Video games have been considered a social experience ever since the 1980s arcade era. According to Caroline Lee from A Thinking Ape, mobile games are no exception — as the studio proves with community-driven apps like Party in my Dorm. We recently spoke with A Thinking Ape marketing producer Caroline Lee to understand how player relationships can inform marketing campaigns and power F2P monetization.

  • The user comes first, always. The better you understand user needs, the easier it is to serve and engage an entire community.
  • Rewarded advertising is not just about monetization — it’s a quality of life issue. To users, in-game rewards enhance their experience by keeping their needs met.
  • Addressing customer privacy is one of the critical challenges facing mobile developers in the years ahead. The studios that succeed will be the ones who adapt to new marketing and promotional strategies.

Thanks so much for talking with us, Caroline! Can you tell us a bit about A Thinking Ape and what your role entails?

At A Thinking Ape, we make social games. We believe in building communities, which means all of our games focus on community and social activities. We have four live titles at this point, and we have one in development.

For my role as a marketing producer, I’m responsible for finding new opportunities to grow our products by acquiring users, nurturing them, and more recently, expanding our monetization strategy for Party In My Dorm.

When it comes to mobile game development, what is A Thinking Ape’s philosophy? How do your games stand out in a crowded marketplace?

Our philosophy is to build communities! The entire company started when our founders made a chat app that eventually expanded into a gaming app. We discovered that these social and gaming audiences merged quite nicely — people like being social when they’re playing games. The rest is history.

All of our games emphasize social interactions between users. That’s what makes ATA stand out. When I first started with the community team, I had the privilege of meeting our players and interacting with them daily. They really valued the fact that they could form real friendships with unique people. Making that vibrant community of players our core focus is what helps us stand out.

Your games have a heavy social component. How does this play into your monetization or marketing strategies?

The players come first, always. As a marketer, I have to understand what they want and need. For example, we know that user avatars are a huge game component, so how can they get the virtual currency to buy them? Some will purchase currency directly, but others will turn to the offerwall. A few will only complete purchases during a currency sale, so you need to consider a sale frequency that meets those needs.

All successful marketing strategies employ an element of empathy, a fact which is often ignored in today’s data-centric climate. And it’s easy to see why — with such a wealth of data at our disposal, it can be tempting to let the numbers, alone, dictate strategy. But the reality is that data is only meaningful when it’s analyzed with a lot of care and the proper context. Numbers must be read through the lens of a broader understanding of the audience, the brand, and ultimately, the goals of the product. Without that component, numbers can be easily misinterpreted or misunderstood. When it comes to monetization, a deep understanding of your players lets you make better, more informed decisions that actually enhance their experience.

What role does rewarded advertising, and the offerwall specifically, play in your monetization strategy?

For us, rewarded advertising didn’t start as a monetization strategy — it was a quality-of-life matter. Some users prefer free options, and we wanted to satisfy the entire community — not just our paying users. Offerwalls are popular among our users because they provide an alternative path to premium currency without disrupting gameplay.

How has rewarded advertising (video or offerwall) had an impact on IAP? We sometimes hear developers talk about incremental growth in IAP and retention after implementing rewarded ads, is this the case with A Thinking Ape?

We didn’t see any drop-off in IAP revenue, but we also had a very stable economy beforehand. Party In My Dorm is the only one of our apps that uses the Tapjoy Offerwall and we’ve been pleased with the new revenue it has unlocked for us. By speaking to players, conducting surveys, and reading user forums, I am confident that our users gain a lot of value from the rewarded ads and appreciate the additional source of premium currency which is the main thing for us.

Looking at the future of mobile gaming, what trends do you predict we’ll see in 2020 and over the next few years? How is your company preparing to adapt?

Privacy is more and more important to consumers, which means there will be actual tangible consequences for failing to protect user information. You can already see it taking shape with laws like CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act). Developers are already trying to prepare by making sure their apps are just a little more kosher than before.

In my opinion, once this becomes more prevalent, it will become harder for any brand that specializes in targeting and selling ads for mobile apps. Companies will need to get a little smarter about it. We might even see a split between genuinely unique games, like Untitled Goose Game, and games that are associated with a brand like Disney. That’s another reason why ATA is sticking to our social model — because it’s so unique to our products in particular.

What are some of the key things you look for when choosing a new partner to work with for video or offerwall monetization?

The first thing we look for is performance and results, but that’s a conversation starter — not a guarantee. In my experience, performance between partners is comparable because there are so many following the same models.

What I’m looking for is a strong partnership — the customer service, the people I’m working with every day, and the sincerity that comes with it. I always look for a partner who genuinely wants us to succeed and that you will go to bat for my team because I’m batting for you too.

Tapjoy would like to thank Caroline Lee for taking the time to join us. For more insights from our Mobile Champion developers, check out our interview with Kenneth Wong, Director of Hothead Games.

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