How to find new income opportunities in a free game that has been strong for more than five years? Pixonic , based in Moscow, is one of the 100 game development companies with the highest income in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). He achieved that the monthly investment of War Robots players exceeded USD 5 million, with approximately USD 190 million in gross income for the entire life cycle of the game. And, given that they have had millions of players in the last two years, they have achieved it without sacrificing player participation or retention.
Add rewarded video ads to an online multiplayer battlefield game (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, MOBA)
Pixonic was founded in Moscow in 2009. Initially it produced games for Russian social networks. After several years of sustained growth, the team set out to develop an intermediate mobile game (mid-core) and made a limited launch (soft-launch) of War Robots in 2014: a third-person shooter with player-to-player battles (Player vs. Player, PvP) in real time in online multiplayer battlefield game mode (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, MOBA).
In 2016, Google said it was one of the “most exciting games on Android,” with more than 130 million installations and more than 1.5 million active users (Daily Active Users, DAU). Pixonic developed and maintained War Robots in Unity , a platform on which it recently implemented very successful rewarded videos.
6% increase in total revenue, representing millions of dollars, with rewarded videos
Lower user acquisition costs (User Acquisition, UA) when using Unity kinematics instead of expensive ads with computer-generated images (Computer Generated Imagery, CGI)
Designers can create and optimize game elements without waiting for developers or programmers
An open culture
Pixonic has always fostered an open study culture, both externally and internally. The tight Russian economy generates fierce competition and many see the video game industry as a closed and isolated environment. “We want to challenge that,” said Vladimir Krasilnikov, head of Game Design at Pixonic. “Sharing experiences helped both us and other developers. No company has all the industry experience, so why keep everything you do secret? The market is huge and there is room for everyone.”
Pixonic sends some developers to different industry events, such as Game Developers Conference (GDC), Tokyo Game Show (TGS) and Unity White Nights and Unite conferences, among many other events. “Upon his return,” Vladimir explained, “we ask you to share, sometimes as speakers, what you learned from others, both inside and outside the company.”
This constant learning and exchange contributes to another strong attribute of the Pixonic culture. What many call \ “live ops \” (live ops), is what Vladimir would probably call \ “kaizen \”; that is, the best continues. “I am not sure we have integrated a live trading strategy for War Robots , because it is still under development, but we add features all the time.” He joined Pixonic in 2015, after the launch of the game and his first task was to fix design bugs. “I did it and, since then, we continue to add features on the fly. I would say that we are still a development team rather than a live operations team.”
Reasons why they chose Unity
Vladimir noted that Pixonic chose Unity for different reasons. When he opened the studio, there were few intermediate games (mid-core) in the mobile segment. The Russian video game industry was taking its first steps and it was difficult to find talent with the experience to develop a more complex game like War Robots . However, there was a growing group of expert Unity developers.
The fact that Unity is compatible with several platforms was also a clear strength. “Before joining Pixonic, I had worked with other development engines and being able to easily make products for different platforms is a huge advantage of Unity.” Today, Unity supports 27 platforms, including Oculus Rift, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Linux.
Unity’s ease of use, especially for designers, was also a decisive factor. “If our artists want a special tool or effect, we don’t have to wait for the programmers, because Unity allows us to create a lot on our own. We adjust the parameters to get the experience we want, it’s that easy.”
Creating a promotional video completely in Unity Editor
War Robots was one of the first games to include a promotional video sequence in the Apple App Store, a feature that “definitely boosted downloads and was very positive about metrics.”
Pixonic did not hire any special animation team: they produced all the content themselves in Unity Editor without additional budget. “The conversion rates were higher when we used Unity clips of the game itself than the ones we obtained with much more expensive CGI videos,” he added. They continue to use CGI for other purposes, such as reducing the CPI (cost per impression) of common ads.
Integration of rewarded video ads
Pixonic began to monetize War Robots with purchases from the application (In-App Purchases, IAP), but as the game’s popularity grew, the team began considering video ads. “We didn’t want ads and we received a lot of comments from the Facebook community that the players didn’t want them either,” Vladimir said. “But we saw that other games used the ads quite successfully, which allowed them to increase their income without losing players.” If we allow players to access premium content by watching ads instead of IAPs, they experience a richer game and can delve deeper into the game, which improves retention.
Unity’s own research showed data that managed to convince Pixonic: 71% of users prefer monetization through video ads, while only 4 to 5% of players respond to IAPs in free games . In addition, the success of rewarded ads doubles that of unrewarded ads.
According to Vladimir, “We had several heated discussions, but we decided to try the rewarded video ads.” Their initial guidelines for the announcements were: to make them work for the top, middle and low level player segments; quickly orient them to new players (because they tend to defect soon); Limit sequential ads and limit the reward of the ad to an equivalent of two or three cents per ad.
For Pixonic, it was important to vary their offers and provide players with an option, so they implemented the ads in War Robots as follows:
According to Vladimir, “The video ads did not influence the funnel of the tutorial because the users did not leave the game and, in reality, we got positive comments from the players who liked the incentives.”
Pixonic discovered that 40% of iOS players and 50% of Android players saw rewarded ads. High level players looked at the ads more than low level players and users who had previously used IAPs looked more than users who never paid: 66% versus 44%.
“The paying users are your most loyal audience: they treat your game like a hobby and want to get all the rewards they can.” With the ads rewarded, War Robots revenues increased 6%, representing millions of dollars a year. The cannibalization of other revenue streams has been minimal or non-existent, and has had no impact on user attrition.