2021 was a year of unprecedented change for hypercasual mobile games advertising. Apple’s Identifier for Advertisers was abolished, which began to decimate many of the familiar ways of marketing and monetising hypercasual games. Advertising budgets subsequently flowed away from iOS towards Android. But then iOS15 reintroduced marketing tools to iOS. Somewhere in the madness, Facebook quietly stopped doing its own attribution.
Amidst this flux and flow, the show had to go on. Hypercasual games still need to be marketed and generate revenue, regardless of market conditions. With such uncertainty in the air, many indie and mid-size publishers naturally sought refuge under the reassuringly large wing of the biggest adtech companies. Others took the chance to experiment, building their own monetisation solutions on top of the bases provided by AdTech platforms.
Hypercasual monetisation - from beginner to expert
To an extent, the level of experimentation hypercasual developers undertook in 2021 was defined by the size of their organisation, from indie to mid-size. But it’s not entirely clear cut - many have achieved a lot with a little engineering support and a single ad monetisation manager, meaning it’s as much a case of resource allocation as resource full stop. It’s a risk-reward scenario, balancing initial investment with potential long-term gains.
So let’s take a look at what separates the beginner from the expert hypercasual publisher in terms of their monetisation, and how they chose to use the tools at their disposal in 2021.
Beginner: AppLovin - Ready-made hypercasual monetisation
AppLovin is a behemoth that dominates the headlines and attracts the largest proportion of hypercasual ad spend. Underneath the hype is a very strong core product.
Currently, AppLovin’s stack is the easiest and most popular way for hypercasual developers to monetise and advertise their apps. It’s in the default stack of most beginner-level or indie publishers as it bundles user acquisition and monetisation together. Once a developer uses AppLovin MAX for ad monetisation, they can feed the AppLovin UA machine with User Level Revenue Data. This enables automatic optimisation of ROAS (return on ad spend) with minimal effort on the part of the publisher.
The potential downside is that AppLovin uses its own monetisation algorithms, limiting the freedom for hypercasual publishers to do this in-house and potentially make higher revenue. Of course, it’s only natural that less experienced developers and publishers gravitate towards out-of-the-box solutions.
Intermediate: ironSource - Ideal for early hypercasual automation
It’s an unspoken rule of mobile games advertising that you can’t mention AppLovin without also talking about ironSource. They’re truly fierce competitors.
Right now, it’s clear that fewer developers use the ironSource stack relative to AppLovin’s. However, we have seen performance uplift for publishers that have used the internal tooling that ironSource has under the hood, due to the greater flexibility this enables. For example, early ad monetisation tools such as in-house bidding are usually built on top of IronSource. It’s not an easy task to set this up internally, especially for smaller hypercasual teams. It needs the support of an engineering team and at least one dedicated ad monetisation manager. But it's a worthwhile investment if done correctly and shouldn’t be long before a boost in ad revenue.
Expert: Mopub - A playground for advanced hypercasual marketers
MoPub’s rise as a player in hypercasual marketing really began in mid-2019 when it started showing publishers not only how much they earned from each user acquired, but how much each ad impression cost. That opened a lot of doors to publishers with data science and ad monetisation teams that could turn this information into valuable insight.
It quickly became clear that there were too many doors and too much data. It became too expensive and complicated for publishers to store all the data internally, and MoPub didn’t have a solution. Eventually, this year, developers figured out a workaround.
It turned out that the key to getting the most out of the MoPub stack was to add Google Firebase. Traditionally, publishers store data in Amazon Redshift, where they pay for the amount of data, while Firebase uses Google Cloud Platform/BigQuery where developers are charged based on how many times they query their data set. This created a perfect stack for advanced hypercasual publishers that could squeeze everything from the data they have.
MoPub was recently acquired by AppLovin, which is already migrating customers across to its own platform, meaning the custom-built stacks built by advanced hypercasual marketers won’t last beyond Spring 2022.
Hypercasual in 2022
The full impact of the unprecedented changes to hypercasual marketing haven’t yet been truly felt. And, with further updates expected on Android as well as iOS, there’s more change afoot.
What does this mean for indie and mid-size hypercasual developers and publishers in 2022? Compared to a year ago, many are far more familiar with how to ‘do’ their own monetisation, a journey necessitated by the economic pressures of 2021. Done right, intermediate tailoring of hypercasual monetisation stacks or even expert building of business intelligence platforms is the route to maximum insight and revenue.
But with yet more changes to hypercasual marketing expected in 2022 and the risk inherent in experimenting with monetisation stacks, it’s likely that out-of-the-box tools will continue to be the go-to for the majority of publishers for the foreseeable future.