Optimizing for revenue not joy: Gamesforum London and the mobile gaming monetization predicament

Oct 25, 2023

Has the mobile games industry’s relentless pursuit of revenue optimized the joy out of the player experience? 

I’ve just returned home from a two week business trip involving a lot of trains across Europe, with the last stop including London and the always-educational Gamesforum event, at which I consistently find inspiration through the proximity of so many smart and talented monetization managers. 

As an industry we’ve done an incredible job of maximizing the ad revenue we can extract from mobile gamers, increasing the average revenue per user (ARPU) almost 70% since 2017.

One of the revenue drivers has been new formats, most recently,hyper-successful rewarded video format, followed by a shift from 15 second skippable video ads to 30, 45 or even 60 second non-skippables. Some of the most successful free-to-play games have ad loads of 70% – ie for every 10 minutes a player is in the game app, they are only playing for three minutes, with the other seven taken up by ad bombardments after every level or action.

eCPMs matter, and since most in-game video ads are simply ads for other games, the industry needed more clicks and downloads to drive up CPMs, so we invented ads that automatically redirect to the app store, and video-skip buttons that don’t actually skip the video when clicked, but rather – yes, take you to the app store! Presenters and audiences were talking about how painful these ads are.

Yay us! As an industry we have successfully optimized player joy right out of gaming. 

At previous GF events, the focus has primarily been on sharing techniques, strategies and best practices for increasing ad revenue within games. Ramping up eCPMs, increasing ad load levels without damaging KPIs, ideal mediation partners and strategies, etc. 

However, there was a clear shift in tone at Gamesforum London this year which can be summarized as “How do we undo the shitty ad experience we’ve created for our players?” 

For the first time I felt I wasn’t the only person at a monetization conference talking about the need for a player-first strategy for ad monetization.

Adventurous monetization managers and analysts are doing A/B tests, and learning that when they decrease ad loads and switch off low quality ad providers, overall LTVs are not negatively impacted, churn an, and simply put – happier players. 

But player experience needs to go deeper than analysts balancing the books. 

At Gamesforum I was on stage talking about “Innovation in Ad Monetization” in a session moderated by Tiffany Keller, and fellow panellists Carly Ostasiewski, Adjoe, and Igor Melniks, Zebedee. We talked about hybrid monetization, alternate ad formats, and true innovation in ad units beyond simply adding another 15 seconds to unskippable videos. 

AdInMo, Adjoe and Zebedee’s commonality is a shared goal of monetizing gameplay time, and not just the interstitial moments. All three companies want players to spend more time playing games, not watching ads. An example of how this can work seamlessly for the players is AdInMo’s recent announcement of our first Rewarded InGamePlay feature, powered by Zebedee, which incentivizes users and drives higher attention and engagement.

AdInMo has been very clear that “advertising to the player that is truly valuable and relevant” may not mean monetizing that ad placement. Our predictive CrossPromo and IAPBoost features, for example, show a portfolio ad to a player when they are about to churn out, or an ad for an IAP when we think the player will be receptive to that. Player First thinking is always inherently better for a publisher – whether by lowering user acquisition costs or by converting players to payers. 

The renewed focus on fixing the player ad experience reflects a positive shift in the gaming industry. By prioritizing player joy and integrating innovative solutions like InGamePlay the industry is evolving to meet the expectations of modern gamers. 

Kristan Rivers

AdInMo, CEO & Co-founder


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