ANGELES — For millions of TV viewers, the sight of
model Kate Upton and her lush curves remains
than 9,000 times since November, commercials featuring
the swimsuit model have aired nationally on
male-oriented programs: March Madness, NFL football,
"South Park" and the like.
ads entice boys and men to download the free-to-play
smartphone game "Game of War: Fire Age." There
are several versions: Upton relaxes in a candlelit
bathtub. She rides a horse and leads medieval troops to
battle dragons. She approaches the camera and slyly
invites the viewer to "come play with me."
boys and men have done so, beyond the wildest dreams of
Machine Zone, the game developer behind "Game of
War." Sales of in-app digital goods and paid
"boosts" to speed up empire-building have
doubled since the ads began, according to data from
Think Gaming; the game now takes in about $1 million a
ads worked so well that in February "Game of
War" briefly sneaked past the immensely popular
"Clash of Clans" as the top mobile game,
ranked by revenue.
was a huge achievement," said Tero Kuittinen,
managing director at media research firm Frank N. Magid
Associates. "‘Clash of Clans’ had looked
invulnerable, but Kate Upton has been able to breach the
ad spots aren’t cheap. Palo Alto-based Machine Zone
has dropped about $80 million for airtime in the U.S.,
according to ad and social media tracking firm ISpot.tv.
recently, almost nobody in the industry thought a TV ad
campaign for a mobile game would be worth the cost. Only
a tiny segment of a broad TV audience would download a
mobile game, much less spend their money on in-app
purchases. The initial success of "Game of
War" and others is changing minds.
because of the unusual way mobile apps can be lifted
from obscurity to mega-popularity. A big burst of
downloads following, say, a TV ad campaign causes the
app to rise to the top of the charts in app stores on
Android and Apple phones. That makes it highly visible
to millions of shoppers who wouldn’t have noticed it
before. That means even more downloads, pushing it
further up the charts.
not a rocket science," said Volker Dressel of Quaid
Media, a TV ad consulting firm now targeting gaming
companies. "All these people are watching TV and
they have a second screen in their hands, so why shouldn’t
game apps brought in $25 billion in 2014 with an annual
growth rate near 25 percent, research company Newzoo
estimates. Developers want to make sure they’re
getting their share, and then some: TV ads from Machine
Zone, King Digital Entertainment and Supercell Oy have
helped games once dismissed as short-lived moneymakers
remain huge profit engines for years on end. Other game
publishers are following their lead, from giants such as
Electronic Arts to Beverly Hills start-up SGN.
idea of advertising mobile apps on television began in
Japan, where local companies have been at it for years.
King Digital Entertainment, famous for the megahit
mobile game "Candy Crush Saga," ran ads on
Japanese TV in 2013 despite arguments that Western
mobile games couldn’t gain mass appeal there. But the
ads were designed "with a lot of thought, money and
originality," and the Irish company’s game became
Japan’s most-downloaded on iPhones, according to
the Finnish company behind "Clash of Clans,"
proved King’s success was no fluke when it ran its own
TV ads in Japan and South Korea last year.
and King are using revenue from their top-of-the-line
franchise to successfully advertise its most popular
items on TV and new titles too. On a given day, those
apps hold five or six of the first 10 slots on the
mobile-game revenue charts.
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have this crush marketing power with their flagship
games to push (competitors) out," Kuittinen said.
recently announced its marketing cost $440 million in
2014 but the company doubled operating profit to $565
has Kuittinen and some other analysts pointing out that
because only a smidgen of games make enough money to
justify a TV ad, a handful of gaming giants will further
distance themselves from smaller rivals. But smaller
companies with popular games aren’t shying away. The
sustained flow of new users is allowing them to add
enough polish to games that they’re starting to be
seen as more than cheap, time-filling fads. And a
combination of revenue and investment cash are providing
the resources to advertise on television.
year, SGN budgeted $10 million for television spots and
outdoor ads for its hit matching game "Cookie
Jam" and another $10 million for other titles.
by $22 million in venture capital, SGN first tried TV
with a $1 million, eight-week campaign last fall. It
came nearly a year after Chief Executive Chris DeWolfe
saw the power of TV ads on a visit to Japan. Seeing
bright and cheery TV ads for Japanese games in his Tokyo
hotel room sent the former Myspace CEO’s mind
wandering back to earlier in the day.
said the same games he saw on TV were being played by
thousands of people on smartphones across the city.
"Clearly there was a correlation," he said.
has taken to channels such as Bravo and Logo TV that
best matched the interests of high-spending users. Some
of the data about user demographics and preferences are
gathered when players connect a Facebook account to
"Cookie Jam," which has been downloaded more
than 41 million times since launching in March 2014.
and public transit ads add another layer of messaging,
and the company expects to also roll in radio ads, said
Josh Brooks, SGN’s senior vice president for brand
strategy and marketing. Whether the ads worked can be
tracked by capturing location data during a download.
called TV and outdoor ads new spokes on the advertising
wheel, which complement the company’s rising budget
for Facebook, Google and other ads as opposed to
stealing from it. As the costs of advertising on
Facebook rise, and the expenses of making a game go
down, TV looks relatively affordable.
know it delivers," he said. "We can’t be
sinking money into a deep hole."