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Ads as your asset: Improving the player experience

October 20, 2022 in Games | 12 min. read
Ads as your asset | hero image
Ads as your asset | hero image

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To achieve your mobile game revenue and retention goals, it’s key to have an ad implementation strategy that provides value to players at critical moments throughout gameplay. 

The Unity 2022 Gaming Report found that including ads in games increases player retention by 26% after one day, 8% after seven days, and 3% after 30 days of game play.

Ads that are seamlessly integrated into your game design can provide a better experience for players by helping them advance through gameplay. On top of that, they also generate revenue which means you can reinvest back into your game so you can keep delivering compelling experiences that engage your audience and keep them coming back for more.

In this article, you’ll gain an understanding of the core components of in-game ad design, and how we worked with Pixel United to enhance their monetization strategy for EverMerge (published by Big Fish Games, a Pixel United flagship business), their popular sandbox-style mobile game.

Core components of in-game ad design

At Unity, we believe there are four essential steps for building an impactful ad experience that will help you get the most out of your monetization efforts. These steps will guide your monetization so you can put your players at the forefront of your strategy.

1. Determine your advertising goals

Setting monetization goals before you’re ready to start monetizing will help you think more strategically about your tactics, adding value to your game and your players.

When Pixel United was in the process of building their game, Unity identified key surfacing points for ads in order to provide a seamless player experience.

They prioritized positive ad experiences that added value to players as they progress through the game, rather than interrupting their flow. We identified three key advertising objectives:

  1. Monetize their player base
  2. Improve player retention 
  3. Convert their players to payers

2. Identify monetization and retention opportunities in your game loops

Once you’ve identified three advertising goals, focus on where the best places are in your game loops to place ads. There are two game loops that are commonly used in game design that we’ll be discussing in this blog: core and secondary. Each loop provides opportunities to seamlessly implement ads that align with the player’s journey.

Table depicting key data tied to the Core Loop and Secondary Loop for the following categories: "Monetize our player base", "Convert players to payers", and "Encourage retention."

Depending on your game’s goals, the implementation of ad units are different. You ultimately want to avoid placing interstitial ads in a place that will interrupt a user's natural flow of playing the game, which may cause them to leave. For example, you might want to consider placing interstitials at the end of rounds or turns as it is a natural break point for your game.

Rewarded video ads are a good way to support retention goals. Surfacing these to continue the game after a lost level, to unlock power-ups, or offer players options to continue engaging with your game. 

Identifying core and secondary game loops in EverMerge

Pixel United’s core and secondary loops consist of three phases: action, reward and power-up, and expansion. Here were the best points in EverMerge to seamlessly integrate ads:

  • Action: To advance and receive bigger as well as more valuable items, players need to merge at least three items to unlock coins, wands, or additional items. For example, players can merge three logs to create a bundle of logs. Then players can merge three bundles of logs to build a house.
  • Reward and power-up: In the reward and power-up phase, players match and merge items to build castles, and unlock and collect both classic characters and fantastical creatures. The more items are merged, the higher the rewards, and the more soft currency is sourced.
  • Expansion: Quests are provided to merge items in order to complete levels and unlock more valuable items or remove fog to expand the area. Once players have completed multiple levels, they have the ability to remove the fog or unlock new areas to expand their terrain.
Visual depiction of the core and secondary loops of EverMerge

Thinking about these three phases and where ads fit in encourages players to keep playing the game to unlock new content and progress in their quest.

3. Implement strategies that improve your players’ experience

Once you have identified the proper opportunities and surfacing points in your game loops, the next step is to pick your tactics so you can achieve your goals. Using the right ad format at the right time will encourage players to take the actions you need and help you achieve your goals. 

We typically see three major ways games monetize their user base: interstitial ads, rewarded video ads, and in-app purchases (IAP). Each ad format can help you achieve different objectives.

Interstitial ads to monetize your playerbase

Interstitial ads typically cover the entire screen and are best shown at natural break points in the game. Using an interstitial ad as the transition between the end of a level and the main menu feels natural and doesn’t break the flow, allowing you to monetize your user base more efficiently without harming retention.

Rewarded video ads to improve player retention

Rewarded video ads typically cover the entire screen and are usually set as non-skippable. However, they are opt-in, meaning your player chooses to watch the rewarded ad and receive the reward. These work best during moments where players are naturally expecting a reward – such as a valuable item or in-game currency. Players agree to watch a short ad in return for something they desire. It’s your job to make the value piece fit.

In EverMerge, one surfacing point where they have implemented rewarded video ads is including a floating purple play icon above an item. When players click on the icon, they are provided with three videos to watch in order to receive valuable items such as a wooden frame or ruby that allows players to complete their quests faster.

GIF of EverMerge experience

IAP to convert players to payers

IAPs can encourage players to pay real money to obtain items to help them progress through the core loop. These purchases can be used to purchase game currency, specific items, game hints, and more. Rather than showing ads, games can make money by having players pay to improve their game experience.

In EverMerge, players are offered rubies that, for a specific dollar amount, help them complete levels without having to watch rewarded video ads.

For storefronts, rewarded video ads can be a low risk entry point for players to understand the true value of IAP, and encourage them to purchase more in the future.

Still of EverMerge experience

4. Measure and optimize your ad strategy

Validating your assumptions with data

Once you’ve identified the right surfacing points in your game loops and implemented the ad formats that complement the player’s experience, it’s important to use key metrics to get a good understanding of how your ads are performing.

A few metrics you can consider tracking are: cost per thousand impressions (CPM), impressions per daily active users (IMPDAU), and average revenue per daily active user (ARPDAU). These metrics will help you track performance and optimize your strategy based on data rather than your assumptions.

Optimize by further rewarding progression

No monetization strategy is perfect right off the bat. In order to encourage continuous player engagement and retention, you’ll need to look for opportunities to improve.

There were a few optimization areas we identified within EverMerge. The first was to include rewarded video ads after a player completed a level to further reward celebratory moments in gameplay. Placing rewarded video ads at level ups, end of levels, or other moments of progression further rewards players who have completed progression loops.

The studio had already done a great job of implementing ads within natural pauses in game play. However, one area that could be optimized further was the performance of their call-to-actions (CTAs).

We suggested changing the color of the rewarded video ad CTAs to make it pop for players as you can see below. Making ad experiences clear and easy for players makes it simpler to engage with at their will. CTA optimizations can increase the performance of your ads and requires minimal development resources.

GIF of EverMerge progression

Use ads to increase engagement in different game loops

We generally recommend tailoring ads to create more value by offering contextual ads that seamlessly support players advancement in game loops. These ads target users based on their specific content preferences and interests.

Contextual ads using rewarded videos can provide a quick win for players early on in game play. For EverMerge, players can get extra currency and power-ups in order to encourage continued game play. If players do not have the items they need to continue to progress through the game, they will stop playing. 

Building a monetization strategy that’s right for your game

Tools that provide greater transparency, control, and insights can help you build a monetization strategy that is tailored to your game and playerbase.

Read our Pixel United case study to learn more about how they use tools like self-service ad-blocking and revenue insights in Unity’s Monetize dashboard to help them be responsive to users and understand the impact of a blocking action.

October 20, 2022 in Games | 12 min. read

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