Joost van Dreunen suggests mobile developers should pay more attention to the TV industry

A lesson from old media

Recently I found myself on a New York subway, looking over the shoulder of someone playing Candy Crush Soda Saga

With 1.4 billion mobile gamers this year, the image of people playing games out in public is no longer a very telling observation. What was telling, however, was how once this particular person ran out of lives, she simply closed the app and opened a similar game. I noticed how she had, in fact, several Candy Crush clones neatly put together in a folder on her phone.

It reminded me that television audiences don’t watch by the programme, but by the hour. After a day of work, people come home and turn on the TV to relax. Rather than searching the many channels for the optimal television programme, most people stop changing channels when they’re more-or-less satisfied or their curiosity peaks. Once a show loses them, they simply move on.

Over time, networks figured out that having a news programme coincide with people coming home at the end of the day maximises viewership and, consequently, advertising revenue. Instead of charging people directly for a specific televised or broadcast performance, networks simply try to gather a large audience at a specific time slot and sell short increments of time to companies who seek to advertise their wares. For that reason, for instance, the telenovelas broadcast during daytime are known as ‘soap series’, as it was companies selling detergent that funded their production.

Whenever we are watching TV, the moment a commercial break starts we tend to switch to another channel. Mobile gamers do the same. Having to wait for your lives to renew, or having to watch an ad, is an huge interruption. 

Similarly to TV, mobile has ample content available, many of the apps closely resembling each other. This allows a player to stay within the same genre and move on to the next title. In this scenario, hitting a paywall or an ad is an inconvenience we sidestep any way we can. 

When an ad break starts, we tend to switch channel. Mobile gamers do the same.


This similarity in how TV audiences and mobile gamers behave has implications for their design and monetisation strategies. With the global mobile games market on track to reach $32bn this year, the sheer size of the audience has advertisers excited. 

As a growing share of the population shifts toward mobile phones as their primary and most personal device throughout the day, the amount of advertising budget steadily grows. 

Last year, mobile ad revenue was roughly $19bn in the US alone. And keep in mind that mobile advertising didn’t even exist before 2010. 

So it makes sense for mobile devs to consider advertising as a revenue source. Especially for the smaller firms out there, who lack the marketing budgets that Supercell and King have, ad revenue can represent between 20 to 50 per cent of monthly income. Another selling point of earning money from advertising is that it provides smaller devs creative freedom from publishers. 

But advertising can be a slippery slope. For one, we sacrifice a relatively large percentage of screen real estate to serve banner ads. Regardless of how great the ‘creative’ gets, most users will consider ads on their mobile device as annoying and, at best, invisible. 

People have become adept at identifying what is relevant to them. No longer do audiences passively consume messages – they actively organise, customise and create media experiences that suit them. 

So next time you see someone on their mobile device, it may look like they’re crushing candies – but they’re really playing the game of not being interrupted by your sponsor.

Article originally published in Develop: March 2016 issue.

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