Trivia Crack is an atypical mobile game that relies on advertising for most of its revenue.
Google is pumped up about ads in mobile games, and it thinks you should be too.
You wouldn’t be blamed for being skeptical, considering the message comes from a company that makes most of its money off advertising. But Jeff Birnbaum, head of gaming partnerships at Google, says that the smarter ads it has in mind pop up less frequently and lower the likelihood of annoying gamers. Relying on ads for revenue also means a publisher can offer you a complete game, rather than one that constantly nudges you to pay for extra lives or levels.
Birnbaum’s enthusiasm for getting Google more involved in mobile games underscores the enormous potential in the market, which was worth an estimated $13 billion last year, according to researcher PwC. While almost all of that revenue is from in-app purchases, or those levels or lives that cost you extra, Birnbaum believes advertising will start to catch up because it represents an untapped area of growth.
“We’re at a bit of a tipping point right now,” Birnbaum said in an interview last month.
The push by the Mountain View, California, Internet search giant has an impact on gamers, too. Google believes it can provide a better experience by serving you ads that target your interests.
Jeff Birnbaum, a liaison between game developers and Google’s advertising force, says better ads can help game play, not harm it.
Birnbaum points to an extreme case to show that Google-powered game ads can work in the best interests of both player and developer. When Etermax, the Buenos Aires-based creator of the hit mobile game Trivia Crack, agreed to stop sticking in commercials from any ad network other than Google’s AdMob system, it produced some helpful changes for players.
The ads were more consistent, so if players wanted to close a video spot, they would find the button to tap in the same place every time. With one ad network, the game plays less video advertising, and individual players are less likely to run into repeat viewings of the exact same commercial.
“Seeing the same ad all over and over again … you don’t like it as a user, you don’t like it as a publisher, and you don’t like it as an advertiser, too. It’s bad for everyone,” said Maximo Cavazzani, the founder and CEO of Etermax.
Birnbaum points to other benefits for game players when developers use fewer ad networks, including speed. Typically, a mobile game with advertising has multiple systems feeding ads to fill available slots in the game. These vendors bid in real time to fill that opening, but the seconds it takes to determine a winner add up to the time a player has to wait for the spot to load, he said.
The more ad networks a game includes, the bulkier that game is to download and store on your device, Birnbaum said. That means the next time you’re deciding which storage-hogging app to delete so you can fit more photos on your phone, a game loaded up with ad vendors may be in your crosshairs.
Still, game advertising is bound to be a nuisance in the way that all commercials are, said Stephanie Llama, director of research and consumer insights at video-game researcher SuperData. The least offensive ads pop up without interrupting play, she said, but more lucrative ads are going to be more disruptive. “Advertising in mobile games is going in the direction of all advertising online,” she said. “People have learned to tune it out.”
Meanwhile, advertising is vital to games played by people in newly industrialized countries, said Fabien Nicolas, vice president of marketing at analytics company App Annie. In places like India and Southeast Asia, where small incremental purchases are a greater burden on smaller disposable incomes, much as 70 percent of revenue is coming from advertising in games, according to Nicolas.
Even in places like the US, where games are heavily weighted to in-app purchases, pressure is building on developers to squeeze more value out of the vast majority of players who never spend a dime, according to Nicolas. “We’re going to see the makers who are really excelling at in-app purchases try to figure out how to monetize the other 95 percent, ” he said.