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"Without a shadow of a doubt the launch of both app stores that year was game-changing"

AdInMo's COO Joanne Lacey reflects on the early days of mobile and delivers her pick of its biggest breakthroughs
  • “The launch of both app stores that year was game-changing, as was the release of high-quality mainstream mobile titles such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Angry birds”
  • “Data use, segmentation, and privacy changes are still among the top three user acquisition challenges for games marketers today”

As PocketGamer Connects celebrates 10 years of events this year, and the PocketGamer.biz website has a brand new redesign, we have been taking time to reflect on the mobile games industry's history.

We caught up with Joanne Lacey the chief operating officer at AdInMo and ex of such industry luminaries as Digital Bridges and the Mobile Ecosystem Forum. Lacey takes us through her pick of the industry's most significant moments and how the launch of app stores changed the face of mobile gaming forever.


PocketGamer.biz: Let's take things back to the start. What was mobile like back then and do you remember your first mobile phone?

Joanne Lacey: My first job in the games industry was in 2000, when mobile was nascent, to say the least! I worked for a platform company called Digital Bridges, which later became I-play, one of the first dedicated mobile game publishers. 

And I didn’t even own a mobile phone. I was given an Ericsson R380 to play with - and I use the word play loosely! Our first WAP games were developed to demonstrate to handset manufacturers that games did not need to be embedded on devices.

The Ericsson R380
The Ericsson R380

What significant moments in mobile would you say there have been?

If I was picking three stand-out moments for me personally that also chart the evolution of mobile gaming, they would be:

“Digital Bridges worked with Electronic Arts, Activision, Taito, Namco, and many other ‘traditional’ game publishers to develop their first mobile games on Java.”
Joanne Lacey

1. The first time the big guys dipped their toes into mobile

Digital Bridges worked with Electronic Arts, Activision, Taito, Namco, and many other ‘traditional’ game publishers to develop their first mobile games on Java.

It was an amazing opportunity to work with some of the most iconic game franchises, from Space Invaders to Tomb Raider. I will forever remember the full name and where to put the trademark in EA Sports™ FIFA Football 2003 Mobile International Edition.

2. iPhone and App Store launches

I remember a conversation in 2007 when I worked at Player X, a mobile games aggregator running game portals for MNOs like O2. A colleague said to me, "The iPhone is going to change everything." I optimistically or naively said, “Surely it’s just another phone we need to support…?” 

3. The emergence of data

In 2010, I worked with game analytics platform deltaDNA - now part of Unity - and launched a network called the Games Industry Analytics Forum to help educate developers about the power of predictive data in free-to-play games.

Look how far our industry has come in understanding the value of player data - it’s the bedrock of AdInMo’s approach to in-game advertising and monetisation.

Was there a specific moment when it felt as though mobile had really landed and was set to become the world's number one source for gaming?

Despite the above faux pas, 2008 was obviously a seminal year for mobile gaming, not least with the launch of PocketGamer.biz!

Having sold mobile games to device manufacturers, via mobile network operators and even in empty DVD boxes to retailers. Without a shadow of a doubt, the launch of both app stores that year was game-changing, as was the release of high-quality mainstream mobile titles such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Angry Birds.

Immediately more developers were inspired to consider mobile as a platform and crucially, it was the catalyst towards the free-to-play model.

The App Store on the first generation iPhone
The App Store on the first generation iPhone

In the age of targeted advertising and post-IDFA data privacy regulations, how have user acquisition strategies and marketing changed for mobile games and developers? What are some of the biggest challenges developers face in finding and keeping players? 

It’s been over five years since the IDFA apocalypse, and developers are still feeling its impact. A recent study of UA and ad monetisation managers identified that data use, segmentation, and privacy changes are still among the top three user acquisition challenges for games marketers today.

“If developers want to tap into elusive brand dollars, they need to embrace data transparency, not fear it.”
Joanne Lacey

Google mandating the use of a consent management platform at the start of this year was a small step forward towards our industry's taking a privacy-first approach. It definitely helps to connect the dots with the advertising ecosystem’s requirements for greater transparency when it comes to user tracking.

If developers want to tap into elusive brand dollars, they need to embrace data transparency, not fear it.

AdInMo’s intrinsic in-game ad formats don’t track players at all. We collect first-party data based on affinities and in-game behaviours to create a more relevant ad experience for players and, in turn, a more engaged audience for advertisers, which equals higher CPMs for developers.

Another challenge developers continually face is the need to improve the balance between player experience and making money, and this requires reducing the friction of both in-app purchase monetisation and in-app advertising.

AdInMo’s approach has always been player-centric, looking to serve the right ad at the right time without disrupting the game experience. It will be interesting to see which ad formats have fine-tuned this and will dominate the monetisation mix when PocketGamer.biz celebrates its 20-year anniversary in five years’ time. 

Finally, what do you have going on currently? And what excites you most about the future of mobile gaming or gaming in general?

“The shift toward hybrid monetisation in free-to-play right now is shaping the next phase of mobile gaming.”
Joanne Lacey

The shift toward hybrid monetisation in free-to-play right now is shaping the next phase of mobile gaming.

We’re working with our publisher partners and developer community to explore what this means for in-game. Indeed - plug alert - we have a live survey out to understand what everyone else thinks.

Team AdInMo is busy preparing for our next SDK release. This release, following our multi-format rollout earlier in the year, focuses on the player experience of in-game advertising.

We think it will revolutionise how developers use in-game formats as they look to diversify their monetisation strategies. I can’t say too much more now, but the beta programme opens up very shortly, so watch this space!