Optimizing Game Design for Ad Monetization

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The mobile game industry has exploded since the launch of the App Store in 2008 with countless new titles appearing every day and ample opportunity for strong advertising revenue. However, not everyone has succeeded in making a profit from their marketing efforts. Sure, Words with Friends, Solitaire, and Candy Crush Saga have done it, but many developers fail to see a strong return on their investment. Here are some tips to consider and how to choose the right type of ad formats for your game.


King to launch Pet Rescue Saga on Mobile this summer; now has more than 70M DAU

New King logoThe London-based game studio behind Candy Crush Saga today announced that it’s launching Pet Rescue Saga on iOS and Android early this summer, while also revealing that it has more than 70 million daily active users (DAU) across all platforms — mobile, Facebook and web.

Pet Rescue Saga, which first launched on Facebook in October 2012, joins Candy Crush Saga and Bubble Witch Saga as the third mobile title from the U.K. company. Pet Rescue Saga is a match-3 puzzler in the same vein as the mega popular Candy Crush Saga. The title will launch with more than 72 levels, providing cross-platform gameplay across mobile and Facebook, meaning a user’s game state including their leaderboards, scores and progress remain synchronized. Cross-platform play has been a feature that has shown to be very successful for King’s mobile games so far. Pet Rescue Saga for mobile was developed by King’s Malmo studio.Pet Rescue Saga Facebook screenshot

King’s 70 DAU is significant because it topped Zynga’s 52 million DAU, which it announced during its latest earnings call. When comparing the companies, King is a private company with 450 employees, while on the other hand, Zynga is a public company with a much larger workforce. (more…)

Corona Labs launches Corona Cloud for mobile developers

CoronaLabs-Flatlogo-URL copyToday, Corona Labs launched Corona Cloud, a suite of cloud services partnered with the Corona SDK for mobile development.

The new backend as a service is open to anyone to use, but it’s designed to be extra appealing to those already using Corona SDK. Corona Cloud provides a number of back-end features that would normally require developers to implement via multiple third-party toolsets, greatly lowering the time requirement necessary to implement things like multi-player support, chat functionality, push notifications, analytics and leaderboards/achievements. Additionally, the service features integration with Twitter and Facebook, so developers can access users’ various social graphs.

“Even for the basic things like leaderboards and achievements and basic user account management, we’re making that work across platforms like both iOS and Android,” Corona CEO Walter Luh tells us. “They’ll be able to work seamlessly.”

As a result, Luh hopes Corona SDK and Corona Cloud will make developers more efficient. “We want to make people ten times more productive,” he says.

Corona Cloud is available to all mobile developers, but it’s designed to provide those studios using Corona SDK with even faster development due to the implementation of the integration of Corona Cloud with the existing platform.

Corona Labs was founded five years ago. Prior to that, Luh had worked at Adobe on Illustrator and at Apple on the Final Cut Pro team. Corona SDK, meanwhile, is a toolset designed for the development of native mobile apps that’s been used for some popular mobile games. Some of the more notable titles created with the software includes Bubble Ball, Major Magnet and last spring’s Lorax movie tie-in mobile game.

Luh tells us Corona Cloud’s pricing is actually divided into a set of tiers, including a free option that is designed to help fledgling developers get their app launched as inexpensively as possible. Certain features will be free for everyone who uses Corona Cloud, like unlimited user accounts, leaderboards and achievements. Additional features will feature what Luh calls a “free up to a limit” mode. This way, small developers can implement the technology at no cost into their games, but will need to start paying based on API calls.

To learn more about Corona Labs or the new Corona Cloud, visit the official site here.

Guest Post: Getting Schooled on Developing the Best Games for Teens and Tweens

Editor’s note: The following guest post was written by Peter Hofstede, the Game Development Director at Spil Games. Spil is billed as the largest independent online gaming platform. As the social games market grows more crowded, developers find themselves competing more and more for audience share. One group that hasn’t been targeted by most studios are in the tween demographic, an audience that Spil’s found success with via its Girls Go Games label. In this article, Hofstede offers advice on how to find success with tweens.

There are over 80 million social games played each day, yet only 15 percent of these games are played more than once by a user. We’re seeing a high level of abandonment in the social gaming space, but keep in mind that many of these games are developed for mass audiences— where it’s very difficult to please everyone. At Spil Games, we prefer to operate in a world where tailoring gaming experiences to niche audiences is an ideal way to reach an engaged consumer base and convert them into loyal users.

Thinking specifically about tween girls, teenage boys or even parents looking to play online games with their kids, developing games for niche audiences can provide a major growth opportunity. If fact, 91 percent of kids are gamers – we know the market is there – it’s simply a matter harnessing these consumers to get them to play your game. When it comes to success, it is crucial for developers to incorporate a user-centered design approach to appeal to niche audiences’ unique interests and behaviors. Getting it right doesn’t require a PhD in psychology, and while it certainly couldn’t hurt, there are several different tactics to understanding the basics throughout the game development process. (more…)

Facebook replaces Apps and Games Dashboard with App Center, introduces paid app model

Facebook is replacing the current Apps and Games Dashboard with a new App Center feature that sorts Facebook apps by category and user ratings.

Detailed on Facebook’s developer blog, App Center will be viewable from Facebook.com, mobile web and Facebook’s iOS and Android apps when it rolls out over the next few weeks. Clicking on an app from within App Center directs a user to that app’s native platform, where the user can install the app. The new feature also introduces app detail pages, which is where users will land when typing an app name into Facebook’s search function. Apps are also filtered into additional categories for “top grossing,” “recommended” and “trending,” as well as module that displays friends’ apps.

Read the rest on our sister site, Inside Facebook.

Zynga’s Bubble Safari takes aim at Bubble Witch Saga’s success on Facebook

Zynga’s newest social game, Bubble Safari, targets the casual arcade genre recently cornered on Facebook by King.com with its hit game Bubble Witch Saga. The casual arcade shooter launches on Facebook and Zynga.com simultaneously tomorrow.

The bubble shooter genre predates Facebook by more than 25 years. The goal of these games is to match like-colored bubbles by firing a single bullet upward into a cluster of connected bubbles. A level is cleared when all rows, or a certain number of bubbles have been cleared. Like match-3 puzzle games such as Bejeweled, scoring bonuses are usually applied based on speed, matching bubbles in quick succession or by hitting special bonus items placed within the puzzle. These games have found a high degree of success on Facebook because users can learn and play the games quickly, and because they’re easy for developers to program and monetize. Like other Facebook-based arcade games, bubble shooters monetize through the sale of power-up items that increase scoring bonuses or through an energy mechanic that limits the number of sessions a user can play in a day.

King.com shot to the top three Facebook game developers by daily and monthly active users in the last six months on the strength of its bubble shooter, Bubble Witch Saga, which launched last September. That game was predated by King.com’s Bubble Saga, GameDuell’s Bubble Speed, wooga’s Bubble Island and several other variations on bubble shooters. Zynga hopes to make a splash with its bubble shooter by building on features that each of these games has introduced, adding a few of their own and introducing a new Flash engine that can run the game at 60 frames per second and produce high-gloss visual effects.

In Bubble Safari, players take the role of Bubbles, a wild monkey whose animal companions are kidnapped by poachers. Through a series of levels, Bubbles tracks the poachers and frees different animals from crates. The levels themselves are typical bubble shooters, with Bubbles himself manning the cannon at the bottom of a screen. As Bubbles matches color types in the puzzle, bubbles are cleared from the puzzle — but if bubbles are dislodged from the puzzle by clearing rows or clusters of connecting bubbles, these strays turn into fruit that fall toward the bottom of the screen and may land in one of three baskets just below Bubbles’ cannon stand, increasing the player’s score. The puzzle is completed when 10 of the bubbles in the the top-most row of the puzzle have been cleared, which converts all remaining bubbles to falling fruit. Each level requires a minimum score to progress to the next level.

As the player enters new regions on the world map, the challenges in the bubble shooter puzzles become increasingly difficult, with hazards blocking the user from making straight shots into the puzzle. For example, shooting beehives attached to bubbles will send a swarm of bees into Bubbles, causing him to random-fire the bubble cannon several times before the bees disperse. To overcome these challenges, players earn “Boost Bubble” items that that allow the user to complete the puzzle more easily — like a fire bubble that burns up any bubbles or hazards in its path. Players also earn animal helpers as they free animals from the poachers, such as humming birds, that bounce dropped fruit from the puzzle into one of the three baskets. The animal helpers level up as the player makes more matches and leave when the player fails to complete matches.

The use of Boost Bubbles and other scoring bonuses is where Bubble Safari becomes complex. Within a level, a player can only use a Boost Bubble once they’ve filled a boost meter by making successful color matches in succession. Filling the meter allows players to spin a prize wheel and whatever Boost Bubble it lands on is the one the player gets. Players can also increase their score by successfully dropping fruit into baskets. Three successful drops causes the level to catch fire, which indicates a score multiplier. Lastly, players have access to two extra normal bubbles in the form of friends that appear on a sidebar in the level, each representing a different color. By clicking a friend’s bubble, the player swaps whatever bubble they currently have in the cannon for the friends’ bubble — say, purple for red. On the other end of that exchange, the player will appear in their friend’s game representing whatever bubble they traded with (in this example, purple). A relationship meter increases the more friends use each other’s extra bubbles. When the meter is filled completely, the friend’s extra bubble can be converted to a Boost Bubble for one level. A powerup item allows players to bring in two extra friends so that all four possible bubble colors are available.

Aside from the bubble-swapping social feature, Zynga also plans to introduce an asynchronous two player competitive mode and weekly tournaments at some point after launch. Bubble Safari monetizes through the sale of powerups, energy refills and could potentially monetize tourney entry fees, though that remains to be seen. Interestingly, Zynga offers roughly half its power-ups for soft currency that can be earned through normal gameplay, while the rest can only be bought with premium currency purchased via Facebook Credits.

The similarities between Bubble Safari and other Facebook bubble shooters are obvious, while the differences are more subtle. For those not familiar with reigning bubble shooter Bubble Witch Saga, here are some key differences between it and Bubble Safari:

  • Social features: Bubble Witch Saga enables friends to send currency, lives or “spell breaks” that allow players to progress to new areas on the map. This the extent of the social interaction between friends.
  • Visual effects: Bubble Witch Saga is light on flashy visuals, like things catching fire.
  • Adaptive gameplay: If a player repeatedly fails a level in Bubble Witch Saga, the puzzle will adjust to become easier. It does not appear that Bubble Safari’s puzzles will do the same — but this is something Zynga could introduce post-launch if players ask for it.*
  • Monetization: Powerups (called “charms”) and life refill items in Bubble Witch Saga can only be bought with Facebook Credits. Special bubble types can be bought with soft currency. Zynga makes some powerups available for soft currency and allows players to earn Boost Bubble items through gameplay without spending soft currency.

It will be interesting to see if Bubble Safari picks up high-level Bubble Witch Saga players who have run out of things to do in King.com’s game. We’re also curious to see if Zynga’s simultaneous release on Zynga.com and Facebook reveals any value add to playing Bubble Safari on one platform instead of another.

Bubble Safari was developed by Zynga’s San Diego studio with some help on the Flash engine from a team in San Francisco. Senior Creative Director Mark Turmell — famous for his work on arcade games and franchises going all the way back to the Apple II and the Atari 2600 — oversaw the project, his first for Zynga and Zynga’s first arcade game.

“The industry has come full circle,” Turmell tells Inside Social Games. “The bubble genre’s been around for years — there’s something magical about match-3. The magic of that is maintained [in Bubble Safari], but with fire, the strategy, the map and presentation… this game innovates. And nobody’s going to out-Zynga Zynga at the cadence of new content. Coming [here] was like coming home.”

*ETA: As of launch, the puzzles in Bubble Safari will change if a user fails a level.

Facebook tries star ratings, home page requests to push users toward games

In a continued effort to drive users to play social games, Facebook reintroduced star ratings and homepage requests on the site last week.

The social network now shows star ratings within games discovery modules on the right-hand side of pages and in the card that appears when users hover over the name of an app from within News Feed. Some users now also see game-specific requests in addition to other outstanding app requests on the right-hand side of their home pages. These features are similar to ones that existed previously but were removed within the past two years.

The reemergence of star ratings on the site is somewhat of a surprise. The social network eliminated app reviews and ratings in October 2011. It seemed Facebook would focus on helping users discover games through their friends rather than anonymous ratings, which could be manipulated by developers and biased players. Now instead of having a reviews tab that anyone can access at any time, Facebook randomly prompts users to rate apps while or after they use them. It also asks for ratings when users remove an app, which could unfairly decrease a developer’s star count since people who want to remove an app are likely to give it a poor rating.

A game’s average rating appears in hovercards and in sidebar units that recommend new games and encourage players to return to games they’ve tried before. Some users are even seeing a “featured apps” section of the games discovery page that includes ratings. Star ratings seem rather unhelpful in letting a user know whether they’ll actually enjoy a game, but the appearance of stars could make users subconsciously more likely to click over to a new title. Ratings might also be used behind the scenes to affect Facebook’s algorithms, and they could have been a factor in how the company determined its “top” games of 2011.

The addition of app-specific requests on the right-hand side of the home page is a return to functionality from years ago. In 2010, Facebook made invites and requests less noticeable by moving them to the left sidebar. It wasn’t until January of this year that outstanding app requests were reintroduced to the right of News Feed. All requests were grouped under a single link until last week when we began to see app-specific requests appear as well (see right).

The social network continues to test a number of different modules, links and promotions to drive users to discover or further engage with games. It’s clear Facebook wants to increase the number paying game players on its platform and expand its payments revenue. Less than 2 percent of the social network’s 845 million monthly active users paid for virtual goods in 2011. As such, payments accounted for 15 percent of the company’s total revenue. The rest came from advertising. Getting more users to play games and pay for virtual goods within those games would help Facebook diversify its revenue and be seen as a more solid investment.

This story originally appeared on our sister site, Inside Facebook.

Adobe allies with Unity for Flash Player 11.2 release, introduces premium APIs

Adobe announced Flash Player 11.2 and AIR 3.2 versions today along with a set of premium APIs for PC and mobile games. The software giant is also collaborating with Unity to create a unified workflow that can deliver Unity games via Flash.

The premium APIs are a combination of the GPU accelerated Stage3D APIs Adobe first announced with Flash Player 11 last fall and fast memory op codes. On mobile via Adobe AIR, developers can use the APIs for free — but on Flash Player 11, the software company takes a 9 percent cut of revenues after the first $50,000. These terms go into effect August 1, 2012, giving developers between now and then to determine if the APIs are suitable for their games. Adobe acknowledges that the majority of gaming content currently created in Flash probably won’t need to use the premium features. Developers do not have to pay royalties on each of the APIs if used alone or on software rendering of Stage3D with or without the op codes.

The Unity collaboration is born of Unity’s own efforts to tap into the Flash audience without players needing to download a plugin. In September of last year, Unity announced that it would support Flash in future versions — which is what prompted Adobe to reach out and work with the company to create a unified workflow that better serves developers. The Unity 3.5 Flash export functionality is currently in preview mode, but beyond that release, Adobe says it’s also working on integrating future Adobe gaming services into Unity. At some point, we may see Adobe partner with other engine creators on similar projects — in October last year, we saw Epic Games’ Unreal Engine running Unreal Tournament on Flash.

Both moves seem like solid ones for Adobe. By introducing APIs as a service, rather than giving them away with a one-time purchases of its authoring software, the company can take a slice of the virtual goods revenues social and mobile game developers enjoy. At the same time, Adobe is also building bridges to console video game developers, providing a way for non-Flash developers to tap into Flash’s broad reach on PCs in the social and casual games space. The Unity collaboration reinforces the approach, and Adobe tells us it’s working with a number of 3rd party frameworks to help developers to reach 2D or 3D content markets.

Interestingly, Adobe is pushing a monetization angle in Flash Player 11.2 and AIR 3.2. By creating a unified platform for desktop and mobile, it hopes to reduce fragmentation in those markets. Adobe also plans to offer analytics and revenue optimization features as part of its game services in the near future — not unlike what we see from Kontagent or Flurry.

While Unity isn’t that common in social games, it definitely has traction in mobile games. CEO and co-founder David Helgason told Inside Mobile Apps earlier this month that mobile developers account for over half of the company’s total business. On Facebook, the healthiest Unity game we’ve seen so far is CMUNE’s UberStrike, which requires a plugin.

You can find out more about the premium APIs and the Unity collaboration on Adobe’s Digital Media blog.

Facebook pushes Credits promotion with in-game units for first-time payers

Facebook developers can now display Facebook-sponsored promotions in their games to encourage players to make a first-time purchase, according to a post on Facebook’s developer blog.

“New payer promotions,” which the social network created in February, give users who haven’t bought Facebook Credits before an extra $4 of in-app currency when they buy $1 in Credits. Facebook has advertised this promotion through offer walls and sidebar modules, but with today’s announcement, it will also get in-game placement.

The offer is meant to turn casual social gamers into paying players. Once users add billing information to their accounts and experience the in-game advantages that come from spending Credits, they are more likely to continue to buy virtual and digital goods within applications. Facebook says early data shows that about 20 percent of the users who make that first-time purchase spend more within a month.

The in-game promotions are available through DealSpot. After developers add a piece of code to their games, players who have not previously purchased Credits will see an icon promoting the offer. TrialPay, which controls DealSpot, says it will test several icons and optimize for performance without requiring any additional actions from developers.

It is unclear how much control developers have over where the icon appears in the game. In the example provided by Facebook, the offer is placed on the right-hand side of the screen, an area used in most games for less game-critical features. This might not be the most optimal spot to get a user’s attention, but it could be more effective than sidebar modules (see below).

This story originally appeared on our sister site, Inside Facebook.

Playing God and evangelizing virals in Idle Worship, launching today

Idle Games’ god simulation game, Idle Worship, goes live today following an unheard of 29-month development cycle and extensive beta testing in Australia and the Philippines.

Idle Worship puts players in the role of a benevolent or evil deity tasked with creating and caring for a primitive race of island people called Mudlings. Players manage the Mudlings’ belief in a higher power using customizable statues called Moai, and a series of god powers that can either hurt or help the Mudlings go about their daily lives on the island — such as chopping down trees, fishing for food or procreating more Mudlings. A multiplayer mode allows players to interact with one another’s Mudlings by trading resources, casting god powers (both good and evil) and encountering synchronous events where online players are summoned to an island where they could potentially win more resources — if they can click on dropped resources faster than other players. Players can also compete or collaborate to gain more followers of their faith by using special powers that place shrines or missionaries on other player’s islands. Progress is tracked by an overall level, which determines what decorations and god powers the player can buy in the store.

The main appeal of Idle Worship is the level of quality. Idle Games invested heavily in both the technology driving the game and the graphics coating it to create a richly animated, detailed environment unlike any other Facebook game we’ve ever seen. The game supports both synchronous and asynchronous player activity, with little clouds representing the areas other online players currently occupy and darkened islands representing offline players. The closer a player zooms into an island — their own, or another player’s — the more detail they see.

As an example, CEO Jeff Hyman took us on a tour of his main island, where decorative items — used to increase Mudling quality of life and faith in their god — were fully animated when viewed close-up, like a little theater that performed a creation myth story using cut-outs and silhouettes.

“It’s almost like we have a hidden object game within the game,” Hyman says, “with all these little hidden gems of animation.”

The level of detail in the game almost makes Idle Worship overwhelming to average Facebook game players. Unless said players have a background in PC gaming, where Idle Worship does have some kindred spirits in The Sims and Black & White, the concept of the god sim might be difficult to grasp — and an overlong tutorial is a death sentence for many social games.

Hyman says Idle Games experimented with multiple iterations on the tutorial during the closed beta tests. Going whole-hog on the god powers early on did produce between 80 and 90 percent completion on the tutorial; however, a more controlled guided tutorial bumped that up the mid 90s range. In Australia, Hyman says that the average player logged 3.7 sessions a day at 19 minutes per session. Conversion clocked in at 5.7 percent among 25- to 35-year-olds. Surprisingly, the game skews slightly more male — when, traditionally, “dollhouse” style games have netted more of a female audience.

Aside from communicating itself to players, Idle Worship also has the challenge of evangelizing itself to potential players through viral channels. With a game that pushes boundaries, there are easy ways to do this like shocking or humorous descriptions of in-game activities — something The Sims Social has used to great effect. Idle Games has also opted for more difficult ways, like playable mini-games that players can send to their friends or post in their News Feed. The picture at right shows one of these virals, called Stroke or Squish, where people can choose to pet or kill the unicorn. The number above each option shows you how many people picked which options. Though lightweight compared to the actual product, the mini-games effectively telegraph Idle Worship’s central theme, lush art style and high level of quality.

Now that the game is live, it’s a leap of faith from here to top of our AppData traffic tracking rankings. Idle Games has the technology to scale to millions of players — but will it be enough to unseat Zynga at the top of the charts, as Idle Games investor and Playdom co-founder Rick Thompson hopes.

“I believe in justice,” Thompson says. “These games deserve more virality — it’s proportionate to use experience. What’s dead is forced [friend] invites and spam [gift requests]. If this game inspires a dozen other indie developers [on Facebook], I would count that as a success, too.”

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