Will the future bring a world where we trade ad views for (virtual) currency?

Nothing is free. We have become consumers of free apps everywhere. As digital businesses tap into the freemium model (offering their applications for free), we (the consumer) use them. Unknowingly or knowingly we are trading something for that.

Vendors, especially game vendors have realised that free delivers more value than paid, and this is where I feel we might we might be losing our choice.

As a parent of two kids, I’m conscious of what my kids watch. We limit TV and tablet usage to encourage social in-person activities. But I’m getting increasingly concerned by the amount of ads which they’re exposed to via mobile and tablet.

Growing up, computer games were an enjoyable way of exploring the world, learning skills/tactics etc (Counterstrike, Rail road tycoon, Minecraft, even coding basic!). But my world was a world without internet and eventually from the age of 16, dial–up internet. Today, in contrast we have super computers in our pocket which we can interact with a finger and access to everything 24/7. Data and Ads are everywhere no longer limited to print and posters.

For this post I’m discussing phone and tablets (devices that most people have and that are accessible to almost everyone – no controllers to master or additional equipment to buy). These devices have an increasing community of games, many of which are focused around earning virtual coins/points, and have a hidden revenue path pushing Ad views in exchange for virtual currency.

You might say; “why are you not buying the game vs having a game with Ads?” Thats fair, These new breed of games look initially innocent, but are loaded with Ads as part of their gameplay regardless of whether you pay to remove static ads or not. These games need coins/credits to play, to earn those credits you have to; buy credits (with real money), choose to watch an ad (for a bonus) or are forced to watch an ad to continue.

Cat Game, a popular game (age 4+) is a game where you collect Cats and build floors. The goal; you have to craft materials to decorate each room/level, each level has a goal. To play you spend coins to craft the items. This eventually gets you more rooms and more cats, and so on. You can get coins by buying them (with real money), waiting, or playing three mini-games (poppycats and blockycats, or to cast a vote, some of which require some skill).

If you choose to wait you’ll earn a trickle of coins throughout the day which becomes capped (to the point where you can’t do that much), so you have to return to the app every 3-4 hours if you want to bank those and continue to accrue more (most likely with an ad to interrupt you and/or a bonus tied to a conditional ad).

On the whole it’s a nice game (ignoring the ads), however for each 5 or so plays of the mini game, you are forced to watch a 30 second ad. On each delivery (from your floor), you can decide whether to watch an Ad to get another delivery. The Ad watching is being exchanged for coins (some of which is optional and some isn’t).

This model is the same for a variety of games, not just Cat Game.
Ads = points, points = progression. We’re conditioning our children to watch Ads in exchange for virtual limited currency.

These ads although potentially meaningless are most likely conditioning our kids on choice. Unlike television they are powered by complex algorithms targeting content to our kids, some of which might not be appropriate, and our kids are being exposed to it.

I believe there should be controls over this, perhaps like GDPR we should be able to opt-in. before this exchange becomes a more serious problem.