Plants vs. Zombies 2 is one of my favorite game apps for iOS. I’ve been playing it for almost a year, so I was a little surprised to see that the “freemium” app began using an incentivized video ads (rewards for watching mobile ads) as a mobile app monetization strategy with its latest expansion: The Dark Ages, Part 1.
Around the same time period as this update, I heard about Apple implementing a new policy of rejecting apps from their store that use this same strategy. They’ve since reversed this policy. I’ll let you follow that developing story over on TechCrunch.
For now, let’s take a deeper look at PopCap’s decision to use this app monetization strategy, and how they’re implementing it.
Screenshots or it didn’t happen
After the update I first noticed a sign in the top right, which being an ad guy, I clicked on immediately. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen an app use this revenue strategy but it was new to this particular game.
Clicking on that brought me to the menu you see above.
I clicked Yes and watched a 30 second trailer for another game. It was delivered full screen on my device as you see above.
They paid me the 250 coins (I’ll get to that in a minute) and then encouraged me to watch another ad.
Most ads are video, but some – like the one above, was not.
Offering incentives to watch ads is a decent revenue strategy
You’ve got a captive audience that knows they are going to get something for viewing an ad. While a lot of people will tell you that advertising does not work on them, or that they “don’t even see ads online,” these are hard to ignore.
They take over the entire screen of the device and most ads I’ve seen are promoting other gaming apps.
However, I did see one McDonald’s ad, and I’m sure other companies are using this for their brand-promoting video ads.
The strategy is good, but the reward sucks
Like a lot of other players, I’ve been playing this game pretty much since it was released in August of 2013. It’s rare that I play an iOS game for that long.
I played their first version too, maxing out everything that I could until I ran out of achievements and left to play the 2013 sequel.
As you may notice from the screenshots, I’m up to over 100k in coins in this game. This is just from playing for so long, especially from their “endless” zones.
So for me and many others, this 250 coin reward is not worth the 30 seconds that I could be killing zombies. Maybe the game developer, Popcap, has more plans for this, but right out of the gate it does not make a lot of sense.
Strategies for monetizing a gaming app
This is a free-to-play game with in-app purchases, where the original was a one-time purchase up-front. A lot of players have complained about the in-app purchases but I understand the need for them. In order to keep the content fresh and to stay profitable (so they can create more games) mobile developers need to keep the revenue coming in.
If an app launches with a fixed price, a game development company will soon realize a finite amount of revenue for that project. It becomes harder to continue to hit up people that have already paid for the app to pay for more features. So the so-called “freemium” apps are often one of the first strategies available to app developers that want to make a quality, lasting product.
Keeping the app free up front also enables developers to bring in advertising later.
The way that PopCap has done it with PvZ2 is less annoying than other tactics I’ve seen because it requires the user’s permission to show them an ad. No one is forcing you go watch that gaming app video promo, and you’re going to get a reward after.
Like I said before: you need to have a really good reward for players if you want to use this tactic in your own apps. PopCap might have gotten away with 250 coins if the game had just been released and every player was new, but with this app being almost a year old…the reward doesn’t exactly thrill.
Maybe PopCap has more up its sleeve with this strategy and this is just the first move. PopCap is probably in more of a position to do that than smaller development shops, so if you’re thinking of using reward adverting in your app, just make sure it is worth it for you, and the users.
While we’re on the subject, a word about Free-to-Play Games with In-App Purchases
Over time, I’d estimate that I’ve given PopCap about $15 of my money with in-app purchases (IAPs) on just this game. A lot of the bad reviews I’ve read about the game are complaints from users about the IAPs. Maybe its a generational thing, but I don’t mind buying a couple of upgrades (in this case, new plants) for a game that I really like.
Its probably because I distinctly remember that console games have historically cost from $30 to $60 for a single game that you may or may not really like. The ability to play a game for free or even for a couple of dollars before you decide to spend more money is a fairly recent phenomenon, and one I’ve been enjoying.
So to the developers out there that might be on the fence about IAPs in your apps, I say go for it. It sucks that an app can be given negative reviews because some people are cheap and/or feel entitled, but if your content is good enough it won’t matter.
If your app is worth it, there are people out there who will still pay to play.