To Ad Or Not To Ad? That Is The Question

Mark Stephens

Game developers have been riding on the back of a huge boost in social and mobile gaming this year but, as we’ve pointed out before on this blog, the constant question of how to actually run a business from developing games and apps still bugs most of the smaller, independent developers.

We all hear about the Zyngas and Rovios of this world but really they are few and far between; most small developers are making games that are free for download on the App stores and have to monetise either by in-game purchases, charging for additional levels or by advertising.


The question of whether to use advertising is a controversial one and it has been the subject of a few lengthy chats in the Monkeybin tree-house!

In-Game Advertising – Projections, Attractions and Problems

The earliest known piece of in-game advertising can be traced to 1991, when a spot for Penguin biscuits appeared in the game James Pond – RoboCod.

The growth of mobile devices, gaming consoles, handsets and lately smartphones and tablets has raised the stakes significantly since then.

According to this report, in-game advertising was expected to reach around $1 billion by 2014, so clearly it has been identified as an area where game developers can get repayment for some of their hard work.

It’s attractive to advertisers because of good scalability and accountability, high levels of audience engagement, high impact and positive brand associations. Plus, it’s generally a lot lower cost than more traditional mainstream ways of advertising.

But finding the right balance between what the advertisers want and what the gamers want will be key; plus considerations of the technical limitations of where dynamic and static ads can be placed and how they can be presented will enter into the argument.

It does depend who you read but various opinions online range from saying that in-game advertising will ruin mobile gaming, will give it a massive spur or will turn gamers away to that it will have no effect on the gaming experience at all!

Of course may companies running studies and expressing opinions have a vested interest in advertising, so we need to look beyond that.

Let’s look at a recent concrete example.

The Hero of Sparta Example


Gameloft announced last week that it was taking its ads out of their Hero of Sparta 2 game and reverting to its paid app status.

Previously the company charged for downloading the game but took the decision to include ads as a way of attracting more users, allowing them to offer free downloads.

After a flood of complaints from their gamers the company is now reversing the decision and it’s returning to a charge of $4.99 on the App store.

The problem with the ads was that they were distracting users, thereby spoiling the gaming experience.

Of course there are plenty of games out there that do use in-game advertising quite successfully but this story should act as a warning to any developers looking to change their methods of monetising – it may upset your existing fan base.


If you have any thoughts on advertising in mobile gaming we’d love to hear them as it’s an issue we will soon have to address.

Will it ruin the game for you? Or if it allows you to get the game for free are you willing to put up with a bit of blatant marketing? Let us know in the comments section below.