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Is ad revenue a good revenue generator for indies in 2018?

Our Indie Mavens weigh in
Is ad revenue a good revenue generator for indies in 2018?
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In the early days of mobile games a premium model for pricing was a go-to, a flat one and done payment that was reminiscent of plenty of games across console and PC.

The sector gradually pivoted to the free-to-play model powered by in-app purchases, with payments being voluntary a hook for players and in many cases driving even higher revenues.

These days developers are trying out different forms of monetisation from subscription to ads, with the latter becoming increasingly lucrative when used effectively.

Part Time Monkey's Silly Walks generated 97 per cent of its $270k revenues from advertisements. Space Ape meanwhile enjoyed some success through ads and took Fastlane: Road to Revenge from $5,000 to $45,000 per day in four months.

So, to gain some insight into whether the trend of ad revenue is here to stay and if it's good for Indies we decided to turn to our Indie Mavens for their views.

Specifically, we asked them:

  • Is ad revenue a good revenue generator for indies in 2018?
  • How does it compare to designing and marketing a game that uses the IAP model (or others)?
Aaron Fothergill

Aaron Fothergill

Co-founder at Strange Flavour

This is almost the default first question to ask when writing a new mobile game now. It’s key to how the game is designed and whether it’ll make any money. It’s also a bit of a massive variable.

Personally, we’ve had our fingers burned a lot trying to do ad-based games. There are some definite success stories (and I know some of the Mavens do rather well on ad-based games).

There was also the recent story on on Silly Walks making $270k mostly on ads (a game I tested a bit as we were both trying out the HeyPlay social API at the time).

Part Time Monkey's Silly Walks
Part Time Monkey's Silly Walks

In our case, we’ve never been able to make much off ad-based games we’ve published ourselves, mostly because we’ve not got the budget to get our new games visible and installed on enough devices to actually generate decent advertising income.

“Ads are likely to be more effective than IAP now unless you can get a really good excuse for a juicy subscription IAP in there.”
Aaron Fothergill

So for the moment, we’re still playing to our strengths and writing games as premium titles with the odd little dabble now and again in the F2P market.

Our own lack of success in ad-based games shouldn’t be seen as an indicator though. There have been enough success stories that we all know it’s viable. But you do have to get it just right (and that usually means being quite brutal with how many ads you have and where they’re placed).

I’d certainly say that ads are likely to be more effective than IAPs now unless you can get a really good excuse for a juicy subscription IAP in there.

I also suspect it’s an indicator that the days of milking the whales for all they’ve got are coming to an end and it’s now more a case of getting those few seconds of viewing time from the hordes of non-paying players.

Matthew Annal

Matthew Annal

MD at Nitrome

Ads have, for a few years now, been the primary source of revenue for Nitrome's games. Before trying ads we had a few games we put out as premium and the difference we made an ad model was the clear winner.

Fas- forward to today and I think the quality of games using this model has increased a lot, making featuring less effective.

The actual ad revenue per user is probably as high as it’s ever been but it’s harder in my honest opinion to make a reliable return on this model than a few years ago.

Games that work though like Nitrome's Leap Day, which has just passed two years since launch, can keep making a sizeable return from ads month after month showing it's still thriving for games that play to the ad model's strengths. 

Nitrome's Leap Day
Nitrome's Leap Day

Ben Murch

Ben Murch


In the past we've used adverts in a variety of ways and with a variety of success rates. For all studios, indie or otherwise, the main idea appears to be the same "make the player want to watch your adverts".

This means that gating content behind an advert or forcing players to watch them is a big no-no. Rewarded adverts (watch an ad, get 10 gold), seem to be the best method for delivery, as the player is choosing to watch rather than being forced into it.

“In-game adverts have become another part of that early thinking and design process.”
Ben Murch

Psychological tricks like limiting the number of adverts the player can watch every day can make it feel like a treat. As if the developer is giving them something special for free.

We currently use IAPs as one of our major sources of revenue. It allows us to keep in touch with our existing customers and bring them more content for a game they're enjoying.

The days of "just make a good game" have long gone. Now, you must think about all aspects of your product from the beginning. Gameplay, pricing, audience, visuals and retention are all intrinsically linked.

In-game adverts have become another part of that early thinking and design process, and absolutely something that indies can use.

We'll probably be using them for our next title.

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