I am always on the lookout for monetization models that can augment or disrupt the gaming space and I have recently come across a hybrid one that has great potential. I think subscriptions are a great way to create recurring revenue and increased loyalty. I am also a big fan of in-game advertising, as it allows players who would not normally monetize to gain greater value from a product while delivering revenue to the creator. I also recently noted the success of hypercasual games, which has been driven by advertising.
Recent research in the streaming space highlights an intriguing opportunity for game companies. A survey of consumers with connected televisions found that 76 percent are open to see ads in exchange for free streaming services. Additionally, 64 percent of consumers say they don’t plan to add a subscription video streaming service in the next year.
There are two very important implications of this research. The first is that while traditional subscriptions are still promising, many people are reluctant to add more subscriptions to their monthly burn. While it is still too early to understand the impact of Coronavirus, people may become even more conservative with their cash flow as they have to deal with a new economic environment. Second, rather than ask people to sign up for a regular charge, they are more likely to agree to a subscription if the cost is “free,” simply watching an advertisement(s).
For game companies, this peanut butter cup (the combination of subscriptions and advertising) presents multiple opportunities:
- Create an additional subscription stream where players deliver revenue through ads. While the amount you can generate has a lower ceiling with ads, you can still build a subscription model using ads. By relying on ads rather than purchases, you also reduce customers’ barrier to signing up so you are more likely to get high pick up rate.
- Use advertising to drive a game streaming service. While Stadia, and possibly Apple Arcade, have not gained much traction with a traditional subscription model, an ad-driven purchase model might allow them to get critical mass.
- Leverage ad-driven subscriptions to sell flow of regular game or content release. If you are a hypercasual publisher, an ad driven subscription model can give players access to X/month games.
Ad driven subscriptions can also be integrated into different stages of your customer lifecycle or a broader subscription model. Rather than asking people to commit before they are hooked on your product, allowing players to subscribe by watching ads the first month or the first three months lowers their risk while getting them to become a subscriber. You then convert them later in the funnel to full paying subscribers.
You can also allow players who have lapsed or churned to renew their subscription by watching an ad. Thus, if they had to cancel because of cash flow issues or if they were not getting sufficient value to cover the cost, ad-driven subscriptions are an additional way to retain some revenue from these players and keep them in your ecosystem.
While offering an ad-driven mechanic for customers to subscribe creates many options, it also presents challenges. First, one of the great benefits of subscriptions is that it gets your customers invested in the product. This makes them more committed and engaged. If they acquire the subscription by watching an ad(s), they may not be as committed to the long-term relationship. Second, to generate sufficient subscription revenue, a customer will need to watch or be exposed to multiple ads. If they are just watching ad after ad in one sitting, the value you can deliver to advertisers will be minimal. You will need to come up with creative solutions to generate enough ad revenue to justify providing a subscription. Finally, a subscription requires regular purchases, which is how subscriptions delivers reliable revenue. It is simple to bill a player regularly for their subscription and it becomes passive activity for your customer. With advertising, they will have to proactively watch ads every time the subscription renews. One potential alternative would be showing interstitial ads or ads in another frame, rather than relying on a watch-to-earn mechanic.
Figure it out
Just because nobody before Reese’s thought of a good way to combine chocolate with peanut butter did not mean it was a bad idea. It is the same with ads and subscriptions. The companies that crack the code first for merging these two monetization models are likely to see great returns.
- Two of the most promising business models to grow the game industry are subscriptions and advertising, so combining the two can create a unique opportunity.
- There are three ways game companies can leverage this opportunity: create an in-game subscription option that incorporates ads, use subscriptions to grow a streaming service or publish a flow of games that customers subscribe to via subs.
- Challenges include generating enough subscription revenue through ads, getting customers to feel committed and figuring out a mechanic for players to renew.