Google is introducing a new type of mobile ad in its AdMob advertising platform: games. The idea is that users will play these built-in games in the hopes of unlocking something special inside of a game they’re already in. It’s a glimpse of the way advertising is evolving on a web dominated by it.
Enabled by the spending models of Apple’s and Google’s app stores, smartphone game developers have already ruined the medium–most games nowadays are not designed to be rewarding on their own, but to operate as digital cortisol drips that encourage players to spend money on “rewards,” the “gems” and “coins” that, once upon a time, Mario would have discovered simply by hitting a question mark block. This business model is how companies like Supercell made $2.3 billion as of 2016 with Clash of Clans, in which players buy virtual armies to fight one another. And since Google and Apple take a 30% cut of these microtransactions, it’s no wonder why Clash of Clans is so regularly featured in their app stores.
Google is accelerating this trend with its new “rewarded ads,” which, as TechCrunch details, will allow developers to place mini-game advertisements inside their games that promise to unlock power-ups. Don’t want to spend money on that extra life? Play this ad for a while instead.
Given that most mobile games are already like big interactive ads to sell microtransactions, these rewarded ads are essentially a playable ad inside a playable ad. It’s an ad-Inception.
Tim Berners-Lee, the man widely credited with inventing the web, recently declared that we needed to think of new models, free from the advertising industry, to fund the internet. The same argument could be made about mobile gaming. But what incentive does Google or any other company have to buck this trend? At a time when Google could lead the way to a new model that’s better for the people playing these games, it can make a lot more money by doubling down on a broken one.