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Donít Leave Money on the Table: Ad Monetization Canít Be An Afterthought in Game Production
by Bryan Stealey on 05/01/15 12:34:00 pm   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutraís community.
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Not long after we launched Mad Skills Motocross 2 -- a game nearly 7 million people have downloaded, has 410,000 daily active users, and has been a #1 game in many countries -- we realized we had a problem: We had an embarrassment of riches in terms of popularity, but we were not fully optimizing every aspect of our monetization strategy.

Let me take a step back. At our gaming studio, Turborilla, our side-scrolling Mad Skills Motocross 2 title had great traction (our iPhone version hit #2 overall in February of 2014). Players loved this racing game for its fantastic motorcycle physics, its fast-paced gameplay and its extremely addicting nature. We poured our blood, sweat and tears into nailing everything about this title -- the pixel art, the gameplay, the sound design -- and we felt everything was top-notch. But this was our first foray into F2P gaming, and thus our first real experience with in-game mobile advertising. And we made some mistakes.

I think our missteps were a result of general inexperience combined with a desire to be respectful of the user experience. We didn’t want to abuse players just to make a buck. But over time, we’ve come to discover that you can have a smart, effective advertising strategy without abusing players. In fact, a smart strategy can even lead to a†better†player experience. Why? Because only with money coming in can you continue to iterate and improve the game experience and deliver great games to your players, and much of that revenue can come from ads, as it does from in-app purchase and other forms of in-game monetization.

So where did we go wrong? Turns out it was in the placement of the ads.

Interstitial ads were served when a player entered or exited the main menu as opposed to embedded in natural game flow. This made for less-than-stellar ad monetization -- the game was serving less than one ad per DAU. This also negatively affected user experience.

What did we do to fix it? We worked with our primary ad partner AppLovin†to†adjust the placement of our ads. First we considered which of the†many available ad formats†would fit best and where. We settled on interstitials and video ads because we thought they would be the most productive in terms of monetization, and because they worked best with the flow of our type of game (which has levels that the players complete) and were therefore best for our players. In Mad Skills Motocross 2, interstitials now appear in a non-disruptive way where players spend most of their time, which is after they complete an action -- a race.

Inline image 1

This relatively straightforward fix in the ad set-up resulted in increased ads per DAU. Specifically, there was a 50 percent increase in ads per DAU on iOS and a 70 percent increase on Android. We also saw a 15 percent increase in eCPM across both platforms, and because the players were more receptive to the new setup, we were able to serve more video ads that further boosted the eCPMs. Our ad revenue increased by over 50 percent across both platforms, and DAU was unaffected. Negative user reviews actually†declined.

The lessons learned here were pretty clear. Slow down and be thoughtful about your ad monetization strategy, and take advantage of rich ad formats. Focus ads where users spend their time. Set up ad triggers that will reach all users in order to maximize reach and to ensure a consistent experience across your user base. And never forget to place ads at natural pauses in your game. A better user experience will always have a positive impact on higher eCPMs and your ad revenue, and is in the best interest of your most important constituent: those playing your game.

This relatively straightforward fix in the ad set-up resulted in increased ads per DAU. Specifically, there was a 50 percent increase in ads per DAU on iOS and a 70 percent increase on Android. We also saw a 15 percent increase in eCPM across both platforms, and because the players were more receptive to the new setup, we were able to serve more video ads that further boosted the eCPMs. Our ad revenue increased by over 50 percent across both platforms, and DAU was unaffected. Negative user reviews actually†declined.

The lessons learned here were pretty clear. Slow down and be thoughtful about your ad monetization strategy, and take advantage of rich ad formats. Focus ads where users spend their time. Set up ad triggers that will reach all users in order to maximize reach and to ensure a consistent experience across your user base. And never forget to place ads at natural pauses in your game. A better user experience will always have a positive impact on higher eCPMs and your ad revenue, and is in the best interest of your most important constituent: those playing your game.


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