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Why would a small game studio buy a Super Bowl ad?

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Heroes Charge is a straightforward card-based combat game for smartphones. It's the sort of bombastic fare that defines mobile gaming in 2015, and goes pretty well unnoticed outside its own target audience.

On Sunday, it will have a moment in the glaring spotlight of the Super Bowl. Its 12-person publishing studio UCool is taking a nationwide 15-second commercial during the year's most prime of primetime TV slots. It might seem like a wild marketing gambit, but the game's marketing focus is mostly on attracting players through TV.

Heroes Charge launched in October 2014, and was promoted through a TV campaign on cable channels like Comedy Central and Adult Swim. According to AppAnnie it is the third highest grossing role playing game in the U.S. on Google Play, and is a top-seller in the Apple App Store's card-based game charts.

Heroes Charge is a free-to-play game from the company behind the likes of Evony: Age II and TynonIt's been downloaded 9.7 million times and claims a monthly retention average of above 30 percent. In the packed and fiercely competitive market for free-to-play online and mobile games, marketing takes on an enormous importance.

"Through television, we're seeing a ten-fold growth in our player volume," said uCool's Benjamin Gifford. "There are over one million apps for players to choose and engage in, and many of them are using multiple old channels like Facebook, YouTube, Google Adwords and others which has really increased the cost to market in what is now an overly saturated area. There's only a handful of large mobile studios advertising on television, and there's only one small studio."

Gifford said that the goal of buying Super Bowl airtime, estimated to cost around $4.5 million for a standard 30-second spot, is not necessarily to see an immediate return on investment. "We estimate that there's over 40 million mobile game players watching the Super Bowl, even if just a fraction see our ad and get a sense of how great the game is, we'll be happy."

One of the main benefits of a Super Bowl ad is the conversations that follow and the social media frenzy over which ads offered the most entertainment. UCool's in-house creative is unlikely to win many plaudits, but the company says there's value in being a part of the conversation.

"I expect our ad to be part of the conversation about Super Bowl ads after the event, and we're currently featured in Adweek's adtracker," said Gifford. The ad will subsequently run on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" and then roll out across broadcast and cable channels.