Does game advertising ever work?

shotgunfreeLately I’ve been taking an interest in ad supported games. It’s tempting to believe that you can make a living as an indie without ever asking your players for their credit card numbers, but it’s ultimately dependent on the advertisers getting decent value, and I have serious doubts about that.

For example, take this case study prepared by an ad network called Mobclix. It’s about an iPhone app called Shotgun Free. It makes shotgun noises in response to being shaken as if it’s a pump-action shotgun. (Idiotic, huh?)

The app displays ads across the bottom of the screen for a scanty 15 seconds per ad. You wouldn’t imagine that many people would see, let alone click on an ad while they’re making gun gestures with the whole device! Surprisingly the ad network behind this game is trumpeting a superb 6.5% click-through rate for this game.

If you believe any of these users intentionally clicked, I have a bridge going cheap. While they’re loading the shotgun, their pinky finger will be in the neighbourhood of the ads. The developers are making money off poor ergonomics!

You don’t have to be on the iPhone to take advantage of wayward clicks. The only times I’ve ever clicked on an ad at Kongregate have been during frantic gameplay.

You can only fool the advertisers for so long. Eventually they’re going to realize that visitors sourced from Mobclix never stay on their site for any length of time, and that their purchase rates are terrible. They won’t know why, because advertisers never deal with developers directly, but they’ll invent some explanation. Maybe they’ll assume that gamers are the wrong audience. Maybe they’ll think there’s click fraud. Whatever they conclude, it’ll force down Mobclix’s advertising rates.

I can see two outcomes:

  1. Conventional wisdom forms among advertisers that game ads just don’t work. Ad rates dwindle to nothing. See MochiAds for a preview of this: they’re paying $0.20 CPM. A million page views is worth a measly $200!
  2. Ad networks insist on stringent requirements on how ads are presented.
I’m not relishing either possibility because I’ve been really enjoying the fruits of the ad supported Flash scene. I’d hate to see their livelihood dry up, or their creative options dictated by ad networks.

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