Success Story

Hardcore gaming publisher Netmarble triples user retention with AdMob rewarded video ads

Hardcore gaming publisher Netmarble triples user retention with AdMob rewarded video ads

Since its founding in 2000, hardcore gaming company Netmarble has launched a series of popular titles, including Lineage 2 Revolution, Marvel Future Fight , and Seven Deadly Sins. The Seoul-based company has an extensive international reach, which is powered by their vast knowledge of global markets and tailored strategies for game publishing.

Netmarble’s mission is founded on bringing joy to gamers worldwide and leading the global gaming culture. For years, in-app purchases (IAP) were the centerpiece of Netmarble’s revenue strategy, but recent shifts in market dynamics nudged the company towards exploring alternatives. In 2019, User Acquisition Marketing leader Taehun Kim took a major step in Netmarble’s ad monetization journey — launching rewarded ads in one of the company’s major games. With rewarded video ads, Netmarble created a new revenue stream and tripled user retention for users who opted in to watching the ads. Netmarble also noticed that AdMob’s cost-per-thousand impressions (eCPMs) and rewarded video impressions outperformed baselines by 118% and 42%, respectively.

Innovative solutions in a competitive environment

Although Netmarble had prior experience with rewarded ads in smaller games, it had never thought to integrate ads into major, hardcore gaming titles. However, market research showed that an increasing number of mid-core and role-playing gaming (RPG) companies were adopting new ad monetization strategies. The gaming competition was getting tougher, and Netmarble needed additional sources of revenue to supplement its IAP strategy. Netmarble quickly realized it was not maximizing revenue, and was potentially losing out on a crucial revenue stream. The team had also seen reports on rewarded videos increasing user retention, and knew that previous games with rewarded ads saw higher user retention. These reports, coupled with Netmarble’s need to boost revenue, encouraged the company to take the step towards rewarded video ads.

Netmarble started to consider rewarded ads as a possible new format for their Seven Deadly Sins game, but Taehun’s team had concerns. First, the team wasn’t sure whether rewarded videos would negatively affect IAP, which was the company’s main source of revenue. Also, because a new ad format would change the flow of the game, the team had to carefully monitor user feedback for potential dissatisfaction. Finally, there was no technical precedent on the team for this type of work. “We’d relied so heavily on IAPs in the past that we had limited technical experiences with ad monetization — especially SDK integration,” says Taehun.

Blending rewarded videos into hardcore games

“Our partnership with AdMob in our other titles was already strong. We have higher eCPMs with them, and the AdMob team helped a lot with rewarded ads adoption — so picking AdMob was an easy choice,” says Taehun. The Netmarble team strategized with AdMob on how to implement rewarded ads alongside IAP into Seven Deadly Sins. The game features carefully thought out storylines and intricate imagery designed to keep the user engaged throughout the game. To maintain this engagement, Taehun decided that ad placement would be key. “We put a lot of thought into designing the user flow for the ad, so that the user wouldn’t be distracted,” says Taehun. “We also tried to naturally blend the ad into the existing content as much as possible, so that the users wouldn’t think of watching ads as a separate task.”

Initially, the team placed ads only in highly frequented areas of the game — such as on the game’s gacha page or the virtual mailbox, where users go to receive items. They then adjusted the placements based on user feedback. To strike the right balance, Netmarble analyzed the relationship between the value of the reward and the ad opt-in rate of the specific placement.

Netmarble worked closely with AdMob on the ad implementation and on determining the right metrics to track. “AdMob provided a lot of support during the pre-launch period, which helped us minimize issues,” says Taehun. Together, AdMob and Netmarble chose to track impressions, and eCPM. Additionally, Netmarble measured the ratio of when rewarded ads turned a user from a non-purchaser to a purchaser, the retention of these users, and their game event completion rate.

Strong results allow further investment into UA

Since Netmarble had experimented with a smaller game before, the team felt comfortable rolling out AdMob rewarded ads for all players on Seven Deadly Sins. Netmarble noticed that users who opted in to watching rewarded ads had 3x higher retention rates than those who didn’t opt in. Netmarble also saw that AdMob eCPM was 118% higher than the average eCPM of the game, and AdMob impressions accounted for 42% of all rewarded ad impressions.

Netmarble now uses rewarded ads on more than 10 of its globally available apps, which span RPG, casual, and hardcore games. With increased retention rates also came opportunities for growth as Netmarble reinvested this additional revenue into user acquisition efforts. Taehun plans to keep working with AdMob as his team continues to experiment with different ad formats.

For hardcore gaming companies interested in ad monetization, Taehun’s advice is to set up clear KPIs and decide in advance how to measure them. “Often, hardcore games have low daily active users (DAU), so ad monetization revenue, which is based on DAU, could be low,” he says. “It’s necessary to pay attention to the impact the ad has on the user and what kind of user behavior you want — rather than focusing on revenue alone.”

After successfully acquiring Kabam in 2017 and Jam City in 2015, Netmarble is now focusing on expanding into other genres. In the next five years, the company aspires to build on its international presence and will continue to evaluate and develop ad monetization options as part of its global offering.

Our partnership with AdMob in our other titles was already strong. We have higher eCPMs with them, and the AdMob team helped a lot with rewarded ads adoption — so picking AdMob was an easy choice

Taehun Kim, User Acquisition Marketing, Netmarble