The penetration of mobile gaming shows no sign of letting up. In 2014, 46 per cent of mobile phone users in the US were gaming on their devices, according to Statista. Last year, that figure surpassed the 50 per cent mark, and is expected to hit 63.7 per cent by 2020.
But mobile game publishers have struggled to find a monetisation model which satisfies gamers and their bottom line. Free-to-play games often come with clunky and intrusive “interstitial” adverts which disrupt gameplay and irk players.
Woobi, an in-game adtech firm based in Tel Aviv and London, thinks it has found a solution. The trick, says founder and chief executive Chaya Soggot, is to make the player grateful that the advertiser is there, even if this means eliminating an ad altogether.
A helping hand
The idea sounds risky. But if the advertiser has a role which provides a helping hand to players when they are most willing to accept it, Soggot thinks that engagement can be improved.
“Let’s say that you’re playing a racing game, and you run out of petrol. You can either stop playing and put your phone down, or an advertiser can pop up and say: ‘You’re out of petrol. Would you like some more?’ It is crucial, she says, that the user can choose to accept or decline this help; engagement must be an opt-in experience.
Difficult to learn
Brought up in the UK in an Orthodox Jewish household, Soggot left religious education when she was 15. Both her parents worked in high tech, and she admits that growing up around computers – rare in the eighties – sparked her interest. “In this industry, it is difficult to learn it. You’ve got to invent it. You need to discover business needs, and that appealed to me.”
A World of Warcraft fan in her teenage years, she moved to Israel at 18 before going into advertising. She describes the explosion in gaming which accompanied the rise of Facebook, with Zynga Poker, Mafia Wars and FarmVille coming to the fore. “I was travelling for work a lot at the time, and being from the advertising industry, I noticed that wherever in the world I played those games, there were American ads targeting American consumers.”
At the time, Soggot was employed by AdsMarket, a big performance advertiser which became Matomy, and began working on a more geolocalised form of advertising tailored to each player. Since setting up her own company, Woobi, in 2009, a relentless focus on user experience has led her to develop increasingly sensitive and acceptable formats for in-game ads, such as “dynamic mindset advertising”.
The right mindset
The first step is simple – don’t display the advert while the consumer is busy playing. The second is more complex – for the advertising to resonate most effectively, it is also
necessary to establish a player’s motivations for playing, and use that information to establish at what point during the game they will be most receptive to an advertiser’s helping hand.
“People play games for different psychological reasons,” she says. “Some are competitive, some are bored, and some want to feel a sense of achievement.” To cater to these different motivations, Woobi uses machine learning to establish behaviours exhibited by clusters of gamers, and then place in-game adverts when they are most likely to resonate with gamers of that profile.
“Some people try to complete a level four times before they accept assistance. Others are just looking for the sensation of winning, so they’re engaged and receptive to help before they’ve even started playing. If they aren’t in the right mindset, the point is sometimes to eliminate the ad altogether. We’re the first advertising company not to display an ad if the user is unlikely to be receptive to it.”
The result? The player is appreciative of the brand’s assistance, and is more likely to recommend it or purchase one of its products. “They are open to it at that moment, and are actually grateful.”
The debate has been won
Woobi now operates in 130 markets, mostly with free-to-play game developers which rely on advertising, and some which use in-app purchases to monetise. It counts Coca-Cola, Skype and Reckitt Benckiser among its clients.
For Soggot, the question for brand advertisers shouldn’t be whether or not to advertise within games; that debate has been won. It’s not even about choosing which game reflects a particular brand, but the type of audience that brand wants to target.
“Two years ago, advertisers would say: ‘How are games related to my audience or my brand?’ Now games are mainstream. Children, grandmothers, career people – everyone plays games. It’s an extremely engaging media channel.”