Unity Technologies raised more than $1.3 billion during its IPO in September at a $13.6 billion valuation, proof positive that the gaming industry isn’t playing around.
Roughly 750,000 creators, mainly game developers, use the Unity platform to build their apps, and Unity’s game engine powers game titles played on billions of devices around the world, including consoles, phones and PCs.
In October, Unity introduced Game Growth, an accelerator program that provides indie free-to-play mobile game developers with resources and funding to scale their user acquisition and manage player engagement and monetization.
“We want to give creators the tools they need to run their games as a service,” said Julie Shumaker, Unity’s VP of revenue for Operate Solutions, which is Unity’s suite of tools and services for content creators. “Indies are often just 10-person companies or smaller, and they need access to experts to help them with everything from the changes in iOS 14 to growing their game’s user base.”
Shumaker spoke with AdExchanger.
AdExchanger: What does Unity’s recent IPO mean for the gaming market overall?
JULIE SHUMAKER: Gaming didn’t need validation, but a feather in the cap always feels good. We’re an almost 16-year-old company and we’ve been singularly focused on the same thing since the beginning: content creators. It feels good to have that reognized in the public markets, and when that happens all boats rise.
Are there any gaming trends you would point to or any new behaviors that have emerged over the past year beyond the obvious fact that people are playing and engaging more?
We’ve been telling marketers for nearly 20 years that games are a viable place for their advertising, and they have slowly listened to us. But, let’s face it, they’re still spending way more on significantly less engaged and less interactive ad experiences. The fact that during COVID play has all of a sudden become so accepted is a big moment. The CDC used to classify gaming as a disorder, and now it’s promoting gaming as something that can be good for mental health, especially during shelter in place.
The world is made up of gamers. That’s been true for decades. The difference now is that The New York Times and NBC Nightly News are talking about play as a mechanism to escape and, more importantly, as a way to stay socially connected.
And that’s triggering more ad spending in games?
Over the past five years, we’ve seen more buyers transacting using technology platforms, which has translated into buys with higher performance outcomes. That trend and the general uptick in programmatic both help reduce the perception that advertisers don’t want to buy in games.
Unity partnered with Google in 2018 so that AdMob advertisers can advertise in games developed on your platform. How’s that partnership going?
The original intention of the partnership is the same, which is to benefit our advertisers by delivering AdMob demand into Unity apps.
In our own exchange, which is where we run our unified auction for demand, we have more than 40 demand partners and we’re continuing to expand our partnership ranks on that side of the house, too.
Are you seeing growing interest in unified auctions, and what do you make of Facebook’s announcement that Audience Network will no longer support waterfall mediation for iOS apps starting in Q2 of next year?
There’s been a recent shift from waterfall mediation to bidding, but we never actually built waterfall mediation. We launched the Unity auction in late 2016 and we’ve been executing on the highest bid price for years.
Typically, bidding is still done through a mediator so, in Facebook’s case, the mediator has to ingest Facebook’s SDK. But Unity has always been an SDK-less auction, which means our developers have a lightweight mechanism to access a broad portfolio of demand.
How is Unity preparing from (drumroll) Apple’s forthcoming IDFA changes?
We’re in favor of anything that improves an individual’s privacy controls, but we also know that changes in ecosystem policy that are as large as Apple is intimating have a bigger impact on the indie creator.
That’s a big part of why we brought out our Game Growth program now, at a time when it’s more critical than ever to help creators, especially indie creators, navigate the ecosystem.
Unity has been investing in VR advertising for a number of years. Is there actually a real opportunity for advertisers, and can it scale?
Time and again, one-off native experiences have proven to fail.
So, we need to ground this in the real. There’s enthusiasm because consumers are using entertainment in their homes at greater levels than ever. Based on our own COVID research, there’s been 17% growth in mobile gaming and a more than 45% increase in daily active users for HD gaming. The family room has become the game room, and gaming is one of the top use cases for VR beyond enterprise.
Look at Snapchat and what they’ve done for AR units. They created something new that is both standard and repeatable, and that’s why it works.
Unity released a VR ad experience two years ago and we’re committing to innovation in that sector. No matter what the medium is, from radio to TV to web to mobile, scale is what moves the market.
This interview has been edited and condensed.