14 reasons your game isn’t growing, straight from the gunslinger of game growth

By John Koetsier May 6, 2024

You’ve invested so much but your game isn’t growing. Why? What is the problem? Why are all the dollars you’re spending not moving the needle? Why are all your product development efforts not translating into increased engagement and retention?

I recently spent some time with the gunslinger of game growth. She’s worked with 40+ gaming studios over the last few years including EA, Rovio, Gameloft, DoubleDown, Netflix Games, and TutoToons. (Not a bad resume!) She runs the Shamsco gaming growth consultancy and is the instructor in a mobile gaming growth masterclass.

Her name is Sara El Bachri, and she just chatted with me on Singular’s Growth Masterminds podcast. If you built a game and it’s awesome, but it’s not growing like you want it to, it’s just possible that this episode of Growth Masterminds holds the answer.

As usual, hit play, keep scrolling:

Why your game isn’t growing

So, what are the most common blockers to growing games profitably? In her work with over 40 gaming studios, Sara El Bachri has seen at least 14 different reasons why growth has stalled and a game isn’t growing.

Here they are, in the order she shared them in the podcast. 

Subscribe, watch, or listen to the whole episode for all the details and all the context.

1. You are understaffed

This is particularly an issue in smaller gaming studios, but it can happen in larger ones as well. Sometimes, your game isn’t growing just because you haven’t invested in a growth expert, and you’re expecting developers or product managers to magically morph into user acquisition pros.

2. You need an outsider’s view

We all build blinders based on where we are and what we do. Sometimes those blinders cause us to miss opportunities and fail to see problems. 

That’s 1 reason a big studio spending $50,000 a day on Facebook brought El Bachri in. 

“We think we’re doing a good job,” they told her. “But we’d just like you to audit the activity and tell us what you see.”

That takes some level of humility that not all studios or managers have. And it doesn’t require finding a big problem to make an experienced doublecheck worthwhile: when you’re spending $18.25 million a year on just one channel alone, a few percent improvement can easily be worth $500,000.

3. You need to fix targeting

Targeting sounds simple, but very clearly, the devil’s in the details. For instance, it makes logical sense to target campaigns to only a single country, especially when they have different languages.

But that’s not always the case when your game isn’t growing:

“Something very simple that not a lot of UA managers do is, for example, how you group the different countries together,” El Bachri told me. “I can say instead of running Germany alone in a campaign, France alone … grouping them could potentially lead to better performance.”


4. Your performance suddenly dropped

Sad fact of performance marketing: sometimes things just go sideways. The algo doesn’t like you anymore, you reach a local maximum, your target needs refreshing, your creative is fatigued … something is wrong.

But what is it?

This is where a fresh set of eyes can come in, look at things from different angles, see performance with unbiased eyes, and give you a new set of ideas to play with.

5. Your junior employees need training

Maybe you do have UA professionals, unlike the problem in #1. But maybe they’re young in their career and need some insight and guidance so that their training isn’t all at the cost of your wasted budget.

Getting a veteran in who has been there and done that can save 6 or even 7 figures over time.

6. You don’t communicate well

Sometimes your problem is obvious to outsiders and the solution is simple once you see it yourself. But simple is not equivalent to easy, and poor communication can be hard to fix.

Especially in gaming, where big brands are often built in an acquisitive, accretive way that plants the seeds of trouble.

“I find that in a lot of especially big gaming studios where they have hundreds of employees scattered around different offices around the world, there’s a big issue in communication that I see between the teams.”

You might chat a lot with people in your Barcelona office, but the L.A. crew? Or the Helsinki team? What about those crazy rebels in Malta?

Fitting this all together is hard, even if diagnosing the problem is fairly easy for an outsider. But the cost can be competing campaigns that are actively costing you opportunities … and be the main reason why your game isn’t growing.

7. Your growth teams don’t talk to your product teams or your live ops teams

Siloed teams that don’t cooperate is one specific type of communication problem.

Growth can’t do its job well if it’s not well-connected to product and live ops. Product will align features and builds around what’s working if they understand the growth challenges, and live ops can provide great insight for growth teams on who to target and what kind of messaging might attract the highest-value players.

8. You have internal politics

“Every single person working in a gaming company needs to have the will to help,” El Bachri says.

If KPIs and incentives aren’t aligned, though, people will be working towards different goals that may not be compatible with overall success.

9. You lack collaboration

Even if you communicate, you’re aligned, and you don’t have politics, it doesn’t mean your team is actually working together both efficiently and effectively.

There is more juice to squeeze when you do. Even when you’re doing something like deciding on creative direction for your new ad campaign:

“When I coach and I help clients and gaming studios build their creative processes, one of the most important parts of that is to have people from the different teams collaborate together,” El Bachri says. “You have the UA manager, you have someone from product that knows the product best, and then you have someone from creative. So basically brainstorming altogether makes the creative better, more efficient.”

Even if it’s not technically “my job” to help make creative for ads.

10. You lack a creative process

Sometimes you just want to put the creative people in a box, shake it around, open it up, and have wonderful, amazing, performant images, copy, and ideas pop out.

But while that’s something that might work on a bespoke level, it doesn’t scale.

“You’d be surprised how many big gaming studios don’t have an efficient UA creative process,” El Bachri says. “Why? Because there are so many people involved. Also, a lot of times you need someone to come in to organize … and to lead.”

A creative process is about reliably and efficiently generating industry-beating creative time and time again. Without process, you’re down to luck and individual talent, and if you don’t have a complete rockstar on the team who just hits it out of the park every single time, you’re going to eventually fall flat on your face.

Which means: your game isn’t growing.

11. You’re not testing enough on-store assets

One of the biggest issues Sara sees is that studios don’t test enough app store assets, which kills a ton of opportunity to be more efficient at user acquisition.

The top 5% of best-performing studios make at least 18 changes per year to their app listings in Google Play and the App Store, she says. The bottom 5% make only 1 change per year.

“You don’t need to test assets that take a lot of time to produce, but it could be small changes on app icons or screenshots or that could actually make a big difference,” El Bachri adds.

12. You don’t have a testing plan

This is something we saw recently in our Growth Masterminds episode with Russell Ovans on his new book on game analytics: a lack of a real testing plan.

If your game isn’t growing, you’re probably testing a lot of different things. But testing is complex. It’s easy to do wrong. It’s easy to get answers which lead you in precisely the wrong direction.

Building a reasonable testing plan will help you avoid those pitfalls.

13. You don’t educate your internal team about UA

ASO managers can’t test new assets they don’t have. 

Sara tells the story of an ASO manager who hadn’t changed an app store listing for one of her games for over a year. (Yeah, I was shocked too.) The problem wasn’t the ASO manager per se: it’s that she couldn’t convince the creative team to prioritize her requests.

“There is a big lack of education in the industry on the nuances and all of the layers of complexity of growth,” El Bachri says. 

So she had to come in and explain to the entire team how important it is to test, and how creative changes will impact both bottom line revenue and top line profitability.

14. You don’t have enough generalists who see the big picture

It’s pretty clear from many of Sara El Bachri’s reasons why your game isn’t growing that part of the problem is siloed professionals in narrow disciplines who aren’t seeing the big picture. Or understanding their role in the entire team’s success. 

Which in an odd way makes me (a generalist) happy: generalists are valuable because they see the whole picture, and can take steps to get everyone aligned.

Game isn’t growing? So much more in the full podcast

If you haven’t subscribed to Growth Masterminds yet, take this as a sign that the universe is telling you to stop procrastinating.
Subscribe, watch, or listen to the whole episode for all the details and all the context. And, of course, to get all the other episodes and all the insight from every single guest!

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