GameBiz Consulting’s Božo Janković on How Supercell’s Squad Busters Will Miss Out on Millions

GameBiz Consulting’s Božo Janković on How Supercell’s Squad Busters Will Miss Out on Millions image
By Mariam Ahmad 3 June 2024

Supercell launched Brawl Stars globally in December 2018. Now, finally, more than five and a half years later, a new game is coming out - Squad Busters. The news alone has attracted a tremendous amount of attention and buzz in the mobile video game industry. And for a good reason.

Over the course of the past 11 years, Supercell has generated over 19 billion USD thanks to its loyal player base. The question is: Could they have made more? We believe so and that’s why we decided to chip in on numerous analyses of Squad Busters games that are already available - but from a totally different perspective.

Supercell is about to repeat itself as it did several times in the past and is about to miss out on a huge revenue opportunity that ads could present for this game. We have no doubt that the team behind Squad Busters has done a tremendous job and that the game will be a hit and a monetary success (they set an ambitious target of reaching 40 million pre-registrations and at the time of writing they were inches close to achieving that), however - the missed opportunity for ad revenue remains.

Let’s first take a look at what Supercell did with its previous games

Out of all the previously released games, only Hay Day and Boom Beach contain ads.

Now, according to the publicly available app-ads.txt file, we can see that they are using several ad networks, such as ironSource, UnityAds, Applovin, DT Exchange, Liftoff Monetize, and one Google AdManager (GAM) partner - Potensus (interesting choice given the hit transition to Google bidding had on all GAM partners!).

In Hay Day, after playing the game for some time, we were able to get several rewarded video ad placements. For example, users are offered to claim a Daily Reward by watching an ad. Apart from that, at times an option to watch an ad in order to get a random reward will be presented to users, as well as an option to speed something up in the same manner (time diminisher placement).

When it comes to Boom Beach, in the release notes from November 2023, in the “New Features” section, they mentioned: “Players can gain small benefits by watching ads at certain points in the game.” Then as recently as in February 2024, they have added additional rewarded video ads, such as an option to claim extra rewards when opening the Daily Chest in the Shop.

Their ads implementation seems quite conservative, using only rewarded video ads with only a few placements. So when it comes to revenue potential, there is a large opportunity for growth. When it comes to user sentiment towards ads, most users compliment the shy approach and some of them complain about the content of the ads themselves (with everything that can be seen in the industry, I’m sure that no one reading this article is surprised). Even with this moderate implementation, we saw several negative reviews on the Google Play Store referencing the fact that they introduced ads in the first place. We’d be surprised if there was any actual negative impact on retention for an implementation like this though, since the ads are only shown to players that actively decide to start them.

Now let’s take a look at Squad Busters

The very first thing that users will see when opening the game for the first time after installation are the usual pop-ups, although the details of the implementation reveal some interesting (unusual) details. Let’s look at this flow:

  1. Age gate pop-up (Terms of Service and Privacy Policy are linked)
  2. CMP pop-up, by Usercentrics (again includes Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which is not something we’ve seen in other games before). The whole pop-up is also quite small and didn’t feel like the best UI. Given that the game is not using ads, it was interesting to see that they still had the CMP pop-up implemented and the explanation is quite simple - it still makes sense to do it for the sake of the UA side of the business and Google’s requirements there (which however differs from the results we got in our research back in January this year).
  3. (iOS only) App Tracking Transparency (ATT) pop-up
  4. After some meaningful time, the game prompts players to enable push notifications

Now, without going into too many details about the gameplay itself, it is enough to say it’s a casual, action, IO kind of game. The essence of the game is battles, which have different modes. There are many characters to collect and upgrade from Baby to Ultra status.

The spending depth is great but it doesn’t take too long to figure out that the game has a significant potential to monetize via ads too. Specifically, there are multiple locations (placements) where rewarded video ads could be implemented. By their definition, they are opt-in so the user has to make an active action of clicking on a button that starts an ad so, if implemented correctly, they leave no room for a negative impact on retention. On the contrary.

The biggest challenge would be, how to implement rewarded video ads without cannibalizing in-app purchases (IAP).

The game presents multiple opportunities to implement rewarded video ads. To name a few:

  1. Presenting any kind of reward when opening a chest (bonus cards or similar)
  2. Allowing users to watch ads from the Shop or main screen (for coins, cards, or other types of rewards, including random)
  3. Offering to recover the winning streak for watching an ad (now offered for 500 coins or 6 cents equivalent, looking at the smallest Coins package in the Shop)

Of course, introducing all these placements at once without evaluating the potential impact on the economy would be reckless. Yes, careful consideration is necessary, but with the right segmentation, balancing, and capping settings, ads could bring value to both Supercell and Squad Buster players.

To avoid IAP cannibalization it would be worth digging deeper into:

  1. Actual placements (start with the one that has the highest chances of success and build from there)
  2. Actual rewards (finding a balance between something that’s worth players’ time and it’s not jeopardizing the economy)
  3. Segmentation settings such as: how long should be waited after install before ads are introduced, whether ads should be offered both to paying and non-paying players, and similar.

Careful consideration of all of the above would ensure implementation that’s a win for everyone. Even one or two placements in a game like this would result in great revenues.

Let’s assume that the game would generate a mediocre (maybe not even that) engagement rate of 50% with an average number of ads per viewer set at 4. That’s 2 impressions/DAU. A couple of very reasonable assumptions, so far. Let's assume that Squad Buster achieves 1 million Daily Active Users (DAU). Given the 40 million pre-registration goal already achieved and the fact that Supercell currently has over 200 million monthly players on existing games, this is a gross underestimate of the DAU this game will see. Still, I prefer to be super conservative and then be in for a nice surprise with bigger numbers. Now, we are missing the final piece of the puzzle - eCPM. This one is a guessing game. Without knowing the mix of countries, it is more a guestimate than an estimate but let’s say it’s $20 (we checked several games in our portfolio that are focused on tier 1 countries but also have a significant portion of users coming from the rest of the world). Put everything into a calculator and you’ll realize we are talking about 1.2 million USD monthly ad revenue that Supercell is leaving on the table.

That’s almost 15 million a year! And that’s without sweating it. This doesn’t include an extensive ad monetization setup that could be built, advanced segmentation, and everything else that a studio such as Supercell would be able to achieve. This doesn’t include other ad formats that would be suitable, such as offerwall or dare I say, interstitials. If going beyond the MVP ad implementation that we imagined here, Supercell could easily make 10% of its revenue from ads.

Final thoughts

Historically, Supercell was reluctant to implement ads in their games, with only two of their six titles having a very, very shy implementation. However, one of these two has added ads relatively recently.

Squad Busters is, for now, in the remaining four, which means that the vast majority of millions of players will remain unmonetized before they leave the game. This represents a huge missed opportunity that could be rather easily addressed, without compromising on the user experience and general game quality.

Whether or not Supercell is planning to add ads into its remaining games or Squad Busters, remains to be seen. A job opening for Ad Monetization Manager that was available for several months and is now closed (sorry everyone who didn’t have a chance to apply) might be a hint of what is cooking in Supercell’s kitchen.


You’ll receive our leading content, news and info about upcoming webinars, podcasts and of course discounts to our live Gamesforum events

Sign up now