Q&A with Zynga and GSN Games: Accelerating growth with app bidding
November 16, 2020
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This article is part of a Gaming Insights series paid for by Facebook.

Bidding is a hot topic in app monetization, and with the upcoming impact of iOS 14 changes, it’s more important than ever for developers and publishers to understand its benefits. We spoke with Brian Truman at GSN Games and Phil Suh at Zynga to get their perspective on the advantages of bidding, tips on implementation, and the future of app monetization.

Wai Quai Chong (Facebook): One of the biggest benefits of bidding is streamlining more efficient ways of working. Now that your ad-ops teams have more time to dedicate elsewhere, how has this enriched your gaming output? How many hours per week do you think you’ve saved due to bidding?

Phil Suh (Zynga): We have seen substantive time savings for our operations teams. We make frequent optimizations to our ad demand configurations, and any changes need to be executed, tracked, communicated, and coordinated across the ad operations, yield management, and revenue reporting teams.  For every network that is transitioned to in-app bidding, we save several hours of time per week in manual work related to setting up line items, optimizing ad units, and communicating changes.

Brian Truman (GSN Games): We have reduced the hours spent on waterfall management by around 15%, and that number will continue to grow as more networks migrate to bidding. With the time saved, our team has been able to improve the ads experience by testing and monitoring ad networks, thereby reducing the likelihood of unwanted or faulty ads that lead to negative experiences for our players.

Wai Quai Chong (Facebook Audience Network): Bidding has been coined as the key to accelerating business transformation. Why did you look to integrate bidding, and what impact has this had so far?

Phil Suh (Zynga): Bidding democratizes the waterfall so demand partners have more visibility into the available ad inventory, as well as the opportunity to compete at any price point.  In return, the performance of bidding partners typically improves. Since there is only one request and response for a bidding partner, latency decreases considerably. In addition, managing and optimizing demand partners across multiple line items in every waterfall for every ad unit is a time-intensive operational challenge. Collapsing all line items for an ad unit into one provides substantial operations cost savings.

Brian Truman (GSN Games): We saw value in using a greater number of user segments to improve the quality of our ad supply. We wanted to increase the number of user segments we had, but knew that adding more would lead to higher operational costs. Bidding allowed us to build more user segments while avoiding the additional waterfall management that would normally come from these new segments.

Wai Quai Chong (Facebook): How has bidding impacted your revenue? Have you found any changes to performance such as overall eCPM after moving to bidding?

Phil Suh (Zynga): When we first launched it, we A/B tested exposing cohorts of users to bidding vs. the waterfall, with the same demand partners. We saw that eCPMs were relatively stable between the variants, but our monetization rate, or the ratio of ads that we delivered which were fully monetized and weren’t sent to backfill or house ads, increased substantively.  Therefore, we were able to achieve comparable yields with reduced operational costs, while growing revenue through improved ad fill and more efficient ad delivery.

Brian Truman (GSN Games): Each time we’ve tested bidding against our managed waterfall, we saw gains in overall revenue between 2-13%. Results will vary depending on the ad format, the time invested in the waterfall prior to integrating bidding, and the networks participating. Our expectation is that revenue gains will improve as there are more networks participating in bidding.

Wai Quai Chong (Facebook): How simple was the process of onboarding to bidding and how quickly did you start to experience the benefits?

Phil Suh (Zynga): The ease of the onboarding process highly depends on whether you have the bidding partner already integrated. Since we were already monetizing with Facebook Audience Network, when we set them up as a bidding partner, it was easy. Once everything was set up, creating and activating a new ad unit took just a few minutes. Within the first two weeks of testing, we could see the benefits, and within about two months, we began rolling it out further across our portfolio.

Brian Truman (GSN Games): Networks and mediation platforms have made significant investments in bidding over the past two years. As the adoption of bidding has increased, the onboarding process has become much easier. Developers are already likely using ad tech that supports bidding. In the prior four months, we have enabled bidding in two of our games, each using different ad mediation platforms. Our ad operations team was able to do this with no need for technical assistance or disruption in our business.

Wai Quai Chong (Facebook): What advice would you give to publishers who want to get started on bidding? Any best practices or tips to share?

Phil Suh (Zynga): Competition in the demand stack is the most important item to set up for success with bidding. If there aren’t enough demand partners competing in the auction, your performance could be negatively impacted. This is particularly true if you have a high volume of impressions per user.

Brian Truman (GSN Games): If you’re expecting to A/B test bidding against an existing waterfall, this can be very challenging and time-consuming for an empirical test. Be sure to work closely with the participating networks as well as your mediation platform, and plan on testing for several weeks (at least three) to gain confidence. The sooner you start understanding how bidding impacts your business and iterating your processes, the better you’ll be in the long-run.

Wai Quai Chong (Facebook): Why do you think it is so important to innovate and evolve in alignment with technological and gaming advancements, such as bidding?

Phil Suh (Zynga): Early adopters of new technology will be able to reap the benefits sooner than others, as well as have more time to learn how to operate and optimize in the new environment. The key is to be able to predict what emerging advancement is going to become a prevailing standard, and to read the industry velocity around it to know when the best time to adopt would be.

Brian Truman (GSN Games): There’s no comfortable space in gaming for incumbents to sit idle. If they do, they will eventually find someone else is eating their lunch. Each day, we think about how we can get 5% better, then another 5% better, and so on. New technologies give us a valuable opportunity to start asking new questions about our business and disregard past assumptions.

Wai Quai Chong (Facebook): How has working with Facebook Audience Network supported your goals?

Phil Suh (Zynga): Facebook Audience Network has not only been a great demand partner in terms of monetization and high-quality ads, but also an excellent strategic partner for product innovation, joint initiatives, and operational transparency. Our adoption of app bidding has just been the most recent in a long series of growth we’ve experienced together.

Wai Quai Chong (Facebook): What do you think will be the most transformational and impactful trends and opportunities publishers and the gaming ecosystem will experience over the next few years?

Phil Suh (Zynga): Publishers will continue to get closer to advertisers as the industry searches for more efficient methods to transact. Whether through in-house exchanges or other bidding configurations, PMP deal growth, general market consolidation, or due to regulatory constraints, the ecosystem will continue to evolve.

Brian Truman (GSN Games): Building trust with your customers and protecting their privacy will certainly be an important topic for years to come. Platform changes and regulations have the capacity to alter the landscape for digital advertising in a number of ways. This could lead to both good and bad outcomes for current stakeholders, but the publishers and brands that earn the trust of their customers will tend to do better.

Wai Quai Chong is a Strategic Partner Manager at Facebook Audience Network.



Brian Truman is the Executive Director of Digital Ad Revenue and Operations at GSN Games.



Phil Suh is the Senior Director of Ad Monetization at Zynga.




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