testing before global launch. So in this case, it will be harder to replicate their experience. Don’t forget about content adaptation and optimization for different countries. A/B testing can help you in searching of the right approach. You can use such service as Split Metrics. It gives the opportunity to test your content even before app store release. If you are aimed at English-speaking segment only, traditional soft-launch campaigns in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, you may replace or dilute by countries with high penetration of English. In this way, you can save your budgets and increase coverage because prices in these countries are still lower.

Maria Nevoisa, Senior Marketing Manager at Wargaming

Probably, we going to talk about obvious, but, as it turned out, these moments often staying neglected.

    1. Think through social mechanics properly and include it into game process. Define quality project metrics (tutorial completing, retention and so on). I should emphasize the importance of deep links and their integration prior launching. All the metrics also will be necessary during further promotion campaigns (retargeting / lookalike).
    2. Beta-tests prior soft-launch also important. At least, for 1000 players. We have discovered during one of our projects that significant percentage of users is dropping out the game during 1-3 levels. Early fixing work gave us much better results on the stage of the soft-launch campaign.
    3. Do not release your unfinished game. Even if you miss all your deadlines. Every raw, at your opinion, detail on this stage might cost you much. Check the payment returns from Google Play (since there you could find the difference between expected and real ROI). And keep in mind all other metrics – it’s your key to fast and efficient optimization.
    4. Experiment with your goal audience – it might be much diverse than you think.

Yulian Efremov, Product Manager & Olga Panina, Marketing Manager at Borrette Network Technologies