With over 180 years combined industry experience, Futureplay’s offices in Helsinki, Finland, is one of the strongest mobile game studios around. Not only have their Build Away! and Farm Away! titles seen over 14 million downloads and counting, but the team is having a blast doing it.
We spoke to Camilo Fitzgerald, an analyst and one of the keys individuals behind Futureplay’s success with their unique business model.
Building from Scratch, with Monetization First
Founded in 2015, Futureplay was created from the start with a different strategy. “No game studio has put rewarded video advertising at the forefront of their company strategy,” Fitzgerald said. Futureplay’s founders saw an opportunity with the rewarded video strategy, but were also keenly aware that they’d need to approach it a little differently.
“The trouble was that developers typically added rewarded video as an afterthought,” Fitzgerald said, “we wanted to change this, and coined the term ‘View-to-Play.’” The team began building games with rewarded video as the primary monetization strategy.
“We defined a business model in which mobile games are built from the ground up around rewarded video,” he concluded.
This strategy bore fruit quickly for the Futureplay team. Just a year after founding the company, two games were available and Fitzgerald said the company was both run rate and lifetime profitable — anyone who’s been in the mobile game startup business knows what an accomplishment this is, for the rest of, it’s a huge achievement.
“With our initial focus on View-to-Play metrics,” Fitzgerald explained, “We’ve pushed our ad KPIs higher than we’ve seen before.” Futureplay sees upwards of 5 impressions per DAU, 80% daily ad conversion, over a $0.10 ARPDAU with IAP excluded, and user LTV north of $2.
That’s not stopping the Futureplay team though. “We plan to release three more games in 2017 to give us a really solid revenue base, grow further, and take more risks,” Fitzgerald said.
Building a Balancing Act
Fitzgerald explained that by creating the company around rewarded video, the “View-to-play” model, the team had to be careful to create an amazing experience that would support those ads.
“The most effective monetization models will likely have a combination of both rewarded video and in-app purchases approaches,” he explained, “But a strong View-to-Play model means you don’t need to aggressively push IAPs.”
“The number one factor in engagement is the games themselves,” he said. “We strive to make games that are great fun to play with rewarding progression, competitive/cooperative social elements, hourly/daily/weekly loops and a quirky style that reflects our humor to keep players engaged.”
That great gameplay is then combined with rewarded video. “The View-to-Play model is a great way to balance user experience against monetization,” Fitzgerald explained. “Typically only a few cents are generated from each video, but the format allows all players to support developers for free instead of generating tens or hundreds of dollars from the 2% of players who spend on in-app purchases.”
That philosophy allows Futureplay to build engaging and excellent experiences that use rewarded video as part of the game, rather than an ad experience tacked on top of a game.
“In our first title, Farm Away, for example, a smiley sun appears in the farm as the entry point for an ad placement – not hidden in a menu or a ‘watch now’ button that breaks game world immersion,” Fitzgerald said. “This sun activates a mini-game after the ad is viewed in which current profits on the farm can be doubled.”
“The mini-game is so much fun that we find a huge share of players watch the ad even when there’s no profits to double!” he said.
The look and feel of Futureplay’s games are also designed from the ground up to be engaging and work with the feel they’ve established. “Our art is generally cute, colorful and stylised,” Fitzgerald explained, “we also tastefully exaggerate our style and aim to be relevant to wider audiences.”
“Games like Adventure Capitalist and TapTitans were inspirations for our first two titles,” Fitzgerald said. “We brought their idle mechanics to new audiences and put our own personal touch on them. We also look up a lot to Supercell’s polished style and development practices,” he explained. “Each game has its own set of inspirations such as, for example, the lifestyle of influencers which inspired the concept of our next upcoming title.”
More about that upcoming title later!
Acquiring High-Quality Users
The success of Futureplay’s titles don’t come without excellent users either, and getting those users is the result of smart user acquisition strategies.
Smart also means varied, said Fitzgerald, “We have a mixed strategy. CPI based user acquisition on AdColony and other video networks sustainably provides us with high-quality users,” he explained.
Being featured on app store storefronts is also a very important force multiplier for user acquisition and provides Futureplay with large spikes in downloads. “We work closely with the stores to make sure that we’re showing off their latest features and provide players with the best experiences on their platform,” Fitzgerald explained.
It should come as no surprise that the Futureplay team also thinks outside the box for mobile user acquisition as well. Fitzgerald explained, “Influencer collaborations are also something we’ve been working with through agencies like MatchMade and direct collaborations such as with the Astralis Counter-Strike team at the launch of Build Away!”
Making sure those players stick around is also incredibly important to Futureplay, and interacting with users is an important part of their strategy. “We strive to provide dynamic rewarding feedback and core gameplay,” Fitzgerald explained, “We’re also active with our communities on social media and release monthly content updates to keep the games fresh.”
Long term engagement is incredibly important. “Our first two games have been good for us and support the company sustainably,” Fitzgerald continued, “but to accelerate growth we’re putting more of a focus on D30+ retention.” He said the company is currently at 10% but aims to push it up to 20% in Futureplay’s upcoming titles and live updates. “There will be more social mechanics, progression systems, quirky fun, and engagement with fan-bases.”
Monetization Tips and Tricks
If a developer is looking to monetize with ‘View-to-Play,’ Fitzgerald and Futureplay have some words of wisdom to impart. “We’d advise tightly weaving the ad placements into their game world and economy when prototyping.”
This philosophy of building a game with monetization in mind is one successful developers will be familiar with, but Futureplay takes it to the next level, and it’s paying off. The team in Helsinki also makes sure ads are at logical breaks, rather than seemingly at random, and easy to find.
“Make ad entry points always visible to give players the choice to watch ads in ‘cold states’ such as when admiring their farm, rather than when they’re busy with gameplay or have another action they intend to do next,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald also insists that it’s important to distinguish rewarded video from traditional ‘forced’ advertising in games. “We’ve found that forced interstitial ads not only monetize less effectively but also significantly reduce retention rates when A/B tested,” he explained.
“In the ‘View-to-Play’ model, however, players can choose if and when they want to watch ads which results in a much better gameplay experience,” he continued. “We actually don’t receive complaints about ads in our games, it’s the opposite: when a player has no ads to watch we get messages saying ‘I want my ads back!’. This is a huge paradigm shift in advertising from a negative experience to a positive one.”
“Finally, try to keep all ad experiences positive,” Fitzgerald emphasized, “Rather than offering ads in negatives situations such as when you’ve run out of energy or died.”
The team at Futureplay is made up of industry veterans from the likes of Rovio, Wooga, Digital Chocolate, EA, and more, and while that AAA experience helps them make excellent and successful games, the company is also fiercely different from a more “corporate” developer.
“At Futureplay we have a zero management structure,” Fitzgerald explained. “We need to be autonomous as individuals and teams to get the job done. We’ve therefore hired free-spirited pros who all own a significant piece of the company and have become a family.”
The company remains small for a developer of their success, with just 20 team members. “We’re split across three development teams,” Fitzgerald explained. The team is happy with where they are though but isn’t opposed to some growth. “We’re no longer actively looking to grow the team, although we’ll definitely take on board the industry’s best and brightest should they seek us out!” he smiled.
The Futureplay team is also happy to interact with fans and users on social media. You can follow designer Arttu Maki at @4R2, programmer Mika Rahko at @mikarahko, artist Kai at @KaiAuvinen, designer Tatu Laine at @tatulaine, artist Samuli Snellman at @Ssnellman, and CEO Jami Laes at @jlaes.
The Futureplay team is always working towards the next goal and update. When we asked what was on the horizon, Fitzgerald kept it simple; “Shipping and updating games!” he said, “We’re really excited to see how we can take our games to the next level with more advanced social features, graphical styles and game mechanics now that we’ve fleshed out three teams.”
Fitzgerald couldn’t give us too many hints on the next title for the studio, but said it might be a tongue-in-cheek play on what it’s like to live life as an influencer on social media, “We keep cracking up at the humor in the development concepts – it should be a lot of fun to play,” he smiled.
We’re excited for that next release!
Join the Conversation
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