Update: Looks like MachineWorks listened -- Duke Nukem 3D is now ad-free.

Earlier today, a somewhat anticipated game went live in the Android Market - Duke Nukem 3D. We covered the release and the news that it was on the way. But reviews of the app on the Market are painting a picture of a less than satisfied customer base, because of a couple key pieces of information that Machineworks Northwest left out of the app description.

First, the game is ad-supported - but it still costs $1 to purchase. The ads cannot be disabled. Now, I'm perfectly OK with developers making paid apps that also have in-app ads, that's a business decision, not a philosophical debate. But what many user reviews of the app are showing is that most folks didn't expect to see ads in a game that they paid money to play up front. Traditionally, apps that are paid lack ads, while free apps rely on them.

There's nothing per se wrong about putting ads in a paid app, but I do think there is something wrong with not disclosing this kind of information before a purchase.

Duke Nukem 3D is a 27MB download - over 3G, that could take 5-10 minutes. A user might just slip their phone in a pocket while the game downloads, and check it later once it's complete. By that time, the Android Market's narrow 15-minute return window may have expired, and a user may open up a game they paid for, find the advertisements, and become unsatisfied. While a polite e-mail to the developer might yield a refund in this scenario, it could have been easily avoided in the first place by requiring disclosure that the game is ad-supported.

Why Should We Require Disclosure Of Ad-Supported Apps?

I think that was illustrated adequately above, but in my opinion there's a more moral reason for doing this. It's clear that most users believe paid apps, by their very nature, should not include ads. When we buy software for our computers, video games, or movies, we don't expect advertisements to come into play - we bought it, we expect to enjoy it free of advertisement interference.

The expectation of consumers is then very clear in this regard. By selling an application requiring payment from a user upfront, there is an implicit agreement in the mind of the user that the app will not contain advertisements. As we've shown, this isn't always the case.

But that doesn't change the expectation - and consumers clearly would like to know whether an app contains ads, especially when they're paying for that app in the first place.

My proposal is this: Google should require that any app include a clear label that indicates it is ad-supported. This label could be added to the app's price as a simple parenthetical, eg: "Free (Ads)" or "$0.99 (Ads)." That's it. It allows consumers to see whether an app is ad-supported - and I don't see a problem in providing this very simple information.

Obviously, there will be the issue of technical implementation versus voluntary disclosure (it could just be something developers are required to answer "yes" or "no" to, and users could report those who lie), but it doesn't sound like a huge burden. The upsides? Consumers get more information about products they're using, and apps like Duke Nukem 3D don't get a ton of 1-star ratings for including ads in a paid app. The downside? Developers are forced to disclose that they're making money off your use of the app. Is that so bad? I also believe that the fact that the Android Market is open to any submitted app makes this an even more compelling argument.

In-App Purchases?

Duke Nukem 3D brings up yet another interesting issue about apps - namely, in-app purchases. When you pay $0.99 for Duke Nukem 3D, you're buying the first "episode" of the game. Episodes 2 and 3 cost an additional $0.99 each. Some customers were frustrated by this, because it's not very clearly labeled (it's at the very bottom of the app description).

Should developers be required to indicate their app contains additional content via in-app purchase? I'd say this is just another piece of information that would benefit consumers, and in no way harm app developers. Google could simply add an asterisk to the price of any app to indicate that the price does not reflect the cost of additional content available for purchase once the app is downloaded. Easy enough.

What do you think, are these changes you'd like to see implemented on the Android Market? Let us know in the comments.

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • http://www.gamersvue.com PogoWolf

    If it wasn't so easy to install 'crap' though the Ad system, or if what ever AD system is used didn't bloat the software and/or force close the apps, I don't see a reason to disclose. However, that isn't the case, and Google isn't doing their job of policing the apps on their store.. so Yes, the customer should be warned.

    • James

      Sounds like someone justifying their use of an ad blocker to themselves by exaggerating.

    • Jon Garrett

      If an app is free, I automatically assume that it will have ads. so when I download FREE apps, I do expect ads.

      • James

        So true. I think most reasonable people have learned to make the connection between time, money, calories burned or any combination of the 3 and then seeing some kind of model for compensation. So if it's free that usually means ads.

        It's kind of like if a company was giving away free phones and then you complained that you later found out it was really only free if you pay for something else. But software is bytes, it's not an object right? So it's different (but not to the people who produce it).

  • Telanis

    Sounds good to me.

  • Chris

    They should required to advise the user if the game is ad supported. But following in the footsteps of the post, finding that Duke was ad supported in a PAID version deterred my from buying it all together. Give us a free version with ads, but the hell, take the ads out for people paying you directly for your game.

  • http://www.droidgamers.com ExtremeT

    I fully agree with the whole ad related issue. That should have been information included in the description.

    When it comes to additional content however, most developers state it in the description as is the case with Duke Nukem 3D, even if it is at the bottom.

    The problem is, and as a developer I've experienced this way too often, people don't read the entire description, if at all. A little asterisk or some sort of indicator would be nice but I'm not sure that will help any if people aren't going to read the description anyways.

    • h8t

      That's why the in-app purchase needs to have a section spelled out and not just in the description.

      • http://www.droidgamers.com ExtremeT

        I agree, a fully titled section int eh description or listing somewhere may work to help things along

  • http://www.akkeresu.com Ark

    I say yes. Let me know exactly what I am buying, so that I'm more willing to actually pay for said app, or buy a non-ad supported one.

  • http://none Sun Djinn Kari

    As much as I agree with the fact that policing should be done, they just can't do it. Now here comes the point every android user hates hearing. Do you want the iProduct App store, heavy guard, lack of developer freedom and an app market where everything goes through a 3 to 6 month waiting period? Or do you want the Android Market where developers have the freedom, little guard and almost instant inclusion to the Market? I know theres a middle ground, but think about it. You'll end up paying more for the OS by doing so.

    • http://verb0ze.net verboze

      I would say for the average user, the heavily guarded market works well. Personally, I like the freedom the android market offers to developers; however, this also leads to the market being populated with loads of crap. heavily guarded market + ability to side-load apps at your own risk = win combination imho.

      • http://none Sun Djinn Kari

        So you would also agree to pay a little more for the phone you have to have a market thats heavily guarded?

  • http://www.seekdroid.com Amir Ghadiry (SeekDroid Developer)

    I think having a clear description for the app is key, having added labels would just be messy. Leave it to the developer to disclose as much about the app as they wish. If they do a bad job, their rating will suffer. Many developers have done this with Lite/Full versions. The Lite version will often say its ad supported or contains less features.

    This application is a great example. If the developer would have said it was ad supported and you only get one level, they would likely have a higher rating. Missing a sale due to a full disclosure loses you 69 cents, but a bad review from a customer loses you much more. Customer satisfaction is EVERYTHING. As a developer, I do everything I can do keep our customers happy. That means full disclosure, refunds at any time, taking and responding to feedback, etc.

    As for the thought of having adds in a paid app. Its just another form of monetization. The developer could have charged more for the app and not had ads, charged nothing and have more intrusive ads, in-app purchase to remove ads, first level free and charge more for the rest, etc ... Different forms of monetization and price points are key business decisions. Having ads in a paid app seems to be a bad way to do it, so they can try something else.

    In the end, Android users must realize that good apps come at a price (one way or another). Developers have to make money to allow them to produce quality apps.

  • http://forbiddenvoid.blogspot.com David Harris

    I think people are making way too big a deal about this. The fact that you would complain about ads in a game you paid a dollar for is ludicrous. The fact is advertising is a huge (read: HUGE) part of the economy and they're not going away any time soon.

    I think the model is brilliant, actually. The game probably should have sold for 3-4 dollars anyway, and they're using advertising to subsidize the cost. You get your product to people at a lower price point, and you make the same (if not more) amount of money.

  • Scott

    I think it could be a good idea to force developers to specify whether it's ad supported, but I don't agree about other purchasable content. It could confuse users into thinking they will have to spend money in free apps.

    As for the game in the article, why should they disclose (okay - I'm aware they DID disclose it) that there are more levels to buy? You buy a game, and it includes what it includes. The fact that there IS more content available should be a pleasant surprise. People shouldn't whine about not getting the world for a dollar.

  • Edd

    Yes, this is a big moral issue for me (I use big in the relative sense before someone picks me up on how world hunger is a much bigger issue!).

    But this angers me more - the refund limit is still my big bone of contention with Android and stops me purchasing many apps:

    "Duke Nukem 3D is a 27MB download - over 3G, that could take 5-10 minutes. A user might just slip their phone in a pocket while the game downloads, and check it later once it's complete. By that time, the Android Market's narrow 15-minute return window may have expired,"

    While I'm at it, the market should have a setting to ensure that large (MB) apps warn you upfront and give you the option to wait until Wifi is available to download.

    And... Lastly... The App "screenshot", which does what it says on the tin, adds 2 vaporware bookmarks to your Android Browser for their $hitty Google-clone search engine, as well as a shortcut on your desktop. Now this is really disgraceful! Can someone at AP verify this and then name-and-shame them? I've not uninstalled/re-installed to double-check this, but it is the only app I installed yesterday when these three annoying shortcuts appeared.

  • PezLee

    Considering all the patent troll b.s. going on with in app billing, just get rid of it all together. If a user gets to the end of an "episode" and wants to continue to the next episode, they could just get it from the market like they did the first one. All the dev would have to do is have a single screen at the end that lets the user know that there is more game play created and available.

    As far as disclosure is concerned, while I am all for it, I am far more concerned with the app trolls that go around giving 1 stars for things that are not issues with the apps (i.e. "The app won't install on my phone" but they are not rooted as per the description or "1 star for accessing contacts" when the app has MMS functions) or my personal pet peeve, b/c they claim the dev is padding the app ratings. Until the market allows users to band together to throw out these b.s. ratings, great apps will never get the credit they deserve.

  • Johnny

    What is an ad? If an app has links to other apps made by the same developer, is that an ad? Are the links in Angry Birds for their merchandise ads?

  • akoli

    Just something that came to mind but did the original duke nukem 3d ( PC version way back) not have advertising within the actual game .... bit hazy but rings true.

    I cant say i agree with pricing structure for this game... I played this when I was a kid (given that I'm 30+ now) and its been the same port to each new system.. pay for one level and have to pay more for others... plus ads to boot... I wont be buying it ...going by the screens its an identical port with change in controls for the touchscreen.

    I do belive that if the price is low enough then ads are not so much of an issue .... plus you have adfree if it really comes down to it ... I know I've never bought something based on an in ad game !!

  • Eddy Sackinger

    it should be a permisson to show ads. It should also be a permission to make in app purcheases

    • James

      I agree that the permissions should have more granularity, for instance the modify SD card files permission is way too broad. Having just a show ad permission would probably require all ads being run by Google though, since they can't know how every ad company would use the internet to deliver the ads.

  • Omega5555

    Yes, yes, yes. Finally someone is asking the question. All apps, whether paid or free, should state if ads are part of the price. Prices should be displayed like this: Price: Free, ad supported or Price: Free, no ads or Price: $1.00, with ads or Price: $1.00, no ads. What's wrong with full disclosure?

    • James

      How would you define an ad though? Is a banner promoting my other apps an ad? Is an agreement between two developers to cross-promote their apps an ad? Is it an ad if I have a link to a website that promotes my band? What about a website that promotes my book? What about someone else's book?

      • Sam

        Stupid question. Those are all ads.

      • h8t

        They're all ads. Why are we splitting hairs? Or change the question...is it a commercial when it's cross-promoting another companys product? ... If you replace AD with commercial, think its pretty clear.

        For me personally, I care if they have to download new 'ads' everytime I run. A question from a previous poster, I don't consider the developer having a splash screen to pimp another one of there apps as an AD.

  • Craig U.

    Frankly, I can't figure out how Android got so crammed up with intrusive ads in the first place. It seems every dev whore themselves out to ad servers. It seldom happened on desktop computers, so why is it ''normal'' to have ads taking up valuable real-estate on the tiny screen of an Android phone? Did anyone ever have flashing flickering ads plastered on their screens while using M$ Word? Even shareware apps just nagged you to buy it you while 1st loading up, or maybe disabling key features, but there were almost never ads on your screen. (And when there was, the app was instantly tossed)

    The de facto standard from almost the beginning of Android is the lite/pro version of apps. You EXPECT to pay for and get an ad-less app, not have the stupid things on your screen AFTER paying for an app. The devs who published Duke Nukem need to be asked: WTF were you thinking?" Make the game $5, $7, or even $10, but GET RID of the ads.

    I hope this doesn't set some kind of new trend where apps get 1 star ratings and endless uninstalls/refunds after finding out ads are still there after BUYING it. With any luck, other devs are watching this all unfold and take it as a lesson learned of what NOT to do.

    • Tyraelos

      Because many, many Android users pirate apps, more so than for example, Apple's App Market. It's just so easy, you grab the apk file, install it and voila! you have a paid app you didn't buy. The only way to do this on the iPhone is to jailbreak.
      Some have come up with ways to combat this by using license checks and such, but those require online servers and not every dev. can afford a system like that.

      So what many devs now do is instead of offering a paid app which might be ripped and pirated is they provide the app for 'free' with the caveat that it has ads or is supported by in-app purchases.

      I don't like the idea of paid apps with ads either but so be it - as long as there's full disclosure in the description, fine by me...then I can decide if I want it badly enough to pay for it AND see ads because as you've mentioned, generally it's either/or and not both.

  • Craig U.

    "What is an ad? If an app has links to other apps made by the same developer, is that an ad? Are the links in Angry Birds for their merchandise ads?"
    That's never bothered me much. Shareware on desktops took that route at times too, and it's not that big a deal. In Android it isn't either - IF those are on the opening screen of the app/game.
    What is annoying is ads on top of your game or app that are completely unrelated. (In colors, etc. and some ads are obnoxious and garish to say the least) Too many times an ad just gets in the way of the game screen.
    Or... an app's critical buttons are on the bottom right next to the ad so you slip a little with a finger and pop up a browser right in the middle of what you're doing. That's about as aggravating as it gets.
    And up there on the very tip top of the annoyance meter is ever-updating ads. Having an ad sit there is irritating enough, but when they endlessly update to a new one every 30 seconds, it's time to head to the app's UN-install button! (Or upgrade to pro version button)
    And it comes right back around to people expecting to have NO ads when paying for a game or app. You want a freebie, then you can expect ads, but nobody expects them after spending the bux.
    Buying in-app for extras such as more game levels aren't a big deal to me. You play the game, like it, and want more, so you pay for more levels etc. That's a whole other issue than plastering ads in your way on the game screens.

  • imi

    All developers must disclose whatever their apps contain from ads all the way to the permissions. That way customers can know before hand what they are getting into. For now the whole business looks shady. I think that is why app un-installations are that high. You install an app that looks okey only to realize later it is full of ads. Honestly i don't see the problem with being honest about you app as a developer. If it is bad make it better if it is good people will install it; even more when you are honest.

  • Irmenhagen

    It's funny. This website does not function correctly with adblock enabled. However, it works when it's disabled. What a bunch of hypocrites you people are.

    • Tyraelos

      Do you have to pay them to see the website? Because websites cost money to host....ads pay for that since we don't.

    • ChumbleSpuzz

      Works fine for me. Subscribed to EasyList filter.

  • Paul Paranoia

    Whilst I agree with full disclosure regarding Ads and In-App Purchases when buying an Android App, I have to say that the AP article is disingenuous when it claims that you wouldn't expect to see Ads with other paid for products and media.

    DVDs & Blu-Rays often have Ads for other films before the main feature (which sometimes can't be skipped).

    Cinemas have Ads and Trailers before the feature presentation.

    Paid console games have in game advertising (e.g. The Red Bull tie in for the Wipeout franchise on the Play Station).

    Amazon sends me a load of Ads in the packaging when I purchase products from them.

    Unfortunately advertisements are an unavoidable part of modern life ... but as said previously, full disclosure from Android developers would be nice.

  • Tyraelos

    These are all fundamental issues of a lack of Market policies. Yeah, it's absolutely great that devs. don't have to go through quite as much trouble to push their application on the Android Market but then we get stuff like this...

    I agree with the sentiment that technically there's nothing wrong with ad supported, paid apps or even in-game purchases but there's definitely an issue when there's nothing at all in the description hinting at these things.

    What exacerbates the issue at hand is that this game REQUIRES in-app purchases to get the full experience or the "entire" game. So not only are you getting ads in your paid for app, but for 99c you're getting a part of the game and there's no way to know that unless you read the comments or buy the game and find out.

  • tlovey

    The game has been updated now and is said to be ad-free.

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