How The Gaming Industry Can Level Up Against Ad Fraud To Drive More Viable Installs

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We’re up against a stealthy opponent, but with increasing awareness and with AI/ML on our side, could it be game over for ad fraudsters?

It’s been a lucrative couple of years for the mobile gaming industry, and the growth isn’t slowing down any time soon. Online gaming activity shot to new heights across the globe in 2020, and with 75% of that net increased traffic set to remain, the future of the app-based  gaming industry looks bright.

However, like in any game where it’s all going well, this increase is attracting the attention of some dark forces—ad fraudsters. These bad actors will target any industry where huge sums of cash are exchanged, whether that’s fake designer watches or online advertising platforms. Mobile ad fraud has drained the marketing budgets of companies across the globe, and the mobile gaming industry’s rapid increase in users and traffic makes it all the more appealing for fraudsters looking to steal a cut of the profits.

“It is simple, fraud follows the money, and the gaming industry’s prolific growth has been a magnet for fraudsters both large and small."
Sanjay Trisal, AppsFlyer

But fear not, there are provisions that gaming apps can take to protect their ad budgets and mitigate the risks of fraudulent activity; let’s explore.

How are ad fraudsters targeting the mobile gaming industry?

There are many tactics fraudsters use to infiltrate mobile games. Some of the main routes of attack are;

Install Hijacking A fraudster uses malware to monitor a user’s activity within the app store. When the user is about to download an advertiser’s app, the malicious actor fires a fake click at the mobile measurement partner (MMP) to gain credit for that organic install.

Click Flooding Bad actors send large numbers of fraudulent click reports in the hopes of delivering the last-click prior to installs to get paid out by advertisers.

Fake Installs Bots will install apps in order to retrieve rewards offered by gaming apps (such as free credit), often in huge quantities.

These are just a few of many tactics fraudsters can use…

What are the consequences of mobile ad fraud?

For advertisers, the consequences of ad fraud affect every aspect of current and future marketing campaigns, and can have a run-on effect on business’ bottom lines. If left unattended, fraudulent activity can wreak havoc on advertiser’s budgets, business strategy, data, and resources.

Budgets can quickly drain - Invalid clicks are highly unlikely to convert to genuine user downloads, meaning any ad budget dedicated to these clicks is effectively wasted. After a performance audit by the TrafficGuard team, a recent gaming client of ours found that 40% of their app installs came from invalid sources, resulting in a massive $1.2M loss of media spend per month.

Polluted marketing data impacts optimisation - Click through rates (CTRs) and downloads are invaluable metrics for marketers looking to use data to optimise their campaigns. With high levels of invalid traffic (IVT) polluting this data, advertisers run the risk of making ill-informed decisions based on false insights and misattribution of spend

Resources are wasted - Fraud can also exhaust time and human resources. Statistical anomalies caused by invalid data can see teams spend hours trawling through campaign data to find the cause.

“I use an MMP, aren’t they protecting me from invalid traffic?”

While mobile measurement partners (MMPs) can be helpful for attributing app downloads, they are not able to properly flag IVT, let alone protect businesses from fraudulent activity. MMPs will only validate traffic at the attribution level, allowing fraudsters to use tactics such as click injection and SDK spoofing to remain undetected.

This fraudulent activity (and MMPs inability to detect it) will lead to the misattribution of clicks, which can quickly become a big problem for marketers, and a huge drain on resources—we call it a misattribution snowball.

A single install attributed to the wrong source will inflate the value of that source not just by one install, but by the value of all the subsequent events of that new user. This leads marketers to optimise out of sources that are providing genuine traffic and over invest in the sources that actually deliver the worst results, restricting their advertising ROI.

Businesses cannot rely on MMPs alone to protect themselves from the consequences of IVT. Complementary solutions must be used to remove IVT before it reaches the MMP, as well as verify the MMP’s attribution in real time to provide thorough protection and safeguard precious ad budgets. Adding an extra layer of protection before the MMP improves the quality of traffic going through to the MMP, meaning it can be attributed based on cleaner traffic.

How can gaming apps combat invalid traffic?

As long as demand for mobile gaming remains, bad bots aren’t going anywhere. But don’t panic, there are steps you can take to level up against fraudsters and defend your business from the effects of IVT.

Understand your risk level

All mobile platforms are at risk from ad fraud, but the huge recent uptake in mobile gaming makes these specific apps the most appealing to fraudsters. Assessing the risks and taking action is the best way to protect your budget and campaign insights. Check out this global mobile game developer who used TrafficGuard to save $70k a month and reduce misattribution from their MMP.

Know your statistical benchmarks

An important step in identifying whether your business is under attack from bots is to have a handle on what your standard metrics look like. Low conversion rates and unexplained spikes in downloads are good indicators of potential fraudulent activity. If you’re spotting these frequently, it’s probably time to onboard an anti-fraud solution.

Bring in the experts Take bot mitigation off your plate by leveraging a powerful anti-fraud solution. Look for solutions that are AI/ML-powered with in depth analytics so that you can focus on more important things, like scaling your business. Your ad fraud protection partner should also tackle IVT at the pre-bid, in stream, and attribution layer for ultimate protection from the consequences of fraud. These capabilities massively reduce the risk of misattribution, protecting your budget and campaign performance.

Reach new high scores by cleaning your ad traffic.

Taking steps to clean your ad traffic of IVT will have an amazing effect on your campaigns, which in turn helps achieve your internal objectives and nurtured business growth.

Remember the gaming app client who found 40% of their traffic was invalid? After onboarding TrafficGuard they were able to reach many more viable consumers with the same ad budget, ultimately leading to an increase in ROI and a huge amount of new installs. This helped the team smash their commercial objectives and support business growth—simply by cleaning their ad traffic.

Get started - it's free

You can set up a TrafficGuard account in minutes, so we’ll be protecting your campaigns before you can say ‘sky-high ROI’.

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