Finding the sweet spot between monetization and user experience is the secret sauce behind every successful F2P game. Our client, Helsinki-based Futureplay Games, found their sweet spot with Rewarded Video. The studio coined the term View-to-Play – where users can watch rewarded videos to earn bonuses and speedups – and has already attracted more than 70 million players with its hit games Idle Farming Empire, Idle City Empire, and Battlelands Royale.
Futureplay Games relies on a powerful internal BI system to fine-tune their ‘View-to-Play’ mechanics. One of the minds behind the business intelligence team is Camilo Fitzgerald, game analyst, and a PHD from UCL (University College of London). Despite his age, Camilo is already a veteran game developer having created his first game at the age of 6. We are glad he kindly accepted our request to share what makes Futureplay stand out in the mobile game business.
Can you talk about the ‘View-to-Play’concept and Futureplay’s monetization model?
‘Free-to-Play’ games supported by IAPs exploded in the last five years and brought gaming to more people than ever before. We love free games but IAPs can be one-sided providing advantages to the 2% of players that are willing to pay. In recent years ‘Rewarded Video‘ has become an increasingly credible source of sustainable monetization, in which players choose to activate a 15-30 second video to receive boosts and enhancements. Typically only a few cents are generated from each video, but the format allows all players to support developers for free instead of generating tens or hundreds of dollars from a select few.
When founding Futureplay in 2015 we loved this model and saw huge potential. The trouble was that developers typically added Rewarded Video as an afterthought with somewhat limited success. We wanted to change this and coined the term ‘View-To-Play’ defining a business model in which games are built from the ground up around Rewarded Video – we made a bet that this would be a serious power in the future of free games. Fortunately that bet paid off; our ad monetization is the best we’ve seen and our first two games, Idle Farming Empire and Idle City Empire, sustainably support our current team of 15. Further, global advertising revenues in games have skyrocketed and overtook revenue generated from in-app-purchases in 2016.
You don’t fear running your competitors’ ads in your games. Is this a trend we can expect on the F2P model? What does the future of mobile game monetization look like?
We hear this one a lot and we’re not in the slightest bit worried. The average mobile gamer is engaged with multiple games. If you see an ad for a game and end up loving it that doesn’t mean you’ll stop playing the current game unless it gets boring. Further, new games are discovered from a huge range of sources including Facebook ads, the web, word-of-mouth and placements in other games.
Avoiding ads in your game isn’t going to stop players from finding new games. We put this theory to the test at previous companies with AB tests on Rewarded Video and found no measurable decrease in retention across a range of genres from match-3 to build-and-battle.
As for the future of ‘View-to-Play’, it has already become a powerful force in the market with top companies like King traditionally focused on IAPs now integrating Rewarded Video. We don’t think IAPs are going to be replaced, in fact, the most effective monetization models will likely have a combination of both approaches. ‘View-to-Play’ has, however, opened up the market to new companies, like ourselves, to become early experts in Rewarded Video and take on the giants that have refined and conquered the IAP model. This can only mean more variety and choice in games, which is superb.
What key metrics do you take into account to measure your games’ success?
We prioritize retention and engagement metrics above all else – if a game doesn’t excel at engaging players it will not matter how effectively it attracts new players or monetizes. Next up for us are our ‘View-to-Play’ metrics, which on a high level include: Ad Conversion – percent of players who view an ad, Impressions – number of ads viewed, eCPM – average revenue from 1000 ads, and Ads ARPDAU/LTV – the revenue generated from ads per player. We monitor these metrics on three verticals; DAU – averages per daily active user to give a benchmarked daily view of a game’s performance; Lifetime – cumulative actions over a player’s lifetime to inform our LTV model and optimize performance marketing; and Activity – daily totals that inform our in-house ads meditation, sanity checks on networks, and company finances. We also closely monitor a range of store review, virality, IAP, cross-promo and user acquisition metrics to get the complete picture of our ecosystem.
What are the major factors that may impact a game’s revenue?
Retention and engagement will always make or break a game. Once engagement is nailed factors impacting revenue vary, but ultimately boil down to a game’s ability to scale the CPI < LTV equation: How much can a game grow while keeping its revenues higher than the cost of bringing in new players? For mid-core titles such as RPGs and strategy games it’s usually more costly to grow a user base. They typically need to generate north of ten dollars per install. We’ve pushed the ‘View-to-Play’ model up to around two dollars per install which is not likely to scale in these genres – therefore highly effective IAP mechanics are likely a must for mid-core.
It’s easier to find players for more casual games and scale is possible for one or two dollars per install, but the wider audience is typically less willing to spend hundreds of dollars in a game. A strong ‘View-to-Play’ model is therefore perfectly suited. The cost of finding new players meanwhile, can be significantly reduced with intelligent marketing activities, viral mechanics, cross-promotion, and the use of a strong IP or a brand.
What advice can you share with game developers looking to monetize their games? And with those who are still reluctant to show ads in their games?
It’s important to distinguish Rewarded Video from traditional ‘forced’ advertising. We’ve found that forced interstitial ads not only monetize less effectively but also significantly reduce retention rates when AB tested. In the ‘View-to-Play’ model, however, players can choose if and when they want to watch ads which results in a much better gameplay experience. We don’t receive complaints about ads in our games, it’s actually the opposite: when a player has no ads to watch we get messages saying “I want my ads back!. This is a huge paradigm shift in advertising from a negative experience to a positive one. We tightly weave ‘View-to-Play’ into our game worlds and economies when prototyping.
In Idle Farming Empire, for example, a smiley sun appears in the farm as the entry point for an ad placement – not hidden in a menu or a ‘watch now’ button that breaks game world emersion. This sun activates a mini-game after the ad is viewed in which current profits on the farm can be doubled. The mini-game is so much fun that we find a huge share of players watch the ad even when there’s no profits to double. We also make ad entry points always visible to catch players in ‘cold states’ such as when admiring their farm, rather than when they’re busy with gameplay or have another action they intend to do next. Finally, we keep all ad experiences positive, rather than offering ads in negatives situations such as when you’ve run out of energy or died.
What are the benefits you’ve seen from using the Libring platform? How does it help you?
The monetization picture was simpler when IAPs dominated the market. You could attribute revenue to players directly when an IAP was made and collect daily aggregates of revenue from app stores (e.g. iTunes and Google Play). With ‘View-To-Play’ you need to integrate a variety of ad networks to monetize effectively and pull daily aggregates from them all in addition to the stores. Further, while client devices know when an ad has been watched they do not know how much revenue it generated. This makes ad revenue attribution a really tricky task in which each ad watched needs to be assigned a revenue value based on the daily aggregates returned from ad networks. Getting this picture correct is vital to running an effective ‘View-to-Play’ model. This is where Libring really shines.
Maintaining, collecting and normalizing revenue and spend data from tens of network/store APIs would be a full time job. Libring takes care of this in a highly robust, accessible and customizable fashion. We then pipe this data into our internal BI systems empowering us to focus on our core strengths of ad mediation, performance marketing and optimization of ‘View-to-Play’ mechanics.
Some services do collect this data (e.g. AppAnnie, AppFigures, MMPs) but it is not their core offering and they fall short. Libring, for example, rolls back data over a month since networks often update historical revenue, integrates with all the networks and stores we use, consistently split revenue by all dimensions such as country and placement type, provide a rule based system for normalizing the data, and have effective dashboards and clean API access to manipulate the data as we see fit. Libring gets the job done in style and we love them.
You’ve created your first computer game when you were only 6 years old! I’m curious to know what this game was about.
I’ve had a love affair with computers from an early age – they provided a level of control that was hard to achieve in the real world. Creating games was also a great way to entertain family and friends. The first game I experimented with was text-based adventure in BASIC with a fair dosage of toiler humour, which I found incredibly amusing at that age and am quite still partial to.
It was a pleasure interviewing you. Thank you for your time!
*updated on March 20th 2019