How Will The New Google Interstitial Policy Affect Developers?
On 27th July 2022, Google dropped a major announcement. The announcement tackles the matter of various permissions, subscriptions, impersonation, and ad experiences, which we will discuss in this article.
In particular, part of the Policy changes regarding ads experience comes into full effect on 30th September 2022. This leaves developers with just one month to evaluate their implementation and make changes (if needed). As they point out in the article, the policy changes have been inspired by Better Ads Standards put together by Coalition for Better Ads.
Which Ad Experiences are Unaffected by the New Google Policies?
This change in policy is aimed at addressing some disrupting ad experiences. As such, it is not going to have any impact on:
· Rewarded ads, which are by definition an opt-in ad format. As per Google announcement: “This policy does not apply to rewarded ads which are explicitly opted-in by users (for example, an ad that developers explicitly offer a user to watch in exchange for unlocking a specific game feature or a piece of content).
· Banner ads, which are a non-full-screen format, do not qualify as disruptive to the user experience. As per Google’s announcement: “This policy also does not apply to monetization and advertising that does not interfere with normal app use or gameplay (for example, non-fullscreen banner ads).”
Does That Mean This Policy Deals Mostly With Interstitial Ads?
The new policy mainly impacts how developers can implement interstitial ads within their games.
How Does The New Google Interstitial Policy Affect Implementation?
We will refer to Coalition for Better Ads Standards examples and explanations to describe this as precisely as possible.
Unexpected Static and Video Interstitials
- Show up when unexpected by users, typically after users have chosen to do something else.
- Full-screen interstitial image/video ads that appear during gameplay. This could be either at the beginning of a level or at the beginning of a content segment. These ads are typically disruptive to users. Users expect to begin game play or engage in content and are surprised to see an ad appear.
In our modest opinion, these first two points are the most problematic. They also leave the most room for interpretation. In reality, every interstitial ad appears after the user has chosen to do something else (see point #4 for details). Fortunately, the Coalition has given some examples of what cases did not fall beneath their threshold. Their statement may give developers some peace:
Interstitials at the end of the game play or at the end of content segment, or after a score screen, or when opening an app did not fall beneath the Better Ads Standard for Mobile Apps.
However, this still leaves some room for debate. What happens if the developer wants to show an ad before the content piece? For example, the user clicks on the “start match” button and sees an interstitial ad before the match starts.
Video Interstitials That Cannot be Skipped for More Than 15 Seconds
A non-skippable interruptive video interstitial ad is a full-screen video ad that appears at an unexpected point in gameplay and cannot be skipped or dismissed. It may also appear before a content segment when users have chosen to do something else. Additionally, it may appear while they are already engaged in an activity.
Google is actually being a bit more clear than the coalition, so they go on to explain:
Full-screen interstitial ads of all formats that are not closeable after 15 seconds are not allowed. Opt-in full-screen interstitials or full-screen interstitials that do not interrupt users in their actions (for example, after the score screen in a game app) may persist more than 15 seconds.
This piece of policy is something that leaves mostly ad networks with homework. They will need to make sure their ads are skippable before the 15 seconds expires.
Video Interstitials Before a Splash Screen
These are interstitial videos that appear after the app icon is selected but before the splash screen.
This requirement is very clear. Developers are not allowed to show an ad that appears once before the app’s splash screen is shown. The correct way to implement this would be: User clicks on the app icon >> splash screen is shown >> an ad appears.
It might be interesting to note that AdMob by Google has an ad format available that is known as app-open ads. It is also available on some other networks such as Meta Audience Network and Pangle. Truth be told, these are non-fullscreen (they take up 80% of the screen), skippable during their entire duration, and shown simultaneously as the splash screen.
What are the Most Common Interstitial Implementations?
One thing worth noting is that developers usually do not choose between static and video interstitials. They are now mostly mixed (and mostly video!). Therefore, unless the developer has introduced some specific restrictions, they will be showing both static and video interstitials in the same positions within their game.
As for the most common implementation example, there are actually not many of them. We commonly describe them as:
Before The Match
Interstitial ads shown before a new game or match has started. Here we can see an example from Chapters: Interactive Stories by Crazy Maple Studio Dev.
After The Match
Players see these interstitials after they’ve completed a match and before progressing to a new one. We can see one such example in Sonic Dash – Endless Running by SEGA.
Finally, players may encounter our last category of interstitials in the middle of navigation, as you can see in this example from My Talking Tom by Outfit7.
Who are the Developers Using Interstitial Ads?
Both gaming and non-gaming app developers rely on interstitials as a significant source of ad revenue. Non-gaming app developers may be more dependent on this ad format. They simply don’t have so many opportunities to use rewarded video ads to monetize their apps. Everyone but game developers of real core games use interstitials to monetize their, in the vast majority of cases, non-paying players.
Who Will These Policy Changes Affect?
Game developers not using interstitial ads or those with only 10% or 20% of their ad revenue generated by interstitial ads will see little or little impact by these changes.
However, those relying more on interstitial ads revenue might be more affected. This, of course, includes hyper-casual and many casual game developers that make a significant portion or even majority of their ad revenue (and revenue in general) via interstitial ads.
What can Developers do to Avoid Revenue Loss?
A good first step would be to map the implementation of interstitial ads in their games. After that, the next step would be to review those implementations against the guidelines provided by Google and Coalition for Better Ads.
There are a couple of clear cases that you should absolutely avoid and a couple that could be borderline with your implementation. Consult with your ad networks representatives to ensure you’ve followed all best practices to comply with these policies.
Can We Expect More Policy Changes Like This?
Possibly, yes! The Coalition states:
The Coalition’s Better Ads Standards identify the ad experiences that fall beneath a threshold of consumer acceptability and are most likely to drive consumers to install ad blockers. More than 150,000 consumers have participated to date in the Coalition’s research to develop its set of Better Ads Standards.
In the future, they might discover more ad experiences that fall beneath the acceptable consumer threshold. It would be interesting to see if they manage to address some of the practices that have become common in the industry. These are practices we have a hard time imagining positively impacting user experience. Some of these practices include but are not limited to:
In the last months (or even more), we’ve seen networks push the limits of the patience of app users (and developers). We are referring to showing multiple close-timers for their ads.
For example, in an interstitial ad, they would show a timer for five seconds before the user can click the “x” button.
After that, they would show another segment of the ad (interactive end card or such) with its own timer. It usually involves additional five seconds.
In the case of rewarded video ads, this means that the user has watched an ad that lasts for 30 seconds (non infrequently even more) only for the ad to greet them with another 5-second timer.
Moving “X” Buttons
Finding the “x” button to close the ad has become a game of its own over the years.
Networks move it from top to bottom and from left to right corner. Sometimes they blend the white button into the white background.
They use various other tricks to make it harder for the user not to end up on the game’s store page.
The practice started by (or at least popularized) by Applovin’s studio Magic Tavern approximately three years ago.
These ads show content that is not really available in the game or is hardly the point of the game they are advertising.
Even games with decent content or content that we don’t consider inappropriate have crumbled under fierce competition in mobile game advertising and rising CPIs.
They started creating tacky ads meant to attract viewer attrition at any cost (or, better say, at the lowest cost possible). They do so by disregarding any standards and what most consider appropriate content for the target audience of the game in question.