Athena Studio is a mobile gaming company that has been developing and publishing casual puzzle games since 2015. The company prides itself on having a data-driven and collaborative game development culture. “When Athena Studio makes a product, it involves the entire team. We all have input into the final product,” says Jocelyn Tran, Head of Product at Athena Studio. Everyone at Athena Studio has access to game data, and is encouraged to analyze the data and contribute to product decision-making.
It’s this mindset that drove Athena Studio to try bidding, a real-time bidding solution from AdMob that maximizes revenue without needing constant monitoring. Before bidding, the team worked with waterfall mediation but needed a new way to streamline monetization without harming user retention. bidding showed a positive uplift in metrics across the board, with a 15% increase in average revenue per daily active user (ARPDAU), a 20% boost in revenue per thousand impressions (RPM), and a 97% higher chance of users retained in the game for 15 days or longer.
Though Athena Studio was happy with waterfall mediation, the rapid-fire growth of the industry called for a more automated solution. It was starting to get difficult for Jocelyn and her team to balance time spent optimizing the waterfall and maintaining a great user experience. “I had to work with a lot of other ad networks to discuss the placement, which ad network should come first, and the floor price,” says Jocelyn. Athena Studio’s complex set up — which consisted of up to 5 calls to their top two networks — also proved challenging to maintain. The business depended on maximizing ARPDAU, but everything — from running the ads to analyzing the data — needed to happen faster.
In 2019, Jocelyn heard that AdMob was introducing bidding and she was thrilled. “We’d been waiting for this solution,” she says. The team felt comfortable testing bidding based on their previous experience with AdMob’s mediation solution.
“We strongly believe that in-app bidding is the only solution that benefits advertisers, publishers, and users. Even better, AdMob has a reputation that we trust, and that is the most important factor for us in business partnerships.”
Head of Product, Athena Studio,
An eagerness to experiment
Athena Studio’s data-driven culture always encourages the team to try new tools; however, they require robust experimentation prior to making any changes. Having had previous experience running A/B tests on Firebase, Athena Studio was well-equipped to dive head-first into their test.
To start, Athena Studio met with its AdMob account team for a walkthrough on how to set up bidding properly. Next, Athena Studio chose a small iOS title, and ran a test between bidding and mediation on 100% of the title’s 20K daily active users (DAU). 50% of their users went through regular waterfall mediation, and the other 50% through bidding.
Jocelyn and the team planned to track three key metrics — ARPDAU, RPM and retention — throughout the course of three months. The team used a combination of Firebase and ad unit related testing to track their chosen metrics. For retention, Jocelyn used Firebase to test whether bidding or waterfall mediation performed better. To monitor RPM and ARPDAU, the team created new ad units for their bidding and waterfall tests, and tracked revenue and impressions with internal testing.
“Although this was a totally new tool for us, the overall implementation was easy because we had a lot of support from the AdMob team and the supporting documentation was great,” begins Jocelyn “so we’re grateful to have such a dedicated support team”.
Increases across retention and revenue
During the experimentation phase on the tested title, Athena saw a 7% uplift in ARPDAU and a 15% increase in RPM with AdMob's bidding solution. When it came to retention, bidding was shown to increase 15-day retention by 2% more compared with waterfall mediation. In its biggest title Color Island, Athena saw a 20% uplift in RPM and a 15% increase in ARPDAU. Most importantly, bidding helped keep the user engagement steady, meaning Athena Studio saw revenue increase while keeping the gaming experience intact.
“For us, these numbers were really impressive, because we have a really big user base,” says Jocelyn, “So if we have an uplift of 10% on ARPDAU, it’s huge for the business.” Athena Studio found that the AdMob platform provided a smooth transition as they moved from waterfall to in-app bidding. The team was able to roll out bidding to all games across Android and iOS, while combining this with the waterfall mediation that continued to run with some long-standing partners.
Additionally, the setup and data analysis process now happens much faster since the bidding and optimization takes place in real time. The time that used to be spent on discussing prices with ad networks and analyzing revenue data can now be used to improve the game or the user experience. With everything running in real-time, Athena can make immediate business decisions with clear data. “We are really, really happy with AdMob bidding performance,” Jocelyn says.