When it comes to monetizing a free-to-play game there are often two choices to choose from: whether you monetize through in-app purchases made with real money or whether you choose to go for ad monetization. For the longest period of time, games in genres like hyper-casual have been pretty much fully ad monetized, showing almost as much ads as possible in the short lifespan of those games (low long-term retention). Whereas the “bigger” games designed for longer lifetime chose to focus mainly on IAPs. But naturally there are also many, many cases where both monetization methods co-exist inside the same game.
As we’re entering the post-IDFA world, where targeting gets tougher, CPIs are on the rise, and CPMs are likely taking a hit, there is more than ever talk in the industry about hybrid monetization models. Hyper casual developers are starting to look at casual/midcore for ways to bring in light-meta elements for longer term engagement + IAP monetization without sacrificing too much of the very high marketability of hyper casuals.
But within the grand scheme of things, ad monetization isn’t going anywhere. There have also been interesting cases in the market where mainly IAP monetizing subgenres (such as competitive shooters or 4X strategy games) have implemented some rewarded video ad placements to diversify their revenue streams as well. At GameRefinery we are following the market on a daily basis so naturally we’ve seen a bunch of ways that rewarded videos ads have been implemented across the market. In this blog post we’re highlighting a few interesting ones that somehow differ from the “most usual suspect placements” such as simple watch ad -> receive soft currency etc. OR are in genres where ad monetization is not such an everyday thing.
Call of Duty: Mobile – incentivized ads in a competitive shooter
The first thing that comes to mind when talking about modern competitive shooter-genre monetization is the cosmetic economy, minimal power progression/ ”pay-to-win”, and not much ad monetization. But Call of Duty: Mobile actually has a few interesting incentivized video ad placements in the game.
Lucky Board is an ad-gacha in CoD:Mobile. Players watch a video ad and in return they get one spin of the gacha. Rewards that players can get from the gacha are various cosmetics (these change when a new season comes along) OR specific ad-gacha currency (which players only get from watching ads). This currency is used in its dedicated store where players can use it to purchase items included in the Lucky Board gacha (naturally the flashiest cosmetics have an EXTREMELY LOW chance of being pulled straight from the gacha. This keeps players watching ads so that they can purchase those with the currency in the long run). There is also a milestone system in place to reward players with the ad-gacha currency for multiple watched ads (e.g you get rewards for watching/drawing the gacha 10, 30, 60 times and so on). This adds another progression vector/extra incentive for multiple ad watches.
Double weapon XP for the next match
In the May 2021 update, CoD Mobile added their second ad placement to the game. One of the main permanent progression vectors in the game is weapon level-ups (you use a specific weapon to level it up –> by doing that you unlock different attachments such as optics, barrels, stocks etc. which slightly change the weapon’s behaviour). Now players can watch an ad to double the XP gain for their next match.
June’s Journey – ad placement with daily narrative/visual progression
June’s Journey is a hidden objective game with a meta layer that consists of players building/decorating their own island. One of the buildings in the island is the Lighthouse which is being renovated by Mr. Talbot. Players can progress in renovating the Lighthouse daily. There are 20 levels to complete the lighthouse. Each level is broken into 8 parts and each part is broken into 2 steps. One step is for free and the toehr extra step can be earned by watching an ad every 20h. When players progress through the renovation, there are small dialogue bits + the building’s visuals change as the renovation progresses + flowers are earned (the game’s main player progression vector). As the progression of the renovation is limited to one free + one ad part per day, it is quite slow. The main purpose of this feature is to provide one ad for players to watch as part of their daily gameplay routine while working as a retention feature for players to come back daily to progress in renovating the Lighthouse.
June’s Journey also offers an incentivized ad that players can watch in exchange for them entering hidden objective levels with less energy for 30mins per ad. If players plan to play longer during their gameplay session, there’s a strong motivation to watch the ad every time they start playing, to not run out of energy so quickly.
Two Dots – match3 with ad placements
Ad monetization in the Match3 subgenre is by no means a common thing. Most of the top dogs don’t rely on ad monetization at all, but there are a few exceptions among top grossing games.
Two Dots is one of those games. Not your traditional match3 game anyway as it uses the linking mechanic in its core gameplay, but also noteworthy is that it uses ad monetization on top of its main IAP mechanics. Two Dots has several different ad placements across the game, most of them are not in their own right anything extraordinary, but in this subgenre they stand out. Players can for example watch an ad to start the level with a random booster, they can refill lives for watching an ad, get an extra daily “mystery prize” (boosters) and so on.
However, the most interesting ad placement is definitely the one that greets players when they fail a level. When a player fails a level and they are out of moves 🡪 the game offers players a chance to watch an ad video to roll a prize wheel which includes extra moves (+1, +3 or +5) or boosters. If the wheel stops at a booster, for example, players earn an extra booster to be used later on, but to continue playing this particular level they need to use premium currency to continue. This feature doesn’t disclose the odds of getting the various rewards, but as a placement it feels quite clever. After failing a puzzle level, watching an ad for a chance to continue is a no-brainer, especially if you were anywhere near completing the level (I don’t have any data, but my own gut feeling says that it has a very strong conversion rate as an ad placement). And since there is only a CHANCE for extra moves by watching an ad (especially MULTIPLE extra moves and not only e.g. one which might not be enough in most cases), I feel it doesn’t cannibalize the premium currency retries as badly as it otherwise would.
War and Wit – ad currency store
War and Wit is a puzzle RPG released last year. It hasn’t been a super successful hit game in the west, but one of our analysts spotted an interesting ad monetization mechanic while playing the game. This game has its own currency for ads. Each time a player watches an ad (up to 10 ads per day can be watched) they get this ad currency (among other rewards such as basic soft currency). This ad currency has its own separate store where players can purchase various items, character shards etc. with the accumulated currency. On top of the items bought with the ad currency there are also long-term “milestones” for the number of watched ads. For example: players can get shards for a very rare character by watching a lot of ads cumulatively (e.g. reaching 200 or 500 watched ads across the whole time players have played the game).
In a sense this is a “simpler implementation” of what Call of Duty:Mobile has with its Lucky Draw.
Dragon City Mobile – breeding ad placements
Dragon City Mobile is a breeding game where players collect, grow and breed various dragons. It is one the Socialpoint’s “evergreen” games as it was originally released back in 2013 but still hovers around the top 100 grossing US games. So it clearly monetizes with IAPs quite well, BUT it also has an exceptionally heavy ad monetization angle with A LOT of different ad placements for such a strong IAP monetizing game.
As a “base building” game with a lot of construction timers, production buildings and so on, players can watch ads to skip waiting timers and boost production, for example. There are also many ad placements across the game to for players to, for example, double the acquired rewards from matches/levels, earn missed rewards from daily login events, revive after failing a PvE level, repeal the loss of ranking when losing a PvP match, and the game even has forced videos once in a while.
But maybe the most interesting ad placement comes in the form of Dragon TV. Which is a separate “building” on a player’s island. From there they can access a few more extra ad placements.
- The first is a daily progressive ad-system. It gives rewards for each watched ad + bigger milestone rewards at e.g. the 10, 20, 30th ad for the day (on the left in the screenshot). These rewards vary between days (also depending on if there are events running linked to this)
- The second one in Dragon TV is also an incentivized ad mechanic with progression elements (in the middle of the screenshot). You can watch an ad in exchange for 10 premium currency every 12 hours 🡪 when you hit a cumulative 5 ads watched you also get a bigger reward chest.
- There’s also an Offer Wall + rewarded surveys that can be found from the same menu.
Dragon TV has been in the game for a longer period already, but the latest addition they’ve made to it is that Socialpoint is now also running separate live events 100% focusing on Dragon TV. These Dragon TV Collection-events tie into the 1) ad placement mentioned above. When these events are running, players get specific ad currency coins from that progressive ad placement. These coins are then redeemed in the event menu for various rewards (for example even a Dragon TV character). Players can choose if they want to redeem all their single event coins for small chests or if they want bigger chests with better possible rewards and redeem only 7 or 50 coins at once.
Top War – 4X strategy with ad monetization
One of the biggest recent “rising stars” in the 4X market has been Top War. It is a 4X strategy game that utilizes popular merge mechanics in its gameplay. It’s one of the 4X strategy games that are “genre blending” and using various elements from other genres to make things fresh and exciting without losing its 4X core. Read more about this phenomenon from this earlier blog post on genre hybridization. But interestingly enough, Top War is also one of the very few 4X strategy games that have decided to introduce a bit of hybrid monetization as well. Sure, it is mainly all about IAPs still, but there are a few ad placements in the game which is super interesting for a 4X strategy game.
The more basic placements are, for example, that watching an ad rewards you with premium currency or soft currency.
But more interesting + more “genre specific” ad placements in the game include, for example, a chance to watch an ad to get extra units when merging them or getting extra units on top of your friend’s donation when watching an ad. 4X strategy games are all about resource management/generation so Top War has an ad placement for that as well. The game has a “Gold Harvester” building which generates gold (one of the main resources in game). Players can watch ads so that the building “auto-collects” the generated gold for a certain time period, so that players don’t have to login constantly to collect gold when it reaches its storage cap.
Even when things are a bit shaky at the moment in the advertising world with major changes to the whole ecosystem, ad monetization to some extent is still more popular than ever in top grossing IAP titles.
These are just a quick glimpse of a few examples across the market on what kind of ad placements we are seeing in various genres. If you want to know more about these games, research thousands of other ad placements or want to dive deeper in any other features, log in to the GameRefinery SaaS platform or feel free to contact me! 😊
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