Mobile Games and Monetization

Since I'm attending the Pocket Gamer Connects, Helsinki as a speaker this year I wanted to try and write my thoughts of mobile games and monetization here as well.

I'm attending the panel "Is this the era of hybrid monetization?" on the first day of the event. I actually got the "questions" upfront, so I decided to write a blogpost and kind of "answer" these questions for everyone who is not able to attend the meeting. Here we go:

1 What should be your key priorities, when aiming to create a game which brings revenue?

The number one thing is that you need to understand your audience. Are you making a game for the casual audience, or maybe hardcore players? This changes your monetization design radically.

The second thing is that you need to consider how much your game is played, and on what type of circumstances. If you have months of content to discover, you should focus into "less aggressive" use of ads, since this is in most cases very annoying for a player, who plays your game for months to come. On the other hand, if your game is played only once in a while in short bursts, the ads should be your cup of tea.

2 Should you always aim to maximize revenue, or bring more value to the player?

In certain type of games, (such as hyper-casual games) the audience is not looking for loads of content. They want the core of the game to be simple, easy to get into and have fun while doing the "one thing". The value comes from good controls, great visuals and fun moments.

For more "deep" games it's required to give the player more ways to stay within the game. This means more content the player can acquire by playing and the "goal" is easy to understand. By giving concrete goals to go towards, you create more value for the player, which keeps him playing longer obviously. With well-structured monetization design, this makes it more possible that the user goes for the in-app purchases, or see more ads within that increased playtime.

3 Should you focus more on showing ads for the player, or giving in-app purchases?

This is highly dependant on your game. As an example, for 'Hyper Casual Games' it's rather unlikely that the players get so carried away of your game that they want to purchase something extra. The longer your player stays within the game, it becomes more likely that they're interested in spending something within it. For a small game, ads are the top priority, but for longer haul games, IAP purchases are a necessity. Which brings us to our next topic.

4 How do the game genre, playing style, and user acquisition affect the monetization design?

By aggressively showing ads, or "on-sale" in-app purchases for an audience, which is more "hardcore" -players you will most likely lose most of your players. If your game design is more casual oriented, the audience is already used to seeing ads and different in-game offers. 

5 What are the key triggers for users to create revenue?

Good placement for ads on smaller games is a rather "no brainer" when it comes to creating revenue. By showing too much of ads, you lose the player too fast, by showing too few ads, you lose revenue which you could have got. Plan your ad placements with care and try them out, then iterate.

For games which have months of gameplay, the most effective trigger is social engagement. Is there a guild functionality within the game? Or maybe the player can play against (or with) other players? This is rather primitive behavior from us humans, that we want to be the "top monkey" of the tribe. If we're able to achieve this by spending some extra coins, most of us are ready to do it. The challenge is that you need to make it clear for the player what he/she achieves, by purchasing something extra. 

6 How does the player lifecycle affect buying behavior?

I would compare the amount of time the player spends within the game, as an investment. If the player has stayed within the game for a long period of time, it's rather hard to quit. Especially if the "next goal" can be easily seen.

I see a lot of games offering goals which feel way too "thin" to get interested in. This is of course lack of content, which is replaced with an endless amount of "increasing numbers". If the player can notice this and the "next goal" only feels like an "increasing number", the lifecycle will most likely end. Which of course, affects the buying behavior of the user.

7 Can non-cash exchange affect the likeliness to spend?

What this means, is that is it possible to boost player buying behavior by offering reasons that some "items" of the game is on high priority. This could be a limited-time content which can be purchased with in-game currency or as an IAP. Or maybe some "item" of the game is boosted for a short period of time? These types of features can have a great effect on the buying behavior of the user if executed properly.

8 How and when "Player Fatigue" happens and how does it affect the monetization of the game?

What I've learned, the player fatigue happens in the following moments (as an example)

1 The player can not see the "next goal", it's too hard to achieve, or it just feels too "thing" = The game is most likely missing content or the amount of "grinding" for the next goal needs to reduce

2 The player is offered way too much of ads and IAP offers that the actual gameplay is annoying = Try new iteration of ad/iap offer placements, it's not always necessary to remove them, they might just be on the wrong place. 

3 Player has already used cash for IAP purchases, but the affect has been too low. = The rewards need to be increased or add actual "original" content.

9 Conclusion

Phew! A lot of stuff right there. Hopefully, you got something out from this when designing your next monetization model. 

The most important part of monetization, is to know your audience. Unfortunately, there are very few ways to design a perfect monetization, so you need to be able to try out different methods. Get your analytics in order and make it as easy as possible to see all the numbers from one place. This will enable you to see the big picture of your current monetization model and make more better predictions, what should be iterated next.

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