CMO Interview with Jonathan Winters
We caught up with Jonathan Winters, CMO of mobile games company Snowprint Studios to get his perspective on being a CMO and marketing in the mobile games industry;
How did you get into marketing?
Growing up I was passionate about games and music, and I knew I wanted to work in one of the two industries at some point. This is why I always aimed to join the entertainment industry. After finishing high school, I found an interesting university course about media management, which also involved a strong focus on marketing. At that time, mobile gaming was growing globally, and the free-to-play model was becoming popular in the West. I started playing these free games around then as well. When I studied at university, marketing for mobile games or writing about free-to-play games in general was a novelty in the academic field. Back then, most of the teachers were not very familiar with mobile gaming. But that did not stop me as I was fascinated by the industry and curious about how I could apply the things I learned about marketing to mobile games.
That led me to even write a dissertation about free-to-play games, specifically about in-game monetisation and how it impacted game balancing in multiplayer games such as Dota 2 and League of Legends. So I can say that my path to becoming a marketer in the games industry started early on when I was a student. Right after finishing my master’s, I found a job at Miniclip. My academic focus was very helpful then because my dissertation about free-to-play games became a nice topic to talk about during the interview process with them. After graduating and ever since then I’ve been working in mobile games marketing.
At Miniclip, you were promoted very quickly and consistently. What do you think was the cause of your rapid promotions within the company?
I think it is partly about being in the right spot at the right time. If you told me on my first day of Miniclip that I would become a CMO in 10 years, I wouldn’t have believed it. Looking back, I think being surrounded by colleagues and bosses who supported me played a significant role in my personal development. Being around people who get the best out of you is so crucial. There was also a huge opportunity in paid marketing within Miniclip at that time, and it worked well for my career as well.
When I joined, User Acquisition was still a new profession. I felt like I was learning all these new things about growing mobile games together with the rest of the industry. Obviously, those external factors are a half of it – you also have to actually deliver. I remember I learned a lot and digested so much information in the early days – you had to keep on digesting things very quickly in a fast-moving business. Studying my craft together with a passion for gaming helped me achieve results. It always helps when you truly enjoy what you work on. Now I am continuing my journey in my new home at Snowprint Studios.
Have you had a mentor?
Yes – I think that’s super important. That goes back to my previous point – surround yourself with people who really support you to seek out strength in you. I’ve gained so many insights from them and they’ve helped me to develop and grow. To someone who wants to develop themselves, I think seeking mentors is a great idea.
You’ve recently become a CMO – how are CMO roles different from other marketing positions?
First, let me clarify that there are many similarities since a CMO is essentially the umbrella position for all marketing efforts within a business. It was always my ambition to look at marketing from a more strategic, holistic level. As I was growing into more senior positions it also became clear how important it is to be far more focused on strong management skills and developing healthy team cultures. Rather than being a dedicated hands-on expert in a specific field of marketing, you must start assembling a team of experts and let them be the ones to listen to.
I also think there are two areas to look at: the size of the business – whether you are working at a small-sized company or a larger corporation – and the exact business needs – whether the business needs a specialist or more of a generalist. I truly enjoy working in a small company where I can feel that I am contributing to an exciting game – right now, it’s Warhammer 40,000: Tacticus. As the CMO of Snowprint Studios, I do have a lot of cross-functional responsibilities within the space of marketing, covering everything from performance marketing to brand marketing and beyond. As you can imagine, you might need to be more hands-on in a smaller business.
Could you tell me more about Tacticus?
It’s a game based on Warhammer 40,000, which is a miniature wargame produced by Games Workship. You may have seen those fascinating Warhammer stores with all those miniatures and amazing tabletop landscapes. You can paint your armies and make them truly your own. Our game, Warhammer 40,000: Tacticus, is a turn-based strategy game which allows you to create a squad of champions from within the Warhammer 40,000 galaxy. Not only can you complete story missions, but you also have a chance to play against other players and enjoy a growing community with lots of content. It is a team-battle RPG where you can upgrade your units and make them stronger for your next battle mission.
It is a tactical game which provides an in-depth experience, but we are trying to make it accessible even for those who have never played Warhammer 40,000 but are generally interested in a turn-based strategy game. I am very happy to see very positive reviews and reactions from Warhammer fans and gaming communities. Tacticus won the 2022 Pocket Gamer Award for Mobile Game of the Year. We also get content creators reaching out to us, wanting to contribute to the Tacticus community.
What are the levers you can utilise as the CMO of a mobile games company?
If you asked me before working on IP-based games such as Tacticus, the answer would be different. The main growth channel of mobile games is user acquisition. It is the main discipline everyone in the industry knows as the way to grow your game. Over the years, it became clear that simply running ads on Facebook, Google and other mobile ad networks was not enough. There are other viable ways to grow the audience for a mobile game. Community-based marketing using Discord, influencer marketing and doing content marketing on channels such as YouTube and TikTok, including live streaming to connect to your audience directly. It is very important to not only post ads on social media but give meaningful and maybe even meme-able content.
Every year we see new marketing trends in the industry. There is the whole debate around trackability and how it continues to impact performance marketing going forward. To really understand the levers of marketing we need to figure out a way to utilise incrementality measurement or media mix modelling. Mobile Games marketing can no longer simply rely on user level data alone. All in all, we have to adjust how to measure our performance based on the technical changes such as the upcoming introduction of Android’s Privacy Sandbox, or the continued changes to SKAN. Next to performance marketing, IP based titles like Tacticus have ways of leveraging their brand in order to drive growth.
What are your thoughts on Web 3.0 games?
I like the idea that you can earn and own in-game items playing your favourite game. You can have your own uniqueness in your game. Unfortunately, my observation has been that many Web 3.0 games were seen more as quick money-making machines rather than advanced gaming experiences. I tried to get into Web 3 gaming myself but found that the onboarding process was usually quite complicated and the game itself was overshadowed by the tokenomics. Gameplay seemed secondary. At the end of the day the most important thing is to create a great game – without that – it does not really matter if you can own virtual real estate or in-game equipment.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to build a career in mobile games marketing?
In the mobile games industry, User Acquisition is becoming increasingly automated and replaced by algorithms. It is very different from what it used to be like 5+ years ago when knowing how to bid and adjust campaigns were defining skills. Nowadays networks try to automate as many tasks as possible, and often the most you have to do is just to set up a campaign, input campaign goals and let it run within an algorithmic black box.
This is why I think that marketing analytics and creative production are becoming more and more important. As a marketer for mobile games, you have to have the ability to find answers from data – and you need to see the marketability of games, translating data into marketing strategies. Since more of the actual campaign bidding is automated, creatives have turned to be the more important lever over the last years. Marketers need to navigate a market full of fake ads and stay on top of the different dynamics of each social media channel. And since app measurement is becoming more restrictive, mobile game marketers should embrace tactics outside of performance marketing. Simply pushing a bunch of “install now” gameplay trailers will not be enough.
Think about what you want to tell users, what makes your game unique, and in what ways can reinvent the ways of communicating with your target audiences. What is the unique selling point of the game? My advice is to be open-minded, eager to learn and stay on top of the technological changes. At the end of the day, having a great value proposition is the key because that’s what makes people want to play the game in the first place.