Advertising has always been a rough market. Not only is it extremely competitive, expensive, and risky, but it also changes as fast as any market. If I had written this article a few years ago, let's say 2005, it would have been all about how to use Google Adwords. Today, while Google can still provide a good outlet, it's not your one stop shop for advertising glory any longer. So where do you turn? Well, the sad reality may be nowhere. Games are a low margin, low conversion business and when you are competing with spyware and big business it's pretty clear who gets the most revenue per user. There are, however, some terms and descriptions we can go over that apply to all advertising models and methods. If your game falls into the category where you could benefit from one of these approaches, by all means use it and try to get some positive return on investment (ROI) on your ad spend.
This article was meant to revise and conclude a marketing series published on GameDev.net back in 2004. In 2008 it was included in the book Business and Production: A GameDev.net Collection, which is one of 4 books collecting both popular GameDev.net articles and new original content in print format.
Horizontal Targeting: So here is the big error people make. The next recommendation I would have is aiming at the horizontal niche of your game, assuming you have one Let's say you made a World War 2 clone of Risk. You've exhausted aiming ads at Risk players. The horizontal target after that would be to aim at people interested in World War 2. This is where most people make the most common mistake of thinking that their next target is a vertical niche, for instance targeting people interested in board games. The horizontal niche often has so much less competition that it is cheaper and more effective to focus on horizontal positions. So in this example, my next place to go would be to World War 2 websites. Not all games have a clear horizontal niche, however. If your game is about WW2 you're in good shape. If your game is about cute balls of fluff you're outta luck. If your game is about fairies you may be able to find some fairy websites, but odds are you're not going to see much volume. Vertical Targeting: The place most people want to put their ads for some reason is the vertical niche. If I made a board game, I would want to advertise on board game sites. The fact is I have almost never found this to be an effective method (ROI-wise) for advertising a game. You can still try it - focus on running ads on game sites or sites related to the exact genre of your game. The closer you can get to your game's look, feel, and genre the better. I wouldn't bet much money on it though, the simple fact is competition is too high and that drives prices up. So that is the overall strategy of where to run ads. There are a few items that are very common questions and concerns left though, so we'll focus on a few corner case questions. Probably the most common question is "How does X company turn a profit when they are spending Y dollars on ads!?" The answer may be that they don't. Not all ads are run for a positive ROI. Sometimes it is smart to employ a loss leader strategy. If you can spend 21 dollars to make 20 dollars but attract 1000 people per dollar "lost" then it may be to your advantage to lose a dollar simply to gain the attention, e-mail addresses, and name recognition of those thousand people. However, in the realm of an indie or small time development studio a loss leader strategy is rarely an option. So let's focus on getting a positive ROI. Another good one is "What about print advertising" (or radio, or TV). The short answer is: Forget it. Print, TV, and Radio all are brand awareness focused media. You could build up your company reputation with a slick jingle and on a national campaign that could mean big bucks. For a TV ad, if you are a studio who's made only one game and it is available only online there is a huge barrier to get people off their lazy asses, walk over to the computer, download that one game, and then make a purchase. It's a heck of a lot easier when their lazy asses are already parked in front of the PC and your banner ad is slapping them in the face. The only exception to this is if you can somehow negotiate some huge perk to your ads, such as being the featured game on a demo CD, or getting a 3 day, 3 article front page feature on a game magazine's website. Basically in this case you are getting something large enough that the print ad is no longer really what you're buying, merely the ends to a means. Web-based ads will always have a better ROI, I can't think of a single case where a single product site has seen otherwise. Here's another interesting one. "What is the most effective form of online ads?" The answer to this varies widely with how good you are at creating ad copy (good text, good graphics, interesting sales pitch, etc.). However, if I had to pick one I would actually say e-mail newsletters have the best bang for your buck, just be careful that you aren't working with a spam company. If, for instance, your WW2 Risk clone found a WW2 website with a newsletter that offered an ad spot (advertorial preferably) I would be on that like white on rice. Don't be put off by the fact the CPM is going to be high ($5-$25 is not unheard of for a newsletter). Finally let's define some terms/acronyms you're bound to run into - in case you're a total noob at this. CTR- Click Through Rate - What % of people click on an ad. A standard banner ad should range between .5 and 2% depending on position, quality, targeting, etc. CPM- Cost Per Mille - How much 1,000 displays of your ad costs. An ad that costs \$1.00 CPM and has a 1% CTR means you are paying 10 cents per click. CPC- Cost Per Click - How much you are paying per click. CPA- Cost Per Action - Payment is made only when the user performs an action, such as signing up for an account, newsletter, or making a purchase. Also known as PPA, PFP, and CPL. ROI- Return on Investment - Mentioned above, but also keep in mind ROI factors in future value of visitors as well. If the average purchasing user buys 1.2 games all of that value should be factored into the ad buy. Keep in mind, however, ad based visitors are not equal to the average visitor and should be tracked separately. An ad based visitor may convert half as likely and make only 1.1 sales per purchase. RPM- Revenue per Mille- RPM typically refers to a single page view and all the ads on that page. So if you had 3 ads paying 1.00 CPM you'd say your page RPM is 3.00. IAB Ad Sizes- IAB is the Interactive Advertising Bureau - They defined the 'standard' ad sizes that we see. If someone asks for IAB sized ads they probably mean 728x90 (superbanner / leaderboard), 160 or 120x600 (Sky and Wide Sky), and/or 300x250 (Box) sized ads. Other very common IAB sizes include 468x60 (Banner), 88x31 (Button), and 125x125 (Square). In games we also see a fair number of 100x100 ads, but those are not IAB standard. RON/ROS- Run of Network/Site - This refers to buying or selling an ad across an entire network or site with no special targeting. And so what can you take away from this? Hopefully your takeaway is this: Advertising is really freakin' hard! If you've planned your success around an ad budget rather than a stellar product you're in deep brahmin waste. Also other than giving you a good dose of pessimism, there are a lot of terms and concepts flung around the ad world. The reality is people will be impressed if you can fling terms and concepts back at them. Finally, if you do decide to advertise using the targeting model I went over will give you the best fighting chance for success.

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