Abusive ad practices have killed mobile gaming for me

Android figures
(Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

You have a smartphone that is more powerful than the computers used to send men to the moon in 1969. It's great for productivity and keeping in touch with all of your friends and family (it can even make phone calls!) but it can also be fun. There are thousands and thousands of games that you can install and play.

The problem is that no matter how great the game may be, and there are plenty of great ones available, greedy ad networks have ruined them. I'm done with it all and won't be installing any free games on my phone until someone does something about the horrid ads that plague the mobile game industry.

It doesn't have to be done this way.

You've seen what I'm talking about. You are given a choice to watch an ad to gain some sort of in-game advantage but you say no. You see an ad anyway. Or you play a level of your favorite puzzle game and you're forced to sit through an ad before you get to play another. There are plenty of other examples of how ads are forced down our throats, too.

What's worse is the ads themselves. You sit through 15 seconds of an intro, then you get to see a 30-second timer, then you press a fast-forward button, then wait 10 more seconds before you are presented with a way to close the ad. Hopefully, you can see the X in the corner because someone evil bastard somewhere thinks it's great to put a white X on a white background. This makes sure I am never going to install whatever is being advertised.

Gamesir X3 and Nintendo Switch

(Image credit: Jennifer Locke / Android Central)

It's one of those circular catch-22 types of situations for game developers. Nobody seems willing to pay for a game on their phone and they can't afford to work for free. Developers also have rent and car payments and electric bills, you know?

That means they are forced to depend on the advertising model for monetization. That's where things are mostly out of their control and they are at the mercy of an ad network. Every X number of times an ad is shown, they get a few pennies. There may be some extra incentive if someone actually installs something that's advertised through their app, too. It's never a lot of money on a per-user basis but it does all add up and a developer of a popular game can usually make a bit of profit through ads.

The user experience of a great game can quickly die when ad networks get involved.

I don't know anyone who works for a mobile ad network, and from what I've seen I probably don't want to know anyone who works for a mobile ad network. All the care and craftsmanship that goes into the user experience of a great game is entirely ignored by the crappy ads for the same few games. I'm not naming names here because those games might be tremendous and built by developers who care but are stuck inside the same cycle of crap from ad networks. But you know which ones I'm talking about because you see the same ads I do.

This isn't an Android-specific problem either. You can also find abusive ads in free iOS and Windows games. I care more about the Android side of things because a Pixel 6 Pro lives inside my pocket. Ads are a fine way to turn a buck when done correctly. When they aren't done right, they suck. Trust me — after working for over a decade at a website that depends on advertiser revenue I have seen plenty of suckage.

The board game Carcassonne lays on a table in the background with the Carcassonne mobile app displayed in front.

(Image credit: Android Central)

Unfortunately, there isn't much anyone can do to fix it. We don't enjoy the avalanche of ads and developers probably hate seeing their work turned into a vehicle for abusive behavior. Ad networks only care about revenue because they are taking their pennies first, long before any sort of developer payout. It's also a tough ask to get users to pay for a game they aren't sure they will enjoy, even if it's only a few bucks.

It's a thing that Google and Apple need to sort out. There are rules about how ads can act. They have to follow a few basic privacy and security rules and they can't show inappropriate things, but they also have some rules that make them slightly less terrible. You can read Google's rules here and then be annoyed that it seems like half of them are regularly ignored and Google doesn't seem to care. Apparently, Google and I have different definitions of disruptive. Maybe it's because Google also is a mobile ad company that isn't really any better than the others.

This will probably never change. Every time Google updates its policies advertisers try new ways to push the limit. But I'm done with the whole mess. I have a few games that I gladly paid for and if I see others that I think would be fun to play I'll drop a few bucks on them. When it comes to free games supported by ads, though, I'm over it. My time isn't that valuable, but it's worth more than spending 40 seconds watching mindless garbage so I can do the next crossword puzzle.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.