If there's a topic currently floating about that seems to divide the industry into love it/hate it camps, it's ad-funded games. You'd think the concept of free games resulting in a vast increase in players would be something that everyone would be overjoyed about but there are many who, at the mere mention of the controversial business model, will look at you like you just spat in their coffee.
It's become a contentious topic, not least because more and more publishers are opting to offer their games in a free ad-funded flavour as an alternative to the ad-free 'pay to download' version. And who can blame them? The obstacles between a developer's product and a consumer's thumbs are often unfairly stacked, with not only handset compatibility being an issue but also network games portals enforcing exclusivity of certain titles.
Then there are the broader implications of this type of business model to consider. For instance, if the development costs of games for the DS or PSP could be brought within the constraints of mobile games, could ad-funded models work for those console, too?The Burning Issue... Are ad-funded games worth it?
Last week we put the question to you lot and like a pack of hungry lions you took no time in tearing it limb from limb.
Aptly, MattyLion kicked off the discussion with a typically considered argument:
"Personally as far as ad-funded mobile games go I, like a lot of people in the industry, am waiting for the bubble to burst when advertisers realise that although they may have a good targeted demographic, the actual response to in-game ads is poor and the offering somewhat diluted and fragmented. "Where in-game advertising works as a concept is with subtle inclusion in context within a game arena, be it advertising hoardings at a football stadium, or billboards by the road in a racing game. The consumer is far more accepting of these ads as an 'art imitating life' scenario, i remember being genuinely excited by in-game ads in early PS1 titles, not feeling like i was being sold to by the corporate machine! "Simply putting a five or ten-second splash into the loading screens of a mobile game seems unlikely to entice or excite the viewer who is clearly waiting for the game to load so they can get their one-thumb-quick-fix-arcade-action! "More effective surely is the 'game designed around a brand' concept employed by Burger King and other big hitters who have a bigger marketing budget than the GDP of a small country. Who knows, the game might even prove to be a big hit!"
Taking time off from combing his hair to instead stroke his chin, SetsFireToPoshHammer delved into the discussion:
"Are the responses to any ad-funded venture that compelling? I mean look at the internet, it is plastered with way more advertising than TV is and I can't remember the last time I actually clicked on a banner on any page. "And yet the people coughing up the advertising dollars to those with the most unique hits seem to be happy with the way this model works as evidenced by the fact that these ads are all still out in force. I suppose whatever tiny percentage actually do 'click through' must justify the model financially. "I reckon it's the same with mobile games and there may be a model that emerges where advertisers flock to games developed by those with a reputation for massive download success on their titles."
Having recently experienced ad-funded gaming, Splat was a little more positive about the concept, if understandably cautious:
"I downloaded Tower Bloxx for free, well ad-funded. It's great for punters, but clearly publishers need to think carefully about the economics how much ad money they'll get compared to how much they could be destroying the long-term basis of the market. But ITV is free TV thanks to ads, so there's no reason ad-supported mobile games couldn't work as one part of the industry."
It's a point that we hadn't considered but the TV comparison does make sense and perhaps as mobile games become more connected, the advertising in games may take on a more dynamic TV-like appearance. Dynamite Ham, however, brought about another, particularly interesting perspective:
"This may be controversial, but I don't think people actually want games for free, or at least not all of them. However much it makes sense not to pay for something, value judgements are tied up with cost. As the Stella Artois advertisers astutely recognised, something can be reassuringly expensive, and if a game costs nothing a consumer is bound to infer that it's worth nothing. "It's perhaps this argument that is the lynchpin of the entire against camp and it is a hard point to shrug off. People buy products because they see value in them, remove the value and the desirability of the product is diminished.
It's actually something that OutRun has witnessed first hand:
"I think that's a fair point, Dynamite Ham. There is a perceived value issue that shouldn't be underestimated. I remember when Sony introduced a new £35 price point for PSone games (previously £45-50) with the release of Soul Blade (I think – could well be wrong but know it was a Namco beat-'em-up) and shop assistants were reporting numerous cases of customers being highly suspicious – either assuming it wasn't a full game or clearly not as good as the 'full-price' titles."
So, perhaps predictably, no firm conclusions drawn then but plenty to consider. In an industry where mobile games are often strangled at the point of delivery, the ad-funded model seems to present one solution.
Yet, at the same time, despite massive sales there is still an industry-wide snobbery about mobile titles and the numbers of converts gained by free ad-funded games could be offset by the dent they take reputation-wise as a result of a decrease in the perceived value of the products. It looks like we have a tiger by the tail with this one so do feel free to bash it about in the forum a while longer.
Elsewhere on the forum...
Speaking of the beast, there are various Loose Threads that need sowing up. Lance Leopard is still looking for help with Assassin's Creed; surely one of you is trained in the dark art of silent death? Come on folks, one of your fellow pocket gamers is in need.
A thumb jockey with similar woes is the recently joined ignasih, who is hopelessly mired in the depths of Heroes Lore: The Winds of Solita:
"Okay, I really love this game but I'm stuck in the third temple, the temple of earth: I can't beat the boss, as I don't know how must I kill it."
Any ideas anyone? So... what are the best games of 2007?
Okay, that's it for this week, we're going to be taking a week's break for Christmas but you're going to need the time to prepare for the next thread: What is this year's best handheld game on each of the pocket formats (that's PSP, DS, mobile and iPod)? As always the details are over in the forum.
ps – Much as it pains us to say it, none of you have impressed us enough with your avatars for us to mention them yet, so keep trying. The winner gets a hearty open palmed virtual pat on the back from us. What do you mean, that's not enough incentive?