Google may have improved its ad policy, but these mobile game practices should still be illegal

On September 30, 2022, Google made effective its new Developer Program Policy which – among other things – stated that developers could no longer shove a full-screen ad in your face at random times during the gameplay experience of your favorite apps. Full-screen video “interstitial ads”, as they’re called, are now outlawed in video, GIF, static image format, and more.

So, we can all rejoice that freemium mobile games will be more playable and enjoyable, right? Well, not exactly. Coming from someone who isn’t as steeped in these types of experiences, I disagree entirely with that notion. In fact, I think there are more pressing issues to address, and now that I’ve installed a bunch of games for my son on his Pixel phone, I’m appalled at the crap he has to sit through in order to play even a few moments of a game.

Take, for example, a popular title called “Tile Hop”. This EDM-themed Guitar Hero-style gameplay has you bounce a ball on tiles (hence the name) to the beat of over 40,000 hit songs. While it’s his new favorite obsession, I quickly realized that something just didn’t sit right with me about it.

Seriously, who approved this madness?

I’ve played a lot of mobile games in my day, but I’ve never seen or experienced one as egregiously abusive with its practices as Tile Hop. Every time you fall off of a tile, you’re forced to sit and watch nearly 30 seconds of an unskippable ad with no progress bar, timer, or countdown. Then, you’re forced to sit through 12-15 seconds of a secondary ad for that offer before finally seeing a tertiary ad splash screen advertising everything you just watched with an “X” that appears so you can close out of it.

If you think that’s the end of the story, then I’m sorry to say that you’re wrong just as I was. After the “x” pops up for you to tap it, doing so forces you into the Google Play Store listing for that app or game even if you tapped the x perfectly.

At long last, you can hit the back button to go back into the game and finally be rid of the ad infestation until the next time your child falls off of the tile or ends/begins another game. If you can possibly believe it, I’ve encountered several games this week that followed these same unethical practices, so I don’t for one second believe it’s an isolated abuse of Google’s ad tools. I mean, if I wanted the freaking game, I would have tapped it in the first few seconds. I believe that these tools should instead act like a YouTube ad where you wait 5 seconds and skip the entire thing with one tap.

Offer value, don’t make money by tricking people

Needless to say, I was pretty pissed off with all of this, so let me list the reasons why I think this process for advertisements should be revisited by Google. First and foremost, interrupting the user experience to this level is just plain criminal. I get that everyone needs to make money and ads are how that’s often pursued, but if the ratio of gameplay versus ad-watching torture is largely leaning towards the latter, that’s an automatic uninstall for me.

Second, and probably most importantly, I’m thoroughly convinced through many intentional attempts to hit the tiny “x” button at the top of a full-screen game ad that developers have somehow found a way to add an invisible link overlays to the UI element that’s meant to do the opposite.

Instead of closing the game – no matter how careful I am not to tap off of the “x” – I was taken to the store listing for the app or game anyway, and the shady devs got a chance to collect a paycheck. Finally, let me just state the obvious – those “x”s are too freaking small, to begin with, and Google should force them to be much larger and easier to find.

Finally, I want to point out how many of these ads for games do not reflect the actual gameplay. Take Evony or Gardenscapes, for example. The pin-pull game where lava or water or gems flow into an area once you pull a pin out by swiping simply didn’t exist until an indie game developer created it to point out how fake these ads are.

I believe that the name must in some way, shape, or form accurately reflect the actual user experience. I’m getting really sick of having to hide the screen from my son so he doesn’t see a small family catch on fire or freeze to death or get crushed by spikes because the ad has the example user pull the wrong pin. It’s just plain stupid, truly.

Google’s ad policy and tools need yet another revision

Besides the tiny on-screen UI elements meant to dismiss advertisements simply being either manipulated or too small on purpose, I think it’s clear that allowing developers to spam the crap out of users with three-tier ads, up the frequency that they appear and the obnoxious length that they are should be against the rules. That’s not to even mention how disorienting it is.

I would like to see Google revisit its Developer Program Policy to better suit the user’s average experience, but I would also like for the company to better target those who overwhelm and imbalance games with more ads than gameplay. Clearly, this is unethical, but as with all things Google, if the powers that be disagree with this, I’ll feel like I’m living in the Twilight Zone. As a game developer myself and a lifelong game enthusiast, I could not for one moment fathom treating my players in this manner, even if it meant I made some serious bank. Obviously, anyone doing this doesn’t care much for the user experience or even the user in the same way, and Google should go on the offensive to help mobile games suck just a bit less.

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