Effectively monetizing your mobile game isn’t always the easiest of tasks. Joining an ad network and sticking a few ads up is simple enough, of course, but making the best use of your advertising space so as to drive as much revenue as possible is much more difficult.
Our round-up of the 15 best ad networks and mediation platforms for mobile game developers is meant to clear up some of that confusion. We’ve looked at over 50 individual networks and hand-selected our favourites.
Now you might be thinking, “Why don’t I just go with any old network? Surely they’re all the same!” Different ad networks cater to different types of advertisers and publishers. The “Ad Network & Media Partners Performance Index” shows just how disparate the performance of networks can be. Payment models also vary and not all will work equally well for your app.
How we’ve evaluated the different networks
First off, we’ve looked for networks that advertise (no pun intended) that they are specifically targeted, either wholly or in part, at games developers. We’ve found that networks that have mobile games at the forefront of their mind tend to have features and functionalities that enhance the performance of in-game apps. In particular, the design options and ad formats that are offered tend to be based on an understanding of what works best in games, whilst the analytics tools that are included are also usually game-developer-centric. Similarly, it’s important that game developers work with advertisers, either directly or through the medium of an automated exchange, that will appeal to their user base. Invariably, game-focused networks hold a preponderance of these advertisers.
Secondly we’ve looked at the specifics of the features available on each network. The key word here is “specific”. There is a lot of overlap between what’s offered – most networks will offer the same set of standard ad formats, a programmatic (automated) ad serving exchange, some kind of direct marketplace…the list goes on. It’s very often that extra little feature that makes the difference, such as the ability to serve house ads to your own user-base, such as with MobVista, exclude certain advertisers from serving your app, as with ChartBoost, or the fact that a mediation platform doesn’t have it’s own ad network, such as with Upsight, and therefore isn’t competing with third parties.
The mediation companies
Most app developers use a mediation platform – which allows them to access advertisers from other networks along with the platform’s native network. One of the most commonly-cited issues with smaller ad networks, particularly for game developers, is a low ad fill rate. By using a mediation network, you can rank your various chosen networks to favour those that perform best. There’s also the practical benefit of only having to use one SDK.
It is important to bear in mind, however, that whilst you can access third-party networks through a mediation platform, many of those networks have unique features that it’s not always possible to utilize unless you’re engaging directly. It’s also important to consider supported formats, targeting and bidding functionality.
There are a handful of mediation platforms that have a strong focus on mobile games. Before jumping into the specific networks, let’s take a look at them….
MoPub and Admob
We haven’t reviewed these two networks individually because they’re so widely-known. MoPub is the biggest app ad network and mediation platform in the world, whilst AdMob, which is run by Google, is another huge player.
Should AdMob or MoPub be the go-to for those starting out?
If you’re starting out, AdMob and MoPub are good networks to begin with. They offer all the standard features of a large mediation platform and also act as a good baseline with which to measure the performance of other networks. You’ll also be able to sample all of the major ad formats and analytics functionalities.
Mobvista is a game analytics and and mediation network that was founded in China in 2013. It has been responsible for driving the success of several high-performing games in Asia. NativeX, an ad network focused on mobile games that is included in the top 15 list below, is owned by Mobvista, so you’ll be able to take advantage of their native ad technology.
The support that Mobvista provides for other networks is pretty extensive and their list of supported formats is a godsend for gamers. App-walls, ad feeds, interstitials, video, icon, native, banner…all are supported. You can also use the platform’s technology to serve your own in-house ads to your followers. If you’re looking for a hands-off approach, Mobvista’s internal algorithm, which utilizes copious amounts of data, will do the backend leg work for you.
Upsight is a completely unbiased mediation platform, which means that it does not fill ads from its own network. It has also recently acquired Fuse Powered, which was a mediation platform aimed squarely at games developers. Because it doesn’t serve any of its own ads, there’s no competition against third-party networks. Instead Upsight relies on charging a fee or revenue share. Upsight provides a well-developed segmentation and analytics platform, which means that ads are targeted at the appropriate users.
Propellor is a UK-based ad mediation platform with a focus on mobile games. Many publishers cite the simplicity of the platform as a major plus along with the high degree of automation, which ensures optimum revenue generation from ads. Most ad formats are supported.
4. iRonSource (formerly Supersonic)
ironSource is another mediation network that is noteworthy as far as game developers are concerned. It’s heavily game-centric and boasts a huge portfolio of clients that are effectively monetizing their mobile games. Their SDK is designed to integrate easily and seamlessly with big game-focused ad networks. Their delivery process is based on a “weighted” system, whereby requests are sent to top-performing ad networks in parallel, rather than exhausting one network’s inventory before moving onto the next.
Fyber is one of the better-known SSP (supply-side-platform) mediation platforms that enables developers to sell their ads through a range of networks, automatically optimizing ad revenue in the process.
They offer an extensive array of services, encompassing mediation, a direct exchange & an ad server, alongside advanced publisher tools and analytics. Their dashboard is highly customisable, so if you choose to go with them you’ll have a lot of opportunity to determine the kind of blend that you want of automated mediation, direct deals and serving from their own network.
HeyZap is an ad mediation network aimed primarily at games-developers that combines an in-depth approach to segmentation with a variety of ad formats. The user interface is also very simple and so a good choice for beginning developers. They have a number of well-known apps in their portfolio, including Crossy Road and Governor of Poker 2.
ChartBoost is a San Francisco-based ad network targeted exclusively at game developers, dealing mainly in interstitial and video ads. One of Chartboost’s main draws is the high degree of customisation that is offered.
Their key features include:
- Free interstitial and video cross-promotion – This feature allows you to cross-promote your new titles to your existing app traffic. Suppose, for instance, that you were responsible for creating Temple Run and you wanted to market Temple Run 2 to all of your current users. You could use Chartboost’s network to run and track an ad campaign…all for free!
- Direct marketplace – One of the best features of Chartboost’s marketplace is functionality for making direct deals. You can pick exactly which games will be promoted to your user-base or pick which games you will be advertised through. There are no intermediary fees so you can earn up to 100% of the profits.
- Transparent automated marketplace – Because Chartboost is a games-only network that focuses on ad delivery to active gamers, app developers can receive highly-targeted users at scale. The system is very transparent and developers have full control over which advertisers they include alongside access to information about which adverts are being shown. There are also a host of game-specific features, such as “in-play”, a design interface that allows developers to create ads that render in the gameplay environment, offering a seamless native experience for players and another testing option for developers in their pursuit of optimum ad revenue.
- Analytics tailored to games developers – Chartboost offers a range of interesting analytics tools and reports, such as their monthly global heatmap that details the average cost-per-install of apps on iOs and Android devices.
As a game developer, it’s worth testing out ChartBoost with your app before trying out other ad networks. There are no other services of a similar size that cater directly to gaming appreneurs.
8. Unity Ads
Unity Ads is a network geared specifically towards games built with the Unity engine. The focus is on video ads that integrate seamlessly with Unity games. The network can work particularly well for developers because it targets users that are interested in playing a particular type of game.
On the downside, some have complained that the Unity Ads network provides a low fill rate. The main benefit here is the ease of integration (no SDK is required for Unity-built games) and the quality of the ads. If you do have the right country/device demographics for targeting, using the network can be quite lucrative.
Vungle is an interesting network, and one that game developers should take note of. The network serves only video ads and relies in part on an extensive in-house team of creatives to provide a genuinely unique ad experience for app users.
They also have a software-driven marketplace, called Premium, where developers are able to sell their ad space. If your app is at the peak of its popularity, then Vungle’s internal ranking system can often work particularly well in your favour. There is also a private marketplace where, with Vungle acting as the intermediary, you can sell ad space directly to premium clients.
MobileCore, which is part of the group of companies that includes software giant installCore, is another ad network that’s targeted primarily at gamers, with an emphasis on serving ads that fit seamlessly with games. They are an Android-focused ad network but now also have an SDK for iOS apps too.
mobileCore has pushed a handful of unique ad formats. Their “stickeez” format, for example, makes use of a customizable, brandable pop-up icon that renders into a full overlay, whilst their “In-Stream” interstitial ads offer a range of options for players. If you’re app is designed for Android, it’s worth testing a few of their unique ad formats and tracking how they perform.
NativeX describes itself as the “leading native ad technology for games”. That’s a pretty big invite for game developers if ever I’ve heard one! They specialise, as you can probably ascertain from the name, in native ads. Their commitment to this particular ad format, which is one of the top-performers in mobile games due to its unintrusive nature, means that developers have access to a range of uniquely-suited advertisers. They have a host of testimonials from reportedly happy game developers.
Their lightweight SDK can be managed from their web portal so is a particularly easy option for developers who aren’t overly tech-savvy. Many of their ad formats, such as “triad videos”, also offer customisation options for players, such as allowing them a choice of which videos to watch. They also have extensive tools for tracking and analytics as well as running your own loyalty programme (offering rewards to your players, for example).
TapJoy is well-known as a CPI (cost-per-install) network with a range of advanced targeting features. It offers interstitials and offer walls, alongside direct play ads (where a game can be played inside another app for a brief period).
TapJoy has strong relationships with several ad mediation companies and so can provide high fill rates. It’s a big network, with some pretty hefty financial backers, so it’s well worth checking out if you’re a developer. As an added bonus, they also have powerful retargeting features and and the functionality to easily run in-app promotions and utilize push notifications, as two examples.
InMobi is a huge ad network that has placed personalization at the heart of its approach to advertising. It creates what are called “discovery zones” in apps, advertising spaces that “learn” about user behaviour and deliver tailored ads accordingly. The network has a huge user baseand has garnered a number of awards, including being named one of the “most disruptive companies” of 2013.
InMobi’s approach is all the more remarkable because it’s been given so little attention by other networks. When you think about it, the idea of data-driven personalized app ads seems like a no-brainer. They also place a strong emphasis on the creative quality of their apps, with display, rich media, video and native ads all supported. It’s possible for developers to organize their campaigns by making direct deals with advertisers or by using InMobi’s programmatic exchange.
Playhaven is an ad network exclusively for mobile games and it makes no apology for it. It offers advanced segmentation technology that allows developers to target ads at different subsections of their player base at different times. There is also functionality to promote in-house ads to users. The network focuses on interstitial ads.
Some developers have reported uniquely high eCPMs with Playhaven and their non-incentivized ads mean that the advertisers they attract tend to be of a high quality overall.
Kiip works slightly differently from the other networks on this list. Their toolkit is easy to integrate with your app and includes a host of unique tools. In conjunction with their partners, they work by offering rewards, both real and virtual, to your player-base, with revenue earned whenever a reward is redeemed. It’s a genuinely unique approach to advertising because it offers players value, advertising other brands at appropriate times (such as when a player has completed a level), whilst allowing developers to monetize. Some developers don’t even view it as advertising!
Many developers, particularly game developers, leave big chunks of revenue on the table when it comes to choosing an ad network. It’s important to remember that advertisers, ad formats and segmentation tools can vary widely across networks, so developers should always be testing and analyzing the different ones that are available to come up with their own winning mix.