Maria Alegre is CEO and co-Founder of Chartboost, a direct-deals marketplace for mobile game publishers.
Click below or scroll for more:
- The Background
- The Problem Chartboost Solves
- Use Cases for Chartboost
- Industry Trends
- iOS or Android – Which Is Best?
MA: Sure, our team comes from Tapulous, the company behind Tap Tap Revenge, which was the number one music game on the iPhone. Tapulous was there, on day one, when the [Apple iTunes] App Store launched. Sean Fannan, my co‑founder, was the first employee and engineer at Tapulous, and he built the whole back-end as the company’s products went from zero to 50 million users.
When I joined [Tapulous], there were 10 people. As Tapulous first business hire, I worked on monetization, virtual goods and advertising deals, etc.
Walt Disney bought the company a year and a half ago, and we took that experience to build a platform to help other game developers be more successful in the App Store.
For us, being more successful means launch more hits, and then make more money.
What would you say are some of the key learnings from your Tapulous experience?
The number one learning was the importance of distribution power. For gaming companies, that’s their most important asset. They launch more games and they end up creating a network, and this network defines their distribution power because, every time they launch a new game, they can promote it to all their users in their network. The bigger the network is, the more guaranteed the success of the new game is going to be.
This was our biggest learning, and we want to help companies manage that in order to launch more hits, but also manage distribution power to make more money, and that’s when you sell advertising deals with other games.
It’s hard to get the developer’s app above the noise. To do that, you need to have this platform. The thing is, managing distribution power is not that easy, because all these companies are focused on making great games. You also need analytics and manage that in real time. For example, you need to launch a campaign in five minutes across 40 applications.
When we were at Tapulous, on Friday night at midnight, we were launching a game and needed an engineer to be awake and coordinating with a different person to launch that campaign as well as with a designer.
Everything was last‑minute because we had a hacky system, but now we’ve been able to offer that platform that companies can use. They don’t want to build a platform internally, because they want to build games, so we have a platform that fulfills that need.
What does the typical client look like for Chartboost? Or – how do you see the games breaking out in terms of categories?
We see two kinds of games. The first – they’re basically free games that monetize with in‑app commerce. They know that to make money they need a ton of users and a percentage of them are going to monetize. They also need to acquire quality users, so they need to make sure that, if they do advertise, it’s going to be done to users that are going to end up liking their game, because only users who like their game are going to spend money. So, free games with in‑app commerce.
A free games, company example, if you will, is TinyCo, where it’s about user acquisition, quality users and analytics.
The other kind is paid games. Developers are not going to spend money on acquiring new users because for paid games it doesn’t make sense, but they need to have all the games connected so they can track them all internally. These developers are not spending money, but they are building a stronger network. An example of that company would be Neon Play.
Neon Play has a lot of one‑dollar games and a big network, and they’re using Chartboost to make that network more powerful.
Have you all made games, too?
We were making games a year ago. We’re taking that experience of making games, and building a platform. That makes us different from other ad networks, where people come from the advertising world. The ad computing is more aggressive. We are building something that we needed, as game developers. It’s a very different approach, when we talk to game developers.
Sure. One of the things that is very unique about Chartboost is the fact that we let you do deals directly – gaming company with gaming company – without paying anyone a fee. Ad networks would keep 50 percent of the revenue. We let them buy and sell inventory without that fee.
A company that joins Chartboost, they create an account online, then they have some codes embedded in their app. And, we would tell them how to design the ad unit.
The ad unit is actually very unique, because it can be customized to look and feel like the game, so it doesn’t feel like an ad. It feels like a suggestion to check out a new game.
Developers can launch three kinds of campaigns including cross-promotion, which is internal, across the company.
We can do direct deals. For that they need access to the direct‑deal marketplace, which is a place for program developers, where each company has a profile and they can create partnerships with other companies. When they’re partners, they can work with each other and define all the economic terms, and we keep zero percent, so it’s 100 percent rev‑share.
The third campaign they can do is an advertising campaign like an ad network. They can either publish or pay money to get their ad promoted.
They can manage all of that in the real‑time dashboard online. We provide the tools to launch campaigns, prioritize them at different points and decide how often this is going to show up, and A/B test their ad units – all of that.
At different points of their app cycle, they do different kinds of campaigns. Imagine if you were launching your own new game, you want to start with some cross‑promotion.
Once your app gets into the charts, you want to do a direct deal and sell that inventory, because you’re going to make a ton of money if your app is on the charts, so you want to make the most of your three weeks of success by selling ads directly instead of through other networks.
Then once you’re done with that app, you turn the ad network on and then go for this in the next game until you launch it and in that case, you start again.
We work with them through their whole cycle. Their priorities change, depending on when they launch a game, when they have a game for which they charge etc.
Can you talk about some of the “secret sauce,” if you will, or what it is that you do differently compared to others who promote game developers?
For the secret sauce, I would say it’s about the design and analytics. With design, we’re focused on an ad unit that is beautiful and integrated, and performs better because it’s not intrusive for the user.
Another part of the sauce is the analytics behind it. We’re very strong with targeting and making sure the users doesn’t already own that game …showing one app per day, letting the customer always decide how often, but trying not to be aggressive at all with the user.
Yes, and the new thing about faking installs – since the very beginning, we’ve tried to be all about quality and quality experience, and targeting users who are really going to love your game, so we’re the opposite of all of that.
We try to let these companies manage the real traffic and promote their own games to the current users, which is completely what any gaming company would do, and make sure that the ad unit is going to perform because the user likes it and not be too aggressive about targeting users.
Whenever we see a match, based on the numbers, whenever we see that an app performs at, like, 30 percent click‑through rate instead of our average 12, we tell them that they can do a direct deal and get more traffic for that specific kind of app.
From the very beginning, we’ve been the complete opposite. Because we’re a gaming company, we knew that we didn’t care about shitty traffic. We only care about the users that are really going to like the games.
What about retargeting through ad exchanges for promotion?
All of the things that you can do on the web, you cannot really do them on mobile because you’re very limited with the information you can collect.
We do a different form of retargeting, but it’s a lot more limited than what you can do on the web, because the information being collected is more limited. If a developer has users that have rated another one of their games, and they see that the user hasn’t opened the game in three months, the developer can then go find them in other games.
We call it a retargeting campaign where the developer shows a different ad unit and tells them, “Hey, come back, we have an update. We just launched the cute animal in the game.” Etc.
You recently traveled to Asia, what might be some key differences between what you see in the Asian market and what you’ve been experiencing in the US and Europe?
China has a lot more volume and users and less money. Korea is all about Android, and they just very recently launched the game category.
Japan is going to be huge, but right now it’s all about the feature phone. All of these countries are completely different than each other. And they all have a ton of potential and going to be growing like crazy. We want to be there early. It will be very important to localize the ad units and the platform, too.
What is maybe the opportunity for app developers that you’re seeing in the tablet environment that they can’t do on the smartphone?
The big opportunity of tablets is that the users are more engaged. They spend more time playing because on mobile it’s a more casual experience. You’re waiting for one minute and you open a game. On the tablet, you can actually sit down and play, which means that users end up spending more money. Performance is double. Monetization is probably more than double.
I think you need to be in both places because, right now, all the money is in the [iTunes] App Store, but in the future, there’s going to be so much more volume on Android. These industries move so fast that you cannot say, “OK, I’m going to wait a year and then I’ll go in,” because then you’re going to be too late. Knowing, in advance, that Android’s going to be huge, everyone should have a foot in there, at least, and be learning.
By John Ebbert