The case for seasonal ad-supported holiday apps.

At the recent iPadDevCamp in Colorado Springs I gave a short talk about making money on the App Store. In it I revealed a few numbers about one of our holiday games, reMovem Christmas Edition for the iPhone. This was not central to the theme of the talk, but merely to illustrate a point I was making. Other developers seem to like hearing about this stuff, so I thought I’d summarize it in a blog post.

Christmas.pngWe created reMovem Christmas Edition as a follow-up to the Halloween version, which had a limited run from September to early November last year. The Halloween version had around 14,000 downloads, but was removed from the store to make way for the Christmas version. Both versions are free and use AdMob for in-app mobile advertising. They are very similar to the basic version of reMovem free, with the addition of AGON Online support for leaderboards, and are only available in English.

Because of the unexpected popularity of reMovem Christmas (downloaded about 28,000 times to date) we decided to keep it available on the App Store. It continues to be downloaded about a hundred times a day. Perhaps the Halloween version would still be doing as well, but we’ll never know at this point.

Figure 1 shows the initial surge of downloads just before and around Christmas. Note the typical trail off, but it seems to level at about 100/day for the last two months.

Figure 1

Now compare that to Figure 2, which shows the AdMob revenue for the same period. The same initial surge and fall, then a leveling. If you look closely, the revenue is actually increasing as of late.

Figure 2

This is not due to more downloads or more usage, however. Yes there are more cumulative users, but the number of requests is slowly going down as expected, as seen in Figure 3.

Figure 3

What’s making the difference, then? It turns out we are benefitting from both a higher CTR (clickthrough rate) and eCPM (effective cost per thousand impressions). Note first the increased CTR, which I fully attribute to “better” ads being served by AdMob. Part of this is seasonal, I’m sure, but there’s no secret or keywords or click-baiting going on. The app and the mechanism by which it requests ads has not changed since the November 19th release.

Figure 4

No matter what the cause, the bottom line is that revenue, as measured by eCPM, has gone up slightly. This means we’ll probably keep reMovem Christmas Edition available for the foreseeable future. Here’s what that increased eCPM looks like:

Figure 5

So when you add up all the numbers, reMovem Christmas Edition has ‘sold’ about 28,000 copies, had just under 900,000 ad impressions, and earned us $585. The averages are actually a little higher than that of reMovem free, but I feel like the relatively smaller numbers favor higher results. Once you start to range into the 100s of thousands of impressions your overall CTR and eCPM is probably not going to be as high. And as always, each app’s implementation and appeal to users will vary widely.

rem-xmas-avgs.jpeg

Do we consider this a success? Well, yes and no. Financially it’s not making much for us. Adoption rate of the AGON Online service is a little less than 10% and that’s a disappointment. I’m very curious to know what other developers are seeing for competing systems like OpenFeint and Scoreloop and Plus+. On the other hand, the continued success in terms of daily downloads is great, and we enjoy knowing that a seasonal freebie app can be sold any time of the year. As a result, our new iPad only version of reMovem 2 (iTunes link) has downloadable themes, including the holiday versions. I hope to have more new themes available soon.

I hope all this illustrates that ad-supported holiday apps can be good for your business, but it really depends on your goals and expectations.