Lisa Marino on RockYou’s Publishing Partners, Ad Platform Growth in Gourmet Ranch And Zoo World

The last time we spoke with RockYou’s Lisa Marino, she’d just been made CEO after a wild ride from chief revenue officer to chief operating officer in a two-year period. Now that some of the dust has settled and RockYou is releasing games again after an empty 2010, Marino is ready to reveal the developer’s new role as a social games publisher and ad platform.

In a way, neither role is “new” to RockYou. In 2011, the company announced a publishing deal with John Romero and Brenda Brathwaite’s Loot Drop studio for its new game, Cloudforest Expedition. The company’s also been selling ad inventory as far back as 2008 when RockYou didn’t really have a games portfolio. Now, however, the company’s different components have gelled in a way that allows RockYou to formalize a publishing partners program that leverages its ad platform and social games experience gleaned from Zoo World, Zoo World 2, Gourmet Ranch, and now Cloudforest Expedition.

Inside Social Games: So how’s that CEO position working out for you?

Lisa Marino: Well RockYou is never short of surprises, but things in general are going quite well. We’ve got four game launches in about four and a half months, so we’re busy little bees. In addition, we’re in the process of launching our ad platform and working on case studies with Gourmet Ranch. Those will be done in the next six weeks or so. At that point, not only will it be integrated in all of our games, but we’ll be able to work with third-party developers to help them monetize better through brand advertising.

ISG: Gourmet Ranch has been going through a lot of changes lately. We’ve seen it spike on our growth charts against after falling off sometime after the royal wedding campaign ended. Can you talk about what’s going on there?

Marino: We were marketing it pretty aggressively through June, took a bit of a break to work on a couple of key new feature launches that we had — one of them will be out on Thursday; it’s exotic animals. We tested a variety of new features and functionality in the last 30 days and what came out of that was some really interesting user engagement and a really stable player base. So now we’re actively marketing the game again as of about three weeks ago.

ISG: And the ad platform you mentioned? How has that evolved into something you plan to integrate with Gourmet Ranch?

Marino: [Brand sales] have been core to our DNA for a very long time. Previously we were selling inventory on our reach apps — but it wasn’t until we started getting game inventory with Zoo World and now Gourmet Ranch and Zoo World 2 that the ad platform was able to make its full migration from reach apps to core gaming executions.

So we’re just finishing up a lot of new products for that platform and we’re integrating them into our games. We definitely still have Deal of the Day — Facebook is rolling that out with TrialPay, it did such a good job on tests we’re doing with them. So we’ve got that unit, we’ve got standard display… But the difference between [then] and now is, when you think about display in-game, it’s not just an ad for Toyota, it’s not just an ad for psychic reader network. It’s very much a strategy around how we cross-sell, how we promote and merchandise in our game.

Let’s say Gourmet Ranch was running their Beach Party [campaign] — which ended last week — we could do a lot of merchandising through the display units with the ad platform in addition to serving brand impressions, in addition to doing cross-sell. [There are] all sorts of things we can build channels around and communicate to our user base. What we’re testing right now is how to optimize those experiences. So, is there a difference between paying users and non-paying users? Do certain types of placements respond better than others? Like, if I show an impression for merchandising through virtual goods five times and they don’t click on it, maybe I shouldn’t show it again, maybe I should show a Toyota ad, maybe I should show them a cross-sell opportunity? We’re going through all that optimization right now, but it’s going to be a really powerful ad platform. We’ve seen in Zoo World, in each space, an [average revenue per user] of 25%. When you’re talking about the [lifetime value] of a user that’s very substantial.