Armchair Commander: This is perhaps the last prominent game that stood for a time on the Chinese App Store... now it's gone. That's that. Here's what Apple told me:
If you are a Chinese Apple user and hope to continue playing, find a way to access a foreign storefront or use an Android and download the widely-circulated apk's available (alternatively, just ask for it on Discord). Sorry guys, beyond my control.
Game updates may not occur in the next few months because I am busy with school. This doesn't mean I'm abandoning them! Please keep me updated if there are any urgent bugs through email or Discord.
"Can you really make money with advertisements?" Yes you can. I didn't think it was possible until I put some advertisement widgets into my games and realized, from that point on, all users = revenue. I didn't have to wait for a rich kid to buy all the items in the shop anymore.
Don't be too optimistic, though, because it doesn't pay that well. There's this metric called eCPM, or effective cost per mil (thousand). Basically, for every one thousand video views, how much money I get (after the advertisement companies take a cut, of course, and before I pay taxes). A good eCPM can be as high as $20, meaning for every 1000 video views, I get 20 USD. A bad eCPM... can be as bad as $0.1. That's why location and platform matters. An iOS user in the US can have an eCPM as high as $20 or even higher, but an Android user in a remote location may have less than a tenth of that. Interestingly, eCPM for iOS in China is pretty high at almost $10, but essentially $0 for Android users. Here's a table of estimated video eCPM's for various countries:
Another thing: there's two types of video ads I use (I don't like banner ads aka the ads at the bottom of the screen because they cut into user experience), interstitial and rewarded. Interstitial ads are basically ads shown randomly once a user loads a level, so they're a lot more than rewarded ads, which are ads users have to click themselves to watch for some coins or new items. Rewarded ads generally improve the user experience but have a lot less impressions (views) than interstitial ads. Unsurprising, considering most users don't get to the point where they want to play the game more than a handful of times (about half don't even open it again a second time).
If you want to do the math, I get ~5000 online users every day. Not all of them watch ads, although some watch more than one. About 20% of that comes from the US and 25% from China (previously much higher, until the government takedown incident). Not a lot of money, but enough to buy some takeout every day.
Five years ago, when I was starting middle school, I told a friend during P.E. class that my dream was to get one million downloads. More than five years after I put my first app out, I've hit this milestone! Maybe I'll ask for a golden plaque with a download button from Apple.
For almost three years, my games have done incredibly well in China, probably because they don't allow the big companies to publish anything without a license. However, after getting thousands of ratings and a few hundred thousand downloads, it went on the leaderboards...
It's supposed to be good news, but this was a case where that wasn't exactly how it turned out. Earlier this week I received a message from Apple that read plain and simple: Retro Combat was taken down at the request of the Chinese government. The article they cited is here, a Chinese webpage titled "Notice of the General Office of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television on the Administration of Mobile Games Publication Services 2016". Apparently article 15 of that document treats any games with online features that don't have government-issued ID's as "illegal contraband", so my game suddenly became just that. There goes half my users.
Out of nowhere, Google Play just killed Armchair Commander. In fact, they didn't just remove it from sale -- they suspended it, meaning I can't even see the metrics for the app. Everything just vanished. This is what they said:
Hi developers at Zack Sima,
Thank you for your patience.
Due to adjusted work schedules at this time, we are currently experiencing longer than usual process times and we appreciate your understanding.
Status of app Armchair Commander (com.fengyong.ArmchairCommander2) : Suspended from Google Play due to policy violation
During review, we found that your app violates the Hate Speech policy.
For example, your app currently contains references of "Nazi". You can refer to the attached screenshot for additional information.
Please note that suspensions count as strikes against the good standing of your Google Play Developer account. Egregious or multiple policy violations can result in suspension, as can repeated app rejections or removals.
Basically, my WW2 game had swastikas on the German troops. The Nazi-ruled period of Germany was a terrible time, but their official flag was in fact the swastika, so I used that. I guess sometimes that can be interpreted a different way if a player chooses to play that country, so lesson learned there. The worst part was looking at how I could get my users to transfer data: Google killed the app so I can't make last-minute updates or anything. The best I could do was use the in-app message system I developed to tell everyone to go to the new address, and manually have people download an APK file that had a data transfer function. Most people probably didn't see that or didn't understand English, so they are forever stuck with a version of the game in mid-2021. Here's how the dashboard for the "killed" app looks:
Yeah, game over basically. Appeal didn't work, so best I can do is be careful next time.