Gaming market has seen such a boom in several last years and has been abundant in innovation and platforms shift. With many devices popping up and new publishers emerging, advertising rules have changed for the whole ecosystem and several strong players appeared in this domain. Tapjoy is clearly one of them. We talked with Matt Kaye, who is on the business dev team with Tapjoy and discussed OS fragmentation and consistent gaming experience, Tapjoy market that was recently launched, game recommendation mechanics, Tapjoy Android Fund and much more.

Grab a coffee and read away!

Would you please introduce yourself and tell us in several words what Tapjoy does?

I’m Matt Kaye and I’m on the business development team. Tapjoy operates a “value exchange mobile ad network.” This model allows users to opt-in to and engage with personalized advertisements for virtual currency or premium content. Never interrupting the users in app experience, like traditional ads.  Developers rely on Tapjoy to distribute their apps and to help monetize their free-to-play, virtual currency-based apps.

You’ve been around since 2007, and the gaming industry is quite a speedy track with many game recommendation and advertising companies appearing every other month. What makes Tapjoy unique?

Part of what makes Tapjoy unique is the fact that we’ve been around so long, which means that we’ve had that much longer to improve the technology behind our recommendation algorithms. But we also have a very large ad network, both in terms of the number of publishers in it – which now stands at more than 10,000 of the top freemium-based mobile apps – and the number of high-value advertisements – everything from application installs to mobile videos, special promotions and more from big-name brands.

In November you’ve launched Tapjoy Marketplace to give better app recommendations to players and also let them earn some in-game cash by completing certain actions (downloading an app, liking a page on facebook, etc). What’s the first feedback from users, developers and advertisers?

So far the feedback is all very positive. The marketplace represents a whole new way for people to discover and engage with mobile apps, so we weren’t positive how people would react to it, but the early feedback validates our belief that there is a real need for a service like this. Of course, we’ve gotten some constructive feedback as well, which tells us that people care enough to offer their input, and we are working to integrate many of those recommendations into the next version of the marketplace.

Tapjoy’s new app for Android is just a shortcut to HTML5 web page. Is a native app still in the works or this is a final version?

There are no plans to develop a native Android app. The beauty of HTML5 is that we develop new features/enhancements once and all supported platforms benefit at the same time. This results in a consistent experience as users switch between devices and platforms.

 Currently, the Tapjoy Marketplace works only with Android devices (at least for me). You had some disagreements with Apple before on pay-per-install ad model, but iOS is still clearly a leader in mobile gaming industry. How do you plan to conquer this market as well?

Actually, the Tapjoy Marketplace currently works for both iOS and Android. You simply visit from your mobile browser on any iOS or Android device and it should work fine. The whole “disagreement” with Apple was blown a bit out of proportion by the press. Apple basically decided that they didn’t like how PPI ads had the ability to influence their charts, and so they banned the use of those types of ads on their platform. But PPI ads were only one of our ad products, and we still have many others – including video ads, subscription sign-ups, lead forms, etc. – that we are running very successfully on iOS.

OS fragmentation is not a buzzword and many players hold devices running iOS and Android. Do you plan to offer universal and consistent experience on both platforms, or will each have its own approach?

Since many people own multiple devices running different operating systems, our goal from the very beginning was to deliver a consistent experience regardless of platform and device. This was the main driver for building the web app using HTML5.

A bit more on Apple’s iWalled garden. Their own Game Center and OpenFeint are perceived as a natural addition to gaming experience by regular players. Do you plan to directly compete with GC and OpenFeint or use them to leverage your advantage.

No, we have no plans to compete directly with Game Center or OpenFeint. In fact we see our service as complimentary or additive to what those guys are doing. Sure, there’s a social aspect to what we’re doing, but the Tapjoy Marketplace is by no means just for gaming apps. We have a large number of non-gaming apps within the marketplace and we cater to all flavors of users and applications.

Recommending a great relevant game requires a heap of information: purchased apps, ratings, friends’ likes, time spent playing each game, demographics and who knows what else. What information is useful for a sophisticated gaming recommendation engine?

Everything you just mentioned is important, but the bottom line is that no two people discover apps in exactly the same way. Just because I’ve installed one app doesn’t necessarily mean I’d like a similar app. Or just because my friends are playing a game doesn’t mean I’m going to like it too. So you have to take each user on a case-by-case basis and learn what they like based on past behaviors and decisions. That’s why we call Tapjoy a “personal” app marketplace – because our aim is to get to know you as an individual and deliver recommendations that are extremely customized and personal to you.

Tapjoy has published several applications for iOS. It’s not in line with your major business model. Was it an experiment and how well did it go?

Well, Tapjoy originally started out as an app developer on iOS. We launched Tap Defense, TapOut and several others that became moderate hits and served us well as test beds and proving grounds for our ultimate business. And we still use them as such, but we haven’t really been publishing any new apps on iOS recently. We do have the Tapjoy Android Fund, through which we’ve helped publish and launch several Android games, because that’s where we see one of the biggest growth opportunities at the moment.

You have Unity Plugin both for Android and iOS. Can you share some figures describing popularity of these plugins with Unity developers?

We have dozens of developers using Unity plugins across our network. Everyone from our largest developers to the long-tail are utilizing our Unity plugins to integrate Tapjoy into their applications. Just like our iOS and Android SDKs get updated regularly, our Unity plugins also get the same treatment. We’re always releasing new features and enhancements and we fully support our developers that do use Unity.

You’ve been poking video ads for quite some time now. What other advertisement models await us in the future?

All of our ads come back to the Mobile Value Exchange™ model, which we pioneered and which works really well within the mobile ecosystem. The gist of it is that it allows advertisers to offer consumers something they value – such as virtual currency for a game or premium content – in exchange for engaging with an ad. We are constantly rolling out new products that leverage this model, and as you pointed out video ads do so perfectly. We can’t comment too specifically about new ad products on the horizon but let’s just say that we have lots of very innovative and very cool ad formats in the pipeline.

Matt, I know you enjoy Heroes of Newerth just like I do :) What will Tapjoy staff be playing this holiday season?

I’m a big fan of Heroes of Newerth (really all DOTA offspring for that matter) and it’s very interesting to me being a player/consumer of that title, given the fact that they have recently made a transition to free-to-play with virtual goods. Previous to that, the player base was growing stagnant and it was no secret that economically the title was not scaling. Especially so when compared the success of League of Legends (which came out of the gate free-to-play). I can see first hand the positive impact going free-to-play has had on the game and it’s community, a great perspective given that I’m typically looking at things on a more macro business level.

In terms of what the Tapjoy staff has been playing over the holidays, one of our favorites to play as a group in the office is a mobile game called Super Stick Man Golf by Noodlecake Studios. It has a great synchronous 4-player mode that really gets everyone riled up and yelling at each other during close rounds. We are also constantly testing new titles that we are partnered with to offer direct feedback about monetization mechanics. My current personal favorite in mobile is a title called Inertia by Red Fly Studios. It’s a really great physics puzzle type game that almost reminds me of the Portal series in a way. It’s great to see so many high quality console and PC gaming developers make their way over to mobile.

Thanks to Matt and Tapjoy for the great story! Heyworks wishes your team to have a great year, innovative ideas on how to to advertise superb games and creativity.