In 2011, developer Halfbrick used its wildly popular game Fruit Ninja on a service called OpenFeint to promote Halfbrick’s new endless runner Monster Run. As a result, downloads spiked by 123% in two days and catapulted the app from obscurity to the top of the charts.
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Publishers have been cross-promoting within their portfolio of games since the days of yore. Halfbrick was one of the first to use the tactic in mobile, but other successful publishers have followed suit. Zynga, for instance, gave special gifts and messages to FarmVille players on Facebook, later carrying the practice across to mobile.
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However, mobile is an industry of constant change, and tricks change over time. Lately, players have become more “fungible,” a finance term that mobile marketer Eric Seufert now uses to describe players rapidly jumping from one app to the next. With very casual games on the rise, more developers have a large portfolio of games and the motivation to cross-promote between them.
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For small games, ads shouldn’t appear within the game itself. That applies to cross-promotion ads too. Voodoo, arguably today’s biggest super casual publisher, places a box in the start screen to highlight another high-performing game from their portfolio. The box doesn’t look like a traditional ad — rather, it’s a Polaroid-esque frame that calls attention to itself as something special.
Ketchapp, Voodoo’s largest competitor, tucks some cross-promotion ads away in the content of The Line, a path-drawing game. For instance, the developer created skins inspired by their other titles, with a button leading to the other game’s app store alongside each option.
Don’t be afraid of pop-ups
My Talking Tom developer Outfit7 uses 12 types of ads to cross-promote between their apps, yet less than half of those bring in more than 85% of cross-promotion traffic. As with ordinary ads, use ads wherever appropriate but try to focus on the high-performing formats — usually video.
Pop-ups that occur close to gameplay — for instance, at the end of a round — get a bad rep, but they’re also typical in the world of super casuals, where retention is measured by the hour and monetization needs to kick in early. Developers can still make pop-up ads work by putting a cap on frequency and allowing players to immediately exit the ad instead of making them wait until the end of the video.
A/B test ads — and games, too
Split testing (also called A/B testing) is typical for discovering which ads perform best. Outfit7 constantly tests ads to weed out low performers, using an impression-to-conversion ratio to determine how effective an ad is.
Publishers with large portfolios are now able to split test the games themselves and choose which ones to cross-promote heavily as a result. Five years ago, a publisher may have heavily advertised a low-performing game they believe in — but in today’s more competitive market, only the best can survive. Ketchapp seems to be particularly swift, throttling cross-promotion for games that don’t perform well almost immediately after launch.
The largest changes in cross-promotion are yet to come. With publishers like Voodoo proving the success of large portfolios of small games, many more will follow suit; Zynga, for instance, already bought casual game dev Gram Games for $250 million. Also, ads are becoming more common in games. Even huge publishers who used to rely solely on in-app purchases are now using ads, accustoming their users to seeing promotions. In the future, successful publishers will be those who experiment to find the best ways to cross-promote — and keep their best players all to themselves.