How to make your mobile game earn – Game monetization explained

AdQuantum explains what options are out there for monetizing a mobile game and how you can maximize your earnings.
AdQuantum's logo on the left, and a hand printing money and coins through a mobile phone on the right

In an ideal world, you can develop a mobile game and then sit back and enjoy its growth without any extra effort. That’s not the world we live in though, sadly. The Mobile game industry is extremely competitive and your game won’t earn you anything (most likely) if you don’t plan and strategize for post-release.

Related: Case Study – Are arcade idle games really dying?

Say, all went right with your game and it’s now a published product. Now comes trickier bits: Will people download your app, will they spend enough time in your game, and will they earn you as much revenue as possible?

Well, the short answer to all these questions is most likely a big no, if you didn’t come up with a decent monetization plan. Even if your game is designed perfectly, without a well-thought-out publishing and monetization strategy it will most likely fail at acquiring users.

Of course, increasing your app’s reach and acquiring new users alone won’t do it either. After all, you want your game to bring as much revenue as possible. It’s the ultimate goal and AdQuantum wants to help you with that.

Your options for monetizing a mobile game

Drawing of a ruler, two blue printsand a gold coin

Per AdQuantum‘s own words, the best option for almost all mobile games is a hybrid monetization model that combines IAP (in-app purchases) and IAA (in-app ads). This article, therefore, focuses on making the most use of these two revenue models and further explains what the proper IAP/IAA ratio is depending on the category of the game: Hyper-casual, casual, mid-core, and hardcore.

Monetization models for mobile games:

  • One-time purchase of all game content 
  • Subscription monetization
  • Voluntary donations
  • In-app purchases (IAP) 
  • Ads inside the game — in-app ads (IAA)

Hyper-casual game monetization

The first thing you need to do is to find the right balance between the two monetization types, and that starts with your mobile game’s genre. In the hyper-casual games’ case, IAP/IAA ratio heavily favors the IAA side with 5% to 95%.

Related: Case Study – Reviving hyper-casual games abandoned by publishers

Considering how hyper-casuals feature minimalistic game mechanics and user interfaces and don’t offer any in-game incentives to spend money on the game, the dominance of IAA is quite normal. Simply put, players aren’t strongly invested in the game and they have no motivation to purchase any in-game content, but of course, there are exceptional cases.

Casual game monetization

AdQuantum’s data suggests most casual mobile games follow a hybrid monetization model, combining IAP and IAA models and making adjustments depending on user behavior and spending habits.

The app performance agency also underlines that two casual games can have drastically different monetization types and models depending on a wide number of variables. AdQuantum says these are just approximate reference points and data provided here should be optimized in a well-thought manner based on product, market, target demographics, and so on. While the chart above suggests a 50/50% balance, it can fluctuate approximately by 20% in either direction.

Mid-core and Hard-core game monetization

Unlike hyper-casual and its sub-genres, mid to hard-core mobile games heavily rely on the IAP model. AdQuantum’s data suggests that mid-core games rely heavily on IAP, nearly 85% of the overall revenue. Meanwhile, nearly the whole revenue comes from IAP for hard-core mobile games, reaching levels of 95%, but again one should remember that these approximate figures, and not set-in-stone data.

AdQuantum suggests doing regular A/B testing to maximize the profit of your game, and of course, depending on your title and what it’s about, you need to follow the trends, both real-world ones, and marketing trends.

You should also test different ad placements and play around with the ad frequency to gather more data to reach healthier results. This will also allow you to have more reference points for comparisons.

How to prepare your mobile game for monetization

If you’re making a hyper-casual, hybrid-casual, or casual game you always need to work with IAA in mind. Even a casual game with IAP dominant revenue model requires an IAA approach to maximize its revenue.

Related: Monetization in free-to-play games – How to determine prices for your items?

Ad monetization is when a user plays your game and triggers certain events or does specific actions that cause an ad to show on their device’s screen. When the user performs an advertisement-triggering action the game sends a request to your ad network and it selects an appropriate ad to show and sends it to the user’s device. The ad is shown and you all earn some.

In-app monetization is simply making the user buy anything from your game’s store. You can sell anything that you see fit in your game.

At this point, AdQuantum wants you to make sure one last time that your game is ready for the consumers. The launch period is almost always the most profitable time for your game. AdQuantum says, “If you start investing in marketing and the game is totally unprepared for new volumes of traffic, you can simply lose money. What’s worse, you may even build a bad reputation among users,”

“If your users often encountered errors, crashes, bugs, or problems with ad viewing, they would eventually start to put low ratings in the app store and leave angry comments on your game there. Consequently, this would negatively affect both search results and the subsequent acquisition of new users.”

As basic as this may sound, many game developers overlook these factors and either push uncooked products or don’t do enough testing internally. Here AdQuantum gives the checklist below to ensure your game is ready to hit the market:

  • Define your target audience. Perhaps, your game is only suitable for users from certain countries or of particular ages.
  • Prepare at least 25% of the game content so that the user does not feel they have completed the entire game in a 10-minute session.
  • Make sure your game is technically strong: it doesn’t freeze or crash. Otherwise, users will sooner or later leave the game. Keep errors and failures to a minimum.
  • Provide your players with an easy way to leave their feedback so that they can tell you about problems they faced in your game or give you recommendations for improving it from their amateur perspective.
  • Ensure the game has a simple tutorial and a user-friendly interface.
  • Pay special attention to your page on the app store: set an appealing icon, representative screenshots, and a high-quality game trailer demonstrating the actual gameplay.
  • Perform a soft launch of your game. Launch it for a limited audience within a small number of GEOs and traffic sources. This is how you get preliminary marketing and product metrics. Among the marketing metrics, the most useful at this stage will be the CPM (cost per thousand ad impressions) and the CR (conversion rate) for installing the application. As for the product metrics, the RR (retention rate) and the average length of the gaming session will be the essential ones at the initial stage of your game growth.

How an external UA team can help your game get monetized

Regardless of your experience in game monetization, you can work with an external user acquisition partner to maximize your reach. Unless you have a dedicated UA team of experts, an external one can probably help you immensely. Some marketing agencies even have user bases that can help your game scale multiple times faster and reach wider audiences just by connecting you with their existing user base.

First-time mobile game developers often enough neglect the marketing bit, or worse, the post-launch era of a mobile game. To monetize your game properly and efficiently, you need to have at least a basic understanding of paid user acquisition.

An expert UA team can also help you identify what’s wrong with your game. Is it the design choices that are causing issues, is your retention rate far below expectations, or if everything is all well and downloads are going off the roof then why aren’t you making the most you can?

AdQuantum can help you with all of that, provided you want your game to reach want millions of active users and possibly make millions of dollars in revenue.

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