Pro tips for successful ad monetization in games

In this informative article, Natalya Simdyanova, Head of the Ad Monetization department at ZiMAD, tells how the ad integration process works and what technical problems may arise during and after the process to achieve successful ad monetization in games.

Close interaction between the monetization and the technical departments is one of the key factors in the successful monetization of game projects. It is definitely important for the former to be aware of the main technical features of the project in order to properly integrate advertising solutions and maximize their effectiveness. Natalya Simdyanova, Head of the Ad Monetization department at ZiMAD, tells how the ad integration process works and what technical problems may arise during and after the process.

Stages of Ad Monetization Integration

Ad integration is a complex process that usually consists of several stages:

1. First, you decide how you will work with the ad code, either through mediation or directly. For traditional types of ads like Banner, Rewarded, or Interstitial, the market offers a row of major mediations, making the choice easy. Each ad mediation has its own features, pros and cons, and exclusive offers. But, for example, for Audio and Branded ads, the process is a bit different—integration is carried out directly.

2. Once you have chosen a 3rd party mediation platform, you need to figure out what types of ads you are currently interested in and what you want to integrate into your project. Long-term planning is important at this stage—it is crucial to understand whether there will be new integrations in the future so that you can immediately identify a mediation that can cover these needs. Also, you need to determine both the set of ad networks that support the type of ads you want and their way of integration within your ad module.

3. Today, the industry has plenty of ad networks that can be either officially supported by mediation or integrated custom through the same mediation. This means that they are not officially supported by the mediations, and all questions regarding the code must be addressed directly to the network.

Each mediation has its own documentation on integration, where you can find guides and ad integration stages for each platform and engine (iOS, Android, Unity, Unreal, Godot, Cordova, React Native, etc.). Most frequently, at this stage, the AM provides the developer with general documentation and defines all the above-mentioned points.

4. At ZiMAD, the monetization team knows that each type of ads has its own events in the code that include ad creation, loading or failed loading, display, ad clicks, and additional events like “destroy” or “hidden” for different types of ads. It’s useful to know such things in order to understand and realize how ads work from both sides.

5. It is important to keep track of SDK versions and adapters. There is a significant difference between these terms. An adapter is the connecting piece between your ad mediation and the SDK of the network they provide, the conduit between the two shores, so to speak. So why is it important to keep track of versions?

First, errors are never off the table, and most often, you can see bug fixes in changelogs. Secondly, networks do not stand still—they adapt to changes in the game world and add new types of ads, improve the operation of their ads, and add interesting features and optimizations that can improve the process of displaying ads and compete more thoroughly in the waterfall and auctions. Thirdly, updates can help lower the ANR (Application Not Responding) rate or get rid of sudden project crashes. It is worth noting that the AM needs to keep an eye on the ANR rate and Crash rate of their project, as these metrics are highly dependent on ads and, in turn, affect the performance of the project itself.

In addition to direct ad integration, mediations provide a set of features that improve or simplify the process of working with ads: Various SDKs that help, for example, to catch a problematic creative asset; API for transferring statistics from their reports directly to your reports; ILRD or User Revenue to improve UA’s work on project payback. This is where the monetization specialist, together with the company, analysts, or UA team, decides whether they need this after weighing up the pros and cons and defining the terms of integration.

Integration is all set—what’s next?

During integration, the developer can ask questions about the type of ad, like how it should be displayed correctly or what elements must be present. Some ad networks do not oblige to use all the components described by them, but some are critical for integration—without them, the ad network may not count a display or even send a warning or alert and block monetization. It is important to check with your account manager or support for technical nuances when integrating a particular type of ad. 

After defining the main points of working with ads, integrating them, and finalizing the integration on the side of the technical team, the QA testing process begins.

At this stage, various technical difficulties usually arise, bugs pop up, as well as questions from the developers and testers.

What should a monetization specialist do to perform a thorough ad check?

– Customize and provide documentation of ad testing

– Provide the list of networks and the type of ads that have been integrated

 – Provide the list of countries where the ads will be launched. Not every network works according to the same scenario: Some can work only for certain countries, while some have ad testing only if debug mode is enabled inside the code.

All these nuances must be communicated to the tech team in advance.

Each mediation and network provides an opportunity to enable the debugging mode—launching test ads to check if they work correctly or add the Device ID of the tester that will be receiving these ads.

Traps and Pitfalls During Tests

A variety of errors can occur during testing, and most often, there are different codes for each error. Mediations provide the interpretation of the code and its meaning, but the descriptions of such errors and their names may vary from network to network. The list of all errors can be found in the tech documents in the Error Codes section of Developers. 

Usually, QA specialists encounter the No Fill or Ad Network Missing Required Signal Data errors. You should realize that not all networks can provide ad coverage for a particular user in a particular country. Sometimes, there are simply no ads, although technically, the ads go through the whole flow. The test mode may not work perfectly. In such cases, it helps to change the country via VPN or contact your account manager and ask for their help. As a last resort, you can send a debug build to your account manager and check debugging together.

The most common errors are:

– Ad Load Too Frequently: occurs upon too frequent requests for ads during testing. In this case, you just need to wait. 

– Unsupported SDK Version: It’s a signal that you need to check the SDK version and update it to the latest one (Changelog has information about the latest versions and included fixes).

– Server Error: This can also be related to an old SDK version or incorrectly entered ID on both the monetization and developer sides upon integrating unique project IDs.

Reports about incorrect initialization of the ad network SDK most often mean that the developer has incorrectly integrated the network in the code. It’s better to recheck the integration according to the instructions and documentation. 

It is also very important to check the statistics when testing: the request, response, and impression sections should display numbers, based on which you can make sure that the ad has responded and has been displayed. There are cases when an ad has responded, but there are no displays—most likely, it was not matched, and the response to the request was “Fail or no ads.” But the worst case is if the ad has been requested and the response box contains zeros, which means there is a technical problem.

Eliminate errors during tests

It is advisable to monitor the creative asset shown to the ad network with the help of QA specialists:

– Are all the elements enabled and displayed correctly?

– Is the sound of the advertisement turned off by default, or does it have such an option? The player may get scared if the volume is turned up to maximum.

– Is there a button that closes the ad? The button should be sufficiently visible and clickable and perform a direct function of closing ads without redirection to the store. This problem can be tracked in the statistics by a too high CTR (Clickthrough rate), which means that the user tries to click several times on the creative to close it, but something prevents them from succeeding.

– Are there any black screens? It’s an issue that sometimes occurs on the network side.

– No creatives with indecent ads.

Synchronized work of departments is the key to success

In many companies, the monetization department is quite disconnected from the technical department, which can be a bottleneck for ad operations and impact its performance, revenue, and important metrics like ARPDAU, eCPM, Fill rate, and, ultimately, the ROI of the projects.

Monetization and development teams must work together, supporting each other at all stages of preparing the game for release. As you have already realized, special attention from both departments should be paid to the testing process because, in case of problems, you will have to go through all the stages of ad integration again. And this, in turn, will significantly affect the profit of the game at the initial stage.

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