Microsoft has long supported its developer community, but even there it can stumble on occasion. Developers of ad-supported apps for Windows 8 have been left high and dry for the month of April with no in-app advertising.
Starting on March 31, ads provided to ad-supported Windows 8 apps have been almost completely absent. The ads come from pubCenter, which provides ads to Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 applications.
For the most part, Microsoft was the primary buyer of the ads, so developers could at least count on Bing ads to show up. Since 3/31, however, even the Bing ads stopped and now ad-driven apps aren't getting a thing. So apps will get millions of impressions (translation: users) that are not being converted into income, and developers are upset, to say the least.
In two separate community threads (1, 2) on the Bing support boards, developers have repeatedly demanded an answer from Microsoft, with only one mid-level Microsoft staffer catching the spears but having no answers.
"I used to have a good bit of impressions / day then it dropped to barely nothing last week and now we're essentially at zero. I do only free apps so this is killing me! How am I even supposed to cover my Windows Azure costs let alone all the labor invested!" wrote user "silverdollar."
"This is pathetic. I've been defending windows 8 since the day it came out. I would think that microsoft would want to build up the ecosystem by at least PAYING their developers. It looks like I may have backed the wrong horse," wrote user "javalsu."
"I published a new game 4 days ago, and so far it has generated 0.01 EUR, even it already has a lot of downloads. If a new developer is in this situation, i'm pretty sure he'll quit developing for Windows, and turn to another OS," wrote "mezzie."
It only adds to the problems that the Windows Store has had since launch. Microsoft executives promised 100,000 apps within the first 90 days, an ambitious promise that didn't come close to being met. More than 120 days later, the Store has 65,000 apps, according to MetroStore Scanner.
Both the Windows and Windows Phone stores also fail to fence off foreign apps, so U.S. customers see all kinds of foreign language apps that they can't even read. Then again, if they segmented the app segments by languages, some of the categories would have next to nothing in them.
Is anyone home?
In response, Parker Fox, who lists himself as Ads-in-Apps Account Manager at Microsoft in his LinkedIn profile, wrote "I hear you all loud and clear. Your sentiment and comments are being seen and shared internally by the right people. I assure you all of us on the Windows 8 Ads in Apps team are working hard to improve monetization for our publishers. Once I have an update I can share, I'll post back here ASAP."
Microsoft attributed the problem to a change in its ad campaigns. When asked about the issue, a company spokesman from Waggener Edstrom Worldwide issued a statement that said "As you know advertising is a seasonal business and its normal that there will be peaks and valleys. During the month of April, there were reports of low fill rates from some developers, this was within the expected norm of campaigns ending and new campaigns ramping. Ads continued to be served in the month of April."
The statement went on to say "That said, we are constantly making improvements for developers using our Advertising Platform and are always looking at ways to ensure that we can smooth out the natural peak & valleys associated with the advertising business. We welcome the feedback and thank our developers for being patient."
Fox's posting left the impression he was not in a position to do much or give them the answer they needed. Needless to say, this has not placated the users on that board. Most of the ones contacted by ITworld did not want to discuss the matter beyond their posting. Some did, however.
Erkan Deveci, who runs Deveci Games, said he was getting a satisfactory number of impressions before April 1. "This is the 24th day with almost no ads. We've had 60 million requests with only 160K filled," he said.
"This is the first time I start to lose my faith in Windows Store as an indie game developer who expects some incentives for adopting and supporting the platform," he added. Deveci is strictly on the Microsoft platforms, so it doesn't have iOS and/or Android to fall back on, but he's ready to consider it.
"Cross-platform development has always been a delayed plan for me because of the time I am able to spend on mobile development; but it is a must follow practice for all developers/companies, and a definite must for me considering the current poor monetization options for Windows Store Apps," said Deveci.
"The free app model provides a way for consumers to get into an app at no cost. Developers either make money by providing a premium upgrade feature, or they make money off of the ads. Not all apps can provide a premium upgrade feature, so the ad serving has become a common way to make money ... and if that ability is no longer feasible, well then there's no point in a developer making free apps," said one developer who did not wish to be identified.
Wes Miller, research analyst with Directions on Microsoft, an independent IT planning information service based in Kirkland, WA, said he found this lack of ads "definitely concerning, because even Microsoft is betting on advertising to back some of their apps. Anyone who has bet big on Windows and counted on ads to fund development will find it hard for them to make it."
Could that result in defections, especially by developers who have bet the farm on ad-driven apps to bring in money? Not immediately, it seems. Miller thinks they will stick it out and hopes Microsoft will fix the problem "sooner rather than later."
Thus far, that appears to be the case. As frustrated as they are, the developers we spoke to are hanging on. "I like the platform, Windows Phone devices, Windows, Surface, developer tools and competing as an indie developer in a recently launched platform. However these are not free; you spend a lot of time. I'm expecting a resolution for the next month," said Deveci.
"My past experience tells me that Microsoft expected to screw things up with the first version of Windows 8, just like with Vista. But they're getting ready to release 8.1, which they'll be pushing at Build. I expect this may very well help adoption, which in turn will help bring in advertisers. Again, though, I'm still annoyed at the way things are being handled now," said the anonymous developer.
Then again, jumping ship isn't easy, Miller noted. While Microsoft has in the past done a pretty good job with developer relations, which has earned it some measure of loyalty, there's also the fact that you don't just snap your fingers and change platforms. "They don't just fold up shop and go home and start coding in Objective-C for the Mac. Part of it is loyalty and part of it is not having to or wanting to learn a new set of skills," said Miller.