Demystifying Ad Networks and Monetization

by Noelia López

View this blog on the Tilting Point website

There have never been more options for developers looking to monetize their games. But too often, studios patch together programs that copy what the most successful teams have already done, rather than doing what’s right for their unique game and audience. Then, they’re left scratching their heads when they don’t see the same results.

If that sounds like you and your team, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s break down some best practices for creating strategies to manage ad networks and monetization that are tailor made for your game.

Job zero: update your SDKs

Before getting started, one of the most effective things any developer can do to manage their ad efforts is to prioritize keeping their SDKs up to date. Ad networks update their SDKs often to fix issues, improve performance, and add improvements for new devices, so it’s critical that teams take advantage of these changes to be successful with ads.

Developers who keep old SDKs risk having some brands block their traffic, and can have higher crash rates, which will lower their CPMs, creating a bad waterfall structure that will impact their revenue.

As an example of how powerful simply updating a game’s SDK can be, we updated SDKs in the game Bold Moves and increased revenue by 152 percent, and ARPDAU by 146 percent. Sometimes the simplest things can have the biggest impact!

Understand your game’s genre

While it may seem obvious, before developing an ad strategy, it is important to get clarity on the genre of your game, and understand what fans of the genre expect. While it can be tempting to go out and simply mimic the best performing games, ads perform very differently in different kinds of games, as do in-app purchases. Both can have a major impact on which ad networks will ultimately perform best for your game.

For example, take a look at how differently cooking games perform versus word and puzzle games. In the graph, you can see how closely the two word puzzle games, Bold Moves and Languinis, track in their performance with AdMob in terms of CPM. It’s also clear that cooking games Food Truck Chef and Spongebob: Krusty Cook-Off show similar performance.

While there are subtle differences between the games — for example, Bold Moves gets most of its traffic from the US, and Languinis has a more global audience — it is clear AdMob generally performs better for word and puzzle games than it does for cooking games.

Knowing this, it’s essential to avoid putting all your eggs in one basket with any ad network.

Test ad network performance

It’s important to cast a wide net with different ad networks, but it’s also important to constantly revisit their performance, as they’re always changing and optimizing their own operations. A good example is Facebook. A few years ago we would never have had them in the first call. In our experience they weren’t stable, and the performance just wasn’t there. Then we learned that Facebook only serves ads to users that have their app installed. This means the lower you put them in the waterfall, the smaller the funnel gets. We tested putting them on priority, and revenue increased 30 percent. We learned that Facebook can be really powerful, and one of the networks to consider first.

This breakthrough with Facebook helped fuel our success on a recent partnership with Clegames Inc. on the PvP strategy game Civilization War. The game did not previously have ads, and was successful by monetizing with in-app purchases. We started out by adding two ad networks, but didn’t see great results. In fact, the ads only represented one percent of the game’s total revenues. Then we added more networks into the mediation, including Facebook and Admob. Revenue then jumped 335 percent without having to increase the ad frequency, or adding new ad placements.

Compare and contrast

Once you understand your game’s genre and how the different ad networks perform for similar games, it’s time to compare your game to comps and see where you stack up to the competition.

This is a chance to really dig in and ask questions like: What kind of ad placements do you have, and what is their quality level? Are rewards of the same value? Do they have the same frequency and capping? Are they targeting the same number of users?

We went through this exercise with our game Narcos: Idle Cartel. Since it’s an idle game, it’s important to make sure that players have something to do inside the game, and that ad placements bring value to their session. So we weren’t surprised to learn that the most popular ad placements in the genre were offline earnings, boosting revenues, gacha boxes, unlocking content, and more.

In order to make sure we weren’t just relying on what we were anecdotally observing in competitive games, we also worked with anonymized data from our partners. This let us get extremely granular with the data and even compare how different types of ads were performing in different regions. Since our game was based on a license that was popular in LATAM countries, we wanted to understand what performed in these countries.

“Breakdown” Graph Date: April — May 2020, Source: AdMob Data → “Narcos” Graph: Since release date

Once we had a handle on regional data, we were able to go a step deeper and understand which types of placements performed best by region and by platform. In this case, we found that rewarded placements were the strongest for our audience compared to banners and interstitials, and that iOS outperformed Android when it came to banner ads.

Date: April — May 2020, Source: AdMob Data

Start testing today!

While there’s a lot to learn by looking at other successful games, hopefully we’ve made it clear that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for ad placements, networks, and monetization strategies. However, by being knowledgeable about what makes your game unique, asking the right questions, and following the data, it’s possible to replicate the success of the best. It’s important to constantly challenge your thinking, test to optimize your strategies, and keep an open mind. So get out there and start experimenting!

Power up your game with us

Hopefully this helps illustrate how every game is unique and needs its own strategy. If you’re looking for a partner to help with your game’s monetization, the team at Tilting Point is here to help. Drop us a line at today, and let’s get started!

As Advertising Monetization Manager at Tilting Point Barcelona, Noelia is responsible for maintaining and building relationships with Tilting Point’s various ad providers, as well as overseeing in-game advertising for the company’s portfolio of titles. Prior to joining Tilting Point, Noelia served as the Ad Monetization Manager at ZeptoLab where she handled ad operations, maintenance and management of eight of the company’s games. In addition, she also helped lead genre and projects research forecast for ZeptoLab’s existing and new projects, working side by side with designers, product managers and developers.

Tilting Point is a leading, award-winning free-to-play games publisher that empowers independent developers to grow and thrive.