Mobile Ads Provide (Limited) Boost to Small Game Developer

In many respects, game developer Limbic Software is the David in the standard man-versus-giant analogy. The company has just five employees, and was founded only 18 months ago.

But Limbic started off 2010 in a big way with a three-day blitz on mobile ad network AdMob to garner more attention for its TowerMadness 3D strategy games.

The campaign boosted awareness of the game, according to AdMob’s figures, driving nearly 15,000 downloads in 72 hours. However Limbic’s chief operating officer, Iman Mostafavi, said this particular strategy may make more sense for companies with bigger budgets or ones that produce applications that are more expensive to download.

Fullscreen capture 1272010 61828 PM.bmp.jpg In Limbic’s TowerMadness game (pictured), players must protect flocks of sheep from attacking aliens. (Or, as the Limbic Web site puts it, “Nefarious aliens are coming to turn your beloved sheep into intergalactic scarves!”) The first version of Limbic’s TowerMadness game, available for $2.99, launched in May 2009.

TowerMadness Zero, on the other hand, is a free edition that debuted in October and comes with ads that appear when game play begins and when players resume previous play. Partners like Greystripe Networks and Mobclix have sold those ads, Mostafavi said.

“We took a risk and provided the entire game for free – but with ads – as an experiment,” Mostafavi said.

Two weeks after the free version launched, the Limbic team got their answer: It was #1 in the Strategy Games category and #2 in the overall free downloaded apps in Apple’s App Store. Mostafavi said the game remained in the top rankings for a few weeks before dropping off again.

But Mostafavi also said that when TowerMadness was ranked #2, the game was getting 60,000 downloads per day. He joked, “You need a Super Bowl ad to generate that much (attention again).”

As a result, Mostafavi wasn’t expecting quite as many daily downloads from a three-day campaign with AdMob. But he was curious whether an experiment with AdMob would boost TowerMadness back into the top echelon of game rankings.

The campaign ran January 1 through January 3 across AdMob’s network of approximately 3,000 apps, and AdMob text link ads sent users to the TowerMadness Zero page in the App Store.


According to AdMob, TowerMadness Zero’s ranking was boosted from #38 to #9 in the Strategy Games category. AdMob also said the game reached the Top 100 in the Games category, with a peak rank of #73. The boost from the AdMob campaign lasted for about two weeks, said Mostafavi.

In addition, AdMob targeted ads separately to iPhone and iPod Touch users, and found that iPod Touch users represented a better audience for TowerMadness. Brendon Kraham, senior director of ad sales at AdMob, said this is because the iPod Touch appeals more to a younger audience and notes the game’s target audience is men aged 18 to 34.

And the cost per download for iPod Touch was much lower for Limbic, since the number of iPod Touch users who clicked through and ultimately downloaded the game was higher than it was for iPhone users. Because AdMob charges per click, a higher click to conversion rate for iPod Touch users meant the cost per download was less.

And while Limbic was happy with the results, Mostafavi says he considers it a learning experience. “We know it works, but it’s not a permanent solution. It wears off after a few weeks.”

What’s more, he said it may not make as much sense to push this particular app through this route as it would with an app that is more expensive and can better afford the cost per download.

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