13/03/2015 13:23 GMT | Updated 13/05/2015 06:59 BST

How Mobile Games Became Evil (and Crap)

When Apple recently announced that apps generated approximately $14billion in revenue in 2014 ($10billion of which was paid out to developers), they did not mention that the biggest single chunk of that money came from exploiting players with obvious gambling problems.

Have you tried to find a good new game in your App Store lately? Is your vision limited to colorful offerings with cute characters all repeating the same three or four principles? All new games have one thing in common: they try to suck money out of your wallet while bombarding you with ads and annoying pop-ups.

The truth is that there are (almost) no awesome new games anymore. The gambling industry has widely taken over the world of mobile gaming and within the last three years, almost every single developer of great, innovative games has given up, turning app stores into blinking displays of interactive trash like Candy Crush Saga or Clash of Clans.

Mobile gaming has turned into a billion dollar gambling industry

The reason for this is that no too long ago, people who don't give a damn about ethics found out that they could trick consumers into spending fortunes while playing colorful, happy looking games, even when there are no payouts involved. Often, these games hold a strong attraction for members of our society who already struggle with paying their monthly bills.

While most players ignore (but surely do not enjoy) these temptations, evil game designers succeed in manipulating a tiny fraction of players into spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars to get to the next levels of Candy Crush and similar games. According to Swrve, an established analytics and app marketing firm, a mere 0.15% of mobile gamers account for 50 per cent of all in-game revenue. One addict in 650 players contributes more then half of all cash generated.


When Apple recently announced that apps generated approximately $14billion in revenue in 2014 ($10billion of which was paid out to developers), they did not mention that the biggest single chunk of that money came from exploiting players with obvious gambling problems. 92% revenue comes from in-app purchases in the games category, which accounts for 75% of all revenue. Following this estimate, $5billion in revenue came from problem players. If you add the revenues from Android and other platforms (e.g. the Google Play Store), manipulative games have likely sucked more money out of players with gambling problems in 2014 than the entire Las Vegas Strip made in casino revenue ($6.4billion).

Children as easy targets

The situation becomes really depressing when you realize that even Disney now actively manipulates small children into making in-app purchases of up to $100. Disney Hidden Worlds in Apple's App Store is one of many shocking examples aimed at children as young as four. This is certainly not the legacy Walt Disney ever imagined, and Steve Jobs would have surely known better than to let this kind of trash rule the App Store.

With ethical premium games for children hard to find for mobile devices, today's responsible parents are better off investing in printed books.

The extinction of ethical game developers

Around the same time manipulative games took over, Apple made some completely irrational changes to the App Store's search algorithm, and as a consequence wiped out the business case for ethical game developers. In 2012, paid apps became virtually invisible in search results and innovative new titles stopped getting enough initial visibility to be found by the discerning user. Initiatives by developers like (including this author) fell on deaf ears in Cupertino. The once-great App Store economy that gave quality game developers the chance to make an honest living is dead. It has become virtually impossible to make money with a game that does not manipulate.


The audience is leaving - the industry is screwed

Mobile games have lost their credibility. With only crap in app stores, the industry is currently losing the majority of its users to other, more stimulating pastimes. While games consultants continue to claim that users refuse to pay up-front for good content, the audience proves them wrong by happily paying for premium content on other platforms such as the Amazon Kindle Store or Netflix.

The future: self-correction of an industry gone bad?

At least there is hope for the future. The manipulative free-to-play concept will implode like every other scam has over time. For example, do you still remember the phone-in quiz channels from a few years ago? However, it is still important to protect gambling addicts both old and young. If app store operators like Apple and Google continue to ignore their social responsibility, government regulation seems to be the only option.

In the meantime, great game developers that decided against becoming evil will hopefully be able to provide premium content with sustainable business models again in the near future. The audience for sure is soon to be fed up with the current offerings.