Mobile games represent the largest segment of the gaming market, and that space is tremendously competitive as a result. We’ve heard from our community that they want to know more about how to succeed on mobile platforms. In this video we'll go over the basics of mobile games, how they acquire users, and how they make money. ► A New Gamedev Video Every Week. ► About Ask Gamedev. We're a group of game industry veterans that make videos on games, the game industry, and more. This channel is for anyone that's interested in video game development. ► Check out Ask Gamedev on Discord. Chat about game development in realtime. ► Further Reading/Viewing ►.
Mobile games represent the largest segment of the gaming market, and that space is tremendously competitive as a result. We’ve heard from our community that they want to know more about how to succeed on mobile platforms, so this is part one of a series on the basics of mobile games, how they acquire users, and how they make money.
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Traditionally, console and desktop games have been monetized through premium pricing - you spend a set amount to receive the full game experience. In the early days of mobile handheld gaming, the premium pricing approach continued on platforms like the Gameboy or Playstation portable..
Mobile game development explained
With the global adoption of smartphones, we saw a lot of changes to the gaming landscape. This included the mainstream move to freemium game experiences, where consumers could access mobile games for free, with in-app ads and purchases acting as the most common routes to user monetization.
As expected, this change in user monetization has had a ripple effect on how mobile games get developed. Historically, games were released for PC or console on disk or cartridge, and that meant developers essentially finished developing the game before shipping.
For the most part, they had no intent to touch the build again.
Mobile gamedev explained
Customers were monetized one time only - and typically at the point of initial sale. Mobile games changed that approach, and development teams have embraced the liveops structure that has become popular in many areas of software development. This involves shipping an efficiently developed but viable product, with the intent to iterate and improve the experience based on live consumer data that shows where the game is succeeding and failing.
These live improvements aren’t just focused on gameplay - but increasingly on the game economy and monetization strategy.
In detail, the liveops lifecycle is similar to traditional development in that a pre-production period kicks things off - with a focus on exploration and proving of gameplay assumptions around making an experience that is fun.
Mobile game live-ops
This is followed by a production period where the team creates the launch features, monetization and analytics framework, and live event infrastructure to allow for updates to the software after release.
After an internal bug-fixing and tuning period, Mobile games typically release in a limited territories list, or a soft launch.
This way they can get live crash data and address major issues in the build before going to a worldwide release and a larger audience. This is also a good time to gauge base level retention and conversion metrics. Once in full launch, most freemium mobile games drive monetization through live events - which are scheduled periods where special gameplay or rewards are offered to users for a limited timeframe.
Mobile game live ops
Offers and promotions to boost monetization or re-engage players are commonplace during these periods. It is popular for developers to focus live events on major holidays or themes - like Christmas, Easter, or Halloween.
Live events are typically the primary point of monetization for mobile games, so they are a huge part of the release strategy. They often coincide with user acquisition campaigns and introduction of new features or content. Live events are also important as they typically provide great user data, and can inform user acquisition budgets.
As with any game, a mobile title has a finite lifespan. Metrics will show when core users start to increasingly depart the game for other experiences, and developers typically combat this reality by developing similar or complementary titles to sell-in to their existing user base.
Iphone game development
This allows the developer to continue to monetize the users beyond that first piece of software.
For more information on the liveops lifecycle, Playfab has a great overview of it that we recommend and will link to in the description.
Now let’s talk about Mobile games monetization in detail. There are three models that have been the most popular - IAP, IAA, and paid apps. In-app purchases, or IAP, is the monetization model of choice for a huge portion of mobile game developers.
Android game development
Only 4% of gamers actually make in-app purchases - but those paying customers are the core focus of freemium developers. IAP typically includes three different categories of purchasable items: Firstly, Consumables.
These are purchases that are made, then consumed within the app, such as extra lives, additional moves, or in-game currency. Users typically purchase consumables to further their progress through a game.
A user can also buy non-consumables, sometimes called entitlements, which are often used to unlock access to features or content within the game. Think of additional customization options for your characters that are often cosmetic in nature and don’t normally enhance game progress. The final type of IAP, is subscriptions - which is probably more typical in general applications as opposed to games.
Mobile game development for beginners
Apps will often use subscriptions to upgrade users to a higher tier of functionality after initial use. The subscription model is most beneficial for the minority of apps that consistently provide ongoing value to loyal users via regularly updated features or content. IAP and monetizing your audience is a deep topic that we will cover in depth in part two of this series, so check that out if you want to learn more.
In- app advertising or IAA is probably the most popular form of monetization for Indie game developers. It’s easy to setup and doesn't typically require development of a complex economy structure within your game. You simply integrate with an existing ad platform that will serve ads in your game - and you receive payments if your users engage with those ads.
If you have a lot of users, this can be a worthwhile strategy. Rewarded video, in particular — has proven itself as a legitimate business model in the game economy.
If you want to integrate ads in your game, there are lots of ad networks available. Popular ad solutions include MoPub, AdColony, Admob and Adsense. Again, check our part two of this series where we will dive deeper into IAA and strategies for optimizing your ad revenue within your mobile games.
We’ve talked a lot about freemium monetization, but there are lots of games that make money on mobile through the old-school premium model.
People pay once up front for the full game experience.
Many console or PC games that port to mobile follow this approach. If you check the top paid apps charts on iOS on Android, you will often see a lot of familiar names from traditional gaming platforms.
The paid app approach means less development time around live events, and in comparison to a freemium title has less post-launch support requirements. How do mobile games get users? Well there are two methods - they either pay for them via advertising in other apps, or they gain them organically. Organically is always preferred, as the users are gained for no cost.
These are typically users who heard of your game via word-of-mouth or other media.
Paid users are acquired by placing in-app advertising in other apps. Social media sites like Instagram and Facebook are popular ad-spend destinations, but you can also use ad-networks like Admob. The best choice really depends on the audience you are looking to attract to your game and where they already exist.
Users are commonly bought on the basis of how qualified they are. On one side of the spectrum are very unqualified eyeballs, and you pay for them on a cost-per-impression basis.