Kongregate Developers

The Sorting Hat at Kongregate

It was to be the last question of an Exec AMA to close out Kongregate’s day-long offsite: “Which Hogwarts House would the person to your right belong to, and why?”

The answers quickly revealed -- and were later verified by Pottermore -- that the four members of the Kongregate exec team in fact represented each of the Hogwarts Houses from the Harry Potter universe. A Gryffindor CEO, a Slytherin COO, a Ravenclaw CTO and a Hufflepuff CRO. We have symmetry!

We love to geek out at Kongregate, including tabletop game nights, 4-person Towerfall matches between meetings, desks adorned with Star Wars Lego vehicles and other collectibles, and a TON of web and mobile game knowledge. Now we had a new way to identify and organize ourselves. Nearly all of the employees have visited the Sorting Hat site and we’re remarkably balanced (see below):

Kongregate Employees by House (55 respondents)

What does this all mean?

Maybe it’s just random! Or maybe some of the diversity that we strive for as a company, and the acceptance of the different strengths and tendencies we each have, can be seen in a fun exercise like the Pottermore Sorting. “That’s such a Slytherin thing to say” is a typical comment in a meeting, and it is said with humor and respect. Even the less prominent houses from the books -- Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw -- have become sources of pride and identity across Kongregate (I’m a Hufflepuff). Slack rooms for the houses have forged some bonding across departments that otherwise would not have daily interaction.

Of course, knowing someone’s tendencies only gets us so far. As Dumbledore wisely said, "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

Author

Josh Larson

As CRO at Kongregate, Josh leads business development and ad sales, working closely with game developers, platforms, advertisers and other key partners. Driving success for independent game developers has been a focal point of Josh’s career, and he has held leadership roles with Mochi Media, Double Fusion and GameSpot.

His career in games is motivated by his parents’ refusal to buy him a Nintendo Entertainment System as a child.

Creating an Art Style

What is “art” and why do I care?

I don’t have what you might call an “artistic flare” for writing these, so bear with me. Much of what is said here will be geared towards video games, but it still applies to other forms of art. In my work as Studio Art Director at Ultrabit, I often have to tell artists to change their art to fit the goals of our project. This task creates a level of anxiety and uncertainty for most artists. You’re taking them out of their comfort zone and possibly creating a feeling of being set up for failure. One of the things that artists face today is the uncertainty of whether their art is any good. Since art is subjective, this is even more of a concern. What appeals to some, may look crude to others. How many times have you seen art, whether it be in a gallery or hanging on someone’s wall, and said, “Eww, you call that art?” Artists are often torn by what they are passionate about creating, and what they are obligated to create.

When creating from passion, there are no wrong answers: only what drove you to create in the first place. When it comes to creating art for others, it’s bound by so many restrictions, requirements, and scrutiny, that it can be quite difficult to get on the right path. So what makes good art? How is an artist to know if they’re on the right track? Truth is, that the only real way for an artist to know is if you tell them. Honestly of course. Hopefully the artist has developed a thick skin to handle the bad with the good. But constructive criticism and positive reinforcement goes a long way in letting an artist know they’re making progress. I learned the importance of this when I got into management. With a bogged-down schedule and hopping from meeting to meeting, I found myself focusing purely on what needed to be fixed. This created a negative impression to the artists and they always felt that I hated their work. The truth is quite the opposite. I always loved their work. But since I never took the time to acknowledge that, I came across as a bad guy. You would be amazed at how much morale improves, and the increased efforts from everyone around, if you just take a second to give positive reinforcement along with the constructive feedback. Artists are passionate people and the above really helps to extract the best of their creativity.

Non-personal art is at the whim of the public or whoever is commissioning the art, making it critical to know your target audience as much as possible. As an artist, the best you can hope for is that the target audience likes what they see. Thankfully, there are a lot of references out there to help us discover what works.

What is the target audience?

I keyed in on “target audience” in the previous segment, so I’d like to shed some light on what that means exactly. When creating art for a game, comic book, advertisement, or basically anyone that is not you, there’s a specific audience the client is aiming for. It’s the artist’s job to figure out what that audience likes and to create visuals that will appeal to them. In most cases with consumer products (speaking to games, comics, and other visual products), the initial hook comes from how pretty the package is. At first glance, does the art appeal to me enough to pick up the box? Is the packaging interesting enough for me to bother reading what it’s about?

Now, things have changed to some degree with everything going digital and the strong presence of social media. But if there’s not enough word of mouth, a consumer is left to judge on their own.

Let’s look at a few examples to show you what I mean. I chose these 3 art styles particularly because they target three common demographics.

Pokémon

Pokémon: a hugely successful franchise that has taken the world by storm. Why is it so popular? What got people to play it in the first place? Pokémon’s art style is geared towards mass appeal. They knew when they set out that they wanted something that kids would love, but would be charming enough to pull in the older generation. Accessibility was key in the creation of the IP's look.

World of Warcraft: MMORPG

Now we take a look at World of Warcraft: another highly successful IP with an art style that has captured millions. While WoW has global appeal, it takes itself a little more seriously than Pokémon. That’s to say, that it caters largely to an older crowd. Not old by most's definition, but not exactly toward kids. While there are friendly faces and charm that have allure to the younger crowd, there are also very dark and scary visages that might be too much for them.

Killzone: Shadow Fall

Then we enter Killzone: a successful IP on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. Some might not consider this to have an “art style” per se, but it certainly is a style. Photo realism is actually quite difficult to pull off well. Because people are already familiar with what is real and what is not, imperfections are far more noticeable. Odd proportions will look very off compared to stylized characters, where they are totally acceptable. Although Killzone takes a realistic approach to the visuals, the futuristic setting requires some thought in how to capture what’s not real, while making you believe that it could be real.

What type of game is it?

Once we’ve established who the target audience is, you need to establish what type of game the art is for. This is important because it can heavily influence the look of the game. For example, if the camera view is set to an isometric view, you might want to focus the details on the top of your characters. In a side-scroller, you might need to reduce the level of detail to keep POIs (points of interest) and characters clear and readable.

Let’s look at some examples that showcase what I mean.

Raid Brigade: Mobile and Web ARPG developed by Ultrabit

On Raid Brigade, we needed a camera angle that showcased all of the action going on while not being distracting to the user. An isometric view seemed like the best fit for this, as it’s been proven in other games featuring tons of action, like Diablo. In this particular view, we see that the primary read is from the character’s head and moves its way down. Typical with games, there are restrictions to how assets are built: poly counts, texture sizes, bone counts, etc. These constraints usually prevent the artist from being able to cram detail into every inch. So we have to be smart in our decisions to place details. This process helps us identify those areas. With Raid Brigade, we know the camera is locked at the angle shown and can only move further away. Since there was no chance of seeing details near the feet, it makes sense to allocate the most texture space to the head, and reduce as we move down.

There will be cases where every side of a building or prop can be seen with equal clarity. In cases like this, it’s generally best to give equal texel density to everything so that there are no pieces that stand out.

Limbo (I highlighted dangers and pathways for an easier read. But the game does a great job on its own)

Now we take a look at Limbo. What I love about this game is how they used shape and contrast to drive the player’s eye and guide them through the levels. This can be a complex task when making a side-scroller, since you’re only dealing with two dimensions. It’s easy to create too much detail and muddy the visuals, making it difficult for players to discern what you want them to see. By creating areas of contrast, you can guide players to go where you want them to go and see what you want them to see, creating an enjoyable experience for players without frustration.

BroForce

I put this BroForce image up because I wanted to show an extreme side to a game like Limbo. BroForce is a side-scrolling action platformer, similar to Limbo. But notice how much heavier the detail levels are. There is a ton of stuff happening in this image that creates a visually muddy experience. They do a good job of using contrast for paths and destructible objects. But the main characters are actually quite difficult to discern.

Team Fortress 2: Team-Based FPS

Team Fortress 2 brings us to a first-person view. When you can see everything in three dimensions, it can be more difficult to discern key focal points. Throw heavy detail into the scene, and it can be near impossible. When Valve created their team-based shooter, they encountered a common problem among class-based games: discerning one class from another. With each class being unique in its role, it was critical that players be able to tell what they were up against in an instant. Going the route of Unreal Tournament or Quake, where the only separating factor was the weapon, wasn’t going to work. The brain already associates shapes with just about everything. It’s how we learned as children, and that never ceases as we get older. So it was logical that Valve went with unique shapes to define each class.

TF2: Class silhouette chart

Looking at a lineup of the classes side by side, it’s easy to see the differences, thus giving players the recognition they need for competitive play. This is a great way to break down your art design to know if it’s working or not. It’s also a great way to start your designs before working up the details. I’ll go more into this a little later.

Research

Now that we’ve established the type of game we’re developing art for, it’s time to do some research. My personal preference is to use Pinterest. Pinterest allows you to create reference boards, or mood boards, to help you develop the style for your project.

Pinterest: Reference board for Raid Brigade

The internet has an endless supply of information and visuals to fuel your creativity. By creating a mood board to reference while you work out designs, you reduce the chance of hitting a creative block and mitigate bad design decisions.

I generally start with examples of other games or shows that are related to the game type we’re making. If we are making a game geared towards mass market, with Pokémon being the main influence, then I will start by pulling images of Pokémon, Puzzle Dragons, and any other similar art styles. When browsing for reference, try to also pull from sources you might not think are related. A great example of this is any time you are creating tech or futuristic armor. A trained eye can tell when you’ve completely made something up, as the form doesn’t look functional. I try to think about how the thing would work in real life. How do the pieces fit together or layer? What are the mechanical pieces that drive this? Does the panel open to reveal a missile pod? How does that work? If the armor is rigid, how does the person bend and move? Oftentimes I see designs of plate armor or Kevlar that covers the chest and midsection as one piece. How is the person supposed to bend or move in that? What I’m getting at is to try not to limit your references. Great ideas can be had from all sorts of samples. Motorcycles, engine parts, blenders, speakers, rockets, trees, buildings, electrical, guns, you name it. If you incorporate function into the form, your designs will come out stronger.

Style exploration

So we’ve collected a ton of references and are now ready to start some chicken scratch. How should we start? What should I focus on? This can vary depending on your mood. Sometimes I like to take an existing character and doodle them in various styles. This helps remove the barrier of trying to design the character while trying to discover the style. You can focus purely on the art style and leave the design portion for later.

Another method I like to use when I don’t want to distract my brain with details is thumbnail exploration. I mentioned silhouettes and shapes in a previous segment; here is where that comes into play. Create a page full of different silhouettes that are the size of a thumbnail each.

Huntsman Concept by Nick Shardlow

This allows you to focus on how the object will read before moving into the detail phase. While details are great, and might be necessary for some games, it is the absolute last thing you should do. I like to work in order of reads. Primary, secondary, and tertiary. Your primary read will be the silhouette of the object. Your secondary read will likely be how those shapes are broken up, often done through color or separating lines. Your tertiary read is all of the minor details that fill the voids. Things like pores, wrinkles, dirt, and scratches will make up these details.

Firefall Characters: Developed by Red 5 Studios

For art styles like Pokémon, the tertiary details are often left out, as they serve no purpose and are time-consuming to put in. Imagine what Pikachu would look like if he had a bunch of scraggly lines all over his body to make up the fur.

This step will take time and is ultimately the final stretch. Be patient, be adventurous, and don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. It’s easy to iterate on a singular idea and style without realizing it. But this is the stage where you need to really be trying to create variety. You never know what the client is going to like or what ultimately ends up working the best.

Set the gold standard

Many sleepless nights and much hair-pulling later, you’ve finally done it! Through the countless iterations of back and forth with the client, you’ve managed to come up with a style that the client is happy with. In a majority of cases, that piece will become your gold standard. A gold standard is basically the blueprint for all assets that follow. The quality, shape language, rendering style, and color palette will adhere to what was done here.

There will be times when you stumble upon the look without setting a gold standard. In that case, I would finish out the piece to become the gold standard. It’s important to have this, as it is a visual guide for everyone else to follow. This helps ensure a cohesive look across art assets.

Create the world

So now that we’ve established a standard for one type of asset, we’re good to go for the rest, right? Not so much. It’s likely that you will need to create multiple gold standards. In games, characters often follow different rules from props or environments. So you may need to create a gold standard for each of those. For some games, characters are the star of the show, so popping them as much as possible is key. This can be solved in a multitude of ways. Desaturating the environments to allow the characters to stand out. Reducing details in the environments. Outlining the characters. Having stylized characters with realistic environments. Whichever way is chosen, a gold standard should be created.

One of the ways I find that helps people visualize what this world will look like is through mood paintings. Mood paintings help create the atmosphere for the world. These can come before or after gold standards are set. They are really meant to help set a tone. What does the lighting look like? What time of day is it? Is it foggy or ominous? What does this level look like? Are we in a desert or tropical jungle? Are there monolithic structures or subterranean networks? Mood paintings help artists and designers put the world together.

Firefall: Diamondhead environment painting by David Kang

The End

Well, that’s about all we have time for. I hope this helped you in some way, shape, or form. There are many ways to approach this, so take what works for me, and see if any of it applies to your own process. Thanks for reading!

Author

Adam McMahon

Adam resides in San Diego, California, where he spent most of his childhood. He is currently Studio Art Director at Ultrabit: a mobile games studio in San Diego, which is part of Kongregate. He’s been making video games for over 20 years and has been working in management roles for over 10 of those years. Key titles he was involved with include EverQuest, Firefall, and the MLB series on PlayStation, among many others.

When he’s not working, he enjoys 3D printing, gaming (all types, including tabletop), wine, beer and whiskey tasting, karaoke, and any activity that gives him time with his wife and pups. His home away from home is in New Orleans.

Test Market Considerations: Countries, Timeline, UA and More!

At Kongregate, all of our published mobile games go through a rigorous test market period (a.k.a. geo-locked launch) lasting at least a month. This is an important phase of the mobile game product cycle, as it allows the team to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of the title through data-driven KPIs, and to make changes to address any issues we observe before we release the game globally, whether they are crashes/bugs, tutorial/retention drop-offs, monetization or ad engagement. In this blog post, we share our learnings from running test market campaigns, with a focus on the pros and cons of running tests in different parts of the world.

Phase 1: The Philippines

The Philippines is a popular country for testing. Players are cheap to acquire with Cost-Per-Installs (CPIs) typically ranging from as low as $0.30 to $1.00. This allows developers/publishers to hit a meaningful number of installs quickly and stay within budget. The caveat is that games with a niche theme and/or art might see higher CPIs; for example, our recently launched Pocket Politics (iOS/Android) saw a much higher CPI because of its American political theme.

For stability and compatibility testing, the Philippines is a great place to consider, as one will observe a wide range of devices and OS versions. Conversely, the in-game KPIs collected in this country are often not reliable or indicative of what KPIs might look like in the U.S. and countries in the Western world. Players are less likely to stay in the game and less likely to engage and make purchases, so don’t despair if you are seeing low early retention and monetization numbers!

Phase 2: Scandinavia (Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway)

Once you have verified and improved that stability of the game, you can expand to additional regions. The Nordic countries are great to run tests in because the player behaviors resemble those of U.S. and other Western world countries’ players, while CPIs are usually lower than those of English-speaking countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand (expect CPIs less than $4).

We often run tests for early retention (D1 and D7), ad engagement, and monetization in these countries, as the KPIs will give us a good idea of what they might look like once a game is launched globally. It is also possible to run A/B tests in this region and get meaningful results. One thing to keep in mind is that since these players are acquired through paid campaigns, KPIs will generally look higher than global metrics. For example, a D1 retention of 50% might turn into 40% globally when you get a mix of organic and paid players, as well as players from both high-performing and low-performing countries.

Phase 3: CANZ (Canada, Australia and New Zealand)

These three countries are the most popular among mobile game developers and publishers because players here most closely resemble those in the U.S. market and thus metrics can be more relied on to estimate U.S. KPIs. As mentioned before, keep in mind that players acquired through UA often show higher KPIs and engagement than those of organics.

The downside to running your test market in these countries is that the costs could be very high, as you will be competing with other developers and publishers who might be willing to bid up the prices to get volume faster.

Practical Things to Keep in Mind

  • Timeline
    • The length of the test market period will depend on the metrics you want to test and gain statistical significance on, as well as if any updates are needed to address any under-performing KPIs and/or fix any bugs. For example, to test for D1 and D7 retention, budget your time to get enough players past D7 and make changes to the game. Keep in mind that unless you are flexible with your global launch date, you likely won’t be able to address and test all issues, so it’s important to prioritize!
  • Budget
    • To determine what you will be able to test within a given budget, come up with an estimate of CPIs and install counts needed: CPIs vary by region as well as genre (i.e. casual games see lower CPIs and mid/hard-core titles see higher CPIs). A handy calculator to see how many installs you need based on the metrics you want to test can be found here.
  • User Acquisition
    • Ad Networks
      • To run UA campaigns to get installs, you will need to set up accounts with ad networks. Examples include Facebook, Unity and Supersonic. Different networks can bring in traffic of various qualities, with players from Facebook Ads usually yielding the highest KPIs.
    • Marketing Creatives
      • Your CPIs will also be affected by the quality of these assets, so it’s important to iterate on these if you are seeing a low CTR and/or CVR. It’s also a good opportunity to test different target audience groups to optimize your campaigns.
    • App Store Optimization
      • Test markets are also a good time to run A/B tests on icons and screenshots, as these will affect conversion rates. Google has built-in functionalities to set up these tests, so be sure to take advantage of them.
  • Platform Considerations
    • Approval Times
      • Remember that each time you want to push an update, you will need to wait for platforms to approve your builds.
    • Ratings
      • Monitor crashes each time you are releasing an update. Unexpected crashes/severe bugs that prevent gameplay can quickly lead to low ratings from players. Ratings are important, since they show both the platforms and the players the quality of your game. Average ratings are also harder to lift as the number of ratings grows.

And that’s it for now! If you are interested in how Kongregate can guide you through the test market cycle and help you publish your game, please email bd@kongregate.com for more details! For other ways of testing, and the pros and cons of each, check out our CEO Emily Greer’s presentation at this year’s Game Developers Conference.

Author

James An

James is an Associate Product Manager at Kongregate, but is better known as an aspiring Duck Game player internally. He spent 6 years in New Zealand and is a fan of Weet-bix, kiwis and feijoa candies as a result.

Help Your Players Help Themselves

Game players come in all forms, but they are united in their passion to play games. That’s why you make your games for them to enjoy. It’s very chicken-and-the-egg if you sit and think about it too long, but I like to go more with the “If you build it, they will come” viewpoint. Especially in terms of player help and support.

Players, and people in general, typically would rather try to Google/search/dig a hole and hope the answer is at the bottom of it before they want to talk to an actual person. Yes, it’s weird, the more the internet connects us all, the more adverse personal interaction becomes for some people.

So what do you do? You give them the structure to help themselves as easily as possible before they have to finally contact you directly. The only caveat is, if you make it too easy to find a contact option, many people will often just bypass any other information you might have prepared for them and contact you anyway. Yes, it’s a weird paradox, but when someone is very frustrated, they will often choose what they perceive is the easiest path even if that means they now have to wait on an email reply rather than just reading through your documentation to see if there is a solution immediately at hand.

The basic player support structure should start with no personal interaction, providing them with all the information they need in the form of walkthroughs, wikis, FAQs, and Knowledge Bases (KB). Eventually leading to being able to contact you (or your support staff) in some manner that is fairly easy to surface.

There will be some difference between what a simple, 30 level puzzle game might need vs. what a virtual goods integrated, ever-evolving CCG might need. Fortunately, many player support options are scalable depending on your game’s needs.

Walkthroughs to Wikis

The internet has come a long way from the old ASCII-picture-filled, text-based game walkthroughs. Those purely text-based walkthroughs later morphed into sites like the sadly no-longer-updated JayisGames, where you could find a walkthrough for even the smallest of flash games. Now players can easily create their own walkthroughs and wikis with simple templates and host them on a variety of free sites like Wikia.

Walkthroughs are great for puzzle games, as it keeps people engaged and helps prevent them from rage quitting on a game during a particularly hard level. Many developers already make their own walkthroughs and post links to them in the actual games or in the instructions, so it’s easy to find. This task shouldn’t be too difficult as a developer since you already know how each level should work out in the end. Developer Pseudolonewolf, maker of the Mardek games, even uploaded a “game” that is actually a walkthrough for Mardek.

When you move on from a walkthrough to a full-on wiki, it gets a lot more complicated and involved. As a developer you could create one of these on your own; however, you are probably pretty busy and don’t have much time to create a full wiki, let alone maintain it. This is a great time to foster your budding game community and encourage them to start a wiki. If your game is popular, odds are pretty good someone has already started one without your prompting, so encourage them to continue their contributions. You may even want to provide them with official game assets/art to make things look better for both your game and the wiki.

FAQs to Knowledge Bases

Creating an FAQ is easy because you know which questions many people have asked you repeatedly in game comments, emails, etc. You can compile a list of questions with their answers and you have yourself an FAQ you can post somewhere in-game, on your website, or even link to it in replies to comments on your game.

If you want to pump up the FAQ beyond the “frequent” part and include even more knowledge available for your players, it will begin to approach the realm of the knowledge base. Here’s the great thing, though -- you can easily turn your standard FAQ into a great Knowledge Base (KB for short)!

KBs are simply the big brother of the standard FAQ. FAQs tend to be just the few questions you get asked most often and the information is carefully chosen. KBs try to include every single possible question that might come up... for everything. KBs also tend to be sectioned off so that similar questions are all together, making it easier for players to navigate the information rather than just a straight list of questions like in a FAQ. Kongregate itself, as an example, offers a KB that is split into two main sections (player and developer) and then splits off into further themed sub-sections.

Formulating a robust KB often requires some outside thinking and possibly some outside help from someone who isn’t familiar with the game you’ve made. It’s your baby, you love it, and you know everything about it, but that also can make you blind to even some of the most obvious questions because you already know the obvious answer. Every time someone asks you something new, don’t be afraid to put it in your KB. More likely than not, someone else out there has the same question.

Support Access

When players have exhausted all your other help options and really do need to talk to someone about their problem, you’ll want a process that is beneficial to not only game community health, but also to you as the developer. Showing you are in-touch with your players’ concerns helps keep them coming back to your game and any future games.

There are three main ways that players can contact your support: game bug link, in-game support, and game community tools.

Game Bug Link

On Kongregate, the default contact option for players is the game bug link that appears below the right corner of the game just above the other tabs below the game.

This option is activated on the first page of the game upload pages where you can elect to provide an email address to which the game bug emails will be sent.

When players click the game bug link, they can write a message about their problem and it will get sent to the email address you provided. Then you will also be able to reply back to them directly.

In-Game Support

Many of the big MMOs provide in-game support for players to contact the game’s actual support staff. Typically, it is a link, like the one from Wartune shown below, that is there to provide access to both a KB and a ticket system where players can submit support tickets into the game’s support queue.

Whether you use the game bug link or in-game support, answering players in 3-5 business days (1 is awesome!) is a good standard to practice.

Game Community

The game community has multiple pieces to it like game comments, game chat, and game forums.

Many developers choose to respond to game comments (questions, suggestions, etc.), which provides an answer for anyone else who may be reading the comments and having the same problem. Game comments and replies remain visible to all players, which can help reduce the need for players to contact your team.

Game chat is good for answering questions on the fly for players as they play, but since it doesn’t keep a permanent record, you may find yourself answering the same thing over and over. That’s a great time to give them the link to your FAQ or KB!

For games that have forums, players will often post their questions there hoping you will answer directly. If you are a one-man team, that means you. If you are part of a development company, that may mean you have your own Community Manager to do the answering for you. Contract Wars is a great example of a game that leverages their game forums and Community Manager (who is employed by the game company, not Kongregate) to work with players on game issues. They use a combination of posting in the game’s forums with questions/concerns and private messaging with their Community Manager to help solve player problems that arise.

As an aside, forums also help players help themselves and each other, as they often can answer questions for you without you having to do it.

Have They Helped Themselves?

Overall, only time can tell if you’ve given your players sufficient means to help themselves. However, if you’ve provided them written documentation (walkthroughs, wikis, FAQs, and KBs) and you hardly get any direct emails, especially ones from frustrated players, you’ve probably done something right.

Author

Shannon Beranek

Shannon is an Asst. Community Manager at Kongregate and has been supporting players for nearly 4 years. She has a beagle who is also Kongpanion Tater, loves all things Tiki, and has multiple blackbelts in martial arts.

Kongregate's Rewarded Video API

We're excited to officially announce Kongregate's Rewarded Video Advertising API, now available to all game developers on Kongregate.com! This type of advertising, also sometimes called "incentivized ads" or "opt-in ads," has gotten particularly popular on mobile recently. It allows developers to give rewards to players who choose to watch an ad. It's a great system that's a true win-win-win:

  • Players appreciate the control over their experience and the rewards they can choose to earn. In fact, when ads run out or have a bug we get complaints from players, which is a great sign: "Hey, we want to watch more ads!"
  • Advertisers have found that due to the opt-in nature these ads get far better performance than interstitial, banner, pre-load, or any other ad type.
  • Thanks to that great performance, these ads have the best payout of any ad type, which is a win for the developers who use them.

We've been using this model of ads in some of our mobile games (AdVenture Capitalist in particular has done extremely well with them) and we wanted to enable our browser developers to have access to the same tools. The general flow with these ads goes like this:

  1. Provide players with a way to choose to watch the ad. They should never be forced to watch it, and can be given the option to watch either permanently (as a button they can click any time) or on a limited basis (you can watch an ad for a bonus, but only RIGHT NOW!).
  2. Initiate the ad, which will pop up on top of the game (so don't do it during action!).
  3. The player can then watch it (typically 30 seconds, max 60 seconds) and get credit in the game if they watch it all the way through.

For a much more in-depth analysis of in-game ads, check out Tammy Levy's excellent Best Practices: In-Game Ads post in our blog. You can also see examples of these ads already on Kongregate in a few games that participated in our limited beta of the API.

From a technical perspective, the API is fairly straightforward. You can check out details in our API documentation, but it just involves initiating and ad and using a few event listeners to handle the few potential outcomes. We are still hand-approving games that use this API, so when you are ready to try it send us an email at apps@kongregate.com and we can get you hooked up.

Finally, let's talk business. There are a few important points to note about these ads:

  • Revenue from these ads is considered an in-app purchase rather than normal advertising revenue. That means that instead of the normal 25% share you get of ad revenue, you instead will get whatever your share of kreds sales would be (typically 70%).
  • The eCPM (effective cost per mille, or dollars per thousand views) varies wildly based on market and times in the fiscal quarter/year. We tend to average in the $4 - $6 range (a good bit lower than mobile, but that's just a function of the browser rewarded video market at the moment). We've seen it sink to under $3 on occasion, as well as spike to over $10, especially around the end of a fiscal quarter.
  • Ad inventory is limited. We have made partnerships with a variety of networks to get as much fill as possible, but sometimes there simply aren’t any available ads. In these cases we will show a “house ad” for Kongregate so that players can still have a good experience, but these ads don’t pay out at this time. Again though, these are only shown when no paid ads are available anyway.

If you have any questions or would like to get the API turned on for your game, please send us an email at apps@kongregate.com. We look forward to seeing your games and the clever and fun ways that you will provide players with rewards for watching a few ads.

Author

Anthony Pecorella

Anthony has been at Kongregate for 7 years and is the director of virtual goods for browser games. He works to bring great games to the platform and help developers make a living with their games. He was the lead producer for the mobile version of AdVenture Capitalist.

Anthony also designs and develops games on the side with his indie game studio Level Up Labs, including the acclaimed tower defense RPG Defender's Quest: Valley of the Forgotten, and a MacArthur-grant-funded educational biology game, CellCraft.