Few mobile game studios deliver a big hit with their first release. But Fluffy Fairy Games did just that, growing from a four-man startup to a 50-employee studio in under two years thanks to the breakout success of Idle Miner Tycoon.
What’s more impressive, though, is that the core team had no background in game development and created their idle gaming hit Idle Miner Tycoon in just eight weeks. It’s now one of the top three performing idle games worldwide, with over 30 million downloads and an army of loyal players.
And where some studios play down the role of rewarded video advertising, Fluffy Fairy puts it front and center. It’s a decision that’s paid off handsomely, with rewarded video ads playing a huge part in the company’s success.
We spoke to Nate Barker, director of business development at Fluffy Fairy Games, to find out more about the studio’s approach to rewarded video ads, their player community, and their game development process.
Building an MVP
Three of Fluffy Fairy’s five founders actually started out making an exercise motivation app, called Uberachiever, but pivoted to mobile gaming pretty quickly. That shift was partly inspired by the success of Flaregames (Zombie Gunship Survival, Royal Revolt 2), also based in Fluffy Fairy’s hometown of Karlsruhe, Germany.
“[Our founders] could see that Flaregames was doing great,” Barker explains, “and they thought, ‘Well, there might be a chance.’”
The first game project didn’t actually make it to release. A multiplayer battle concept called Front Yard Wars—a fight between cats and dogs—was too complicated, too ambitious, and the team realized this pretty early on. So instead, they decided to adopt a minimum viable product (MVP) mindset to mobile game development—getting a MVP in front of players to see if it resonates, then developing it based on feedback.
After just two months’ work, Idle Miner Tycoon released on Google Play and iOS in July 2016. With zero marketing spend, it was getting about a thousand installs a day and seeing decent retention. “A thousand installs a day may seem like a lot,” Barker notes, “but it wasn’t enough to pay for lunch.”
So what Fluffy Fairy did next was…well, wait. And soon enough, Idle Miner Tycoon got picked up for app store featurings by both Apple and Google. “That launched us to enough of a high volume of players that when we implemented ads, initially just one ad network, we were able to generate some revenue,” Barker says. “Soon thereafter, we added ad mediation.”
Idle Miner Tycoon now has eight million monthly average users (MAU), the development team has expanded and moved out to Berlin, and things are going pretty well. “We are entirely profitable,” Barker says. “We save 50% of our revenue—we just put it straight in the bank, don’t touch it. And the remaining 50% we divvy up between operation costs, salaries, and marketing.”
Barker reveals that the revenue split between advertising and in-app purchases—added later on in response to player requests—is currently around 50-50.
Rewarded video ads at the heart
Idle Miner Tycoon only uses rewarded video ads. And it makes sure that players see them, right from the start.
“Because we have an idle game, one thing that we do is make sure that when people come back to the game that they’re immediately given a very lucrative offer to watch a video,” Barker says. “The first thing you’ll see is you can either collect idle revenue or you can double your collection amount by watching a video. This is super helpful for us and drives a ton of our revenue. I would say the vast majority of people who are engaging with ads are engaging at that point.”
Players can also watch video ads to boost their in-game income for four hours, and this is stackable (find out how this rewarded ad stacking mechanic keeps players hooked). So by engaging with multiple rewarded ads for 15-20 minutes in the morning, players are set for 32 hours of boosted gameplay. And the ad placement for this boost sits right above your mobile device’s home button.
As the game opens up, so do the opportunities to engage with rewarded ads. Players can watch video ads to boost individual mines and use them to cut down on waiting times. The in-game Research Lab even offers permanent unlocks which boost the effectiveness of rewarded video ads, putting them right at the heart of the gameplay experience.
Idle Miner Tycoon also recently added live ops events—like the recent Candy Mine—which can increase player engagement and provide a “huge spike” in revenue for days at a time, Barker tells Fyber.
Listening to the players
Player feedback is another key driver of Idle Miner Tycoon’s success. It’s what’s shaped the game from its MVP build to its current state, and the Fluffy Fairy team remains deeply engaged with their player community.
“We pay such close attention to the star ratings,” Barker says. “It’s our guiding star. If it goes up by point one—4.8 stars, 4.7 stars—that’s something that’s really important to us.”
So the team has weekly meetings to discuss any player feedback that needs addressing.
“Naturally, the game spreads through word of mouth a lot” Barker says. “So we collect and categorize feedback from the community. We’re looking at how many people are complaining about not being able to save or access saves from the cloud, how many people are complaining that they didn’t get enough videos, how many people are complaining about a new feature, or how many people are requesting a new feature. All of that stuff we can categorize and then week-over-week see how that’s changing. And for us, even though [player feedback] is more qualitative than quantitative, it’s more useful because it’s also more immediately actionable.”
And with two full-time community managers on board, Fluffy Fairy strives to maintain a happy and loyal player base through social outreach.
“The community management team leverages the art team a lot,” Barker adds, “so we do a lot of custom art for our community pages. We’re pretty active on Instagram and Facebook, and we found that the community managers spend a lot of time on Facebook and [Facebook] Messenger. It’s a preferred source of communication for people, and we’re super quick about responding and we’re exceedingly liberal with handing out currency to people who reach out to us on social.
“I’ve worked at companies before where we’re trying to figure out if [players were] maybe trying to trick us to get currency, and this was a big deal. But at Fluffy, it doesn’t matter. If they want free currency, sure. Have it. I’d rather make one kind of angsty player happy that day than have them trolling us or dissent among everybody. Why bother? Why introduce that?”
The team is also keen to foster real-life links to their player base, too. “We throw events in our office for our fans,” Barker says. “So we just open it up and we’ll throw a party. We have a hall of fame where we advertise our top players. We have lots of real stuff giveaways. So we’ll send out T-shirts, hoodies. We get our name out there that way.”
The Fluffy future
Going forward, Fluffy Fairy is laser-focused on perfecting the art of idle mobile games. The team is currently trying to figure out how to monetize its top-tier players in Idle Miner Tycoon as well as looking at areas like carrier billing, brand partnerships, and new rewarded monetization opportunities. “I think that’s probably where we’re going to see a lot of growth over the next six to eight months,” Barker says.
And we can certainly expect to see the same lean MVP-type approach to Fluffy Fairy’s future game projects, including Idle Factory Tycoon, which recently released on Google Play and already in excess of half a million downloads—with the development team gauging and reacting to early player feedback.
“We have a formula that we think works really well,” Barker says, explaining how future iterations of Idle Miner Tycoon could eventually become, say, “Idle Cruise Ship Tycoon.”
“What we’re trying to achieve is to become the Supercell of mobile idle games,” Barker says. “We think that’s where our future is.”