From Garbage to Gold: How Bad Games Garner Players and Revenue

Jul 6, 2019 | 1 Votes by Mikhail 10 rate Your vote
Bad games are not a thing of the past: they still exist and persist in the app stores. Despite their low quality, they have a large player base. Here’s how and why: WWGDB - From Garbage to Gold: How Bad Games Garner Players and Revenue

In the early days of mobile and social media gaming, there were quite a few decent titles. Some of the “classics” include Zenonia, Infinity Blade, and Galaxy on Fire. This was a time before large studios and triple-A developers started bringing their old IPs and creating new ones. Despite that, mobile games were of good quality.

Infinity Blade is one of the best examples of quality mobile games

As the years progressed, a lot of studios became obsessed with profit and quickly dove into the freemium craze. Soon thereafter, bad games that are pure and utter garbage started appearing on the app stores. You’d think they’d fail because hey, they’re absolutely terrible.


Though most of those cringe-y games eventually dissolved into the deepest depths of the app store pages and the memories of the poor souls who played them, they likely earned a profit while supporting a large player-base. Yes, it’s surprisingly puzzling. Why in the world would someone play a reskin of a strategy title or something wherein all you do is tap, tap, tap or in social media desktop games click, click, click? Plus, to think people spent money buying in-game items feels like a mystery.

Thing is, it’s not a mystery. There are quite a few reasons why these games managed to get significant player-base and revenue.

What exactly are bad/garbage games?

Superman 64: One of the worst games of all time

Sonic 2006 was a bad game. Superman 64 was even more terrible. More recently, you could also throw in Umbrella Corps and the launch version of No Man’s Sky. These games will forever live in infamy, but did you know that the mobile app stores and even social media games (mostly on Facebook) have hundreds, perhaps thousands of them? For example, let’s take a look at Alex Schwartz and Ziba Scott’s work.

In 2013, automated the process of creating slot machine games with stupid, racy, and dubious titles. It’s important to note they made this as an experiment (and probably a joke). The program auto-generated ones like “3D Bowling Slots”, “3D Inexperienced Great Horned Owl Slots” and “3D Curling Slots”. The automation churned out these games, auto-uploading 15 apps a day which was Google’s daily limit and totaling at least 1,500. Thing is, Google caught up to them and started removing these auto-generated games from the Google Play Store.

One good example is the 3D Curling Slots app. Photo courtesy of ArsTechnica

Thing is, these games had advertisements people were actually tapping on. After a couple of months, the developer duo earned $50,000 or at least $200 a day which isn’t exactly chump change. The downloads? Over 1.6 million, according to Arstechnica.

These slot machine games are what you’d consider garbage games. They’re low to zero effort reskins, offering nothing new except a few pictures and models. Apart from slot machines, you could also say low-effort reskins of popular games and turn-based automated “strategy” titles with zero participation on the player’s part should be thrown on a dumpster and set ablaze.

Apart from reskins, you can also consider mundane and boring experiences like Cow Clicker (which was made as a satire) and even Farmville. To top off the garbage pile, include games that are chock-full of intrusive ads and pop-ups and unreasonable microtransactions and dubious gameplay mechanics that encourage you to pay in order to win.

With all these in mind, you’d wonder: “WHY IN THE WORLD DID PEOPLE DOWNLOAD AND PLAY THEM?”.In addition, how in the world do they manage to earn? Well, it’s not exactly rocket science:

Players who aren’t exactly “gamers” download them

Buying or playing a game is an investment. You’ll put your time and money into it, especially if it’s a paid title. Like all investments, you’ll likely spend at least a few minutes checking its gameplay and watching its trailers before deciding whether you should try it out or not. Gamers do this: they check whether a title is worth paying for and playing.

Admit it, Farmvlle is a terrible game

These bad games do not bank on gamers and inquisitive players. Their player-base consists of people who just play games to kill time. It wouldn’t be farfetched to say those who play these games are kids, middle-aged people, seniors and anyone who’s clueless about this trend. After all, almost everyone owns a mobile phone and gamers are either choosey of the mobile games they play or have a dedicated console or laptop.

They encourage social sharing and friend invites

Zynga rewards referrals

We’ve all received Facebook notifications from our friends asking us to join them in certain games. This was the case during the Farmville, Candy Crush, and Pet Society era. Though annoying to most people, it’s a boon to some. After all, developers incentivize invitations: invite or refer a friend, receive 100 gold. Apart from incentives, people with more connections are more likely to head to the top of the leaderboards.

This was the case in Cow Clicker. Ian Bogost created the game as a satire and a form of protest, yet it managed to garner over 50,000 players. It’s a stupid game where all you do is click cows and invite your friends to do the same. That’s it. For some reason, it took off and resonated well with the FarmVille-loving crowd.This is also why almost all of Zynga’s games made headlines. A lot of people want shared experiences, may it be to build an empire with friends, clicking a cow, visiting a farm, or to play poker with them.

They bank on ad revenue

Apart from microtransactions, games earn through advertisements which are present in garbage games on banners or in obtrusive video ads. Every tap and impression earns developers a bit of money. But wait, why do people tap on these ads in the first place?

Well, at times, the ad is a gateway to a better game. It may not deliver the same experience, but it’s a better one overall. For example, let’s say you’re playing one of those slot machine games. After an unsuccessful round of slots, a video ad showing a full casino game (with slot machine minigames) pop up. Of course, seeing that the casino game looks and feels like a much better experience, players would tap the ad and download it.

What can we get from all of this?

Let's hope all other mobile games will be like Florence, the best mobile game of 2018.

Even with Google and Apple putting in more stringent measures games to prevent garbage apps from filling their app stores and the rise of fantastic titles like Florence, these kinds of games still thrive.

We can’t stop people from downloading them, which is why developers will continue making them. It’s a terrible trend and there should be no place for low effort reskins and mundane experiences. Sure, it gives studios and smaller developers profit, but if everyone continues to create them it would mean that the quality of mobile games will go on a freefall.

In an ideal world, game developers create passion projects, original titles, and well-optimized games providing outstanding and exciting experiences that continuously evolve. They compete with high-quality games which get better as the years progress. This is mostly the case in the console, PC, and triple-A worlds: CoD vs Battlefield, Fortnite vs Apex Legends, Sony IPs vs Nintendo IPs.

There should be no place for garbage games. We hope the mobile gaming world will be free of them in the near future.

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