In episode 6 of LevelUp Carissa Gonzalez, UA manager at Pixelberry shares her view on how strong game narratives can have a positive impact on people’s lives, discusses what it’s like being a woman in the game industry, and emphasizes the importance of questioning the data when it comes to running effective user acquisition campaigns.

Read on for edited highlights from Gonzalez’s podcast:

Question the data

“You can’t do UA without taking a deep dive into your numbers. One of the first things I learned early on was to “never trust the data” – if it’s good question it, if it’s bad question it too, if it’s out of trend question it. Whatever is it- always question it.”

Balancing data and creative

“A big challenge with this role is that you want to stay on brand but you also want to be data driven, so it’s a challenge to find that balance. The other day I was talking about creative strategy with one of my colleagues, and he said, “If you’re doing UA and you don’t get one complaint at all, you’re not doing your job right.” I definitely think that finding that balance is a challenge for a lot of UA managers, especially when there is a very specific voice that you want your brand to contain.”

The power of storytelling in games

“One of the main things I love about the gaming industry is the storytelling aspect of it. There’s so many psychological factors that go into game design and all of these different psychological triggers that you place in the UX. Everywhere you look there’s this amazing storytelling opportunity and it’s incredible to see companies in the industry take the time to put value into what they’re developing. In terms of UA specifically, I love that we can track all of our results. That trackability and instant response that allows us to see immediately what kind of impact something had.”

“Pixelberry has designated writing teams that each have specific areas of focus, which is pretty unique, most game companies don’t just have teams of writers. These teams really put time into developing the characters and storylines. These writers aren’t writing for the money. They’re writing because they are actually involved in the storylines and with the characters. And because they’ve put so much detail into creating the characters and storylines, players are able to feel emotionally connected to them as well and make choices based off of what characters they feel an emotional connection to. It’s easy to have superficial titles which are catchy but it’s hard to provide that human aspect to the books, which our writers have been able to give. And that’s one of the strongest parts of the game, the characters in our books are able to connect with people.”

Сontent guides creativity

“Recently we launched High School Story as a book in Choices. That was a really fun one to work on. We’re testing all these different characters and different ways to put them together. You have a world of content to work with and all this extra [material] helps game developers make more creative activity because they have more content to leverage.”

Social impact through stories

“With High School Story Pixelberry did a strong storyline around cyberbullying – something that actual players were experiencing. The game consists of different scenarios where the characters are sent in various ways to manage and deal with these types of situations. The game narrative actually had impact on people’s lives. We had a player who was in a wheelchair and was going to high school and we actually integrated that character of the player into High School Story. One of the player’s friends took a screenshot and sent it to him, saying “wow you’re in the game, you’re in High School Story!” It’s that part [of gaming] that fills you with joy to know that the product that you’re working with not only tells an amazing story, but is also impacting people’s lives. Through these games, people actually get to live their stories out.”

Being a woman in the gaming industry

“I’ve been in scenarios where I’ve been the only girl in a room with 10 other men and you can sometimes see the bickering between them and you. You have to force yourself to put your foot down and be able to back things up with data and numbers and stand your ground. That’s something that you sometimes have to do as a woman in this industry. I’ve gone to meetings where I’m the first person there and the men bypass me to handshake other men, and I know of a lot of guys that sometimes don’t even realize that they are doing these things.

“An important part of this is also to be truthful – if something happens that you don’t feel comfortable with, talk about it. I’ve been lucky enough that both CrowdStar and Pixelberry are companies where you have both strong female leadership and you also have strong male leadership that is inclusive. They don’t treat you any differently.”

“As I’ve grown in my role to a senior and am at a lot of different high-level meetings, I see that there are less and less women the higher you up you go. I took it as my responsibility to push women who were on a team. Women need to be there for other women – to help them and get them through their fears and unconscious obstacles.”

“I think we still need more women in gaming on the client side, because on the supply side there’s actually a lot of women, and a lot of women in the leadership roles. On the actual UA manager side, there’s not that many of us. It’s our responsibility to let people know of [the possibilities in the industry] because I never considered this industry at all. But there can be so much benefit [to having women in the space], so it’s important for us to start spreading the word more.”

Evolution of game marketing

“A lot of companies have gotten smarter about the tools that they provide to advertisers for publisher optimizations. Like receiving IAP payments so that you can optimize automatically, which takes a lot of the load off of UA managers and allows them to focus more on the creative strategy. Whereas before things were done manually, now there’s a lot more strength on the BI side and a lot more support where you can get amazing growth in terms of the data analysis and how down the funnel you can go in your campaigns.”

“There’s still a lot of regulation that is needed in the industry. Especially when you’re only focusing on user acquisition and the data, as well as the veracity of the installs that you’re receiving. So many companies are focusing more on cleaning out their inventory and making sure that there is no fraud. And I love the fact that we’re setting the pace for a lot of initiatives that are being adapted overall in the advertising industry. It will be very interesting to see what’s going to happen next.”

How UA will evolve over the next five years

“For sure playable ads are going to be a bigger part of inventory. It’s interesting to see that some companies are starting to think about how they can integrate VR into their ad units. We’re also going to start seeing more and more UA managers getting a bit more strict on what they’re buying on. Because we have the data available – that means more transparency in the industry. Ultimately we’ll see more knowledgeable UA managers in terms of where they’re doing and what they want to do with their budgets.”

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