Apple is now rejecting iOS games which contain adverts that mention other platforms

[Originally posted on, April 21st 2015]

Apple’s App Store Review guidelines for developers state “Apps or metadata that mentions the name of any other mobile platform will be rejected”

Developers have recently seen Apple enforcing this policy – not for the app’s name, content or metadata, but for their monetization solutions.

These apps are rejected for showing ads that feature references to other mobile platforms.

Developers are told they will not be approved until all tags, references and images related to Google Play and Windows Store are removed from the ads.

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NativeX names new CEO and launches multi-offer mobile video ads

[Originally posted on VentureBeat, March 12th 2015]

NativeX, a maker of ad technology for mobile games, has named its cofounder Rob Weber as its new chief executive. On top of that, the company told GamesBeat that it is launching its new Triad video ad format that offers mobile gamers their choice of which video ads to view.

Weber, who previously headed business development, replaces Andy Johnson, who will remain chairman. Weber cofounded W3i with his twin brother Ryan in 2007. In 2013, they rebranded the company as NativeX to focus on native advertising, or ads that are built into mobile games and appear to be a natural part of the app itself. Andy Johnson joined the company in 2007 to head the PC business, and he was appointed CEO in early 2014 to help bring more big-company discipline to NativeX.

In an interview with GamesBeat, Weber said that he prefers a flat management style, and he may make some changes to the organization as a result. He also hired Mike Wallin, formerly of PlayPhone, as vice president of business development as Weber’s replacement. Ryan Weber remains chief product officer.

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NativeX Launches New Video Ad Format

Sponsored Post

Introducing a new Mini Multi-Offer ad format “Triad.” Triad combines the latest mobile video ad technology with NativeX’s industry leading selection of native advertising formats to give users the choice of which ads to engage with. Triad joins the NativeX Discovery Suite to give developers the right ad format to optimize strategic placements in their apps for a more native experience with higher impact.

Read the Full Post Here.

See Video:

Data Science, the Latest Weapon in Mobile Monetization [GamesBeat 2014]

Will Harbin Kixeye CEO & Rob Weber NativeX

Kixeye CEO Will Harbin and NativeX Co-Founder Rob Weber speak at GamesBeat 2014 in San Francisco.

[Originally posted on NativeX Voices September 16th 2014]

This week NativeX participated in the 6th annual GamesBeat conference. Organized by VentureBeat, GamesBeat is one of the leading events in the mobile games industry, gathering “top execs, investors, analysts, and entrepreneurs from the hottest companies to explore the gaming industry’s latest trends and newest monetization opportunities.”

The theme of this year’s GamesBeat was “Total World Domination,” focusing on gaming’s journey to becoming the dominant medium of entertainment. As part of the discussion, NativeX Co-Founder, Rob Weber shared the stage with Kixeye CEO, Will Harbin. Together, they talked about data science and its role in mobile app monetization from the perspectives of an ad network and a F2P gaming studio.


VentureBeat described the session by stating, “as the mobile market continues to grow and mature, the conversation around making money has become something fans hate to hear and developers despise discussing. The industry has changed to the point where “casual gamer” is being re-defined and companies are learning how to cater to consumers accustomed to receiving content for free.”

Highlights from the session are below in quotes for those who couldn’t make it to San Francisco for GamesBeat and didn’t catch the live broadcast on Twitch:


Rob Weber: “Our data science team looks at thousands of variables and analyzes the predictive value of each one — basically A.I. [artificial intelligence]. Then they boil down the data to 15-20 key indicators that tell us which ad and ad format has the best chance of converting for each player.”

Will Harbin: “I can’t fully speak to what our data scientists are doing now but I wrote the original algorithms. Now they just wake me up for the important meetings. At this point we only use data science half the time. A year ago, we probably were doing way too much, you know, data-driven decision-making. I think that hurt us in some ways. Now we’re probably going to err on the side of doing something which is fun even if the data doesn’t justify it.”

Rob Weber: “We built our own data science systems at NativeX. To get the ball rolling, we hired an experienced Chief Data Scientist, Dr. James Shanahan. Then he hired a full team of 14 data scientists, many with PhDs.”

Will Harbin: “LTV is sort of a chicken / egg problem for mobile game developers. You need to collect a lot of data to get it right. This makes it nearly impossible for developers starting out with their first game. At Kixeye, we are very conservative about measuring lifetime value (LTV). For example, our average retention is well over two years but we estimate it to be just nine months.”

Rob Weber: “If game developers can earn a few dollars from the 90 percent of non-payers, that can go a long way to share the burden of payers who are shouldering the cost for these games.”

Will Harbin: “Too many F2P games focus on whale spending. Pay to win is not a sustainable model for the games ecosystem.”

Rob Weber: “It’s inevitable that bigger AAA game developers are going to create separation over indies through the use of data science. That’s why we’re building the tools they need to compete.”

For more quotes from Rob Weber and Will Harbin, check them out on Twitter @robertjweber and @willharbin

Increasing In-App Revenue with Metric Driven Design and Emotional Targeting

Here is a 25 minute lecture I gave at Casual Connect in San Francisco on July 20014. The focus is on how to leverage metric driven design and emotional targeting to improve the performance of your mobile app or game.

Following Glu’s Kardashian Success, 6 Celebrity Games I’d Like to Play

[Originally posted on NativeX Voices September 3rd 2014]

Partnering with a controversial and social media savvy celebrity like Kim Kardashian can save game developers hundreds of thousands of dollars in user acquisition. You have an immediate advantage over other games because of the likeness of the celebrity, their ability to promote your game, and the impact their brand has on editors from the various app stores who like to feature games with popular figures.

This strategy can also backfire because celebrities are really expensive and some of them might not be receptive to your ideas. They also might get caught up in a scandal right after you release the game. With that said, the astronomical success of Glu’s Kim Kardashian: Hollywood has more developers thinking about creative ways to leverage the popularity of celebrities.

To help you get your creativity flowing for your next hit game, I put together a list of six celebrity games I would like to play.

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What the media industry can learn about native advertising from mobile games

[Originally posted on The Next Web June 7th 2014]

If you only know about native advertising as it’s described in most major media coverage (such as this recent Wall Street Journal report), you might assume the ad format is little more than ads that resemble Facebook updates, or sponsored articles attached to genuine editorial. Indeed, native ads were implicated in the recent strife at the venerable New York Times.

There’s a rich irony to this narrow definition: The New York Times itself, along with every other major media publication, is desperate to shore up its revenue base, especially as the market shifts to mobile – but still largely view native ads as a devil they may need to make a deal with, but only at a painful compromise to their editorial values.

It doesn’t have to be this way, because game developers (as they often do) have pioneered a workable direction. If media companies followed their lead, perhaps they’d earn more revenue without further blurring the lines of advertising and editorial. And in the process, help save our struggling media industry as a whole.

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Interview: The Way Forward for Native Ads

Here is a little video interview I did while attending VentureBeat’s Mobile Summit 2014. The focus is on how my company NativeX got into creating native monetization tech for games, and what needs to happen to see native monetization scale.

How Google Play Can Help Indie Game Devs and Leapfrog Apple’s App Store in the Process

[Originally posted on Gamasutra April 24th 2014]

Google recently introduced an important new rule prohibiting deceptive promotion of apps on Google Play. It’s great that Google is clamping down on spammy advertising. However, the new regulation doesn’t really address a core, underlying cause for the practice: broken app discovery. With more than two thirds of apps failing to break even, it’s no surprise that some indie devs desperately turn to sketchy ad practices or bot farms that manipulate rankings. Of course, Apple’s App Store struggles with the same woes as well, but given that Google’s core competency is content discovery, it’s fair for the market to expect much more from Play.

Fortunately for Google, there’s a number of means to quickly gain the edge on discovery over Apple. In the process, the search giant can greatly help the independent developer community. (Which, after all, makes up the majority of app developers.)

Reform the Ranking System: At the moment, Google Play’s “Top Apps” lists are too directly tied to ad spend. Most indie developers don’t have a large enough advertising budget to compete on this playing field, and consequently, none but the very most successful indies last long enough on the top ranks to be noticed. To make things even harder for indies, most Google Play users only download apps from these Top Apps lists. One solution is to create indie-only lists (see below). Google should also tweak its general ranking algorithms to give more prominence to apps gaining traction without ad dollars.
Address the 5 Star Problem: Similar to the crippled ranking lists, many or most apps with consistent 5 star ratings got them not through organic acclaim, but by working the system. (One common, if very dubious technique: An app prompt asks users if they like the app, but are only taken to the app store to post a review if they answer “Yes”.) There are a number of ways Google could reform this system; here’s just two ideas: 1) Only allow app ratings after fifteen total minutes of gameplay, to curb unfair judging; and 2) Add a pop-up prompt automatically – directly from Google Play – so the users never have to leave the game. This is important to ensuring that the true app ranking score is captured. (The latter is important because most developers don’t typically send users who don’t like their game to the app store, so the majority of reviews are not a good representation of the broader gamer population.)

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How To Build Effective Mobile In-app Ads Without Irking Your Users

[Originally posted on The Next Web February 28th 2014]

Thousands of apps launch each day, so the mobile app business must be booming, right? Not exactly.

Sure, thousands of apps are launched daily, but how many actually make money? Last I checked, products must generate revenue to qualify as a business. And generating money is where apps fail, miserably.

A recent Gartner report spells out the harsh forecast facing developers, which their industry still has yet to confront: Over the next few years, only an estimated .01 percent of consumer apps will be considered a financial success by their developers.

Currently, according to a global survey, 60 percent of developers make less than $500 a month off of their creation. So, what are the .01 percent doing right? And what can developers do to increase that success metric?

The answers to these questions range from simple to complex. But, regardless of the approach, there’s one simple word that developers can’t escape if they want to succeed: Advertising.

While there are no revenue guarantees, developers who specifically study in-app advertising and engagement strategies are on the right track to success.

Balancing in-app engagement with payments

Developers’ first mistake is focusing their business model only on in-app payments. Though in-app payments account for a majority of revenue currently being made by apps, even within game giants the percentage of overall users who make in-app purchases is less than 10 percent.

Instead of trying to squeeze more out of the small minority of users that make purchases, developers need to embrace advertising, refocus on the other ninety-plus-percent of their users and think about the characteristics that define any successful ad to keep those users engaged.

Developers can monetize the vast majority of their user base by integrating ads in a way that doesn’t disrupt the intended experience to earn maximum revenue with minimum annoyance to users.

Sure, in-app purchases – fueled by a small, but devoted user base – remain a vital revenue driver for most games in the market. However, to build a business that will not only survive but thrive in the long-term, developers must learn to strike a healthy balance between purchases (call to action) and entertainment (engagement).

Design your success natively

Developers and designers alike do their best work when thinking about the user experience. So, in order for in-app advertising to be effective, ads must follow some basic elements centered around Native Design.

In essence, Native Design seeks to make the ad look like it’s part of the app by being contextual and complementary to the content of the app, not above, below, or beside, but a real part of the user experience. Surprise breaks the pattern and attention of the user.

In order for ads to follow seamlessly and keep the attention of a user, they need to seem like they were conceived with the app at the origin using the following tactics:


Using characters and settings from within and app or game gives ads a better chance of engagement due to the relevance of the assets.

Because of their familiarity, associations should be used to create positive emotions and credibility, feeling more welcoming to players than ads without such connections.

Color and Contrast


Colors like red draw attention to users, but keep in mind the associated colors of the app to appeal to the overall Native Design aspect.

For example, colors of yellow and orange might bring out more feelings of optimism and friendliness compared to blues and greens, which are more associated with calmer feelings, but those colors need to correspond with what a user has already seen in the app.

Lines and Gaze

Eyes attract attention and gaze creates curiosity. Using those images along with the proper lines to lead a user’s view can cause immediate attention.

For example, having an associated character from the app or game looking toward a video or advertising offer can guide a user’s eyes toward keep words or actions such as downloads.

Movement and Action

Moving parts, either from associated characters around the ad or within the ad content, can cause an immediate reaction and engagement from a user, but learn the lessons of the Web – the movement can’t sour the original content.

The playable, often annoying flash-animated banner ads on websites were quickly scorned for being too distracting. Subtle movements can go a long way without being tiresome to players.


Does the ad have sound? Is there a video component that requires a voiceover or call to action? Often overlooked, ill-conceived sounds can be just as jarring for a user as poor visual design.

But these design elements don’t create the final checklist for an effective ad. There are three other aspects to keep in mind in order to build the best foundation for a campaign.

Time and place can trump all

Angry-Birds-on-Android-Hits-3M-Downloads-Free-with-Google-s-AdMob-2As important as design is, placement is just as crucial. Consider games, for example: You don’t want to show a player an offer wall advertisement (i.e. one that promotes other items) that blocks the main app content at the onset of the app.

Why? Think about it. They haven’t even had a chance to play the game yet. Similarly, placing ads at times during a coherent or long engagement period can cause users to turn away from the app all together.

Instead, think about inserting points between levels. And use your data. Identify where user “drop offs” are, and use incentive-based ads during those times.

The three biggest guidelines for high-engagement placement include:

User Emotional State

Players go through four separate emotional states during engagement with a game. Serving ads that are in-synch with those emotions continues the tactics of Native Design and not shocking or distracting from the user experience.

Players are typically in a positive emotion state after completing a level or increasing a character’s abilities; during these times non-incentive based, interstitial ads are best.

During negative or challenging emotional states players may encounter when losing a level or failing a character upgrade, serving incentive based video ads are best. And during neutral emotion states like exiting to main menus, serving non-incentive based videos is best.

Format Variety

Ideally, apps need five to six different formats within an app or game. Whether it’s a home screen that has a banner ad or a half time screen that turns into a video, campaigns need to mix in different formats and even different ads.

By doing this, campaigns are helping ensure that users are not seeing the same ad over and over, decreasing app enjoyment and building brand annoyance.


Not all users are equal when it comes to advertising. For example, developers should not bother top users (especially ones that make in-app purchases) with ads that will annoy them and potentially decrease their usage of an app or game.

Once developers start to collect analytic data about users, they may find power users don’t respond well to ads at all. And that’s okay, because developers may find that a small minority of their players (maybe 3 percent) like the offer wall ads or incentive campaigns — i.e., “watch this video to get a power-up,” and then developers can focus on the other 97 percent of their users with additional A/B testing to see what works with what group.

Go forth and build your app empire

Developing effective ads that users respond to positively is an ongoing process, but it’s a process developers must invest as much time in as development if they want to turn all their hard development work into money.

By following the above guidelines, remaining agile and responding to user data, developers will be better equipped to increase revenue several times over while not distracting from the core experience of the great app they’ve put so much time into creating.

2014 Predictions for the Mobile Gaming Market

[Originally posted on Gamasutra January 24th 2014]

2014 is the year mobile advertising finally gets better. Last year Supercell raked in over $2.5 million a day between Clash of Clans and Hay Day but they were far ahead of the pack. As I predicted last year in Forbes, there were many closures and consolidations in the mobile gaming space. There was also great innovation, with developers giving us great new, hardcore gaming experiences to enjoy on our devices.

Carrying on the tradition from last year, I wrote a few predictions for the mobile gaming market in 2014. Before we dive in, let’s do a quick recap of my 2013 predictions.

Recap of 2013 Predictions

1) More Closures and Consolidations

The Result: Correct.

Unfortunately, nobody was too big to fail in 2013. Among the closures, Fishlabs, the developer of Galaxy on Fire was acquired by Koch Media and THQ (who technically filed bankruptcy in 2012) liquidated its assets. On the consolidation side, Supercell sold a 51% stake to Softbank and Gungho OnLine Entertainment and Hasbro acquired Backflip Studios.

2) Mobile Gaming, The Sequel: More Sequels and Licensed Games

The Result: Incorrect.

Although I could argue for it, this didn’t really happen. Sequel games were launched in 2013, but none were very successful. Instead we saw a different trend with gaming companies focusing on pumping out new content for their existing games.

3) The Mobile Dustbowl: Less Farming Games, More Hardcore and Gambling Games

The Result: Correct.

In 2014, we put down our pitchforks and started blasting zombies. Machine Zone’s successful title, Game of War launched in July and is being called “the 6th most lucrative game on iOS.” Countless other hardcore games are close behind and at the moment, five of the top twentyfive grossing apps on the App Store are casino games.

4) The Rise of True Multiplayer Games

The Result: Correct.

This one excites me, multiplayer is finally taking off on mobile! It’s not just strategy or role-playing games either, but casual games too. We’re seeing breakout successes from casual games like QuizUp and Leterpress that allow you to compete against your friends in real-time.

5) Windows 8 Woos Gamers

The Result: Correct.

With strong market share growth outside of the U.S., Windows Phone has risen in the eyes of leading mobile game developers. For example, just in time for the holidays, Temple Run 2 launched on Windows Phone.

6) Tablets Kill Consoles

The Result: Incorrect.

The initial sales figures coming in for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have been strong. With that said, tablets outsold PCs for the first time this holiday season so keep an eye on this trend in 2014 as Apple will likely announce their play for the living room at WWDC.

2014 Predictions

1) Small Developers Will Rely Heavily on Publishers

The market is getting competitive and it’s getting harder and harder to self publish mobile games. Indie developers are going to continue to need bigger marketing budgets to compete and the easiest way to get it is through a publisher.

2) Subscription Billing Will Become More Pervasive.

We’re already seeing Kabam and Glu successfully sell in-app subscriptions on Google Play to stabilize the sale of virtual currency. Based on early figures on Google Play, look for more game developers to offer in-app subscriptions on the Apple App Store in 2014.

3) Your TV Will Be Connected

Apple will inevitably come out with something that connects games to your living room television in a big way. While it’s impossible to predict exactly how Apple will do this, their acquisition of Primesense, the company who helped Microsoft develop Xbox Kinect was a clear signal of what’s to come.

4) Games Will Serve Fresh Ad Formats

Large publishers like SEGA are testing new native ad formats in their flagship games as they take them free-to-play. In 2014, smaller indie developers will follow close behind, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for mobile advertising.

5) The Lines Between Console and Mobile Gaming Will Blur

More and more console games are going to include the freemium-based business model in 2014. This will kick off a new trend in which console game developers will also launch games for mobile that aid the console experience.

6) Micro-Consoles Will Become Extinct

It was fun to watch projects like Ouya from start to finish on Kickstarter. There was a lot of hype in 2013 but after a few failed attempts to build great micro-consoles, this trend will completely fizzle out and die in 2014.

7) Two More Game Publishers Will Rake in More Than $1 Million a Day

In 2014, the gap will widen between the top grossing games on iOS. The US gaming market is big enough to support two more companies that make over $1 million a day and after a rough 2013, one of them is going to be Zynga so buy stock now. The second developer to rake in over $1 million a day in 2014 will be a smaller indie developer that isn’t currently on the radar.

8) Helsinki is the New Silicon Valley, But…

While Helsinki had a hell of a year, Chengdu is up next in 2014. There are more developer geniuses in Chengdu, China than in SOMA. Get ready for a few top games to surface from the game developers in Chengdu, China in 2014.

9) Wait on Wearables, They Aren’t Ready for Game Developers

There won’t be any meaningful game revenue generated from wearables in 2014, so don’t waste your time developing for them, yet. Google Glass and smart watches like the Pebble or Samsung’s Galaxy Gear are neat but they’re too experimental. Serious developers should focus on what’s going to keep their businesses afloat in 2014, not the latest tech trends. Bill Gates once said, “People often overestimate what will happen in the next two years and underestimate what will happen in ten.” Although Glu developed a game for Google Glass, I don’t see enough user adoption to provide game developers with meaningful revenue for another 3-5 years. Wearables will have their moment but it won’t come this year.

10) There Won’t Be Any Major IPOs

While rumors are flying all over the place about certain game developers going public, none of them will do it in 2014. I’m predicting zero large game developers will go public in 2014 because it didn’t work out well for any of the companies that filed in 2012 or 2013. The team at Supercell made the smart choice, selling a 51% stake to SoftBank and Gungho Online.