The game comes from Chengdu StarUnion Interactive Entertainment Technology Co., Ltd, which was established in 2019 by Chen Li, the gold producer.
Chen Li was a core member of the production team of „Mafia City“ and joined YOTTA Network in 2015, serving for nearly 4 years when he left. In 2019, Chen resigned and started StarUnion.
At the beginning of its establishment, StarUnion received an investment of 15 million yuan from 37 Interactive Entertainment, valuing it at 50 million yuan. In 2020 another investment from Tencent, Tencent accounted for 20% of the shares. It is reported that by the end of year 2020, the company’s total assets exceeded 100 million yuan.
According to the announcement of the shareholder 37 Interactive Entertainment, StarUnion had a loss of more than 30 million yuan (around 4.5 million USD) on revenue of 1.41 million yuan (around 200k USD) for the year 2020. But shareholders still show high confidence in the company. The reason is very understandable, at year 2019 they hardly launched any big products. The amount of loss can also be roughly seen in their investment in research and development is still relatively high.
StarUnion’s strength has gradually been exposed at year 2021. They launched more than a dozen different types of games in first 2 years, relying on on revenue from advertisement in casual games. Now they have 3 games in operation for west market, The Ants: Underground Kingdom, Art of Vikings, and Beast and Puzzles.
The SLG game „The Ants: Underground Kingdom“, which has been officially launched in January 2021, has been downloaded more than 5 million times in just six months and generates more than 7 million USD in revenue. In June that year, „The Ants: Underground Kingdom“ was launched on iOS in Japan, and took the highest 7th place in the free game ranking in first month, and even in Korea, its popularity is also unprecedented.
The Ants: Underground Kingdom base-building strategy game and moves the player’s perspective to the underground ant kingdom, and the 3D realistic modeling of the game screen mixed with the real image of ants, so that players can recognize a variety of ant species while playing the game, this fresh and unconventional theme is really attractive. The game offers a Rich Multilayered strategic gameplay and graphics experience. Unlike most modern games, it is lightweight in size, making it accessible for lots of players. In this game, the Player is the Ultimate Ant Ruler who leads the Queen, Builds the Anthill, grows the colony, and defends against the enemies.
According to Sensor Tower, the fastest growing theme in terms of revenue was animal/insect, which generated $26.5 million in U.S., representing an increase of 904% year-over-year. Sensor Tower attributed the majority of this growth to The Ants: Underground Kingdom from StarUnion, which accounted for 89.6% of consumer spending.
But what stands behind the success "The Ants: Underground Kingdom"?
Behind all of the success, its promoting and advertising strategy.
StarUnion was very cautious when taking their first step. In the beginning, they flexibly change the advertisement target region. When the game was just published on Google Play Store The Ants were mainly advertised in Europe and the United States regions.
Time lapsed to June, when „The Ants: Underground Kingdom“ was launched on iOS, and the main advertisement regions became more precise. Based on the results from the Android test, StarUnion selected Korea, Australia, Canada, the United States, and Japan as the key targets for future advertising.
Precise Ad format choice
In terms of the choice of Ad format, „The Ants: Underground Kingdom“ is also mostly video-based, and the main methods used are also very characteristic of the game itself.
The video ads drive the whole performance of the game. They are also running some static images but it’s a negligible amount of ads in comparison with videos. Most of the inspiration is taken from games like Hero Wars, Kingdoms Guard, Top War, Evony, and others which also stole the inspiration from hypercasual games. But they also create their own creative ideas that are driven by motivations that cover most types of players and game genres like Progression, Power, Expertise, etc.
- Progression – Players who take pride in building, managing, and improving things.
- Power – Players who want the power that they don’t have in real life.
- Expertise – Players who want to develop an ability to do something exceptionally well.
Fun fact – they are using square, vertical, and horizontal creative formats 99% of the time and hardly use an Instagram format of videos. Creatives with a ratio: of 4:5 or 1080×1350 from our tests always beats the classic square format used in Instagram News Feed or even Facebook News Feed placement in terms of lower CPI and of course higher ROAS. But always make sure that the visuals are perfectly sized and cropped. It’s a simple process to ensure that your ads look perfect, and it can have a big and very profitable impact on your campaigns. z
The most common type of video themes they using
Realistic life of Ants
At the beginning of advertising, they used real acting videos by „Ants“ a lot. They are still active in Japan where this kind of material is easier to attract insect lovers, especially Japanese players who are familiar with insect culture. Usually, people won’t understand the life habits of ants without research. Let’s think when you suddenly see this kind of uncommon video when you are online surfing on your phone, whether you are interested or not, more or less you will stay on this page for a while, sometimes the most uncommon thing is the most effective one.
Later on, they started producing a bit controversial type of ads that copied popular videos from IG shorts or TikTok in combination with Amelia’s voice (the woman behind the famous text-to-speech feature).
In this concrete case, the player’s motivation will be curiosity. There is no gameplay shown or some other cut from the game itself only the end cart which is the same as every other video from their production.
This type of video ad is tailored for TikTok or IG Reels where the best practice is to use real-life people and situations to look like naive content. Also, the creative length fits the ideal length up to 15s.
Leveling-up, win with weak
This type of method has been used in Chen Li’s previous work „Mafia City“, and in this ant game, the differences of identity is transformed into the size difference between the ants and lizards or other common ants opponent, which is even more immersive than the original version. Through hardworking to improve levels, and then instantly KO the opponents, this kind of weak ones winning the strong used here, the effect is particularly significant.
There also made Christmas version of this kind of video ad. In this ad the player motivation fits power. That means the ad is tailored Players who want the power that they cannot achieve outside of the game. Many gamers play with a focused purpose of defeating others and achieving victory.
Similar approach as the previous ad but it’s more tailored to the type of players that are motivated by expertise. Players who want to develop an ability to do something exceptionally well.
Also used method win with weak but focused on players that motivate progression. Players who take pride in building, managing, and improving things.
Also another example were used progression as an player motivation.
Unique theme: ant breeding
Most people don’t raise ants in their own homes, right? But we all know that the existence of the ant queen, so if we see this kind of content that you can build an ant kingdom in the game, users who seek novelty will probably try it. It is also one of the main tools of this game to show the reproduction process of ants through exaggeration.
Progression as an player motivation
Expertise as an player motivation
Power as an player motivation
Also as we mentioned early, most of the inspiration is taken from games like Hero Wars, Kingdoms Guard, Top War, Evony, and others which also stole the inspiration from hypercasual games. Here is a couple of examples: