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How Gamification Can Save Your Mobile Ads

People adapt and evolve–we’ve been doing it for thousands of years–so ads made to attract our attention need to change in order to keep up. Commercials, billboards, signs, and even digital ads are executed with the intention of eliciting some kind of emotion in order to make a connection with the audience. It is that idea of interaction that have pushed digital ads from simple wallpaper on your screen into fully interactive online experiences.

Pop-up ads were devised to force people to look at the product being sold. Unfortunately, this ended up having a negative effect on viewership as 95% of respondents to a 2004 survey saw pop-up ads in a negative light. It probably wasn’t a great idea to piss off your audience. Despite their negative reaction, ads have migrated over to mobile devices and, especially, mobile gaming.

As we previously detailed, pop-up ads on games have become almost expected. You finish a level, you prepare for the inevitable pop-up ad that separates you and your gaming. Before you can even read the contents of the ad, you’ve already clicked the X button to get rid of it–until the next level and the process repeats. A Google search for “mobiles pop up ads in gaming” pings 71,700,000 results–nearly 10,000,000 more results than simply “mobiles pop up ads,” showing how prevalent it has become, and–based on the contents of the search results–how truly unwanted they are.

It is this unhappiness that has led Google Developers to recommend using only banner ads in games so as not to distract gamers and help foster a better user experience. The concern for user experience has resulted in a split of video advertisement during mobile gaming–forced vs. un-forced and voluntary vs. involuntary. Forced video ads offer publishers higher revenue streams by not giving the player the option to exit an ad, but it results in poor user experience, while un-forced ads allow the player to stop the video, resulting in less revenue, but a better user experience. Involuntary ads are the videos that play between game levels, while voluntary ads are the advertisements that the player chooses to watch, with many games now awarding players with in-game currency and items.  

The option to opt-in to ads for a reward has become a revolutionary new trend for mobile gaming. In an interview with VentureBeat, Gil Shoham, chief executive of mobile game ad company Supersonic, states that opt-in rewarded videos have proven to have a 20-35% click-through rate and has helped the company find an incredible amount of success in such a competitive field. He states that:

“More and more game developers understand that utilizing video as a way to monetize [their] users is a safe route to take as far as the user experience. The experience is opt-in. The user isn’t forced to watch a video. The completion rates are very high. There’s no churn, no negative impact, because of the positive rewarding experience.”

It seems that the future of in-game advertisement is user experience, because, again, pissing off your customer base in probably not a good idea. Instead of forcing people to watch ads, the game-playing public can now watch as many video advertisements as they like in order to receive in-game rewards. This methods is great for cutting down the audience’s animosity toward the product, but in the end, they’re still advertisements and it still won’t get the customer to watch or even engage with the content. You can simply play the video, look away, and within 30 seconds, you’ve increased your in-game currency or added a new item to your collection.

Kiip CEO Brian Wong has devised a way to convince gamers to WANT to click an ad in the first place–he bribes them. In 2012, he explained to Business Insider that, instead of focusing on ads, Kiip focuses on rewards, sending real-world prizes for in-game success–and making them relevant to the user’s interests:

“The ad offers the user a reward for their gaming success: a free bottle of Propel, for instance, was offered by Pepsi inside the MapMyFitness app for every eight miles run by a user.”

The ads are easily declined by users who don’t want free stuff. Wong believes that as soon as advertisers learn to offer rewards that are relevant to the game and the demographics playing them—Amazon gift cards for every 15 thumbs up inside Pandora, for instance, or matchday tickets for fantasy league players.

In 2014, Kiip partnered with RunKeeper to offer exclusive and relevant rewards when users reach milestones. After years of ad-free service, RunKeeper CEO and founder Jason Jacobs reasoned that they turned to Kiip in order to enhance user experience.

“Our experience has been ad-free for a long time, as we have not wanted to disrupt the consumer experience. Kiip is different, as their rewards add that extra incentive to motivate our community, and recognize users’ most impressive achievements.”

Instead of halting gameplay, a reward service adds extra incentives and motivation to use an app or play a game. They have also partnered with to-do list app Any.DO and Yahoo Japan’s mobile app, all in the name of enhancing user engagement. And the reason they have been so successful is because they have learned to connect with users on an emotional level. As Wong explained in a 2015 interview with Forbes:

“I remember in consumer behavior class that happiness and short bursts of emotion are like a marketer’s Holy Grail. They want to tie themselves to it… because they want to be there when you’re feeling something–when you are most likely to open your wallet to reward yourself.”

“So I came to the conclusion that these games were addictive because of the achievement where you level up and feel good. It’s a good feeling. So it’s like, what if I could own every single one of the moments that people felt good. That was the conclusion.”

By cashing in on an emotional connection with customers, Kiip has unlocked the potential for ads to become less annoying and more welcomed. Customer engagement is the future of not just mobile game ads, but of mobile advertising as a whole. Tap into a user’s experiences and emotions and you own the keys to their engagement castle. Others have begun to experiment with this business model, like Google and their Micro Moments program.

Kiip’s model definitely makes advertisements more bearable, but what about their ability to truly integrate into gameplay? Kiip provides rewards to customers from brands like Starbucks, KitKat, and Pandora, but it still offers players the ability to decline free offers–as in there are still people who don’t want to be bothered with free stuff.

How can the mobile ad community build on the progress that Kiip has made when it comes to user experience? One idea is to fully implement the ad inside the game itself, essentially creating a fully interactive ad experience like a brand-sponsored mini-games. In his interview with VentureBeat, Shoham of Supersonic has already looked into the idea:

We experimented with those a few times. For now, it’s not working as well as video. We’re probably going to do a test that combines a video and an interactive ad. You’ll watch a trailer for the app and then you can interact with it, creating a mini-experience of the gameplay within the ad unit.”

He points to the inability to appease both publishers and gamers at the same time when implementing these types of ads as to why they aren’t already prevalent, but a solution is coming. It might be just a matter of taking Kiip’s platform of rewarding users with relevant content and making it more interactive on the player’s end. This way you catch the people seeking to unlock achievements as well as the more casual gamers, the people who just want gameplay–the people who are still opting out of Kiip’s reward program.

Mobile games can implement this by turning ads into mini-games, a long-time staple of the video game platform. User’s are given a sponsored challenge, and instead of just sitting back and ignoring a video, they have to interact within the ad, answer questions, or play a themed level in order to get their reward. Further interaction within the ad would do a better job of guaranteeing that the player actually looked at the contents or message of an ad, instead of simply ignoring the brand’s message. Best of all, it will still avoid agitating customers because they will be rewarded for their time.

Everyone wins in this scenario and as time goes on, developers can add gameplay into these ads and create a feel like you’re still in the game. That’s what people want in this day and age–they want their content, uninterrupted by ads, commercials, or pop-ups. The key is to make those ads feel more like the content and avoid that feeling of anticipation when you prepare to click the X button.

Kiip has unlocked the potential, but the job is never done. There’s always something to adapt or evolve to, and Shoham believes that the key is to be constantly innovative:

“At some point, if you stop innovating, the big players like Google, Facebook, Apple, and Twitter start doing what you’re doing. You need to think about the next thing–the next ad format, or how to utilize data in an innovative way. What’s going to give you the advantage in the next few years? That’s important.”