In Ad Management, Analytics insights, Data analysis, Game design, Games Analytics

If you are running in-game advertising, the many variables to consider can make the task seem pretty hard. From format to frequency and volume, the approach towards ad serving can differ widely across games in the free-to-play (F2p) space. Our Insight team reviewed the strategies used by fifty top ranking games of various genres, all of which were F2P and had more than 500,000 downloads. We spent time playing each game to determine what was working, taking a more detailed look at the mechanisms they were using. Here are some of the most effective strategies seen.

Timing of intersitital ads

First of all, we looked at their collective use of ads. 69% of the games had some form of ad serving with the remainder focusing solely on in-app purchase (IAP). Of those that served ads, there was an even split between games hosting interstitial ads (full screen ads displayed at natural transition points) and those that didn’t. 100% of the games that featured interstitial ads were showing ads in the first session. For that reason, we split these games into three categories based on when the first interstitial ad was shown. As you can see in the chart below, the vast majority of interstitial ads were occurring very early in the gameplay session.

interstitial ads in first sesson

Common placement of interstitial ads varied from:

Ad after each gameplay loop (e.g. end of a level)
Ad after 3rd gameplay loop
Ad after 5th gameplay loop

Rewarded ads that enhance gameplay

Only a small proportion of the games we looked at were holding off until the 30 minute mark before pushing the first ad. For example, Tap Titans, which has been featured on the Google Play store 57 times and by the Apple App store 450 times, does not introduce rewarded video ads until the player has reached level 30, which gives the player a considerable amount of time to become engaged. From there, interstitial ads are then introduced from level 50. Although breaking from the norm, this method gives the player a good chance to become engaged before being presented with ads.

tap titans

Tap Titans good use of rewarded ads feels like an integral mechanic thanks to the way it has been implemented

The rewarded ads in this game are found within rare chest drops (pictured above) that prior to level 30 only contained Currency and Booster rewards. The rewards gained are very generous and scale up as the player gets stronger / further into the game. More importantly, the video ads are integrated into the gameplay and quickly become a welcome and valuable reward to the players.

The intuitive use of gameplay to introduce the rewarded ads has been used to positive effect by a number of games in this study. Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff is another great title that has taken this approach, utilizing a familiar character from the TV show called Carl, who works in a video store, to present the rewarded video ads. The game signposts this by presenting a Clam (the game’s premium currency) above Carl’s head when a video is available to watch.


Family Guy uses a character from the TV show as a way for players to consume rewarded ads

A tale of two extremes

Many of the games showing interstitial ads gave players the option of removing them by making an in-app purchase. One such example is Extreme Car Driving Simulator, which despite using an aggressively high volume of ads, has had over 30 Million downloads across all platforms (iOS/Android) and is rated 4 and ½ Stars in both the Google Play and Apple App store. This suggests that in games where the gameplay is strong enough, players are relatively happy to receive the ads or to pay to remove them. It’s also worth noting that around 85% of the games we looked at with interstitial ads showed more than 5 per session.

Extreme Car Driving Simulator

Extreme Car Driving Simulator offers players the opportunity to pay to remove ads 

While most games will incorporate in-app purchases alongside rewarded and interstitial ads, the F2P version of premium game Threes! is an interesting example of a game breaking this trend. What is unique about Threes! is that it never pushes the player to pay for the premium version of the game, opting instead to promote rewarded ad usage to earn extra retries.

Three!The F2P version of premium game Threes! uses only incentivized ads to monetize

The game does not host any interstitial ads and allows the player to watch as many ads as they please to generate extra retries. There is no other form of monetization, with video ad consumption appearing to be the main drive of revenue. The developers of Three! have reportedly doubled their income from the game since releasing the free version.

Effective use of ads in popular games

In this study, it was clear that no matter whether an aggressive or passive advertising strategy was taken, it did not noticeably affect players’ views of the game, as all the games scored highly in stores. Additionally, data from trials we’ve undertaken shows that when ad frequency is increased, there are often minimal adverse effects on retention. This is really interesting and perhaps the key take away – it means many games can take a more assertive approach towards showing ads without the feared down-side, so long as they are careful about placement and quality.

If you are interested in how to provide excellent in-game advertising experiences to ad responsive players, take a look at our smartads page.

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