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Ads make your games trashy, so here are some alternatives:

garrett profile image Garrett ・6 min read

Note: This is old content from GarrettMickley.com. I am no longer pursuing a game design career, but I didn’t want the content to go to waste, so I’m relocating it here. I hope the Dev.to community finds it useful.

Let me tell you about ads. They suck. Nobody likes ads. We all use adblockers now, right? I understand that doesn’t work in apps or games yet, but I fully expect someone to figure it out in the future.

But ads do make money.

Flappy Bird reportedly made $50,000 a day from ads. I made less than $100 off my first game, which I sold for $1.99 in the Google Play store. But that was my first game, so I’m happy with that.

I’m also really happy that there were no obnoxious ads in my game. It may not have had the best art, but dangit it was clean and ad free.

The Idea Behind Free Games With Ads

The idea behind free games with ads is that you’ll get more downloads, because it’s free. More downloads means more players, and more ad impressions means more money. More players also means you have the potential of appearing in app store’s “New And Noteworthy” section, as well as in the features section when your game inevitably becomes the most popular game in the app store (you know, since we’re fantasizing here).

The fact of the matter is, it’s hard to get there even with a free game. There are billions of apps in the app store now, that you’re competing against for attention. You might as well sell your game and put together a solid marketing plan instead of having a sloppy marketing plan based on free games.

Plus, you’re building your brand. Do you want to be known as the company that makes free, ad-laden games? Or do you want to be known as the company that makes good quality games, with no distractions?

Ads Cheapen The Experience

When I’m playing a game, I really just want to play the game. I don’t want to be distracted by ads.

Some could even argue that ads break the immersion. If you’re playing a game like Flappy Bird, there may not be immersion, but it’s still something to keep in mind when it comes to other games.

But most of all, they just cheapen the experience. Everytime I see an ad it makes me feel like this company is just trying to make money off of me playing their game. I feel like they didn’t create the game because they love to create games. They created the game because they wanted to make money.

That’s what ads do to your games. They make the player feel like you’re only trying to make money.

The Solution? Sell Your Game

You should be selling your game. You put a lot of hard work into that game, and you’re proud of it. You don’t want people to feel like you just want to make money, because you don’t just want to make money. Your goal with this game wasn’t to make money.

Your goal was to create a work of art and share it with the world. Interactive art that everyone can enjoy.

Bring Back Demos

The first part of my plan is to bring back demos. First of all, nostalgia is killing it these days, especially 90’s nostalgia.

Remember the days we used to get demos in the mail? I still have a stack of PS1 and PS2 demo discs I refuse to get rid of, even though I probably own most of the games on them now (or at least the ones I want to play).

That’s the feeling I want to bring back. Demo discs. Except without the disks, because those cost money to manufacture, and many computers these days aren’t even coming with disk drives. But, let’s bring back demos in the form of downloads.

If you forgot, here’s how they work: the player downloads the demo. It’s a short version of the game.

Let’s say it’s an RPG, for example. Maybe they only get a short part of the story, perhaps an hour of play time. They also have a shorter list of characters to play. Or if it’s an online multiplayer FPS, they only get one map and one character archetype. If it’s a platformer with 30 levels, maybe they only get five levels.

Either way, the idea is that you’re providing them with a short and free small slice of the game so they can see if they like it.

You can do this in the App stores. Just create a smaller version of your game, limited, with a slice of the gameplay, and name it GAME NAME DEMO (not necessarily all in caps). Then also put up the full release, at full price. In your demo, link to the full release.

“This is only a demo. If you like this game, please continue by purchasing the full version.”

Please note that I am not talking about holding back part of a game and making people pay for it to continue. This is not charging people for part of a game, or charging them to complete a game. This is charging for the full game, while giving away a small amount for free so they can decide if they like it or not.

You Can Also Go With DLCs And IAPs

The other option is to release DLC and IAPs, or DownLoadable Content and In App Purchases if you’re new to the industry.

DLC’s are sort of the new-version of expansions. You sell them for a small (or large if you want) amount of money and they add some features, or new characters, maybe new levels or an additional story to the game.

If you’re going to go this route, my recommendation is to wait a while after you launch the initial game and listen to your players. What do they want? Make a DLC out of that. If your provide your players with something they want, they’ll be more than happy to pay for it (especially if they already paid for and like your game).

As far as IAPs go, they seem to be doing really well, but I find it easy to be tempted to sort of be a jerk about them. I hate IAPs that cause you to pay to win, or speed up playing, or games that hold back until you either wait X amount of time or pay to speed it up. I just really really dislike that, I don’t enjoy games like that, and I won’t play them. Again, I feel like it cheapens the experience and reminds me or makes me feel like the developers only released this game to make money, not to share their art and experience with me.

That’s not to say that IAPs can’t be done right. The way I would do them, were I to ever have IAPs, is to offer cosmetic/aesthetic changes for purchase. Maybe the game offers alternate skins for a couple bucks a piece.

“You can make your characters/spaceships/background environments look different just by purchasing our IAP!”

This way, people who enjoy your game and want to continue playing it but change up the scenery a bit have an opportunity to do that while also supporting you, the developer.

Marketing Your Game

Okay, well, that’s going to take way more than just a paragraph in one post.

I used to teach game design and development, as well as the business and marketing of video games, but as I said before, this is old content from GarrettMickley.com and I have since changed careers. If you don’t already know me, I’ve been working in digital marketing since early February 2008 and I want to take that experience and share it with you.

As a game designer, I don’t see other devs and designers as competition. We’re a community. We’re in this together. I want us all to succeed and be able to share our creations with the world. Subscribe to the email list below) and let’s share our ideas and learn from each other.

Leave the ads to people who just reskin games and release them under different names hoping to make a few quick bucks.

Discussion (4)

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teotcd profile image
JedDevs • Edited

Hello, I am a Games Developer and i found this post very interesting and just wanted to contribute my opinion.

It is specificly the first part refering to Demos in games and how many games now seem as if the developers behind them are just looking to make money instead of share their art and work in the world.

Demos have certainly fallen out of fashion since the later 2000s and I believe this is due to the contributing changing video game market as they have become less effective as online stores like the play store become more competitive and diluted.

That said I do believe they can work a dream in markets such as Roblox inwhich the player has already purchased ingame currency with real cash, I have found in such markets players are more open to spending cash as they dont see it as spending real money, even though they are.
While these markets are stll competitve and players tend to not buy games outright if there is a free alternatve, if you offer a demo for free and they enjoy it they tend to be more open to spending currency on it. This can not be said, at least to such a degree in my opinion for other online markets like the play store where its straight from cash to game.

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themobiledev profile image
Chris McKay

For years I worked in the "shareware" industry and this worked extremely well (this was from 2000-2011). We didn't sell games, but rather time-limited software. In our case, we let the user have all of the features, but it only worked for a month. After the month, you either needed to uninstall the software or pay for it.

When I ventured off to do my own Play Store software I did what you suggested. I had a "lite" version and the full version. The tricky part was finding a way to migrate data between the two versions without using a server in the middle.

While this doesn't apply to games, it can still be done using in-app purchases. Supply a feature- or time-locked version, allowing the user to purchase the full app if they want more power.

Now, if only we could find a way to properly implement upgrade pricing...

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teotcd profile image
JedDevs

Love to see some more content like this! Great article.