TikTok wants to become mobile’s new launchpad, not a game platform in its own right


We revealed earlier this year that TikTok was testing in-feed, playable games in the UK.

Later that week, TikTok execs Assaf Sagy and Rema Vasan told us it isn’t launching a dedicated games tab, as had been rumoured. Instead, they stressed TikTok’s rise to prominence as a mobile game discovery platform.

At Gamescom, we meet again, and their message has evolved a little. With UA tougher than ever, TikTok is now positioning itself as mobile’s new platform for game launches. But before we get into all that, we had to ask: are TikTok’s experiments in playable games over?

“We’re not a gaming platform. We’re not,” TikTok’s head of global gaming and business solutions Assaf Sagy tells us. “We have our own content and our own engagement, and we try to proliferate that and we’re trying to work with partners to help them become successful, but we don’t see ourselves as a game publisher per se. We are here because we believe we should help with publisher launches.”

From February: ‘TikTok games are now being tested in the UK – here are the 14 we’ve found so far‘.

Later, as we wrap up the interview, we ask again, just to be clear – is the experiment with playables over, or not? “It’s something we’re testing,” says Sagy. “We will always test anything that shows consumer engagement. We like to learn about this.”

“We’re always testing and measuring. What is the right thing for our audience? What would make them enjoy TikTok the most? And while we’re testing this, it doesn’t mean that it will be a strategy pillar of ours.”

So while those tests quietly continue, the bigger concern for Sagy and Vasan is TikTok’s role as a marketing partner. And of course, the ever-rising costs of UA help their pitch.

“You know, with privacy, it’s important and we’re all happy about it, but you can’t do user acquisition anymore,” says Sagy. “You really need to launch games – you can’t drop them in the store and start buying media for them because it doesn’t work anymore.”

From Febraury: ‘TikTok isn’t launching a games tab – but it is doubling down on discovery‘.

“What you need to do is really announce your game and market it as if it were a film, or a Netflix show, or a new car that you’re taking to market. Marketing is making a comeback.”

TikTok’s head of global gaming business marketing Rema Vasan cites her team’s work with Niantic on Peridot as an example of how to work with TikTok most effectively. It starts with partnering with creators that intersect with relevant players’ interests.

“It wasn’t just with gaming creators, it was with pet creators and gardening creators. The audience that they are going after had shared interests,” Vasan tells us. On top of ad creative, Niantic also released a branded AR filter that turns users into a Dot – the virtual pets in the game – and encouraged users to play around with the effect, posting their own TikToks using the official hashtag.

“They launched exclusively with us, so the results are attributable to TikTok,” continues Vasan. “They had 100m views within the first 11 days of launch, and almost 400m views in total. And with installs, they had over one million installs in under a month, which exceeded their expectations. 33% of that is directly attributable to TikTok.”

Vasan says TikTok was Niantic’s exclusive launch partner for Peridot, and the campaign drove around a third of its installs at launch.

“And because they didn’t activate on any other platform, the rest came from the organic content as well. And by the way, all this was lower than the CPI targets and benchmarks.”

That’s fine for Niantic, which has the luxury of Pokémon Go continuing to pay the bills and fund all its other projects. But outside that top-earning tier of publishers and developers, the decline of UA as a viable launch mechanic is hurting practically everyone else.

Naturally, TikTok believes it can help fill that gap. Its ad teams can be deployed to work on overall brand and creative strategy on the platform, and then guide partners through the process of working with creators.

“Companies who are interested in going the paid route, even if they don’t have a lot, we help them by focusing the launch,” says Sagy. “Not everyone knows what to measure and how to look at success – you could see success really quickly, after a few thousand dollars – but you need to know how to measure it. You need to know if your creative is good, you need to know how to run a campaign.”

TikTok ad creatives must feel authentic and native to the platform if they’re going to work, say Sagy and Vasan.

For both organic and paid campaigns, Sagy stresses the importance of authenticity, creating content that feels native to the platform and promoting your game across a spectrum of related interests. And naturally, Sagy and Vasan are full of praise for big clients like Scopely and Dream Games, which both have a huge presence on the platform with Monopoly Go and Royal Match.

For a good launch, “you need anything between 30 to 100 creators”, says Sagy, and he suggests that there are more marketing options incoming that will “enable companies to launch successfully” by helping partners “look at their launch numbers and how they should think about their organic strategy”.

A new, genuinely viable launchpad for mobile games of all shapes and sizes is exactly what the business needs right now. You sense that TikTok sees that opportunity too, and is intent on taking it.

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