Indie devs who put ads in their games are fools!

On June 19, 2015, in idevblogaday, by Steffen Itterheim

Imagine you downloaded a racing game and launch it. This is the first thing you see:

Car Ad

You think: “Cool, that’s a really nice car! Graphics look even better than on the App Store screenshots. Okay, of course I want to ‘Race Now!'”

Worst case scenario: you are gone, happily playing that new (and arguably better) racing game. The Indie dev gets his fair share of the deal: $0.10.

This rant needs more detail …

Of course you’re not all fools. Ha, fooled you by calling you a fool in the headline, fool! 😉

Anyway, I think it is (or can be) a tremendously stupid idea to allow game ads to appear in your game, more so if they are fullscreen ads. Even worse if they advertise a game (if only in the ad itself) that looks tons better and way more fun than yours. Which they normally do.


EAxceptions notwithstanding …


Pun asim, those who can’t make great ads often resort to various forms and levels of clickbaiting.

You know, the kind of ad where there’s a clearly visible (X) button in the top-right corner, in the image itself. That’s the worst. Or just a big fat PLAY NOW button anywhere in the image. We are trained to tap large, round-corner buttons.

Hmmm … large button .. vibrant color .. and that bevel …. must .. tap.

The end result: you allow game companies who can afford to pay for ads to place them right inside your so-so looking and possibly quirky game. Consider that for a moment before you become eager to put ads everywhere in your game.

Note that you can always add ads later in an update, if and when the app actually has a notable number of downloads that gives you a decent ROI (return of investment) from showing ads which mainly serve to annoy users.

Unless you’re one of those devs whose only unlock full version argument is to remove the ads. In that case: shame on you! That’s like having to pay extra in cinemas to be allowed in after the ads have started (or finished) playing.

In any case, remember: those who can afford to pay for ads also can afford to make their games look awesome and make the ads look very captivating and intruiging! In other words: They attempt to steal users away from your game and you allow this to happen for a miniscule share of money!

This may, or may not be, a problem for you respectively your app. But it’s definitely something you should think about.

Also bad …

There’s also cases where you not only feel that you’re in the wrong game, you also feel like you’ve just travelled across the globe only be yelled at “FYCK YOUT” or something in foreign language by some arrogant-looking cartoon character.



But, but ..

Yes, yes. I don’t know how much or what is in your control regarding ads (type of ad, ad language, frame, ad label etc). I’m a total ad noob.

It’s possible that you can control what kind of ads are okay in your app, but I can also imagine there’s a default which means ads of the same category as the app they appear in are preferred. In that case: this is great for advertisers and Apple, but should leave you more considerate as to when, where and how to display ads.

You may get more ad taps (CTR) aka mo’ money from same-category ads, or you may lose users to apps of the same category. Especially if they appear to be way better and more fun than yours in the ad.

Always try to imagine whether or how those ads might impress your users. This is especially true if your game is actually a ripoff of a popular mechanic. Imagine your Crappy Bird clone app actually promoting the original game. That’s … insanely stupid.

Gentlemen, mark your ads …

Obviously fullscreen ads should be marked clearly as advertisement. Typically by adding a clearly visible label that reads Advertisment somewhere while making the close button clearly visible, too.

Interestingly: larger game companies sometimes show a modal dialog before opening a fullscreen ad, at least the first time around, so that users know they will see an ad that has nothing to do with the game while using the chance to advertise for their ad-free version of the app either before or after the fullscreen ad. So you get two ads, one for whatever, the other for the company’s other games or the paid version.

It’s not just fullscreen ads …

Of course, please remember that ad banners over the game area are ripe with issues, too. Like this one, where does the play area end, where does the banner begin?


Worst kind I’ve seen where games where you have the controls at the bottom of the screen. After a few seconds of play the banner appears at the bottom, moves the game area and all controls up and you automatically tap on the banner. Gnaah!

This is anger pointed at the developer and none other. You lose more user trust than anything by doing that, willingly or unwittingly.

Put your ad banner far, far away from any user tap area. Best: don’t show ad banners during gameplay. It’s meaningless anyway because the player is concentrating on the game, won’t even take notice of the banner and will only ever tap on it by accident!

And if banners don’t load instantly – and assume they don’t on end user devices – leave a blank area or add a dummy banner image where the banner is normally shown to let the user know that this area is off-limits as far as the game is concerned.

Thank you for listening to this rant. It has been served in words, not audio, to go easy on your ears. 😉

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