In-game advertising has started to break free of some of the stigma that’s surrounded it, with a wider range of advertisers investing in the area. And with more interest in in-game advertising, developers like Gameloft are experimenting with new formats and ways to make their in-game ads as palatable for players as possible. In this Q&A, Gameloft’s managing director for North America Casey Campbell discusses the challenges with balancing rewarded video advertising with in-app purchases, and gives his thoughts on the convergence of mobile and console/PC gaming.
What does Gameloft’s offering for advertisers look like, and what are you having most success with at the moment?
Gameloft has a closed, exclusive network of mobile games that gives us a highly controlled and safe environment for connecting brands to our audience. Within the network we provide interactive rich media ads, video, and native brand integration within the context of the game environment. Our most successful ads are playable units that we custom build for our brand partners. These are short but fun mini-games, optional and presented through an interstitial, and are an excellent means of engaging a target demographic in a surprising new way. In fact, our best KPI is replays – a successful branded playable will see nearly one in four players immediately re-engage and play it multiple times, just because it’s fun. We’re now making these playable ad units for brands to not only deploy in their mobile campaigns, but to integrate into their apps and websites as a means of boosting engagement and time spent on those platforms too.
How do you make sure consumers actually engage with in-game ads, rather than just putting down their phone while ads play in order to get the rewards?
We’re all about providing an entertaining experience, and our audience is in a positive and playful mindset when they’re playing our games. They’re also a lot more actively engaged when playing our content, compared to someone who is passively watching video online or casually browsing their social media feed. It gives us the opportunity to get them actively involved with a brand’s creative. For example, we’ve gamified video assets for our partners so that the user sees an on-screen prompt for some physical input in order to advance the video. By getting the user to swipe and tap their screen to move the video forward we’ve gamified the ad and created a tactile way to engage them with the brand. For advertisers, this means they get data that traditional media like TV can’t provide – we’re capturing actual hard evidence of users physically interacting with a brand’s message, proving that the ad really has their attention.
As a AAA games maker, how do you set your offering for advertisers apart from the rest of the app ecosystem (some of which is of questionable quality)?
Our games quality is our top priority and our user ratings average 4.5/5, so we’re very conscious of providing advertisers and players with a premium platform. Gameloft’s network infrastructure is owned-and-operated, meaning we retain control over the ads we display to ensure brand safety. We were also the first mobile games publisher to implement MOAT’s SDK. We consistently beat their benchmarks for viewability with 98.4 percent viewable video rate, 36.6 points better than average in Q3 last year.
Our audience is there for a premium experience and our revenue still depends on in-game purchases, we’re not exclusively ads-driven, so we’re very sensitive to preserving that. We work hard to make sure our ads delivery is non-intrusive and focus on rewards for our players, so that our advertisers see the benefits of a positive brand association.
One of the stereotypes with in-game advertising is that most of the demand comes from other apps – is this true for Gameloft?
The hyper-casual games ecosystem is dependent on ads from other games to keep it churning, because their production values are lower and their lifecycles are shorter. We focus our production on premium games rather than hyper-casual, meaning our audience is playing our games for a longer period of time and they’re more invested in the experience. The majority of our ads traffic is from large global brands looking for a premium audience and a more creative, interactive way of reaching them. The Gameloft games network is also self-contained while the hyper-casual games are promoted through multiple networks. With a self-managed, closed network we can offer a totally brand-safe environment that can guarantee viewability, and is transparent and fraud-free.
One of the challenges with rewarded video is that it impacts the in-game economy, giving users a free and easy way to get rewards which they’d otherwise have to pay and/or play for. How do you manage this balance?
Very true, and it’s an interesting challenge for our games designers! When we first rolled out our advertising offer we were really interested to see that the audience responded very positively to the rewarded formats, and were actually asking for more opportunities to engage with ads to earn more coins. We responded by building dedicated spaces in some games where the player can go at any time to watch a video or play a branded mini-game to get their reward up to a daily cap. Our games teams also evolved the integration by creating game-specific, exclusive ads rewards that help the user progress through an in-game challenge. They’re always learning and improving how the ads and their rewards complement the play experience and games economy. They also get the first and last word on ad placements and in-game rewards, so they work hand-in-hand with our brand partnership teams to align players’ interests with brand interests.
With mobile and console gaming converging, do you think we might see in-game advertising become more prevalent on console games?
We’ve seen some very clever campaigns on both console and mobile that have integrated brands with the gameplay and environments and I expect this will continue. The free-to-play model brought mobile and casual games into the mainstream, and now the majority of gamers would prefer to play a free game with some advertising built in rather than pay a premium for an ads-free experience. There’s a value exchange happening here. When the in-game advertising is implemented well, and in a surprising and entertaining way, it’s an opportunity for advertisers to make a really positive impression with a gamer audience that’s otherwise ad blocking and resistant to traditional media and brand messaging. Good, non-intrusive ads integration in a game environment can be a win-win for the players and the advertisers.
As we see the decline of the third-party cookie on web browsers, do you think we’ll see more advertisers shift their spending to in-app environments?
We’ll definitely see advertisers shift spend to in-app environments. The vast majority of digital media is now consumed in-app, and working directly with publishers will give advertisers a safer, more transparent means of connecting with their users. The added benefit is that good in-app channels will allow for more contextually relevant and custom ways to work the brand’s message into their content, so that the advertiser can find more meaningful ways to entertain and really engage with their audiences.