The comfort zone

You cannot be an app developer if you are not a gambler. I just can’t see how someone without a tolerance to risk could handle it.

Right now we’ve just had a great month – our best ever. March wasn’t so spectacular you’ll read about us in the news, but from where I’m standing it’s pretty amazing.

We hit number 2 overall in Singapore. Who cares about Singapore? I thought I didn’t until I saw what a difference this made. On the peak day, that accounted for an extra 9,000 downloads.

We also went top ten in Malta, Anguilla, Barbados and a few other countries I had to look up where they were. They were all insignificant.

But Singapore, apparently, has enough of an iPhone-owning population to matter.

The Singaporians don’t buy in-app purchases, by the way. Conversion on in-app sales is extremely low compared to other countries. It even makes us Brits look generous! But I imagine that has as much to do with the prevalence of payment options as it does with their desire to buy virtual items. Does Apple offer an iTunes gift card in Singapore? How happy are they taking card payments from Asian nations?

However, something about this turned great and rankings climbed up a little everywhere else too. What I used to consider our core income – in-app purchases from the USA – increased accordingly.

But it also had a mighty effect on advertising revenue.

Originally I thought we only put ads in our games to be annoying and to encourage users to pay $1.99 to turn them off.

Now I love advertising. Now that we have a number of networks on board, and can mediate them effectively (and at least one of them is happy to show banners to Singapore!) it is a whole different picture from when I just threw in an AdMob banner and hoped for the best. In March, combined advertising revenue eclipsed straight app revenue by about 300%!

And I know we’re still leaving money on the table. Our projections are for around 24 million banner ads and 2 million insterstitials in April. While we are filling most of the banner space – albeit still it at pathetic rates in some cases – the insterstitials are only used for cross promotion and the odd affiliate program.

At present we are working to replace our own pop up ads with network banners from a number of companies that promise sky high eCPM rates. Sure, that space is more valuable than a banner but the quoted rates look ridiculous. I guess we will see who can live up to their promises.

So back to the gamble I mentioned earlier. There are a number of organizations that you just have to put blind faith in to make money from apps. You have no negotiating power, and – other than having no choice – what reason do you have to trust them?

Right now, I am looking at the reporting for one particular ad network that paid particularly well for our success in Singapore during March. If they’re true to their word, we’ll be paid at the end of May.

We’ve only just started using this particular network. We have no past trading history together. They’re an overseas organization that I have no direct means of contact with. Their helpdesk team have already proved to be selectively responsive to emails. We are assuming all the risk and they are setting out all the terms.

“No matter how much you make, we’ll pay you in 2-3 months”

The figures so far look great, but it just so happens that – as a happy victim of our success – the amount they now owe us is already more than the credit limit I would have agreed with any new trade partner.

You’re probably curious where my level of tolerance stretches to: I get a bit woozy when I see a total hit four digits (in any currency) but once the amount I am owed by anyone is more than what I pay myself for a month’s salary, I start to bob myself.

As a contractor, this has always been manageable in the past. You can structure deals with stage payments, stop work when accounts get behind and so on. You do have the ability to operate within a comfort zone, and to build up working relationships with new clients and partners at a pace that suits both parties.

Now it’s an uncomfortable choice: stop showing their ads (and leave space unfilled, or sub-optimally filled) until they prove they pay on time, or keep clocking up the balance and hope for the best.

With online companies, I’m twice shy. I’ve already been bitten by Google. As large, faceless, unapproachable organisations go, they’re clearly top of the pack. And somehow proud of it.

Seriously, how can anyone ever be comfortable doing business with an email filter that tells you to jog on and use the support forums instead? Yes, speculating with other users. That’s what you need.

About two years ago I had my AdSense account closed for an inadvertent breach and I still consider the £1,500 they didn’t pay up as stolen. You think theyactually gave it back to the advertisers I’d allegedly wronged?

Was all of that sum earned by illicit means? No. I made a mistake with the integration on one site and fixed it within a couple of days, but that gave them the right to keep about 45 days revenue – and not just from that site, but from every site that I was showing their ads on!

Just in case you expected different, Google’s “appeals” procedure is an email autoresponder. It says “No”.

So since AdMob was bought out by the big “not evil” I’ve been trying to eliminate them. Hmm, that sounds a bit like wishful thinking. I should clarify: eliminate them from our ad rotation wherever possible.

It would be foolish just to turn that ad network off. Instead they sit at the bottom of the pile, showing shitty looking grey-on-black text banners to anyone that Apple and everyone else deem unworthy of seeing a rich media ad experience. It still accounts for anywhere between $10 and $30 per day.

Back when I participated in poker forums, there were often discussions of how you should boycott X Poker or take all your money out of Y Poker because they weren’t going to let you use a four colour deck, or someone once rivered a flush against an angry dude.

There was always at least one response that simply said: “Get over it, and play where the fish are”.  I believe this to be wise advice.

I hate that I’m making money for Google, but until they actually decide to stuff me over again, I’d rather have my share than throw it away. While the sun is shining on us, I’m in “make hay” mode, and that means I am going to work hard to find every edge I can.

And besides, I’ve still been screwed over by more poker players that I thought I knew than by online companies I clearly don’t.  I’ll take any written terms over a “gentleman’s agreement”, thank you very much.

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