Masters of the Mobile Gaming Advertising Experience: Gameloft

If you pass your time playing Minion Rush, Asphalt 8, or World at Arms on your smartphone or tablet, then you’re one of hundreds of millions of fans of the mobile game giant, Gameloft.

Gameloft has been at the forefront of mobile game development since 2000, in the bygone days when the best of the best cellphones tended to look like these. Long before Steve Jobs walked onstage and presented the world with the Apple iPhone, Gameloft was already developing text-based mobile games in full anticipation that one day soon, mobile would rule the world.

Fast-forward to 16 years later, and Gameloft’s foresight seems to have paid off handsomely. With its headquarters in Paris, and satellite offices dotting the globe, the company is now the world’s second-largest mobile game developer, with over 6,000 employees. As of this year, 157 million monthly active users play mobile games developed at Gameloft. The company’s roster of in-app hits includes Uno & Friends, Dragon Mania Legends, Gods of Rome, World at Arms, Asphalt 8, and Despicable Me (Minion Rush) – the last title being popular enough that one out of every 10 people on the planet has downloaded it.

It’s no secret that Gameloft has helped define how the world experiences mobile gaming. But there’s another project the company has been working on over the past couple of years that’s of near-equal significance: how the world experiences mobile, in-app advertising while in the midst of play.

When done poorly, mobile advertising is extremely disruptive – and not in a good way. A recent study by AppsFlyer revealed that 29% of the people surveyed uninstall their apps because of the sheer disruptive effect of advertising to their user experience. One can easily see how a disruptive advertising experience would have an even worse effect on mobile gamers. Who’d want to have their game experience interrupted with long, irrelevant, pre-roll video advertisements that were produced for a slower desktop experience? Not many people.

With several notable exceptions, advertisers and agencies have been slow in realizing the potential of running creative in-app advertising in mobile games. According to one recent article, while the amount of programmatic ad spend for mobile games has risen over the last several years, that figure doesn’t come anywhere close to the audience size or opportunity presented by mobile game users

Gameloft aspires to be ahead of the learning curve. According to Alexandre Tan, the company’s Vice President of Advertising, Gameloft saw the enormous revenue potential for in-app advertising back in 2013 – and began planning accordingly.

By the end of 2014, Gameloft had created its own ad server and subsequently developed proprietary ad formats that were not only less intrusive than their generic equivalents, but also more relevant to consumers. Users would be put off less by ad serving than in the past.

On an evening conference call from his Paris office, Alexandre ticks off a compelling set of reasons why in-app advertising is the future of mobile game monetization… According to Gameloft’s own in-house stats, 90% of the total time spent by users worldwide on mobile devices spent while using an app, as opposed to only 10% of it spent using search. Of that 90% time spent in app, close to half that time gets devoted exclusively to mobile gaming. Indeed, the average Gameloft user spends 39 minutes of their day playing games.

Clearly that’s a huge opportunity for advertisers. But there’s still a problem, here: namely, audience habits. Given the fact that mobile users tend to “snack” on mobile gaming over the course of a day in “segments,” how can a mobile developer serve ads that are relevant and timely for an on-the-go gamer? How can an advertiser be sure that their banner, video, and native ads will come across as anything other than annoying?

The answer, it would seem, lies in meticulous collection and use of data to optimize a user’s experience. With the enormous volume of in-app data analyzed by Gameloft on its users, Alexandre thinks his company has reached a point where advertising not only can be incorporated seamlessly into a mobile game experience, but can also play an integral role in the game itself.

With an in-house team of data scientists devoted to analyzing the log-level data of individual game players, Gameloft is able to draw correlations aimed at improving the performance and accuracy of its in-app advertising.

Log-level data allows Gameloft to link every impression served to an in-game user with any previous information they’ve consented to provide, such as demographic profile or geo-location. When taken in aggregate, these data sets can help Gameloft engineers to best determine whether a particular ad would appeal to a particular user.

Alexandre cites a few high-level examples of the ways his company uses log-level data to improve its advertising. For instance, users in the midst of games like Asphalt 8 aren’t generally in the mood to see traditional 2mn-long videos that cut into the fast, furious pace of their racing time. But by developing shorter, mobile-friendly, 10- or 20-second videos that appeal to the actual, data-certified interests of people playing Asphalt 8 and by triggering such videos at key moments of the user game loop, Alexandre argues that even video ads are able to capture the attention of (virtual) race car drivers.

Alexandre also emphasizes how “native” product placement in games can be enormously successful when presented in the right context. Gameloft already has an impressive history of “placing” real products and services in its games as part of the game itself: Everything from automotive brand and vehicle modeling and in-game integration partnerships in Asphalt 7 and Asphalt 8– to an in-app appearance by a famous country music band in the company’s mobile version of Oregon Trail.

Mobile gaming has a bright future. With new technologies like the iPhone 7 that contain more power and memory than, say, Xbox 50, the trend towards in-app gaming only seems poised to accelerate. But advertising for mobile games has an equally bright time ahead. The sooner more brands and agencies are able to catch onto the size of the opportunity, the sooner they’ll succeed in the mobile space.

Watch Gameloft on stage with AppNexus at Mobile World Congress.

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