Mobile ad network Vungle announced today that it has bought GameRefinery, a mobile gaming analytics firm. This continues a trend to mobile advertising and marketing player mergers and acquisition, some of which is driven by Apple’s recent privacy changes on iOS.
Terms of the deal were not announced, but San Francisco-based Vungle is a significant top-10 player in mobile advertising and mobile games monetization.
GameRefinery, based in Helsinki, helps mobile game publishers retain and monetize players in over 160,000 games on iOS and Android.
Ultimately, the acquisition is another step towards mobile ad networks becoming holistic platforms that include solutions both on the demand and supply side — ads for brands to buy and ads for mobile publishers to monetize their apps — plus other tools for app developers and game makers to produce, publish, and market their apps. And platforms that can manage significant amounts of consumer data within their own walls without having to acquire it elsewhere or share it with others.
This acquisition closely follows Applovin’s billion-dollar acquisition of attribution provider Adjust.
“Together, Vungle, GameRefinery, and Algolift offer the only platform that speaks to game and product teams in the development process, marketing, UA, and growth teams in the scaling stage, and data teams when measuring and refining outcomes,” Jeremy Bondy, CEO of Vungle, said in a statement. (”UA” is an abbreviation for “user acquisition.”) “We are excited to welcome a remarkable GameRefinery team to the Vungle family and have never been stronger in our position as the trusted guide for developers.”
The biggest immediate factor impacting the mobile marketing ecosystem right now is Apple’s GDPR-like move on the IDFA, the Identifier for Advertisers. In the next few weeks, Apple will make the IDFA, which marketers use to measure advertising performance, opt-in only.
That probably means tracking people across apps and website owned by different companies — and finding high-value app users and game players — will get harder.
It also means that first-party data in large self-contained ecosystems becomes even more valuable, because first-party data that is only held within a single company’s walls does not contravene any of Apple’s regulations about acquiring or using the IDFA.
But the even bigger and longer-term factor driving integration, mergers, and acquisitions in mobile marketing is ongoing competition with Facebook and Google’s almost monopoly power there. Building bigger ecosystems that can compete with the giants is an existential need for mid-sized adtech players that want to continue to grow.
I asked Vungle CEO Jeremy Bondy for more information.
John Koetsier: How is this related to Apple’s iOS 14 changes (ATT/IDFA/etc)?
Bondy: With the removal of the IDFA and user level targeting, advertisers are looking for new ways to find and engage users in a meaningful way. GameRefinery’s deep contextual data helps advertisers to find relevant audiences, using non-personal data such as player motivations, moods and styles, and audience personas for campaign targeting with no device-level ID required. By providing deep data from across 160,000+ apps, GameRefinery will provide us with lots of contextual signals to help drive better targeting and therefore better performance.
John Koetsier: Applovin acquired Adjust … different, of course, but also an ad network acquiring another piece of the adtech/martech puzzle. Why the increased vertical integration? Or, do you see it not as vertical integration but expansion?
Bondy: We exist to help developers build their businesses. Today, in good part due to our success with AlgoLift, we turn a data point into a pattern. Together, Vungle, GameRefinery and AlgoLift offer the only platform that speaks to game and product teams in the content and creative development process, marketing, UA and growth teams in the scaling stage, and data teams when measuring and refining outcomes. While this shows meaningful progress deepening our position as a truly trusted guide, this is one step in the new Vungle— we’ve embarked on a transformation, extending the breadth and reach of our platform. Vungle is not just a network anymore, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
John Koetsier: What’s the goal with this acquisition?
Bondy: GameRefinery has built a leading platform to help developers build the most engaging and profitable games. Game Refinery’s world leading contextual data sets bring innovative targeting capabilities to Vungle’s platform, driving UA performance in a privacy-focused landscape. GameRefinery’s image recognition and machine learning tagging will be leveraged by Vungle Creative Labs, strengthening creative insights to deliver contextually relevant stories, and widening Vungle’s world renowned moat. This combination is powerful and distinctive in the market, especially with the upcoming changes to iOS14 and IDFA data usage. They’ve also built a destination where game developers now have deeper insights and tools to support building, marketing and measuring their games. GameRefinery will bolster our platform by providing new opportunities for targeting, creative exploration and offering a deeper level of creative analysis and recommendations.
In a time of increased privacy by law and platform, contextual targeting becomes critical. Is more data better here? And, how does privacy fit in with this acquisition?
John Koetsier: Exactly! We believe that contextual targeting and creatives are absolutely necessary for success in the post-IDFA era. The more data you have in terms of the app, ad placement, ad creative, and so on, the more accurate our targeting can become and more relevant for users. GameRefinery gives us a database that includes more than 600 data points per app across more than 160,000 apps, and every single data point is contextual only, so no personal identifiers or individual device-level data is ever collected. The data is about as valuable as it gets when it comes to today’s privacy-focused landscape.
John Koetsier: Anything else?
Bondy: It’s worth noting that GameRefinery’s automated creative tagging allows us to visualize creative and publisher level context in new ways, enabling new creative concepts that are impactful and relevant. GameRefinery can tag genres, visual elements, moods and styles, and player motivations for video creatives at scale through their “VisualMind” dashboard.
John Koetsier: Thank you for your time.
(Note: I consult for some companies in mobile marketing and attribution, but none mentioned in this article.)