One of the most popular iPhone games has come to Android, it’s called Angry Birds. While I’m not personally a big fan (no offense, team Rovio, just not my kind of game), the game has well over 11 million downloads on the iPhone worldwide, and as of August had sold 6.5 million copies. So if my simple math holds up, at 6.5 million copies at $0.99 per sale, that’s a gross of $6,435,000, and after a 30% cut to Apple, it’s a net of $4,505,500. Today’s accomplishment of 1 million Android downloads (which truly is impressive, congrats Team Rovio!) results in a net of $0. But they could make some money down the road if the ad revenue shows up.
I’m not saying Rovio won’t make some decent money off the ad platform, after all Google did blow out revenue last quarter, and is apparently making a cool billion dollars a year on mobile ads already. But the reality here is this is a weak solution for any developer to bank on. Ad revenue for a platform game is a highly unproven model so far, and while there will certainly be wins for some, the concept that ads are the only way to make money off Android apps is pathetic.
First, it clutters the experience.
There is no possibility that an ad-laden video game is better than one without ads. None. And in the mobile space, where screen real estate is precious, it’s even more impactful.
Second, it’s not bankable.
A video game, even a casual one, is generally a pretty engaging activity. Imagine lining up your purple bird in the slingshot, ready to take down some well-defended pig to clear the level (finally!), and lo and behold, there’s an ad for something. What’s it for? Who knows, because you’re never, ever clicking on it, you’re taking down that pig.
Third, it’s a band-aid at best.
I’ve actually purchased an Android app (Robo Tower Defense – pretty fun actually), just to make sure I’ve gone through the experience. It is unpleasant to say the least (fanboys who are reading this, please click here prior to commenting, thank you very much). Did you know there are apps in the Android Market whose price points are listed as, wait for it, approximate amounts!? Now there is a reason behind it – international developers – but it’s just so awkward to see. Further, the effort it takes to even find half-decent stuff is painful. I’ve honestly found the best way to find apps is using the barcode scanner app, and simply won’t bother with paid ones.
Fourth, and most importantly, I don’t see it radically changing, ever.
Android comes from Google, who obviously knows how to monetize spam, SEO, and domain squatters advertising, but just doesn’t get user experience at all (SIX years to let us turn off Conversation View? Really? Really?). So their DNA, their “mode de vie,” is about enabling ads, not making amazing consumer-facing experiences. This, coupled with the issue that Android is an “open” operating system, means no single serving method of enabling simple transaction systems. And, because any carrier and manufacturer can bring any product to market, there’s no single source for developers to work with.
In short (too late): the Android platform cannot possibly offer a one-stop-shop approach to developers wishing to monetize application development, other than advertising.
I’ve been musing a lot on the topic of Android having a “missing link” problem recently. This may just be a hiccup in the path to having the prime mobile operating system, or it may be a fatal flaw in its ability to have serious legs. Either Google themselves will need to step in and create a core payment infrastructure to enable developers, carriers, and consumers to all work together – which seems radically unlikely – or we’re going to see even more fragmentation of the Android market, and probably in the short-to-medium term at that.