App Teardown - CSR Racing 2 Has Potential but Needs Maintenance

Ariel Michaeli Ariel Michaeli
Mar. 2 #app-store #games #aso

Welcome to App Teardowns, a series where we analyze the strategies apps and games use to gain visibility and downloads on the App Store and Google Play, their performance, and competition.

App Teardown - CSR Racing 2 Has Potential but Needs Maintenance

Racing is a big category on the App Store. The top 10 racing games in the U.S. grossed more than $10M in the last month alone. Games, more so than apps, are dependant on being discovered through search when not using paid ads.

In this teardown, we're going to analyze the one who's leaving nothing but dust behind it—CSR Racing 2.

Although it ranks well and has lots of downloads, overall, CSR Racing 2 gets a B-. We're going to dig into the why, outline the lessons, and takeaways, below.

Good: Uses keywords in the name, get a lot of downloads.

Not so good: Unnecessary character waste, not enough screenshots to convert.

CSR Racing 2 by the Numbers

Here's how CSR Racing 2 is performing in the U.S. App Store, based on our Competitor Intelligence:

Download & Revenue Analysis

A look at the last few years is showing just how big of a category racing is, and why investing in organic growth isn't a luxury but rather a necessity.

Estimated downloads of CSR Racing 2 by Appfigures

CSR Racing 2, which is the sequel to the successful CSR, has had a magnificent year in revenue. In the U.S., the game's largest market by revenue, YoY growth hit 32%, rising from 25M to over $33M.

This is thanks to a combination of growing demand for the category, more downloads, and most importantly, CSR 2's ability to turn downloads into in-app purchases.

Let's put that in context.

CSR Racing 2 vs. the Competition

Even though car racing is a pretty focused niche, within it, there are a few genres. You have the serious races, the very casual ones, and the ones that are Mario Kart. While they're all different, they end up competing for attention on very similar keywords, so in essence, they all compete with each other.

Competitor intelligence for iOS and Android Apps by Appfigures

While CSR isn't the most downloaded app, it manages to do something its competitors must be looking at with envy, and that is turning downloads into in-app revenue very effectively.

Mario kart, with more downloads, and as one of the most well-known brands in the category, only brings in about a third of the revenue. Asphalt 9, a more comparable title, brings in about a 10th of the revenue.

An efficient monetization pipeline gives NaturalMotion, the developers behind CSR 2, a lot of flexibility when it comes to growing downloads and the bottom line.

More on how that fits in below.

Where is CSR Racing 2 Ranking?

This combo of name, subtitle, and keyword list gives CSR 2 a bit more than just the name and subtitle alone. Here are some of the highlights:

CSR 2 is ranked on the App Store by Appfigures

CSR 2 has been around for five years, which is enough time to show the algorithm a variety of keywords it can use to associate the app with through experimentation. However, just because the Discover report is showing 11 pages of keywords, it doesn't mean all are good.

The first page is mainly good keywords, but as we continue down the list, the keywords become less relevant, and the rank drops.

It's important to remember that this isn't a negative.

There are enough popular and relevant keywords there to give CSR 2 a good amount of visibility, and ranking for those is what matters most.

Lessons:

  • Iterations lead to greater keyword coverage
  • It's not about how many keywords but rather how many good keywords.


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Keyword Analysis

Telling the algorithm which keywords to rank your game in is done by using them in the game's name, subtitle, and keyword list. The first two send the strongest signal to the App Store's algorithm, so let's start by analyzing those:

  • Name: CSR Racing 2 - #1 Racing Games
  • Subtitle: Car Tuning & Drag Racing Game

You don't have to squint to see what looks like excessive repetition across these, which is somewhat wasteful. But before we start analyzing, let's see what these add up to as far as the algorithm can see:

That's a total of 17 keywords, all with a popularity greater than 5, so someone cares about them.

Let me pause quickly to talk about the obvious issues:

  1. "Racing" is repeated 3 times, 2 of which are completely ignored, wasting 12 charactrs
  2. "Game" is repeated twice (plurals and singulars are the same), and is a stop word to begin with, so that's 9 characters CSR is giving up.
  3. "#1 Racing Games" is not grammatically correct

Let's see how CSR ranks for these.

CSR 2 ASO Keyword Performance by Appfigures

Even with those issues, CSR manages to do fairly well for very competitive keywords such as "racing" (51K results) and "car games" (31K results). CSR achieves these by having the right amount of downloads for these keywords, which it gets by using paid ads.

We recorded hundreds of ads across the main ad networks, including Google, Unity, Facebook, and AppLovin.

But those top ranks result in more downloads, which allows the title to maintain its position and continue its growth.

This is why it's important to understand how well a game can monetize. By having a very efficient download -> revenue ratio, CSR 2 can continue to use paid user acquisition to maintain its organic performance, at a cost it can afford.

Lessons:

  • Repetition wastes characters, so stay away from it as much as you can
  • The algorithm automatically pluralizes singulars and vie versa so you don't have to
  • Try to use all 30 characters for the name and subtitle
  • Remember you're also optimizing for humans, so keep things grammatically correct
  • The name of the category your app or game is in isn't necessary, but because humans read this, might be needed

The Keyword List

Now, let's reverse-engineer the keyword list. The list isn't public, but we can attempt to uncover it by looking at all other keywords the app is ranked in. We believe it looks something like the following:

racing,driver,driving,fast,auto,race,asphalt,vehicle,nitro,custom,truck,quick,street,drift,kart,ar

I can think of four ways to leverage the keyword list for a racing game: alternative words, competitor names, features related to racing, and lastly, names of cars.

The last one might be a little bit of a reach, and potentially a trademark issue, so let's skip that one for now. The rest, CSR 2 manages to include in its list.

You'll notice I mentioned competitor names, something I usually advise against. But here there's a reason, and that is that games of this nature are less about the brand and more about the game. As such, a play looking for another similar racing game might actually be interested in CSR 2.

While the odds of that are still not very high, they are positive. This is something that's a bit more applicable to games than it is to apps, so don't go trying it with your app unless you're Uber Eats. For your game, if there is a competitor that's fairly well known and has replaceable game mechanics, it's worth experimenting with targeting their name in your keyword list.

Apple doesn't let copyrighted brand names in the keyword list, so if your competitor has a very unique name, you won't be able to use it outright. If that's the boat you're in, see the last lesson below. Otherwise, give it a try.

Lessons:

  • Including keywords from the name/subtitle in the keyword list is okay and recommended if they are very competitive
  • The algorithm merges the name, subtitle, and keyword list, but not with equal weights, so bring all important keywords into the name and the keywords that extend those into the keyword list
  • In some situations, mentioning competitors isn't bad. This is one of them, but these are fairly rare so think twice before doing that with your app or game.
  • Tip: If your competitor's name can't be used as-in, try breaking it up into its component words. Providing each is generic enough, you won't have any issues.

Screenshot & Video Analysis

Games need screenshots that sell the "fun" aspect of them fast and make the benefits abundantly clear because attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter, and new games keep hitting the store every day.

CSR Racing 2 for iOS Screenshot Analysis by Appfigures

Again, CSR 2 seems to be leaving a good amount of opportunity on the table.

First, there are only four screenshots. Apple gives you 10, so that's 6 wasted screenshots NaturalMotion could have used to show off more of the game and its unique features, and use those to turn a page view into a download more quickly.

Then, they make a cardinal sin many apps and games make, and that is to skip answering the "what is this app/game" question and go directly into features.

Granted, the game has racing in its name, and the icon is a car, but... by not making it abundantly clear in the first screenshot, to turn a page view into a download, NaturalMotion is asking the user to connect the dots in their head. That's friction, and friction leads to lower conversion.

And lastly, where is the video? This is an ideal opportunity to entice a user to download by showing a few fast clips of races with actionable labels.

Lessons:

  • Use all 10 screenshots. If you can't think of things to show, you're probably not thinking hard enough.
  • Just because you abstractly explain what your app is through its icon doesn't mean users will get it. This is twice as bad for games with more abstract icons. Use the first screenshot to make that very clear, and if necessary, the second screenshot too.
  • Make your captions stand out. That'll help users read them quickly, and if you make them actionable, turn into a download.
  • App Preview videos are very beneficial, especially in a crowded space. Much like screenshots, they can go terribly wrong, so be ready to experiment with different styles and flows, even though producing videos is harder than screenshots.

Permissions and Privacy

Switching gears, let's look at the permissions CSR 2 is asking users for, and the new privacy labels Apple is now requiring from all apps and games.

CSR 2 is asking for almost every possible permission iOS can offer, including:

  1. Location (when in use)
  2. Motion
  3. Calendars
  4. Camera
  5. Photo Library
  6. Contacts

And a variety of information about the user, from email address to name and phone number.

I can easily see why a racing game would need access to the device's motion sensors but not the user's calendar. While Apple has privacy labels for many things revolving around location and device identifier, they don't really have anything to explain where those contacts are going.

The privacy labels, which CSR 2 has set up (all 64 of them), are not really considered by many users yet because they're very new, but as that changes, I expect to see Apple expanding their reach.

At which point, asking for an unnecessary permission or collecting an unnecessary piece of data from/about the user could become a liability. If... users pay attention.

We're not there yet, so right now privacy labels and permissions don't impact ASO, but that will change in the coming months, so make sure you pay attention to that.

The Tech Stack

The analysis won't be complete without peaking under the hood of the game. For that we turn to our SDK Intelligence:

SDK Intelligence

Here are the highlights:

  • โš™๏ธ Built with Unity
  • ๐Ÿ’ต 3 ad networks
  • ๐Ÿ“ˆ 2 usage trackers
  • ๐Ÿ”— 2 attribution providers

Unity is, by far, the most used game engine in the App Store, so it's no surprise to find a game that's powered by Unity these days. To an extent, it's a technical advantage when operating cross-platform titles.

While that isn't a surprise, nor is the number of trackers and attribution SDKs, the low number of ad networks is. But, with such an efficient way to turn downloads into in-app revenue, the reliance on ads is likely not as important for CSR 2 as it is for titles that don't monetize users directly at all, so they rely on the big networks (Facebook and Google) to do all of the heavy lifting.

Is that a tactical advantage, or is NaturalMotion leaving money on the table?

What We've Learned

In case you were skimming the headers, here are the highlights:

  • CSR 2 does a great job turning downloads into in-app revenue, better than most popular apps in its category.
  • That's money the game's developer is using for paid ads.
  • The game's name, subtitle, and keyword list do seem to be optimized, but could use some improvements. Namely, removing repetition, making the name more readable, and adding more relevant keywords.
  • The game isn't leveraging screenshots enough but uses captions nicely.
  • An analysis of SDKs shows ad serving isn't the main way of bringing in revenue, and as such, it's less optimized.

Overall, CSR 2's amazing ability to turn downloads into in-app purchases means its developers can continue to advertise the game to get those downloads, but like other games we've analyzed before, not turning those paid downloads into organic growth is both wasteful and continues the dependency on ads.

With a few small tweaks to its metadata NaturalMotion can grow to the top of its category, and if they can so can you.

The Tools I Use

I did this entire analysis with our App Store Optimization and Competitor Intelligence tools, the same ones hundreds of thousands of app makers rely on to monitor and optimize their apps. Get ahead + outsmart your competitors with Appfigures. Get started →

Download and revenue figures used in this teardown are based on estimates extracted from our Competitor Intelligence tools.


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