Mobile game development is a fairly easier endeavor than games development for consoles and the PC. There are a lot of ready-made tools available on the internet that makes it easier for those who barely have coding skills. One of the reasons why people readily jump into the mobile gaming business is because of the moneymaking potential. Of course, not everyone succeeds in it, which is what this article is for: to help you up your chances of earning money from your mobile game.
But before anything else, keep this in mind first: The game you’re about to develop isn’t for you; it’s for other people. It would be wise to do a bit of research first so you can hone in on a specific demographic or audience. This will help you in coming up with ideas for your game. And on a related note, throw out your genre preferences out the window.
If you’ve been a fan of role-playing games ever since you first played Final Fantasy on the NES, don’t assume others will like your taste in “boring” gameplay (RPGs have a reputation). Focus on creating an addicting or engaging gameplay experience more than anything else, regardless of genre. Now, without further do…
1. Use a “freemium” model
Free-to-play mobile games are only free in the most technical sense. Yes, you can download and play these games for free. But you can only access the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. The rest of the game can only be accessed by opening your wallet and forking over money to the developer. This is called the “freemium” model which most developers employ. Do you really think developers would invest time and resources on a real free game? As in it’s free from top to bottom. That would be a complete waste of their time (and talent). Well, unless their goal is to make people smile and happy and promote world peace with their game. Which is very unlikely, not to mention impractical.
But be careful when using the freemium model. You don’t want to be too obvious that you’re trying to milk money. The most important thing is to make sure that users really like your game, which would prompt them to willingly shell out money to discover the entirety of your game. The “free” version of your game must be engaging enough to keep users hooked by itself. This usually starts with the gameplay, and then the content of the game.
For the former, your goal is to develop a gameplay that’s both fun and addicting. Don’t go for deep and complicated gameplay mechanics that only hardcore gamers will dig. That would easily turn off casual gamers, or people who simply don’t have time to learn a complex game while commuting to and from work/school. Remember, mobile games are typically played on-the-go.
And as for the latter, make sure that your game has enough content for users to actually stick around and to want more of your game. Consider it like this: the free version of your game is the teaser or trailer for the “premium” version. You need to show just enough of your game to excite them, similar to movie trailers. Don’t reveal everything in your hand all at once. That might send the message to users that your game doesn’t offer anything else.
2. Don’t forget about in-app purchases
Pokemon Go is a free-to-play mobile game. Yet, it still rakes in millions of dollars every day. What gives? Well, in case you haven’t played the game yet, Pokemon Go offers an in-game shop that offers items that are essential to the gameplay. Like Pokeballs that are used to catch Pokemon; Egg Incubators that are necessary to hatch, well, Pokemon eggs; and Razz Berries that make it easier to catch Pokemon.
Yes, you can also acquire these items for free by visiting PokeStops. But they’re randomized, not to mention they require you to go outside and walk around. The in-game shop is much more convenient and readily accessible. The only trade-off is that you would need to spend real-world money on the items. That’s how Pokemon Go has managed to rake in more than $500 million in less than six months (although to be fair, the game features already established characters, which is a huge advantage).
Moral of the story: Make sure that your game has in-game purchases. One of the best ways to do it is to include items that significantly makes the game easier for users. For example, if you’re developing an endless runner, you can include an item that allows the in-game character to become invincible for a limited time. Or an item that automatically reels in coins (or whatever kind of collectibles you prefer).
If you want, you can sprinkle your game with a bit of difficulty. Not in the same level as the infamous Flappy Bird, but at least enough for users to cave in and purchase an item that makes the game less difficult to go through. You can also go for the “cosmetic” route. This means that the purchasable items are merely for aesthetic changes and little else. These are typically used in “dress-up” games meant for much younger audiences. If your mobile game is in the fighting genre, then you can offer alternate costumes for the characters, or even unlockable moves.
In-game purchases vary depending on the kind of game you’re developing. Don’t get greedy, though. Make sure that the items you’re selling for real-world money are really worth it. You can also offer limited edition items. More often than not, users will buy items under the “threat” that they will never get the chance to do so ever again. Which leads us to No. 3.
3. Offer limited-time freebies
Okay, you’re probably thinking why offering in-game freebies will score you money on the side. Well, you’re not exactly going to hand over the freebies forever on a daily basis. You only need to tease users for a limited period to entice them. For example, if your mobile game has an EXP system, you can offer a free item that doubles the EXP gain for, let’s say, three days. And on the third day, you notify users that if they want to continue using the item, they can purchase the item at the in-game shop.
Another example: If your mobile game is heavy on playable characters like the hit game Crossy Road, you can offer “free samples” by allowing users to try out different characters for a short period. And then similarly offer the character as an in-game purchase towards the end. This way, users won’t blindly buy an item; they already know beforehand what’s in it for them.
Offering freebies is also a great way to continuously engage users and to keep them hooked to your game. Plus, it shows that you’re actually actively developing it through constant updates. So it’s a win-win scenario for you, really. Again, like the regular in-game purchases, make sure that the freebies are really enticing to warrant a purchase after the “promo” ends.
An alternative to freebies is to offer discounts. You can cut the price of certain items at the in-game shop to allow users to give them a test drive. Once they find out how incredibly useful an item is, they will be more inclined to grab the item even in its regular price. And don’t worry about losing out on the half-priced items. You got them to buy the items in the first place, right?
4. Advertise in the right way
Advertisements are arguably one of the best ways to make money out of a mobile game. Actually, scratch that. They are the best in the business. Your game can simply live off advertisements if done in the right way. And by “right way” we mean none of those notification ads and banner ads. Notification ads are ads that flood the user’s device status bar. It can be very annoying to constantly access the status bar in the hope of seeing something like, let’s say, a notification that your crush Liked your picture on Facebook, only to find out that it’s just another ad. Imagine going through that half the time you’re playing a game. Not fun, right?
Banner ads, on the other hand, are ads that occupy either the top or bottom of the screen while the game is running. Not only is it incredibly distracting, but it may also affect the gameplay. Especially if your game relies on a user’s quick reflexes. Don’t go for these two kinds of advertisement methods. They’ll most likely turn off users.
Instead, go for “loading screen” ads. These are ads that pop up when the game is transitioning from one screen to the next. For example, you can place them during the intermission between a Game Over screen and the New Game screen (main menu). Or if you’re rolling with an RPG, you can place these ads whenever the in-game character enters a dungeon or town in the game. This kind of ad is the most natural-looking. Don’t overdo it, of course, and place ads in every screen; otherwise, your game will feel draggy.
Another option is to make “rewarding” ads. These are ads that come in video format users can choose to view, similar to YouTube ads. But to give users an incentive to actually go through a 20-second ad, you can incorporate freebies. If your game has an in-game currency (usually coins), you can offer bonus coins every time users choose to play the ads. It’s a win for both you and users: you earn money from ads, and they earn in-game bonuses. Again, make sure the reward is really enticing.
One last thing on advertising: You can hook up with other developers and create a joint advertising campaign. This means that you will advertise your partner developers’ games into your own and they would do the same to your game. You could also go the extra mile by rewarding your users with bonus in-game content if they check your partners’ games. Of course, your partners must do the same. The only problem with this is that there could be a scenario in which your game becomes a far greater hit than your partners. Meaning, your partners are benefiting more than you are from them.
5. Milk your code
This method is one of the best ways to make money long-term, but it will require you to create the code of your game from scratch. Meaning, you will not use templates of other existing mobile games and then re-skin it. Although not necessarily one-of-a-kind, you need to create a truly unique code that can provide different gaming experiences, unlike most other games. It can be in the form of an innovative gameplay mechanic. Or you can get ideas from an existing one and put your own unique spin to it – without copying the existing code, of course.
Unless your game is specifically built to last for a long time with lots of replay value (like an RPG or a strategy game), you will need an “exit.” As in one last hurrah to earn money from your game. And you can do that by selling either the game as a whole or just the code. The latter has more potential, though. You still keep the rights to your code, but you earn money every time other developers use your code – quite similar to a computer software or other subscription-based services.
The most important thing to remember when trying to monetize your mobile game is to refrain from being greedy. That’s always never a good thing. Yes, it’s only natural that you would want to cash-in on something you worked so hard to build. But you can’t be too eager, with “MONEY” unabashedly plastered on your face. Users could easily smell your modus if all you want is to milk money from your game with little interest in anything else.
And that’s especially true in this age of downloadable content (DLC) packs, pre-orders, season passes and deluxe editions. Instead of putting moneymaking at the forefront of your goals, prioritize creating an amazing gaming experience first. Cashing-in will be easier once your game has built a credible reputation among users.