carter_craterAmong the mobile gaming enthusiast community here at TouchArcade, it seems like ads are a hot topic recently. Flappy Golf 2 [Free] is ad-supported, but doesn't have an ad removal IAP. Sonic CD [Free] was updated to be ad-supported, with outrage over the app inadvertently still showing ads to previous customers at first. The presence of ads in games and the potential inability to remove them is a sensitive topic among our readers. Advertising in the modern era is an interesting topic, because people are increasingly unwilling to pay for content. As well, there are concerns over marketing perhaps spreading its tendrils too far into society, where more aspects of the world are inundated with advertising than ever before. But for mobile gaming enthusiasts, the issue is one of nuisance: ads are annoying and distracting in many games. Many games offer the ability to eliminate ads, but a select group do not. Now as press, I have a different perspective from the average reader: I certainly empathize with folks who hate ads, because they bother me too, and I like ad removal IAPs. But I also know why sometimes games don't have them, and why ads are so prevalent in mobile games, and I want to explain a bit on why things are the way they are.

First off, it's worth realizing that ad-removal IAP is a panacea, not a revenue stream for developers. Enyo is an interesting case study because you have a game that just has a one-cost removal of ads and a full game unlock. Yet, through the use of incentivized ads, Enyo was able to make more money from ads despite offering up a one-time, low-cost game unlock. On paper, and to enthusiasts, it would seem like the ad-removal IAP would be the money maker? Yet, it isn't, and for countless other games, it's the ads that make money, not the ability to get rid of them. It goes to show that unfortunately, the wishes of mobile gaming enthusiasts aren't always what's good for the creators of these games. The market can feel like it's tilted against enthusiast's wishes because the general market has different wishes.

Take Flappy Golf 2 [Free] for example. Some people are mad about the fact that the game has ads but no way to remove them. I understand, it kind of bothers me too! But it's worth considering this: a significant part of the Flappy Golf audience are student-age people. Many of them might be repulsed by seeing that "Offers In-App Purchases" listing on the App Store. Because the App Store listings don't differentiate between "this game has consumable IAP" and "this game has a one-time unlock," anything that has IAP winds up looking like Candy Crush Saga [Free]. Who should Noodlecake appeal to – the thousands of people whose downloads they could lose if they have an expectation of getting as free a game as possible without IAP, or the small but vocal crowd that wants the ad removal IAP? Keep in mind that this vocal crowd may not ever buy that IAP. People do not always do what they say they want. It's most likely that the value to Noodlecake – and other developers making similar decisions – is to look like they're entirely free, than to turn away downloads from people who just want a completely free game.

flappy-golf-2-ads

This all squares away with informal conversations I've had with developers before. The thing is that programming in the removal of ads in a game isn't something that just takes five minutes, necessarily, and any in-app purchase implementation can be fraught with technical and support issues. It's an implementation that comes with costs in time and effort that might not result in profit. This is especially so when you consider that the going rate for ad removal IAP is often rather cheap, like $1.99. Several indie developers have suggested colloquially that higher prices like $4.99 would be where it would start making sense based on how often people purchase them, but users don't want to pay them. So we get a microcosm of the App Store problem: the business models make a lot more sense when they come in volume. Mediocre is still kicking with the $1.99 unlock business model they used in Smash Hit [Free] and now in PinOut [Free] but also consider that they have the ability to get millions upon millions of downloads where getting the occasional $1.99 makes sense. And that's for IAP that unlocks and impacts the game beyond the typical ad removal IAP!

This doesn't mean that developers should eschew ad-removal IAPs, as a non-financial benefits exist for them. There's the concept of the "social whale" for free-to-play games. I.e., this is someone who might not pay a lot of money, but helps spread the word for the game and gets people engaged. And for some developers, that's where the value for removing ads comes in play: it's about keeping a certain segment of the audience happy, and evangelizing their games. After all, that crowd could wind up drawing in lucrative players at some point down the road, and they would have done so thanks in large part to the existence of ad removal IAP. These are tough to track, but they can be worth it down the road.

The other thing I would say to dedicated mobile gamers is this: unfortunately, you are the fan of a mode of gaming that isn't the friendliest to you, the enthusiast...yet. Maybe I'm foolish to think this, but I believe there will be greater interest in mobile gaming from serious gaming enthusiasts in the coming years. There will be more products and decisions made that cater to you. But for now, I think there has to be some empathy for developers who are trying to succeed in the difficult mobile market. And as enthusiasts, it's worth examining things from a perspective just beyond your own. Try to understand some basics about how the mobile gaming industry works and why things are the way they are. There are good developers trying to just earn an honest buck, and sometimes they'll make moves you don't like, but they're often for good reasons. The best thing you can do is this: if you see game and developers making things you like, you should financially support them. Voting with your wallet and getting the word out to others is the best thing that you can do to get your way.

  • ShelvsHotPencil

    I hope so.
    I mourn gameloft 💀.
    I am looking for another one. ( and I hope more devs like ray ark 🎯 the AppStore

    • Michal Hochmajer

      Honestly? As much as I love Rayark, Voez was a bit disappointing (Laggy no matter device, unlocking story part system, annoying half price reminder). Still believe, they are one of the best indie mobile devs. Probably as they grow, it is harder to manage bigger team. Question here is, if I want support them just because i totally love one of their games (I own/paid all except Mandora). We will see. Soul of Eden, Sdorica and Cytus II are on the way. Cytus II probably win over my pocket again, but...

  • ROGER-NL

    I never bought a game from an ad in a game never and I never will, because the games that are most shown in ads are the worst games out there ha ha, but the majority of people will buy them or download them because well you know what I mean. An ad in a game ruins the whole game for me, it's like putting a commercial banner on a Vincent van Gogh painting or Rembrand. I am still wondering today what was wrong with the 0.99 cents games in the first years of the Appstore, they should kept it that way.

    • cy@n

      The problem with the 99c games are the gamers. They are not willing to pay a single buck. That's sad but obviously true...

    • Rubicon Development

      The problem with $0.99 games is that they cost $0.99

      • Chan Nik

        Hey Rubicon, thank you for sharing valuables stats and experience.

        I totally agree with you.

        Sale models depend on what game type and style, the worst thing is to force the game to fit in a specific sale model just because for profit.

        It is a sad thing that game developer having a very hard time in getting revenue.

        Majority unwilling to pay actually causing developer unable to create new quality game as developing a quality game is very time consuming which means costing a lot, and knowing a lot of players unwilling to pay for is very discouraging.

        but keep up guys! you guys are doing a great job.

      • Rubicon Development

        Thanks Chan, we're still trucking. One day! 🙂

    • Maude St. Nubbins

      Well, do a little research and you'll find out how many downloads you lose by just pricing a game at a buck, let alone higher. And while you're at it, take some time to understand the business of game development and why you're batsh*t crazy for the expectation that games should cost 99 cents. Sure, it was a good price for you, and a horrible value proposition for developers. If you wonder why the AppStore is the way it is, look in the mirror.

  • Sir Keeps It Real

    I don't play ad supported games, never will.

  • LordShad0wz

    Carter, I have never downloaded or tapped an ad from inside of a game and I never will. Secondly, you stated the stats about Enyo, but what you missed was the fact that they might have made much less money if they DIDN'T have the ad removal because players such as myself would have deleted it. I won't play games with forced ads. I DELETED Flappy Golf 2 and gave it a bad rating. There's no reason to keep all types of players happy. You want as many people happy and playing your game.

    • http://twitter.com/JaredTA Jared Nelson

      The conversion rate of ad removal on Flappy Golf was one HALF a percent of their revenue. Tell me, if this was your business, would you take the risk of alienating a huge segment of your audience, the segment who will not download a game with IAP of any form, just to appease that half of a percent?

      • LordShad0wz

        Where is there stats that say people don't download games with IAP in it? The entire point of IAP is to give people choice.

      • Michal Hochmajer

        Whole point of ipa is to make money, not to give people choice! Under specific circumstances, iap could be "positive" or "good" thing. Carter explained it partially in the article. For most small developers implement iap without bigger investment (time/resources), keep it functional and even make money is complicated. It is simply additional layer of development. Just saying.

      • Rubicon Development

        Wrong. Ad removal iap's are put in as a service by the developer that benefits only the payer. Typically, a dev will earn more than $0.99 from a very active player over a games lifetime - it actually loses us money.

      • Michal Hochmajer

        Did you read my post carefully? My English sucks, but i think you misunderstood my point. I know your games (fan of great little war) and my previous post was partially criticizing this system as ineffective for a small developers. But iap are in games only to make money. I've never seen free iap. 🙂 btw. Nice to see you still in business.

      • Rubicon Development

        Thanks Michael. No I understood it. The point I was trying to make is that they actually don't make us money, not really.

        They are mainly there for the benefit of those who would appreciate it as a goodwill gesture. But if you play my game at least once a day for a year, click the odd advert here and there, I'm going to earn more than that iap is worth to me, esp after apple take their hefty cut off it.

      • Shkrbby

        There are no stats. It was a poor excuse invented by Noodlecake to try to justify alienating a group of their cisterns with pure unashamed profiteering. Disgusting. I'll personally never buy one of their games again and hear my friends and colleagues doing likewise.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        Please go outside.

      • Shkrbby

        Couldn't this weekend because of the forecasts, so our planned trek in the mountains was postponed. Next weekend is looking more promising.

      • Rubicon Development

        Exactly. We've tried both but our later stuff has no such iap in it. It's a dirty word among the audience, rightly or wrongly.

        There is either paid app, or adware app. Pick one and stick to it.

    • Rubicon Development

      You are not the audience. The flappy golf guys don't really care if you deleted it, what have they lost?

      The reason they're targetting other people? Well perhaps they don't want to give away some free gameplay, have their game deleted and then after all that receive a bad review.

      The clue is "review". It does not say "personal politics"

  • Simon Gruer

    Thank you Carter for a well balanced article. As a new game developer, I find the best way to survive is by in game advertising. I am going to adopt Crossy Road's model of reward based advertising where the user only sees advertising if they opt into the ad for a reward.

    As an avid mobile gamer myself, I personally loathe banner ads that eat up screen real estate and can't stand full screen ads that pop up after 5 or so retries. I would never adopt those strategies in any of my games.

    Like many other mobile gamers, I sorely miss the 0.99 cent days of Temple Run, Fruit Ninja, Jetpack Joyride, etc. I wish I could sell my game at that price point but I know I realistically can't, especially on the Android ecosystem.

    • Rubicon Development

      Opt-in video ads don't work very well at all. They account for no more than 10% of the income we make from ads, with the remained split between banners and popups.

      • Tonk Montana

        Wow. Only 10%? That is a very surprising stat. I thought incentivised ads worked better than that. Thanks for sharing the data.

      • Rubicon Development

        It does depend on the style of game of course, some are more suited than others. I would definitely advise not making this your opening strategy though - try it all, look at the numbers and refine later ?

      • Shkrbby

        And I believe that the vast majority of those banner/pop up ad clicks are purely accidental. Banner ads are an affront to real gamers who play for an actual experience.

      • Rubicon Development

        I've long since suspected that also, it's certainly a factor. Kinda moot though, if devs stop earning from adverts, they already don't earn from paid sales, the next stage is no apps at all. We can't do it for free even if we wanted to so there's nothing to gain by pushing for it.

  • Axle_65

    This was a very enlightening. What a great article. Thanks

  • YaoYao

    I agree, it is foolish to think that enthusiast iOS mobile gaming will pick up. Apple has been content to sit on their thumbs raking in money through the AppStore, while major issues that impact gamers aren't even on their radar.

    Easily 99% of my game purchases I find through the Toucharcade app, because it's interface, app history, and forums beat out the pathetic excuse for a market Apple has. We don't even get a label that tags games as mfi compatible or a way to search what devices an app runs on. And we have to mention the very real concerns that updates may break a game, and that older games can vanish forever.

    These are serious issues that will(/do) hamstring serious gaming on iOS, and apple doesn't remotely care.

    • Michal Hochmajer

      Apple care. They just don't know what to do. Neither I.
      Watching, how Google play changed past three years for good. WOW.
      I think people in Apple already realized (Apple car, Chinese market, EU taxes etc.) how limited their possibilities really are. I just want Apple to focus little more on user experience and eventually cooperation with 3rd party (fu Adonit 🙂 ) rather then only business side of their own! I understand that Apple want be more and more like fashion brand, but it can't work like that without flawless user experience.
      Not a big deal, Apple can be like that eventually next decade. IBM was too, till become chinese company (PC), which is not bad. 🙂

      • YaoYao

        Apple cares about stuff that doesn't necessarily improve things for gamers. Better-resolution, bigger screens, faster CPUs, and more RAM, we care about these, and fortunately they're all things that Apple cares about too. Beyond that? We're left hoping that what we need matches up with Apple's grand vision so there's a chance we get it. Look at how AppleTV has played out in the Toucharcade community: boundless optimism and excitement -> lackluster execution and poor support for games (games have to work with that remote? Really?) -> disappointment.

      • Michal Hochmajer

        And I agree.
        What do You think Apple can do more/better? I Am thinking about this pretty often (not just Apple) and it isn't that easy.
        For me as a gamer?
        1 - 25 bucks, easy to find, high quality games updated at least 3 years.
        It's mostly happening, but I am paying minority.
        For me as developer?
        Easier and faster review process. Better app searching and categorizing. etc.
        For my sister kids (two 6 yo and one 12 or so)?
        They don't care at all. Billion clicks to close ad > Who cares. What game > Who cares, there is so much.

        Look there is much Apple can do. Maybe TA can make survey article. 🙂
        Not so long ago, Apple have come with an idea of "update app or delete it from appstore". And people were like, WHAAAT? But technically this strategy is good for a few reasons. Less apps overall (good for searching and organisation) and creates blank space for similar apps (devs can create another derivation, if it is viable). Instead there is endless pool of apps, some of them work, some don't, most of them do not make money after some time.
        What i want to see is definitely environment, where all gamers can find what they want. But hey, it's about money. Developers need money for living. Gamers want pay what they can. And Apple...

      • Rubicon Development

        They need to stop chasing the big money by promoting all those rubbish iap-fest games with top-grossing charts etc. It doesn't even make sense to me because "big money" isn't that big compared to what a more thriving app store ecology would earn them.

        Focus more space back on "new and noteworthy", for less time so more games benefit, help push paid apps generally, spend some time seeking out things from smaller devs that are good but don't come with a massive media awareness campaign (most of them).

        It's all easy stuff they could do with almost no effort, but I don't think they're that bothered tbh.

      • Rubicon Development

        They need to implement a new sales model instead of just paid or free.

        "Pay once"
        "Contains one-off IAP unlock"
        "iap-fest"

        Any of those may or may not contain adds and this should also be indicated on the store page.

        "Has adverts + one time iap"

        When people see "has iap", they immediately think of these ridiculous pay to progess games and move right along. We need to break out the apps that are not this way.

  • Tallgeese

    I don't understand your use of panacea here as you're demonstrating that ad removal IAP is in fact not a "cure-all" for anyone. Do you mean a palliative?

    • Tallgeese

      And it depends on a lot more factors really, depending on the game type you can appeal to casuals and whales. The Five Night's games can get by being paid because they are highly visible franchise. For their audience Flappy Golf 2 has decided that most don't care about the ads (school kids who don't have credit cards to spend with anyways) and as a captive audience they don't have a choice. Some don't download if they see IAP but some also delete the second they have to see an ad. It's an oversaturated market that already lives within the space between spaces in our lives (already borrowed time).

    • bilboad

      I noticed that too. I assumed he meant palliative or placebo.

  • Rubicon Development

    That's exactly what the majority of developers have done - moved on. You say this stuff like a battlecry, but there's no pay off. There's plenty of love in my stuff for example and we even got a game of the year for one of them. It's not made us much money though, so now where are we? We are making adware games because that's where the market went.

  • dalglir

    Galaxy on Fire 2. Another game bought full price then turned free with intrusive ads. Fishlabs claimed full price owners wouldn't get them. Would love to understand by which mechanism the game worked that out as it sure as hell didn't work for me.

    Couldn't buy another Fishlabs game after that.

  • bilboad

    I thought this was a good article. As a dev myself I certainly respect that devs need to follow the market, unless they're just making games for a hobby and don't need to make a living off it. As a gamer though, I've ended up just avoiding most f2p and adware games altogether. There are enough alternatives, especially if like me you're not limited to iOS/Android gaming, that there's no reason to put up with compromised games. I'd much rather pay $30 for a game on my 3DS than play they typical free or $1 iOS game.

    • Tallgeese

      Yeah, it must be hard, some try and use kickstarter too and that brings its own headaches...

    • ScaryFatKidGT

      Exactly what I just posted, serious games are on consoles

  • ScaryFatKidGT

    Add's and pay to win/wait to win games are why mobile will always be second to consoles and PC. 90% of the games are just made to wait your time not actually be fun.

  • visualplayer

    Well, yes, but let's talk about the sustainability of this ecosystem bec everyone here is assuming ads will remain a viable source of revenue.

    I'm not. I think they're BS expenses for businesses and that ads for games and other products rarely pull in revenue for the companies which place those ads. Kids are playing games with ads because their brains have learned to shut the ads out. That's all. They're not clicking and downloading at a sustainable rate. And that's why there's no real stats out there.

    At some point businesses will realize they're paying for advertising that doesn't enhance their business and the current model will change. At that point IAPs (which are basically premium games with an unlock and which SHOULD be considered a revenue stream and treated as such; if they're not, that's a developer's choice) will be reconsidered as a more viable source of revenue.

    • Rubicon Development

      It's not for developers to consider. We react to what the market is showing preference for or we die. Just because you don't like the current model (and neither do I to be fair), that doesn't mean it's not the case - the majority of people just don't to pay and the minority don't generate enough income for us. That's the bottom line.

  • Crafty Wheel

    Great article! Enlightening discussions. Thank you