Why are you begging me to play a different game?
So, a few notes about ads circle-jerk.
1) Some of games being advertised actually belong to the same publisher, so if you go from one game to another and spend money there instead of here, you still pay the same people. This is called ecosystem, and it only works for big players, obviously - you have to have a certain number of games on the market, and be willing to shell out money for ads for all of them.
A guess: this might work in part because a lot of mobile gamers don't do a lot of research before picking a game to play. But they might not like it enough to buy in-apps, because this particular genre, or setting doesn't tickle them quite right... But here comes the ad! For another game! If you can out-spend other bidders, you can lock the hapless player in a loop of your titles, going from one to another until he/she finds something to bite and become a whale.
2) Mobile games often are designed to have quite short play sessions - 5-10-15 minutes - until your "energy" runs out, or you have to wait for your army to regenerate, or whatever. This is done on purpose, both to avoid getting the player tired from actually very boring and repetitive gameplay, and also to leech money from those who REALLY want to go on playing RIGHT NOW (addicts). But, what if the player reached his limit of play in one game, and isn't ready to pay to continue... But he wants to play SOMETHING. So, show him an ad for another game. It might not even necessary be a game from your ecosystem - it will still feature the same short play session time, after which he might come back to check your game (or your other game, etc.) - just don't let him put that phone down and forget about it (and pester him with pop-up notifications, of course).
I worked for some time in mobile gamedev (for two unsuccessful small companies and one somewhat successful big one that mostly made money on gambling games and lost it on any other project), and let me tell you - I hate everything about this part of industry and wish it, and its approach to game design and monetization to crash and burn (which will not happen, which is why this is a wish, and not a plan).
I think it is important to remember, as much as us old gamers might find it baffling, the mobile market is many times the size of the traditional PC gaming market. $5 per sale in the mobile game industry is like $15 for the small niche market of PC gaming. The secret sauce of mobile gaming was never micro transactions, it is the 6 billions owners of mobile devises.
If the service is free, that's not what's being sold. What's being sold here is the ad space - the game is just the delivery service, more akin to a TV studio than a "traditional" game studio. Their customers are those who buy said space, and so long as there are people buying said space, then they are "successful."
Now, does this model of selling ad space to other games that also sell ad space seem circuitous and cannibalistic? ... I mean, kinda. Assuming those are ads not for other games under the same company, but you can't live on self-promotion alone. But, it does make sense in a lot of ways.
You want your ads to go in front of the people most likely to act on them, and you can't get any more direct access to mobile gamers than advertising inside another mobile game. Still, the broader point about drawing your audience away stands - the value of those ads is going to be tied to how many eyes are on them, and if you "sell" those eyes to someone else, you're undermining the very system you have to make the system work.
"Microtransactions" could serve to fill that gap, but... then you're back to undermining the engine of profit by way of "selling off" your income generators. Sure, now you're back in the more traditional model of the gamer being the customer, but the impact is the same - you've traded ad revenue for engagement and thus underlying profit potential.
But... it does work. It has to work. For many years, two out of three of the games industry "outsider" execs exclusively saw as relevant were mobile titles. They are profitable to an obtuse degree, no matter how artless or debased they or their monetization models may be denounced as. If it didn't work, that wouldn't be true.
I played the mobile Langrisser game for a while, and overall enjoyed it- until I figured out how few whales were keeping it afloat and how much money they must all be generating on a monthly basis to justify keeping it open. :/
I ended up concluding that I was just really uncomfortable supporting a game whose apparent business model was hooking a tiny amount of people willing to plow thousands of dollars a month into it.
“Is 90% of the mobile games market just companies paying each other for ads space, circulating one heavily-worn $20 bill back and forth between them while venture capital dollars keeps the whole enterprise from exploding?”
I’m SO glad I’m not the only one who suspects this! It’s like an ouroboros of greed and mora decay
You know, it's funny. I read a different Substack that recently discussed how hard it is to have a game to reliably come back to. I don't know how relevant they are, but I'll share the links.
I'm surprised that in an article about ads for mobile games you never mentioned the ads which are straight up lies. There are a ton of mobile game ads which are for entirely different games than they show.
I have a friend that loves to play streaming games through Stadia on his phone. The platform is for a fleeting ride in the gaming business and the catalogue isn't noticeworthy IMO. But by the sheer amount of games He has been playing, I suppose He's getting a good value for his money.
Diablo Immortal getting banned in China is proof positive that there is some justice in the world.