Masters of Ad-placements — Idle Restaurant Tycoon: Empire

What comes to your mind when you hear idle games? You might think they are boring games to kill time on when you’re bored. It had been the case for me as well until I downloaded Idle Restaurant Tycoon: Empire by Kolibri Games, a developer of this masterpiece.

What is this game all about?

What I must highlight before everything is that it has a meta that is simple and easy to understand for casual players:

Main gameplay screen that player sees.

- The goal for players is to build a profitable restaurant and make tons of cash. How do you run a successful restaurant?

- Keep the clients happy, by continuously upgrading the equipment of your restaurant. The more you grow, the more difficult it becomes to manage the restaurant; therefore, you will need more staff members, whom you will need to keep satisfied by paying them competitive salary by the end of the in-game work day. You are building and running a restaurant, and as in real life, restaurants are open from the morning until late night. Just because you close the application does not mean the restaurant stops running; the business needs to keep going and generate revenue. Clients come in, and they might be unsatisfied with the quality of the food, or because they could not get seated, or for many other reasons.

In the game, you have a wide variety of actions to perform and choose from in case nothing is urgent. In IRTE (Idle Restaurant Tycoon: Empire) almost every feature is tied to ad monetization to maximize engagement. In game development, one often hears that ads are damaging to the gameplay experience and create frustration. It is true when the placement is wrong and ads interrupt entertainment. In IRTE, when the player is watching an ad, every single placement feels like the time was well spent, and the 30-second ads are totally worth it.

Before getting into each individual ad placement and deconstructing them, I would like to highlight that based on my 35-minute play session the number of ads I watched was 25! I am far from being a maximizer player type as I was just discovering the potentials of the game. A couple of minutes into the game, I realized that watching ads benefits my progression in every angle.

Ad placements

Influencers

Influencer icon pops up in purple to gather attention (main gameplay screen)

Influencers show up in your restaurant and offer you a fixed revenue increase for watching an ad. The cash that comes in is displayed to players and is guaranteed upon agreeing to the exchange: no gamble here. Watch an ad for X amount of cash. Easy! — Influencers randomly appear at every 2–3 minutes. So by the time you finish an in-game task, you will have spent your soft currency on levelling up your equipment to provide higher quality service to your clients, thereby making them willing to spend more in your restaurant. By the time you’ve spent the cash that came from the ad video you just watched, a new influencer shows up to offer you more in-game currency. The cycle never stops, and I believe this is one of the strongest elements as to why this game is super sticky:

Food influencer is offering Cash for a quick 30 second video ad

The most revenue to your restaurant comes from the Influencers. And the only way to get paid is to watch the ad. Your costumers pay 5–30$ (in game currency) for a meal, while an influencer pays between 400$-2000$ every 2–3 minutes. It is worth giving a shot at watching an ad for this much cash. This ad placement also gives players the sense that having the game open and waiting for an influencer to pop up is better than having the game idle, because they would otherwise miss out on the opportunity of collecting this extra cash.

Send out a notification to convince a crowd of customers to come at once!

You can send notifications to customers, but you may not have enough available tables when they arrive. Customers will be unhappy! So, you’d better be prepared to have enough tables available, or if not, start to place more of them! Ideally your goal is to have your tables filled to generate more revenue. When you decide to take the offer, you have access to see the number of customer groups that you can expect. If you prefer groups that have 3 or 4+ customers, then you have the option of declining the offer that is displayed. In my opinion this is a great move by the designers, because the player has the freedom of choice to decline the offer and wait for a better one, which will occur in a short period of time after declining one offer.

‘Get More Guests!’ screen

Upon relaunching the game

Every time the app is relaunched, players are offered to double the profit that was generated while the app was closed. For an exchange of watching an ad, double the profit or there is an option to triple the profit for gem.

When the game is relaunched, for 2 seconds the Continue button is not available; only watching ads / doubling profit is available to the players.

Also, this is the perfect timing to offer players a special offer that frees players from watching ads ever again for 13.99 CAD. Players who purchase this offer won’t have to watch ads; instead, they will be able to claim the additional rewards instantly.

Double your profit that was generated while the game was minimized for an ad video

Watch ads up to 12 times in a row to maximize the profit of your restaurant

You can watch up to 12 ads consecutively. Each ad will grant you +12 minutes of doubled profit period, which comes in handy as you already know. The goal is to make more cash, buy more equipment. 12 ads are equivalent to 2 hours of doubled profit period, while you are in or away from the game.

12 video ads watched in a row will double your revenue for 2 hours

Skip a day to sunlight

Your restaurant is closing at 11pm and opens the next morning. There are 2 options available to players. While the restaurant is closed, players can change and upgrade the equipment, or skip to the next morning instantly for an exchange of watching 1 ad video.

Instant Sunrise offer in exchange for an video ad

Live Ops

If you think you’ve heard everything and watched enough ads, guess what? A Live Ops event starts.

How does a Live Ops event look like in IRTE?

Run an additional Restaurant for more cash (Live Ops event)

It basically means re-building a new restaurant in a short period of time. You can use the experience accumulated from the base restaurant that you originally built. What is the reward of a Live Ops event? You can guess: cash. As you progress in a Live Ops event, building it up step by step, more cash rewards come, which you will be able to use in your main restaurant. (the first one that you originally started with).

You started a Live Ops event, and suddenly you became the owner of 2 restaurants. What does that mean? Your goal now is to maximize profit of 2 places; therefore, you will be watching video ads for both the Live Ops event and your first restaurant.

Final Reward is 5 million cash. That is equal to the revenue of 1 year of a new player.

The final reward of a Live Ops event is a legendary card that will grant you 2% more revenue permanently. You can keep it for all of your current and future restaurants. On your way to reach the final prize, you will be collecting valuable resources: Gems, Gatcha chests, and Legendary cards. To get the Legendary cards, players need to heavily invest time and real $ into IAP, since the target for players to reach in order to obtain the final reward is 5 million in revenue, which seems impossible to a new player.

Switch between your restaurants

In a game session, the time zones are different for each of your restaurant. So, while one is closed, you can quickly visit the other ones while they are making profit. When re-visiting your restaurant, it has the same status as when you relaunch your app. When coming back, an option is available to you to double the profit that was generated while you were away — No time is wasted.

In-app purchases are also available to players in a wide price range just like in any other Freemium Idle-Casual game.

No more ads: Claim rewards instantly for 13.99 CAD is available to players. I believe that in a game where ads are extremely prominent, a player can potentially generate a much higher revenue from ads than 13.99 CAD. However, there is one key factor that is unknown: the stickiness of the game in the long run. If too many ads lead players to churn, then keeping a 13.99 CAD offer to remove ads might generate longer retention, and players who have already invested 13.99 CAD will likely invest into other In-app purchases, and revenue from multiple in-app purchases might lead to higher LTV, than what it would be with ad revenue alone.

The placement of this offer is always visible in the main screen during gameplay or in a Special Offer section in the shop in the top position. I assume that for players who enjoy the game, this is their target first-time purchase. And as mentioned earlier, players that have invested in removing the ads will likely turn to other IAP for better satisfaction.

No more ads offer is always available in the main gameplay screen

We know that players can easily watch 20–40 ads per session, depending on their desired session length. Why would players want to and what makes players watch so many ads in one session? The short answer is Impatience: Players want to maximize the profit instantly. Because the goals for players are to maximize profit, grow the restaurant and install better equipment NOW, IRTE presents a solution that is instantaneous. Watch an ad and you will be closer to the next stage that you want to reach. The trick is that there is no ending here; there is no final cap on levels. You can keep levelling up for as long as you want, the economy of the game scales and supports this meta (high five to the economy designers). Also, since you earn an early extra cash if ad providers can feed you with ads, the progress does not slow down.

Fear of loss is another factor that keeps players in the game, and I expect a long game session from players because of this. The Influencers and Notification offers show up and if you don’t take them, you’ve lost them. That equates to a slower growth for your restaurant.

Limited Time Offers

During my test, the limited time offers were static packs with added value, which is a common option to attract players to convert. Hard currency +X%.

Extra Offline Time

As this is an idle game that works for you while you’re away, you can’t fully leave the restaurant all alone. It stops generating profit after some time, which players can extend with in-app purchase deals.

Profit Boosts

If you have read the article to this point, you surely know that this game is all about generating revenue from your restaurant, reinvest the profit, make more cash, then generate more and then reinvest again. To speed up the process, Profit Boosters are available.

Some additional thoughts

My expectations towards the game regarding changes in the near future are relatively simple. Obviously, there are a few but here are my top ones: The ads are well positioned, perfectly integrated in the game design, the game for new players is scaling well, as I’m playing for a week and there’s always something to do and I can never have enough cash in the bank. I personally find the store a little crowded, which may hinder players’ decisions when it comes to purchasing. Also, difference between price points and that between the amounts given do not properly scale. I would suggest having a decoy offer in the middle range price points for an A/B test, to see which cohort generates higher revenue.

Also, for players that will likely convert into in-app purchases, the decoy offer would bring a little help during the decision-making process.

Kudos to Kolibri Games — you guys built a great game and great product!

Hope you enjoyed reading for the first ever article that I published. If you have any questions regarding this article or anything related to the gaming world, hit me up on LinkedIn.

Creating magic with creative teams at Square Enix Montreal.