From a Dev: Optimizing Ad Revenue Through Gameplay Experiences
The following article is meant to highlight Ultrabit’s experience with ads and how we integrated them into our core gameplay to drive meaningful revenue. I will be speaking primarily about our latest title, Pocket Politics (iOS and Android, July 2016). Although Pocket Politics sits in the idle/incremental genre, we believe ads can drive meaningful results in almost any game category.
This will not be an exhaustive examination of all ads ever; instead, it is a single illustration of how we’ve found success with our current approach. If you haven’t thought about how ads might help drive more revenue from your products, we hope the below encourages you to explore ads as a secondary means of monetization. If you are already seeing gains from your current ad implementation, we hope you come away with ideas on how to further optimize.
Why do we care so much about ads?
Ads serve as a major pillar of revenue for Pocket Politics. At any given time we make 40-50% of our daily revenues from ads, which has proven especially significant at scale. Given enough users -- through user acquisition, re-featuring, cross-promo, etc. -- we end up with a sizeable amount of free players contributing to revenue that would otherwise not monetize.
What kind of ad metrics do we pay attention to?
The two key metrics we examine are the percent of daily active users watching at least one ad (%DAU engaging) and the number of ads watched per user per day (ads/DAU). Of the two listed, we find it more important to optimize %DAU engaging because you typically get paid more money for the first ad the user watches vs. their tenth. For reference, Pocket Politics currently lands around ~60% for %DAU engaging and ~5-10 ads/DAU; it should be noted that we run limited timed events which can spike ads/DAU -- more on that in a bit. For more information on why it is important to track ad metrics, see Kongregate’s Jeff Gurian’s post “Ads Count, So Count Your Ads.”
How about some specific examples/tips of how we’ve moved these metrics?
Certainly, move to next section.
Tips and Tricks
When Pocket Politics was moving through test markets, we were concerned about ads/DAU given we were clocking in around ~3 ads/DAU (in our opinion, target area is anywhere between 5-8 ads/DAU). Our %DAU engaging had always been relatively strong, so we didn’t try and move that metric too much until recently (no data to report on yet). That said, following are some key takeaways from our live operations that have proven useful in moving ads/DAU.
- We made the core ad stackable. For each core ad you watch we add 4 hours of “+200% production bonus” time and cap the player at 6 ads per day (i.e. 24 hours of bonus). Our original implementation required the user to log in and watch an ad every 4 hours, which depressed ads/DAU because we were restricting the user by their play session frequency. Instead, we made a change that allowed players to effectively “stack” all 24 hours of bonuses by watching ads whenever they wanted; e.g. some players stacked all 6 ads on their first play session each day, while others might do 3 ads on their first session and 3 ads on their second session.
- We added in a variety of different ad bonuses throughout gameplay (we call these “ad hoc” ads internally). There are a number of different ways to do this, but our approach was to focus on key areas of the core loop. For an idle game, the core is about increasing current rates of production or getting large resource allocations in preparation for a prestige loop (e.g. getting ready to restart the game with an additional bonus based on current production/accumulated resources). We implemented ads for when the user won an election (resource allocation); when a user returned from a long offline period (resource allocation); we made a special kind of ad available every 4-6 hours that could provide time warps (resource allocation), super-powered taps (production), super-powered one random resource generator (production), and even premium currency. With all of these different avenues -- all optional for the player -- we saw a general increase of ~2 ads/DAU, up to the desired 5 ads/DAU. You can see the lift as part of Figure 1 below (everything non-blue falls into this category of “ad hoc” ads).
- We integrated similar ad bonuses into our limited timed events. We launched our first event at the beginning of August 2016, and as you can see from Figure 1, events end up spiking our ad views. We offer the same ad bonuses/buffs within each event, and find that users engage with both sides of the game while the event is live (i.e. they continue to keep their core game ad bonus up while simultaneously working through the timed event).
Figure 1. Ads/DAU by Type
Any other takeaways or learnings?
- Make sure ads impact the core loop (i.e. they have value). Players will learn what ads are worth the trade in time and attention, and will engage accordingly.
- Make sure to provide multiple ad opportunities across each play session and at every stage of the player’s life cycle.
- In our opinion, make the ads optional. We would rather have players retain and potentially monetize in the future than hit a nasty interstitial in the middle of a play session. Opt-in allows the player to make a choice at their own convenience.
Thank you for taking the time to learn a little bit about how we use ads as part of our core gameplay in Pocket Politics. If you would like to learn more about how other games in Kongregate’s portfolio have leveraged ads, please see Tammy Levy’s article titled “Best Practices: In-Game Ads.”