In-play ads, the use of advertisements diegetically within a game, are going to become increasing important in mobile gaming. At least that's what Dodreams CEO Erik Pöntiskoski tells us, as we discuss his philosophy behind these advertisements and the development of Dodreams' game Drive Ahead.
Hi Erik, can you tell us a bit about yourself and introduce us to Dodreams and Drive Ahead?
"Thanks a lot, and I guess I’ll start with a favourite topic: myself. I joined Dodreams on Valentine’s Day in 2014, and before that worked in sales, business development and recruitment. I also lectured in marketing at the Aalto University School of Business here in Finland, where I studied for a marketing PHD. My job is to focus the Dodreams team’s vision and build a commercial pathway to success for the studio.
In terms of the company, Dodreams is a games developer based in Helsinki. We have nearly 20 employees, and we aim to bring family and friends together by crafting shared moments of crazy fun. We do this principally through our flagship title: Drive Ahead! This is a gladiatorial arena battle game for mobile, which has enjoyed 225 million downloads globally. We’re currently readying a huge update for the game that will bring in a real-time multiplayer mode so that you can battle your friends and family online for the first time."
What does in-play advertising offer a developer like Dodreams?
"At its core, in-play provides a new, alternative income source that supplements our other revenue streams. It’s great because it doesn't adversely impact our other advertising revenue and it doesn’t cannibalise our in-app purchases (IAPs) either. In other words, it’s a bit of a no-brainer and helps to provide financial stability for our studio via a predictable, reliable stream of incoming cash.
So money is, of course, the primary benefit. But there are other exciting possibilities unique to in-game advertising that Dodreams has capitalised on, and we believe bringing premium brands into the creative of the game itself, via advertising, elevates the user experience. We must also consider that in-play offers advertisers the opportunity to participate in something that’s important for their audience, and this is hugely beneficial for a brand."
You mention IAPs - how do in-play ads fit into Dodreams’ financial model?
"At the moment, we’re running about a 50/50 mix in terms of the IAP and in-game advertising. But this wasn’t always the case. Over time, our understanding of designing free-to-play games and how to monetise them has grown. We’ve learned to understand our audience’s behaviour better, and have subsequently been able to grow the amount of repeat in-app purchases and provide a healthy income.
In learning to understand our audience we carried out a significant amount of research that provided us with mountains of data, and I’m not talking about general consumer demographics, although we do have those, but actual behavioural data including psychological profiles, info on how people interact with the game, and perform as consumers. When we started talking to Adverty about using their services, we mentioned that we had all this first-party data, and they were extremely excited about how it could be used to target gamers with in-play ads, especially in this privacy-first era. Adverty has been able to use the data to find direct advertising deals for the game and demonstrate to brands that advertising in computer games is worth their while."
Could you elaborate a little on what you perceive to be the creative benefits of in-play advertising?
"In a nutshell it’s about providing our players with an authentic, engaging experience, and there’s no doubt in-play ads creatively contribute to this. When we launched Drive Ahead! the game’s environments included fake ads to enhance the experience and increase authenticity. So it’s amazing that we now have real ads from brands like BMW programmatically appearing in the game, it absolutely elevates and authenticates the gaming experience.
On a similar, slightly tangential note, we occasionally negotiate licensing deals to integrate brands into Drive Ahead! A good example of this is when Hot Wheels featured in the game, which proved a huge hit. We got some amazing feedback from the community, which was delighted Hot Wheels was aware of Drive Ahead! It proves that brands should do in-game advertising to stay relevant and topical to the everyday lives of consumers."
And finally, what are your hopes for the future of in-play in regard to the opportunities and possibilities they present Dodreams?
"In-play ads provide us with a number of important things. We can guarantee advertisers and brands eyeballs, and in return we get a flow of income that combines with our other revenue sources (such as subscriptions). This allows us to build new and exciting features for Drive Ahead! In this way, In-play offers a great way of monetising a mass-market audience.
Because of this, I can see many more games studios, brands and advertisers joining the in-play party, and this will result in an increasing number of exciting ad formats. Which we can then integrate into our games and use for different creative applications. Digital advertising works best when brands operate in the spaces their customers inhabit. Branded gaming content has, historically, been very difficult to do. Now, thanks to in-play advertising, it’s easy for brands to be in the right place (at the right time) to meet and engage with their consumer in a relevant, appropriate way that enhances the customer’s experience."
Erik has offered us some fascinating insight into the process being in-play advertising. It may very well be that this ends up becoming the standard. It would be a massive shift in the perspective advertisers have, but if they need proof, Dodreams' games aren't a bad place to start.