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If you watched television last month, you probably felt like you couldn’t escape commercials for publisher Activision’s sci-fi shooter, Destiny. But that company doesn’t spend nearly as much on TV advertising as some other game makers.

In terms of the number of national airings, no publisher had more commercials on television than Candy Crush Saga company King. Since the beginning of this year, King has paid to have 11 different TV spots air more than 34,000 times, according to advertising-intelligence company iSpot.tv. That’s more than Sony (around 3,000 ads) and Microsoft (around 7,500) combined. While it might seem crazy that a publisher of free-to-play mobile and social games is spending more than the behemoths behind the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, it makes a bit more sense when you look closer at the mobile market. Smartphone and tablet games are on pace to generate more than $21 billion in revenue this year, and publishers are fighting to get every little piece — and every players — that they can.

King isn’t the only mobile, casual, or free-to-play developer pouring money into its TV marketing. Clash of Clans publisher Supercell aired around 4,500 ads, which is more than Activision’s approximately 3,000 commercials. Big Fish Games, which is a casual-gaming website, paid to broadcast 1,000 TV spots. World of Tanks developer Wargaming advertised more than 3,000 times.

These companies — King, Wargaming, and the rest — are finding that their television campaigns are often a better avenue to discover new players than traditional “user-acquisition methods.” When it comes to free-to-play, only a small percentage of gamers actually spend money, which means that publishers always need to bring in new players. For the last few years, a company like King would get new gamers by paying for advertising in other mobile games. But the rates for those kinds of ads are on the rise. For much of 2013, the average cost-per-install was around $1, according to market-intelligence firm Fiksu. Now, that figure is closer to $1.50.

“We [would] spend, I would say on average, $100 million per quarter on paid marketing,” King chief financial officer Hope Cochran said during a Deutche Bank conference for investors. “And that has shifted, I would say, over the last couple of quarters, to — it was very mobile ad driven. And we’re still maintaining a strong presence there, but we do feel like we can reach a lot of our players through the cross-promo, and so we’ve been shifting those dollars to TV advertising over time.”

Rising advertising costs on mobile are especially problematic for a company like King. Some of its games have spent more than a year at the top of the most downloaded charts on iOS and Android. It has saturated the market with ads, and spending more for a smaller potential audience doesn’t make a lot of sense. That’s why King has aired more than 34,000 ads on television since January.

“We’re finding that TV has been much more effective than we had anticipated, which is great,” said Cochran. “And what we find is people sit on their couch, and they’ve got their iPad or they’ve got their device; they watch the commercial and they do  downloads. So it’s more impactful than we had originally anticipated, as well as you’re just reaching a different group than those who are just playing our games through the cross-promo. So TV has been something that we’ve increased quarter over quarter, and we found it to be very effective.”

Prime time is more important to the consoles

King’s 34,000 TV spots cost the company nearly $55 million. That is a ton to spend on marketing, but Microsoft still spends more even though it only aired a fraction of the commercials. When you consider its Xbox console commercials and Microsoft Studios games, the corporation spent more than $66 million on television advertising. That’s for just around 7,000 spots.

How can Microsoft spend more on fewer commercials? Because it is targeting prime time and highly rated events like football. This tactic costs a lot more.

King is hitting smaller cable shows. Checking iSpot.tv’s website, I can see that the ad for King’s Diamond Digger Saga last aired on Headline News Network, which rates lower than Fox News, CNN, or MSNBC. Microsoft’s latest Xbox One ad (which features famous football players) last aired today on the NFL Network. Targeting ads at the 18-to-34-year-old men who watch the NFL Network likely costs a bit more.

Here’s a break down of what each company spends, according to iSpot.tv (note that this breaks up the spending for Xbox/PlayStation and Microsoft Studios/Sony Video Games):

  • King.com: $55 million
  • Xbox: $43 million
  • PlayStation: $30 million
  • Supercell: $29 million
  • Activision: $26 million
  • Microsoft Studios: $23 million
  • Big Fish Games: $19 million
  • GameFly: $19 million
  • Sony video games: $17 million

With more money going into mobile and social, it’s no surprise that companies like King and Supercell are right up at the top in terms of spending. In order to maintain their dominance of the download charts, they have to find more gamers every where, and TV is still one of the best ways to sell to an engaged audience.

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