How Mobile Game Ads Work And How To Use Them To Market Games

Mobile game ads are an effective marketing strategy for game devs.

And the reason is obvious:

When you promote your game through ads that show up on mobile apps, you’re targeting people who can easily install your game if they like it — as long as your ads don’t create a bad user experience (UX) for them.

It’s not always that simple, we know. That’s why we’ve created this guide to show you how to get more installs from ads you run to promote your game.

But first, let’s get on the same page about what mobile game ads are.

What are mobile game ads?

Depending on what you’re looking for, the definition of game ads varies.

If you’re a game developer, mobile game ads are adverts you run to either promote your game or to generate ad revenue.

And if you’re a marketer, you’d have a totally different definition of mobile game ads. To you, they’d be ads you run on mobile games to target users who might be interested in signing up for your product.

But as we’re all about mobile game marketing here at SuperDevelopers, we’ll be using this guide to show game devs how to use mobile game advertisements to market their gaming apps and get more installs.

So here’s our working definition of mobile game ads: adverts you run to promote your mobile games and get users.

You know, those ones that look something like this:

mobile game ads example

Now, let’s start addressing some concerns you may have about mobile game advertising — one after the other:

#1. How much it costs to run mobile game ads

Your mobile ad costs can go two different ways:

  • Cross-promotion
  • Paid

Let’s start with the first one, cross-promotion.

The cost of cross-promotion for mobile game devs

This one doesn’t cost money. You only need relationships to make it work. You promote other game devs’ apps on your game, they promote yours. Everybody wins.

Or if you have multiple gaming apps yourself, you can promote one on the other.

For instance, if you have two apps with 200k and 500k users respectively, you can promote the one with 200k players on the one with 500k users, and vice versa. It’s the same case if you’re cross-promoting with another game developer and brand.

Long story short: It costs nothing but relationships to run mobile game ads through cross-promotions.

By the way, SuperDevelopers is a tool that helps game developers make cross-promotions happen: check it out here.

Now, let’s discuss how much you’d need to spend on paid promotions.

The cost of paid mobile ads for mobile game devs

There are a lot of variables here that impact how much you’ll be paying to run mobile ads to promote your games.

Here are some major factors that determine paid mobile ad spend:

  • Mobile ad networks:
    These are platforms you use to set up your mobile ads so that they reach the users you need them to. Some ad networks for apps are more expensive than others, but the costs often fall within a similar range.

    Here are a few mobile ad networks you can work with:
    Facebook Ads
    Google’s Universal App Campaign

    (Ideally, if you’re just starting out, you can begin running ads on these two channels above. And then as you proceed, you can begin using the ones below when you’re ready to expand your reach)

    Twitter Ads
    Unity Ads
    YouTube Ads
    Instagram Ads
  • Ad’s creative quality and engagement rates:
    The quality of your ad’s creativeness impacts — to a great extent — how much engagement (likes, comments, shares, clicks, and installs) your ad gets.

    And consequently, engagement rates influence what costs your ads incur. This is because every ad network wants to show its users engaging content that holds their attention and keep them on their platform.

    Facebook, for instance, wants to keep showing their users highly engaging content, so they tend to favour ads that have good content. When your ad has engaging creatives, you get on their good side and they reduce your ad cost and show your game ad to more people.

    So generally, the more engaging your ad is, the lower the cost to you in the end. So you need to build your game ads in a way that persuades people to want to click, like, share, and install.
  • Types of users you’re targeting:
    Generally, ads targeting iOS users are more expensive than those targeting Android users.

    Also, some ad platforms give you the freedom to target users who have the habit of installing apps they see in ads and even pay for them. As you’d guess, ads targeting these types of users are often more expensive to run.

  • Location of your audience:
    Ads targeting certain countries (especially developing countries) are usually cheaper than those targeting users in developing countries. So you want to keep this in mind as well while running mobile paid ads to promote your games.

Now, let’s look at the numbers you should be gathering to measure results — whether you’re using paid or cross-promotion to market your games.

#2. Mobile game ads Key Performance Indexes (KPIs) to watch

The reason you need to track results is obvious; you need to know what’s working vs. what’s not with your mobile ads.

Here are four major KPIs you need to be tracking:

KPI #I: Clickthrough Rates (CTR)

When you run ads to promote your game, some people see your ads and click, others see it and ignore — as they’re not interested.

Your CTR is the rate at which people click through your ads and check out your game. You can calculate clickthrough rates using this formula: Clicks / Impressions

What’s a good CTR for mobile game ads?

Again, this depends on variables like your game ad quality, the type of users you’re targeting and their location, etc.

CTRs vary per ad network, creative, ad positioning, etc. The best way to see the different CTRs for ad networks is to run some test ads yourself and see how things shake out.

KPI #II: Install Rates

Whether you’re using the cross-promotion or paid channels we’ve explained in this guide, you want to ultimately know how many installs you get through each channel.

These are some questions you should be answering about install rates:

  • Which ad formats are converting the most?
  • Which audience(s) convert better or worse?
  • What time of the day do you often get the best install rates?

In the end, answering questions like these help you understand what game ad strategies to focus on and which ones to steer clear of.

Install Rate = (Installs ÷ Clicks) x 100

What makes a good Install Rate (IR)?

For the most part, your IR is dependent on (a) how engaging your game ad is and (b) the perceived quality of your game.

Typically, when a potential gamer clicks through your ad and lands on your app store page, they look at your trailer (if they aren’t already familiar with your game) and decide whether to download it or not.

So once potential users click through your ad, their likelihood of installing your game depends largely on the perceived quality of the game.

The bottom line? Your Install Rate depends on the perceived quality of your game.

KPI #III: Installs Per Mille (IPM)

IPM simply means the number of installs you get per 1,000 views. The formula to calculate installs per mille is Number of installs / 1000 impressions x 100.

For example, when you get 1000 impressions on a mobile game ad and 70 installs came out of those 1k impressions, your IPM is 7%.

Why should you measure IPM? It gives you a better understanding of user acquisition, that’s why. When you see how your installs fall or rise per 1000 impressions, you can start thinking of where to make adjustments to improve your install numbers.

How to improve your IPM:

Your Install Per Mille is only as good as your clickthrough and install rates. When your CTR and IR are good, your rate of install per 1000 impressions (IPM) will automatically be good as well.

KPI #IV: Cost Per Install (CPI)

As the term implies, CPI is the amount of money you’re paying for each install you get.

You need to know:

  • Which specific ads take more of your budget per install and which cost less?
  • Which countries have the highest or lowest CPI?
  • What audience parameters generate the highest and lowest CPIs?

Many platforms you advertise on will show your cost per install, depending on how you set up your ads. But if you need to calculate it manually, here’s your CPI formula:

Ideally, you want to focus your spending on mobile ads with a lower CPI and high IR or IPM.

What’s a good CPI?

Your cost per install will be influenced by almost all the other KPI we’ve mentioned here — especially CTRs and IRs. The higher your clickthrough and install rates, the higher your CPI.

The location of the gamers you’re targeting and the genre of your game are two more major factors that influence your game ad. To give you some perspective, here are the average CPIs of some countries according to the game genres:

Apparently, advertisers in more developed countries often see a higher CPI than advertisers in developing countries. And genres play a part in determining costs as well.

#3. Five types of ad formats for promoting your mobile games

Whether you’re using cross-promotion or paid ads, the formats you use to present your game ads matters a great deal. You probably know this already, but they can make or mar your mobile game marketing.

Most ad networks will allow you to choose the types of ad formats you prefer, so you can test different formats and use the best-performing ones.

Your ads can take several different formats. But I’ll be sharing the three main ones here:

Ad format #I: Mobile game video ads

Most game ads you’ll see are in video formats. And for good reason. You want to show potential users the fun in your game and give them a feel for the experience they’ll get if they install it.

So for the most part, your mobile game video ad determines whether or not users are going to install your game.

If they find your video ad high-quality and compelling, they’ll consider installing it. But if the video doesn’t meet their standard or tickle their fancy, they’ll simply skip it.

A mobile game video ad example on Instagram

How to make your video game ads convert?

Ideally, you want to show off the most interesting parts of your game in the ad. Think of the most exciting part of your game, especially the one your existing users talk about the most and make that the face of your video ad.

Ad format #II: Mobile game banner ads

These are generally less effective than video ads as they can’t show potential gamers the action that video ads do.

They’re static, unlike video ads.

But they’re not useless — especially if the users you’re targeting are somewhat familiar with your game already. For example, player A has already seen your game’s video ad somewhere before, so she already has an inkling of how it works.

Then she goes on to another app and sees a banner ad like the one in the screenshot above. You get the idea. Since she’s already familiar with the game, she might consider installing via the banner ad.

Ad format #III: Interstitial ads

First things first: what are Interstitial ads?

These are full-screen ads or ads that more or less take over the screen during the ad. Usually, game advertisers show them at those pause moments when players are preparing to transition from one level to the next.

How to market your games using interstitial ads?

The cross-promotion strategy we explained early is a great way to run interstitial ads.

As both your players (i.e. you and your partner’s players) prepare to move ahead to the next level, you both can show each other’s game and pique the player’s interest in new possibilities for continued challenges and fun.

Interstitial ads cost 4.5X more than banner ads on an eCPM (effective cost per mille) basis, yet offer a click-through rate (CTR) that is 18X higher.

Ad format #IV: Rewarded video ads

These are a very popular format. They’re the same as a video ad, but the user completes the view in order to get a reward in lieu of viewing the game.

And it works. 62% of players regularly chose to voluntarily engage with rewarded video apps and 71% said they watch ads to pay for using a mobile game.

Ad format #V: Playable ads

These are rising in popularity, especially for (hyper) casual games. As the term describes, a playable ad is an ad that the user can actually play before they choose to go for the full download.

Are playable ads effective? Well, 28% of advertisers cite playable ads as the most effective in-app ad format they’ve seen.

So this type of game ad is worth giving a shot.

(Author’s note: We share smart marketing strategies like this all the time, sign up to stay updated on when we share our next post).

#4. Where to show your mobile game ads

As far as users are concerned, your ads should not disturb their experience on any platform you run your game ads on.

We all know the feeling in your gut when you’re interrupted. Do that to people and you can kiss installs goodbye. Period. So you need to know where to show your ads so you don’t annoy your potential users.

And since people hate ads already, there aren’t a lot of places you can put your ads that they won’t get annoyed. But there’s one area to show your ads and keep bad user experience (UX) to a minimum: next level and pause moments.

Next level and pause moments

Generally, the best times to show your ads in any app is when they’re not obstructing user experience (UX) — and this is often when they pause their games or are preparing to move on to another level of the game.

This way, you annoy users less and get more conversions. As long as you make it easy for them to close your ad when they want to, your chances of angering them are few to none.

#5. Measuring ad results

When you run ads, you really want to know how they are performing. You want a Return On Advertising Spend (ROAS). It’s calculated as Revenue / Cost = ROAS.

And your ROAS is dependent on most of the key metrics (aka KPIs) we’ve covered in this guide:

  • Impressions – the number of times people see your ads
  • Clickthrough rates (CTRs) – the rate at which they click your ads
  • Install rates (IRs) – the rate at which clicks lead to installs
  • Cost per Installs (CPIs) – the money you spend per install

These are all important metrics to monitor as you run your ads so you can adjust your campaign components accordingly. And they affect one another — for example, when your clickthrough rates go down, install rates could follow suit, and CPI will likely jump.

So you need to monitor these metrics closely and make adjustments to your campaigns and ads where needed. In the end, when you have good numbers on these metrics, you’ll have good ROAS as well.

Also good to note: advertisers try to calculate the lifetime value (LTV) of their users. And they often do this per advertising channel. This is referred to as mobile attribution.

It’s quite a deep subject with companies like Adjust, Appsflyer, and Kochava to name a few offering solutions to this problem. Yet all quite pricey.


To recap, here are major takeaways from this guide:

  • Cross promotions are often the lowest-cost ads you can run
  • As you run your ads, monitor key performance indicators so you know which ads to stop vs. those to keep spending on
  • Interstitial and playable ads are usually the best formats to run your ads with
  • Mobile game banner ads are great to retarget ads as well
  • Don’t ruin user experience when promoting your game; level pause moments
  • Use pause and next level moments as opportunities to run your mobile game ads without ruining user experience

2 thoughts on “How Mobile Game Ads Work And How To Use Them To Market Games

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