Mobile games rely on various strategies to monetize their games to generate a profit. Some of these avenues lead to a negative impact on gameplay, such as monetization via video ads. These ads pop-up during inopportune times as a player plays, which degrades the gameplay experience. Christian Facey and Wilfrid Obeng have observed the explosion of interest in audio as an advertising medium, and have created AudioMob to further it. AudioMob is a service allowing advertisers to reach mobile gaming audiences without disrupting the later’s gameplay via in-game audio ads. The London-based startup has raised over $2 million to date.
Frederick Daso: What are the limitations with current ad formats in video games?
Christian Facey and Wilfrid Obeng: Current ad formats are rigid and have influenced the structure of how mobile video games are made. A user has to be disrupted when all they want is to play the game for a video ad message to be conveyed is a weakness of the format.
This format has a limited lifespan which is coming to its end sooner than we think. The first limitation is currently rewarded video formats interrupt gameplay, and 67% of mobile gamers (YouGov) said they would prefer audio ads over video ads.
The second limitation is reliance on personalized information. Over the past few years, users have become more privacy-conscious, and privacy laws such as the GDPR and CCPA have improved user data transparency. Apple has also introduced IDFA changes which require apps to inform the user when their phone identifier is being used for advertising and tracking. As AudioMob can deliver contextualized audio ads through using signals within the game genre. These options are more flexible for the advertiser, game developer, and player can now exist.
Daso: Specifically, how do game developers navigate the tradeoff between monetization of the free version of a game through ads versus the potential negative impact on gameplay?
Facey and Obeng: Stereotypically, developers have viewed video ads combined with rewards as the most advantageous. This looks at how the game needs to be difficult enough and fun enough to entice the user to justify wanting a reward. The tradeoff is waiting 15-30 seconds to get the reward and continue having fun in the game.
However, for non-rewarded full-screen ads, as there isn’t an incentive, the developer decides how to optimize the gameplay mechanics to improve retention as much as possible. Suppose the user enjoys the game more than waiting for a non-rewarded ad. In that case, the developer needs to ensure that the user’s lifetime value (revenue generated from a user watching ads or purchasing in-game items) is higher than what they paid to acquire the user with an in-game video ad.
Daso: What are the fastest-growing sectors of the market you are tackling with AudioMob? What’s driving the growth among these customers?
Facey and Obeng: Mobile gaming is growing and is above 20% now. With the advancement of mobile handsets and the increasing sophistication of mobile games, more users are flocking to mobile games. Remember the games like snake and space invaders that could be on your mobile phone ten years ago, compared with games you can get on mobile now?
COVID 19 also vastly increased gaming sessions, which are likely to solidify at a higher level for the foreseeable future as more people are now accustomed to gaming. AudioMob is enabling developers to monetize this ever rapidly growing base of users non-intrusively while not cannibalizing existing game developer revenue streams.
The audio space is also growing at 23% a year, which is exponentially quickly. Spotify spearheaded the adoption of consuming audio content on the go. Podcasts then took off simply because you can do more while listening to the audio content than video. Now Clubhouse is leading the way in terms of audio content consumption, followed up by AudioMob, of course! People are busier now than they ever were before. We’ve seen in the news and around us that workers’ hours have increased. We’ve seen correlations with the increase in audio content consumption as you can listen while doing other things.
This is where AudioMob slots into this new, fast-paced world with in-game audio advertising. We are quite literally the only bridge between mobile gaming and audio advertising.
Daso: How are your audio ads deployed within a game while minimizing the impact on gameplay or accessibility for disabled individuals?
Facey and Obeng: Our audio ads are played on a user’s phone, during gameplay, with or without a clickable companion banner. We can detect volume levels, and audio is playing on the device level like a music track or podcast. When an ad is ready to be served from an advertising perspective, a muted player gets a visual notification to encourage them to increase their phone volume. If they aren’t in a situation where that is appropriate, they can decline the ad. We want to ensure gamers are provided the choice when it comes to advertising.
Once a player accepts an ad, and they’re currently listening to their favorite Kendrick Lemar or Adele song, and an AudioMob ad was triggered, we would pause your track at 1:14, play the ad and resume the song from 1:14 once the ad is complete.
In terms of accessibility, audio ads are helping remove the costs for mobile gamers with impaired eyesight. One of the game developers we are currently working with makes mobile games for blind users and used our technology to make a free version of their game with audio ads to listen to while playing rather than have to pay for the game.
Daso: What are the critical tradeoffs between video versus audio ads for game developers monetizing their game?
Facey and Obeng: Here’s the awesome and perhaps surprising part, there isn’t a tradeoff. A game developer can use our technology to incrementally increase their revenue without damaging retention or cannibalizing their video revenue. We’ve tested, and we know we can compete directly with interstitial full-screen ads, and compared with banner ads, we have 600% higher CPMs.
Thus, there isn’t a tradeoff when using our technology!
Daso: Both of you have an impressive track record of working at blue-chip firms such as Facebook, Google, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. What drove you two to leave your pedigreed, salaried backgrounds behind to build AudioMob?
Facey and Obeng: We both have an entrepreneurial streak at heart. I rejected a job offer at Google to work at a startup. I learned a lot at that startup, but in the end, I went back with my hat in hand to Google and got my old job offer back when it didn’t work out.
Wilfrid and I have in common is that we both knew we would own a company, and developing myself into an entrepreneur has been years in the making. In a way, I’ve never left big tech, I’m just working on the next big thing in development. The culture is something that I do occasionally miss, but we’ll work on ensuring that our culture works for everyone and that they love to work for AudioMob.
For me, as CTO, owning and driving a company was always an ambition that I shared with my managers, directors, and VPs at Google, who were very supportive of my goals. Each of the firms I previously worked with taught me different values and helped define his character. The decision to leave was based on the opportunity to build products at the cross-section of audio and mobile – echoing what was said earlier about being on the cusp of the next big tech.
Daso: Audio as a medium for social activity has blown up over the past one to two years. How are you leveraging this renewed interest in audio to help other entities such as creators monetize their content as well?
Facey and Obeng: Audio is a very, very hot area right now. As more advertisers, creators, and the general public look into this space, it has made it easier for us to educate these audiences on the benefits of the medium.
More people play mobile games than any other digital medium, and most mobile games and apps can be used as a distribution channel for an audio spot. It means we can provide more audio spot opportunities than most entities on the planet. It’s wild to think about, but it’s true!
We’ve had a substantial interest in the music space. Remember how hot the GTA V radio was back in 2015-2018 in the music space or the music player in FIFA? A lot of tracks within those games end up charting. Imagine, with AudioMob, you can now get your music into most mobile games, and if the user likes the track, there is a clickable call to action.
We see a 1000% increase in CTR / engagement, highlighting that AudioMob can drive artist affinity, brand recognition, streams, and general traffic from mobile games to other mediums such as a merch page or music platform.