Designed to Win: How to Monetize Mobile Users & Enhance Experience in Your Game [#GDC15]

What do users want to pay for content?

“The answer is ‘nothing,’” says Vungle VP of Product Mike Pilawski.

85% of people who consume music every day never spend a dollar for a song. For the average mobile game, 95% of users don’t spend any money on IAPs.

In many cases, that leaves advertising to foot the bills.

“Though, while television and music have embraced ads, only 7% of revenue for games is from in-app advertising.” The problem, Pilawski says, is that people hate interruptive advertising and that’s amplified when someone is playing a mobile game.

At this year’s Game Developers Conference, Pilawski spoke with Vungle’s Senior UX Designer Jahed Momand on how to make game advertising less horrible and how to make it a more enjoyable part of the user experience.

The Trouble with Advertising

“Advertising is noise,” says Pilawski. “In America we are seeing 5,000 ads a day. On the way here, I counted 11 billboards. We all learn to ignore it.”

The same goes for online advertising. Though the first-ever banner ad saw an illustrious 74% click-through rate in 1994, just 20 years later, CTRs plunged to an abysmal .05%.

“People just learn how to ignore every new type of advertising,” said Pilawski.

But when it comes to gaming, people can’t just ignore something that pops up and disrupts gameplay. Instead, that avoidance turns to irritation.

“To make money, you can’t sacrifice your game’s mobile UX because no one will download it after negative reviews.”

Pivot to a Better Model

“Why not make advertising people want to see?” asked Jahed Momand. “Let’s make advertising that’s anticipated by the user, that’s personalized and relevant.”

Momand shared the STARS model – a framework for creating compelling advertising experiences created from Vungle’s work advising thousands of game developers and research into game design, psychology, HCI, and behavioral economics.

See the framework in the slide deck here or take a look at the walk-through below.

The STARS Framework

Scene: An event or placement within your game where the ads will provide value. Critical factors include:

  • Reach – Make sure a lot of people have the opportunity to see it. Take this example from Slots Tycoon. You can’t miss the “free” button, placed strategically next to the spin button. Mobile Game Monetization through Great UX
  • Flow  – “When you look at the classic story arc of a game, you hit high crisis points where there is a boss fight or some other dramatic action. If you hit people with ads at those moments, you’re going to get bad reviews. We recommend you pick the middle points in between – when players are resting or there’s another break.”
  • Contextual relevance – Provide values where players need it most.


Trigger: Cues for players to take action, including:

  • External triggers attract attention and encourage action. In Tap Titans, a fairy feature stands out visually from the background with a distinct color scheme and movements that attract the eye and provides variable rewards each time users click. Mobile Game Monetization through Great UX
  • Internal triggers help prevent negative emotions, like boredom, by rewarding users with faster content or frustration, by providing a reward after a loss. There are natural moments in the game where players have to wait, whether for a level to load or a designed delay, where ads can provide entertainment and increase engagement.

Action: Qualities that encourage your user to take action on a mobile video ad that is shown. As well as quality of the ad and relevance of content, speed is huge driver of conversion. A study by Kiss Metrics shows that if even 20 seconds passes before the experience happens, half of customers will be lost.”

Reward: An incentive that drives user behavior. “Currency isn’t the only reward,” says Momand. “You can also provide users with social rewards that help players feel attractive, important and included.” These might be status rewards that long-term players receive that provide an opportunity for self-expression. Just like someone might be buy clothing in real-life to convey their personality or wealth, in-app, opt-in rewards can enable gameplayers to exhibit these same behaviors.

Or, they might be access rewards that help users unlock easter eggs, secret parts of the game, or progression awards that help users advance to new stages.

When designing these, consider different drivers of action, such as scarcity, luck and effort. If users feel a reward is rare, they were lucky to receive it, or that there hard work got them there, they may be further emotionally incentivized to claim that reward.

Seed: An advertising approach that plants a seed for further action – driving users to spend money later in the game. By acclimating users to the reward experience, and perhaps gamifying the ads-reward interaction itself (so that repeated viewings provide bigger rewards), you can drive more mobile game monetization from advertising and IAPs.

To see the full presentation, view the deck here. For more coverage from #GDC15, subscribe to the Vungle blog in the right sidebar.