When it comes to monetizing your mobile game, it can be challenging to know where to start, especially for growing studios. Striking the balance between creativity and understanding your players’ needs can be tough. We spoke with Alex Kozachenko, CEO of HyperBeard, to learn how he got his start in the ad tech industry, and how he helped manage a mobile game studio with viral hits like KleptoCats and Adorable Home.
In this interview, we discuss with Alex how important it is to know your audience and test different ad monetization strategies, and what metrics he finds important for his games’ success.
Getting started in mobile marketing
Unity: Tell us a bit about how you got started in mobile game monetization.
Kozachenko: I was doing marketing for a bank and had friends that said I needed to get into the tech space. The first company I started working at was an ad tech company where I learned about the gaming space and how to monetize games through ads.
This led me to a more general tech job where I managed a team in Ukraine of about 10–50 people. Eventually, we opened an office in Mexico and that team released our first big hit, KleptoCats, in 2016. I realized this was an exciting business model, so I decided to go all in on the mobile games industry.
Today, we now have around 50 people in South America, and Mexico, and a few others worldwide. We’re growing year over year. Three years ago, we hit $4 million in revenue, two years ago we hit $8 million, and last year we hit $11.5 million.
Unity: What makes you excited to work in monetization at HyperBeard?
Kozachenko: My favorite part of the business is understanding our audience. I’m not the target demographic (women 18–35) for most of our games, but I can put myself in a frame of mind to think and engage like our audience. By doing so, I can usually figure out how to change gameplay and the overall experience to boost metrics like retention and monetization.
Finding a niche in gaming
Unity: What genre of games are in HyperBeard’s portfolio?
Kozachenko: We focus on “cute casual” at HyperBeard. Our audience is mainly adult women around 18–35 that are relatively slow spenders and quasi-gamers. When we released KleptoCats on mobile in 2016, the “idle-waiting” style of game was still fairly new. But people that didn’t classify themselves as gamers were starting to play these types of games a lot more in their spare time. Because of KleptoCats’ success, we stumbled across other games from external studios and it created a snowball effect of building a portfolio with similar styles and target audiences.
Unity: How did your biggest game at HyperBeard become viral?
Kozachenko: Our game, Adorable Home, went viral a few times, actually. The first time was at launch in early 2020, which was the beginning of the pandemic. It’s a very wholesome, family-oriented game and the vibe was popular with people who were at home more often. The second time was Pride Month 2021. We had a special feature on Google Play where they interviewed the developer. We saw a little upward momentum and it didn’t stop. We reached the top 10 on Google Play, and we even got to number one on the App Store without any sort of feature on that platform.
But, as successful as we’ve been, we can never guarantee a viral hit. All we can do is create the best blend of conditions: Matching up the right game with the right seasonal content and the right update, featured at the right time. We call it the “perfect storm.”
Diving into strategy
Unity: What metrics are important to you as part of your monetization strategy?
Kozachenko: We’ve kept our monetization simple because it works well for the casual space. It’s all about D1 retention for us. The further we push early retention, the higher D7 retention, sessions per user, and other metrics will be.
Our general philosophy is to implement ads wherever we can, and where it makes sense without negatively impacting the user experience. We’re really big on rewarded video ads and try to include them in as many places as possible, since they provide value to our users.
Unity: What does your ad implementation strategy look like?
Kozachenko: We try to find different placements so players aren’t watching the same ad multiple times, which usually results in lower eCPMs (effective cost per mille). Example placements include a character that walks up to you and asks if you want a reward, or an animated cloud that floats across the screen and gives you coins, or a very straightforward ad placement in the store. We also try to offer different types of currency, including decorative items, clothing, etc. With interstitials, we’re more cognizant of how we use them because players are not getting rewarded or choosing to interact with the ads.
Sharing knowledge and learnings along the way
Unity: What are some monetization challenges you’ve experienced?
Kozachenko: As both a publisher and developer, it can be challenging to get indie studios to think about monetization. We’ve launched games and said, “We can double the ad revenue in your game,” and sometimes they don’t seem to want to think about it. When you’re on the creative side of game development, monetization is not always top of mind.
When we’re talking to developers, we will often show them our past game launches and how our games performed so they can estimate for themselves how much revenue they can expect to make. This gets studios thinking about where they could go if they were to start monetizing.
Unity: Is there a tested or proven strategy that works with a lot of your games?
Kozachenko: I’d say everything is incremental. You can’t go from zero to great monetization overnight. You need to put the right building blocks in place, and the precursor to this is retention. After retention, focus on monetization basics like IAP (in-app purchases) and see what the conversion rate and average pay per user is. This can help you determine how much effort you should put in. Then start adding ads. Lots of ads.
Unity: Do you have any resources you would share with publishers just getting started with monetization?
Kozachenko: The best learning I’ve had is to look at what’s already in the market. There’s a good reason why high-performing games do so well. I always recommend that developers be open to what’s out there and take notes. Don’t reinvent the wheel because you think you need to be original. You need to have your game stand out while also understanding how to make money and engage players.
Alex Kozachenko is based in Round Rock, Texas and is the CEO of HyperBeard, working to make little games big.
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