Breaking Silence: The Editorial / Developer Relationship is Broken

The mobile gaming press is getting the life squeezed out of it by the lack of advertising income. This is not good for the industry they cover, here’s why and what you should do about it.

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I don’t like to, but I need to break the glass wall between business and editorial. Even though we keep the two very much separated in our day to day processes, the dirty secret is one can not exist without the other. Each side lets the other exist, but it’s taboo to ever acknowledge that relationship. A relationship which proved instrumental in serving as the launchpad for countless small indie studios who are now multi-million dollar corporations. Not more than a few years ago, when the “mainstream” gaming blogs wouldn’t give iOS games the time of day, the vibrant third party iOS editorial ecosystem provided the coverage needed to put game franchises which have become household names on the map. The many mobile gaming blogs effectively did it for free, for the love of the ecosystem, and have since been forgotten by the success stories they helped create.

Mobile game sites, like every web site on the internet, are paid by advertisers looking to get their product in front of the eyes of the site’s readers. We provide a platform with a targeted, often incredibly influential, audience and advertisers in turn offer us the monetary fuel to keep that platform running. Not too long ago every available ad spot was sold and the media side of the mobile gaming industry thrived. Sites expanded, added staff, and started investing in apps and other services to make their platform even better.

Our collective media businesses exist based on the assumption that more page views would equal more money which we use to create more content, cover more games, attend more events, and do countless other things to shine a spotlight on the fantastic world of mobile gaming. Everything was great until studios shifted gears away from traditional advertising to directly acquiring users via CPI campaigns and similar services. This inevitably led to a steep drop in ad revenue which resulted in staff layoffs, less content, fewer page views, and well… Editorial mobile game sites large and small are in a real bad spot right now. Ad sales have tanked in the last couple years. The sites that still exist are publishing way less interesting content — all in a bid to up the page views and pay the bills. Many sites have folded and more inevitably will this year if this trend continues.

Despite the lack of financial support for our sites, the mobile games industry continues to use what sites still exist for their own benefit. We still provide valuable free publicity, add to the credibility of publishers, hype new releases, and go to great lengths to further evangelize mobile gaming platforms. We see quotes from our sites in promotional materials, press releases, UA campaigns, social streams, and even TV ads for mobile games. This tells us one thing: Despite the lack of support, what we do is still incredibly valuable to games companies.

Many members of the industry including UA companies, publishers, ad companies, investors, middleware providers, and even Apple itself use our sites daily for research on what’s new and interesting. We’ve often been told by former App Store editors that what we cover is a major factor in what gets featured every week. But what do any of these companies do to help the sites that have provided and continue to provide them these benefits?

Don’t get me wrong, the mobile game industry is fantastic and filled with wonderful people. Mobile games press and game developers have a very symbiotic relationship, but recently it has felt like one side may have forgotten the importance of the other.

So I’m just going to lay this out there: If you produce games, work for a mobile publisher, mobile ad company, UA company, or any company related to the mobile games industry and have found any of what these sites do useful to your company in any way in the past, help them out now. Mobile gaming sites have grown so lean to adapt to shrinking revenues that the amount of monetary support required to keep them going is essentially a rounding error to any mid to large-sized publisher funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into user acquisition. If this trend continues, all it will lead to is more sites inevitably shutting down.

If you need additional convincing, consider this: While user acquisition is undeniably king now, but if the world of marketing mobile games could be summed up in one word it would be “unpredictable.” Apple has made minor changes in their policies in the past which has decimated entire promotional methods previously used by developers. Without your support, if (or when) this ever happens to the UA world, what are your plans if the web sites you used to buy traditional advertising on simply aren’t there anymore to advertise on?

That’s a scary thought from both sides of the relationship.


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