Running a Profitable Game with Organic Installs for 7 years
Fingersoft is a mobile game developer known for its casual racing game titles Hill Climb Racing and Hill Climb Racing 2 with more than 1 billion downloads. Founded in 2012 and based out of Finland, they have over 60 employees and have generated over €100M in revenue. 50% of the revenue coming from IAP and 50% from in-app ads.
Focused on building these two key titles, Fingersoft has attracted enthusiastic fans and a devoted community. You can find players sharing their plays on Youtube with millions of views or being very active on the community channels on Discord. We had the opportunity to talk to Otto Simola, Ad Monetization Manager at Fingersoft, who shared his views on their success and the future of casual games and ad monetization.
Which ad formats and placements do you use for the best combo between IAP and in-app ads?
Deciding what ad formats and placements we use starts by thinking about the overall game design and in-game economy we have. For example, the original Hill Climb Racing (HCR) is very different from its sequel Hill Climb Racing 2 (HCR2). After over seven years since its release, HCR still has a huge organic daily active user volume but the economy of the game is such that rewarded video is not a very successful ad type in the app at the moment. Instead, banner ads have been the key monetization element of the game since it was launched back in 2012.
HCR2, on the other hand, is more competitive and the monetization relies more on the in-app purchases and thus rewarded videos are in this case monetizing well. Because of the big organic user base of both games the interstitial ads work well too.
Three examples of our most popular ad placements in HCR2 are:
Hill Climb Racing 2 is available in all app stores; Apple, Google, and Amazon. What are some notable differences?
We’ve seen great engagement numbers and ARPDAU on all platforms. Additionally, it has been great to see the growth of organic installs during the first 3 months in 2020. This is most likely due to the fact that people are staying indoors now and have more time to play our (and other) mobile games. We are also investing more on paid UA on Hill Climb Racing 2 this year – which surely helps. What comes to revenue I would say that where Android is losing to iOS in prices it’s taking it back in volumes.
You recently hosted a Grand Prix Challenge together with your community in Discord. Can you share the goal behind this initiative as well as the results and learnings?
Our goal was, in essence, to provide a platform for community engagement. A few members of the community approached us with a pitch for the tournament and we came up with a plan together. We made it clear that this was the community members’ project. We provided the platform and offered them help and guidance on best practices throughout. “Support and teach” was the goal, rather than “restrict and control”. Beyond that, we were very careful not to stick our nose too far into what they were doing.
The event was a resounding success, with over 4300 entrants and a full weekend of fun for everyone.
We learned that with the right level of help and trust from us, our engaged community is more than willing to create their own fun events. Being supportive, rather than attempting to dictate what they should consider as fun, is a much better vehicle for community health and growth.
What trends do you see in casual games in 2020?
First of all, I think liveops based content creation will go strong and develop also in 2020. We are actively developing our live features further and in HCR2 things like seasons, trophy road, events, event assets, and the in-game shop can already be configured and customized from our liveops servers.
Second, with faster mobile data connections I hope we will see some great new real-time multiplayer solutions.
In terms of monetization, whether it is IAP sales or ads, player segmentation, and machine learning will be one of the key elements for successful game companies.
What key trends in monetization are you most excited about in 2020?
On ad monetization, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how real-time bidding is going forward and if the ad networks and the mediation providers can come up with unified methods to work together in this. I also think subscription models and game passes of different kinds will keep on growing.
What are you doing currently today on the user acquisition (UA) side of things?
Our strategy is to slowly increase the number of UA channels on our daily UA operations. We are constantly working on UA channel testing and channel evaluation, which will be one of the core functions throughout the year. Hill Climb Racing is running completely organic as always. Hill Climb Racing 2 is getting more and more paid traffic, but the major part of the installs are still organic. The spend and the percentage of the paid vs. organic installs are changing constantly based on results.
What is your top 3 advice to other developers in building games?
The most important advice would be to make games you like to play yourself and around the themes you know the best. For example, the original Hill Climb Racing car physics and great feeling to drive is due to developers’ long enthusiasm for cars.
Also, I recommend gathering teams of talented people with great diversity. Regardless of the fact that Fingersoft is one of the most northern game studios in the world, headquartered in Oulu, Finland, we have been able to recruit people from all over the world to work with us. This is due to our great, a bit weird but warm company culture which gives people space and freedom to use and develop their talent.
Last but not least, collaborate openly with others and share what you have learned. This is an overall characteristic for the success of the Finnish game industry. When we share our learnings inside the industry eventually it will come back with knowledge others have gathered.
Thank you, Otto, for sharing your insights and learnings! Also read this Q&A blog post with Halfbrick, the developer of Fruit Ninja!