Amazon Underground – Insights from a Casual Game publisher
By: Martine Spaans
In August 2015, Amazon announced their “Underground” project. I was attending PAX Dev at that time and immediately got a great insight in the industry’s opinion. Developers did not seem thrilled. Was this “earn per minute” model really going to work? Hesitation overall.
Well, as one of Underground’s launch partners our games have been live on the store for roughly 10 months. I’m happy to share some insights.
Short version: It works for games that otherwise have a low ARPU but a long-lasting engagement.
Keep reading if you want to learn the details.
All my games are “casual”, like Hidden Object, Match-3 or Puzzle games. Casual games usually have a lower player-to-payer conversion rate than genres that are considered midcore or hardcore, like strategy, battle or RPG’s. (We’ll leave the philosophy behind that for another article.)
With a conversion rate lower than 2% I rely on ads quite a bit for a steady income. And how do you show lots of ads to your players without annoying them? By spreading those ads over many hours of entertainment.
So let’s take a look at “Hidden Object Home Makeover” for example. There are 3 titles in this series so far. They all mainly rely on ad income. To complete all the goals in the game you only have to play for about 10 hours, however, the game does not end there. To get all achievement and unlocks you have to play for at least another 10 hours. And then still you can choose to continue to play, endlessly. Home Makeover 1 is about 3 years old, but still has a lot of fans that play it over and over again.
Let’s say the average player plays the game for about 10 hours.
If they play the Google Play version they will watch roughly 8 video ads per hour, so that makes a total of 80 ad impressions. With a CPM of $12 that will back out to $0.96 in revenue.
With FGL’s Enhance™ the eCPM’s for Rewarded Videos average around $30. If these users watch 8 rewarded videos per hour throughout the game, the revenue will go up to $2.40, but do note that this is heavily dependent on fillrate so in reality your revenue will probably be a bit lower.
On Amazon Underground you receive $0.002 per minute. 10 Hours is 600 minutes, adding up to $1.20 revenue from this player, guaranteed.
Sounds wonderful? Well, there are some good things and bad things about the Underground program. The bad is easy to avoid if you know where your game stands.
The ugly bits:
- Zombie apps. With all apps for free and no fear for ads, it’s easy shopping here. Amazon Underground has a high rate of “zombie apps” that are downloaded and never opened. Compare it to a Steam Sale, but then without a credit card statement guilt-tripping you into playing all those wonderful games.
- An Underground release can actually hurt your sales on other platforms. Especially on the Amazon App Store. Our main success on Underground has come from old games that were already released over a year ago and were way past their sales-peak. In one case we released the Underground-version at the same time as the regular premium version. Sales figures were low.
- Underground is not available everywhere. For a long time it was only in the US. Rollout now started in Western Europe as well. Underground is not an all-round solution yet. It is simply not an alternative for Google Play yet because it’s too tiny.
- Underground will not work for your beautifully crafted story-driven game that can be completed within 3 hours. 3 Hours x $0.002 = $0.36 per player. If 36 cents is the maximum revenue you can get out of your biggest fans, your revenue for average players will turn out to be much lower. It will also not work for your idle clicker that requires only 2 minutes of engagement per day. That’s an ARPDAU* of $0.004 ☹
Luckily, there are reasons for rejoicing.
- Engaged Underground players do spend more time in this completely free version of our app than players who are using the regular version with ads. We suspect that is because there are no ads breaking up the game experience or no F2P energy system holding them back.
- Underground players seem to be very aware of the fact that they are getting free content. On our games we see less bad reviews and less complaints about lack of updates.
- If your game has been in the Underground store for a few weeks, the download numbers will go down as the novelty will wear off. However, revenue turns out to be a steady stream for us. So once you got the player’s attention and are not lost in a sea of icons on their device, the players are loyal.
- Speaking of being lost in a sea of icons… There is far less competition in the Underground store. Currently there are about 1300 Games in the US Underground store. Much more manageable than any other major Android store.
* ARPDAU = Average Revenue Per Daily Active User.
Slow but steady growth. Over the last 6 months we nearly doubled our average daily Underground revenue without changing anything about the games.
So here’s my advice.
- Is your game a Free-2-Play title? Don’t jump on Underground immediately. After a while you will probably see your revenue is going down and the peak is over. Especially if you didn’t build it with regular content updates in mind. Your most engaging users have had their fill and spent whatever the game was worth to them. At this point you can decide to throw in some marketing budget and attract fresh players, or…let Amazon do it for you!
Lastly, many kudos and thanks to FGL who supported me throughout the process by taking care of all technical bits of submitting my games to Amazon Underground. If you’d like FGL to help you to get your games on Underground too, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.