Article about the perception of HTML5 as a gaming technology on Gamasutra

I recently posted an article on Gamasutra about the association with HTML5 and gaming. I go in to a little detail about how we as HTML5 game developers can improve the perception of HTML5 as a viable medium for mobile gaming.

You can read the full article here: The public perception of HTML5 and its association with games

The relationship between visits, ad impressions and clicks

If you’re serious about monetising your mobile web games then you may well have considered placing adverts within them. You may well have also dismissed the idea as pointless based on previous failed attempts at raising any money this way.
Let me try and give you some encouragement to pursue it. I’ll share one or two of my own experiences whilst I try and decipher the potentially useful relationships between site visits and ad impressions. In a future related post I’ll also explore how you might expose your games to your audience for maximum effect.

Google AdSense

I’ve been using Google’s AdSense for a number of years and in recent months have seen a rise in revenues generated simply because I’ve paid more attention to it. Understanding where your traffic is coming from and how they use your site is very useful when considering how to adapt your strategies.

Back when I started to implement adverts on my web pages I had minimal traffic and it took two years to reach the threshold to receive a payment from Google.
Thanks to the rising popularity and accessibility of HTML5 games I am now going past that threshold in just a few hours every day.

I’ll dive straight in and take a look at the broadest groups that we would consider when discussing web advertising: visitors, adverts and clicks. More adverts = greater probability of clicks = potentially greater revenue; this makes sense. But one thing that I’m always curious about is how raw visitor volumes translates in to revenue. What are the steps and how can I measure it. What’s more once I’ve found a means to measure it how can I improve it?

Consider this workflow:-

VISITORS > ADVERTS DISPLAYED (IMPRESSIONS) > CLICKS > REVENUE

Essentially what I’m showing you here is a rather obvious and direct relationship between each step and the step that precedes it. Your visitors (i.e. each person to arrive on your web page) are clearly your starting point.
If I were to precede this step I may well consider Search Engines and other sources of traffic but for now I’m really only interested in what happens once we have our interested visitor.

CTR, CPC and IPV

There are some simple mathematics that can be applied to each step to give us some figures to play with and measure performance. The classic example is the relationship between steps 2 and 3; ADVERTS DISPLAYED > CLICKS. This is your Click Through Rate or CTR.

Web gurus the planet over will give you different answers to the optimum CTR. It really depends upon your site, its content and your audience.

The relationship between steps 3 and 4; CLICKS > REVENUE gives us the Cost Per Click or CPC. Here we see an average of just how much each click on an advert is worth.

Let’s apply some figures.

ADVERTS DISPLAYED = 1,500
CLICKS = 150
CTR = (150 / 1500) * 100 = 10%

A 10% CTR looks pretty healthy. One in ten of your visitors is clicking a link and therefore earning you cash. In reality this is probably (at least in terms of averages) a very high CTR. But regardless it gives you a starting point. Something to monitor, measure and maintain.

Let’s try some more figures.

CLICKS = 150
REVENUE = £22.50
CPC = £22.50 / 150 = £0.15

So each click is worth on average 15p to you. The mechanics behind all of this is of course in the guts of Google’s ad handling and the relationships that its advertisers create with its publishers in terms of bidding to have their adverts displayed. There are ways that you can improve your CPC but that is not for now.

I want to explore the relationship between steps 1 and 2. I’m no advertising guru so I’m unaware of an acronym to cover it. I’ll come to that in a moment.

On the face of it the relationship seems fairly obvious. If a visitor comes to your web page and you have 2 adverts within that page then you’ll register 1 visit and 2 adverts displayed. In advertising parlance these are commonly referred to as VISITS and IMPRESSIONS. So from now on I will do the same and I’ll call this relationship Impressions Per Visitor or IPV – the number of adverts display per visitor to my site.

It seems fairly logical that every time an advert is displayed it registers an impression. In Google Analytics I see roughly 1.7 times as many impressions as I do visits.
This may well be as a result of each game presenting an advert twice. Once on the title screen and once when the game is finished. i.e. at GAME OVER stage. I never display adverts during the actual game time.

But this in itself raises a question. Is the impression registered by virtue of the fact that the HTML element containing the advert is displayed again or as a result of a call to the Google servers to request the advert. The first scenario is really just a bit of CSS to render the element’s .display property as “block” and it seems ludicrous that this should register an impression. For all intents and purposes the advert was already there. Just not displayed.

If, as seems most likely, the only time an impression is registered is when the initial call is made to Google for the advert’s content then it seems to make sense that my games are being played on average 1.7 times per visitor. I only present the adverts in the games, not around the rest of the site.

Monitoring and using the numbers

An IPV of 1.7 gives me a starting point. But is it of any use?

What benefit could there possibly be in this figure. I know that raising my traffic volumes will have a direct impact upon my revenue by virtue of the fact that it will also raise my advertising impressions. Is there any point in encouraging this figure of 1.7 to rise?

Another thing to consider is that after each visitor has had 1.7 “goes” on my games they’re clicking a link. This effectively spells the end of their engagement with my site. They are now off to the advertisers web page and probably won’t be coming back. At least this is what I have to assume.

If I spend some effort in trying to encourage visitors to play on average 2 or 3 games and therefore raise my IPV to around 2.5 or 3 will it be of any benefit or am I simply delaying something that will most likely happen anyway? i.e. it won’t affect my overall click count.

To try and shed some light on it I trawled my Analytics data for the past few months. Here’s some figures.

August IPV = 1.53
September IPV = 1.53
October IPV = 1.59
November IPV = 1.72
December IPV (so far) = 1.83

What I can say is that I made a concerted effort to increase exposure to my games from within the PlayStar Arcade throughout October and November. I did this in a number of ways but mainly with some banner advertising to advertise my own portal. Some were placed in the games and some at the head of the site.

My IPV has risen. Prior to August the IPV was fairly static at around 1.5

Show me the money!

So crucially how does this translate in to revenue?

I’m not keen on divulging precise figures so here is a percentage shift through each month.

September saw a 2.2% rise on the revenue generated in August.
October (when I started to make significant changes to the portal in terms of promotion) saw a 37.72% rise on September’s revenue.
November a 26.48% rise on October’s revenue.
And finally December is I believe on target for a 32.36% rise on November.

So if you were to plot these on a chart you would see a dip but don’t forget this is a dip in rising figures. Although 26.48% isn’t greater than the 37.72% from the previous month it’s still a significant rise in the amount of money being generated.

A conclusion?

So there’s nothing entirely scientific in this just yet but a conclusion that I’m happy to draw is that by encouraging gamers to stay within the arcade (a good practice in any case) I am exposing them to a greater variety of advertising. This in turn appears to be converting more gamers in to “clickers”.

I naturally have a bitter sweet attitude toward this. My motivation for maintaining this arcade is not financial. I just love making games and seeing people play them. I don’t necessarily want to see every ounce of traffic disappearing to another web site because it’s a better option than playing my games. Sure any revenue generated is useful in maintaining my infrastructure but I won’t ever lose sight of the fact that what I’m here for is to make fun games.

I’ll go in to some detail shortly on the structure of the portal and how I’ve approached the challenge of retaining visitors and turning them in to loyal gamers.

Building your own mobile web gaming portal – an introduction

I always wanted to operate my own virtual video game arcade. A place where I could focus on building arcade games for people to enjoy and compete with their friends.
I remember back when I was developing my first JavaScript game about 5 years ago it was my ultimate goal to build a suite of games that would interface with my own system where scores, players and stats would be stored centrally. As a data nerd the prospect of poring over megabytes of performance stats was and still is a huge thrill.

In  my first couple of years as an HTML5 game developer I have enjoyed the process of crafting games and then reaching out to the market to licence them and move on to the next project. The revenue generated each time providing a strong incentive to press on.

Increasingly in recent months it seems that portal operators want to provide broader functionality to their user base. As a provider of games to their portfolio I am understandibly being asked to integrate my games, via APIs, in to their systems.
I don’t really have a problem with this and my games are structured such that it ought to be straight forward.
But there is a darker cloud on the horizon in the form of In App Purchasing (IAP).

If you want to lose my interest quickly start talking about in app purchasing. I despise it.
It is not a gamer’s solution and I am convinced that it is not something that gamers want. Sure they appreciate the free game up front but IAP brings with it an uneven playing field. Offering IAP in a social environment seems to me like a nonsense.

So a few months back I started to think about my own portal system again. What’s more I’m looking at turning my back on the market (or at least the majority of it) and designing the portal to be self sufficient. i.e. generate revenue.

This is no small undertaking. Successful portals operate efficiently because they have a large userbase. Lots of traffic means lots of eyes on your adverts and increased potential for that all-important click that will earn you a few pence.
With several thousand clicks pennies turn in to pounds and with enough pounds in the bank you can of course fund the kind of marketing strategies that will increase traffic and loyalty.

So what are the obvious barriers to creating a self sufficient gaming portal for mobile web gamers?

Simply put, games, traffic and web development knowledge.

Here’s a very brief intro to some of the key areas to consider.

Web development

I’m a web developer by profession so the prospect of assembling a system to manage my arcade doesn’t faze me in the slightest. In fact I rather enjoy the challenge.
Using standard WAMP tech (Windows, Apache, MySQL and PHP) I aim to build a system that will be capable of entertaining countless simultaneous players whilst recording their stats.
As the system takes shape I’ll share some more thoughts on its development.

Advertising

I’ve had a lot of success (thanks to the portals) placing advertising within my games.

Actually it is pretty much my only option since I’ve never planned to invite other game developers on board via a licencing model. I want the games in my arcade to reflect my tastes – retro, pixels, bombs, lasers, explosions and frantic pace.

Advertisers are targetting mobile in earnest. A quick look at my advertising control panel sees that hundreds of advertisers are pumping their ads through my channels every day.

I use Google’s AdSense. The adverts are placed on the game page within the markup and this page is for all intents and purposes just another web page. I configure AdSense to allow for targetting by advertisers and make a point of defining the content as mobile. Specifically mobile games.

The response has been incredible and my CTR and CPC are increasing all the time.

Traffic

So how do you make advertising work?

Well you need traffic. Lots of it.

One fifth of the planet has an active Facebook account. Specifically 1.19 billion people use the site every month. This is staggering. Of these users 874 million access the service via a mobile phone every month.

Social networking is a huge shot in the arm for anybody looking to reach out to gamers and build their own audience.

Of the 874 million people that engage with Facebook every day how many of those do you think would happily play a casual arcade game on their mobile phone?

How many of those Facebook users do you think own a smartphone capable of playing such a game?

Even if the answer to all of this is 10% that’s 87 million people. To just wave your portal banner in front of 1% of this potential audience is significant.

So how do you do all of this?

Well I’m by no means an expert but I’m happy to share my current findings and the strategy which I use.

In recent months I’ve seen direct traffic to my web site increase from 10 to 15% to around 50%.
I’ve seen average play times stabilise around 3 to 4 minutes whereas previously they were less than 1 minute.
Now that the games are centralised I’ve seen a huge increase in the amount of “activity” and movement between games. The same player will play 3 or 4 different games in a single session where previously they played just 1.
And crucially I’ve seen revenue from advertising increase significantly.

To stand a real chance of establishing a decent gaming portal for mobile web gamers I have identified the following key areas to focus on.

  • making great games
  • obtaining traffic
  • converting traffic in to “users”
  • converting traffic in to revenue
  • effective communication with the user base
  • retaining users
  • recording reliable performance statistics
  • understanding the data

So that lays the foundation.

In the posts that follow I want to concentrate on each of the areas outlined above to try and shed a little light on my approach and what has worked / failed for me in the few months that I’ve been operating my HTML5 game portal.

One thing that I will share ahead of all of that is my strapline for this project:

“PROVIDE FUN. NEVER LOSE SIGHT OF THE FUN. MAKE GAMES NOT JUST A MEANS OF EXTRACTING MONEY FROM PEOPLE”.

I have this written above my desk :)

Thanks for reading.

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