Should you worry about the right mobile game monetization?

If you are a mobile game developer, there are six main revenue models:
  • Ads.
  • Ads and In-App Purchases.
  • In-App Purchases.
  • Being funded by a subscription service such as Apple Arcade.
  • Selling your game.
  • Selling user data.
The problems with having a game only having ads is that you a) need a lot of downloads/installs to make any significant revenue and b) risk losing your player-base if you are overly aggressive with ads.

In-app purchases, too, can put players off if they are extremely promoted aggressively. Nobody wants to play a game and have an offer for a pack of in-game currency or new character thrown in their face every five minutes. It is an instant turn off.

Being funded by a subscription service such as Apple Arcade can be awesome but this isn't a guaranteed route to success. Not every developer will get to be part of them and some services are adding new performance KPIs to ensure only the most active games remain. Bloomberg recently reported Apple Arcade wanted to change direction to focus more on games with a high level of engagement, cancelling some existing contracts as a result. It wrote about one particular developer this happened to: "On calls in mid-April, an Apple Arcade creative producer told some developers that their upcoming games didn’t have the level of “engagement” Apple is seeking, the people said."

Selling your game is another option but the charts are dominated by well-known titles. At the time of writing. Google Play's top paid games chart included Minecraft, Sega's Football Manager 2020 and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, for example. While it is possible to make some revenue this way, unless you have a large marketing budget, it will be difficult to make headroom in such a fierce market.

Selling user data is a revenue model used by larger mobile game companies. For smaller developers, I am not sure viable it is. There is also the question of user privacy and how ethical it is to exploit this.  

Competition, competition, competition

The problem is there are too many games competing for the same audience. Statista says over 300,000 games are available on Google Play: "approximately 346,664 mobile gaming apps were available." It says the number of games on Apple's App Store is far higher, with "In 2019, the App Store offered 903,489 gaming apps."

And the size of the market? Analysis from Sensor Tower reported the market for mobile games was worth $54.7bn in 2018 alone. This is generated by over 2.2 billion mobile gamers across the globe according to a recent blog post by techjury, with China increasingly dominating the market.

Not every mobile game will make money, however. 


How can we solve the problem of mobile game revenue to ensure a great gaming experience while rewarding developers for their efforts? This is a difficult problem to solve.
  • Donations: let gamers donate to the developer if they like the game. There have been reports of Google shutting down Google Play developer accounts if they ask for in-game donations, possibly because they are circumventing Google's policies surrounding in-app billing. If there could be a way that satisfies both the app store and developer, this could be a useful way of earning money without the need for ads. 
  • Getting paid per prototype or idea: Software such as Buildbox allows for rapid prototyping of mobile games. Publishers could pay developers a small fee per idea or prototype, leading to a contract if these were successful. 
  • Micro subscription services: Developers create subscription services for their own games. Imagine if you have 10 or 15 games developed, you could charge users a flat annual fee to download them without ads or in-app purchases. 
  • Tips: Imagine a Flattr specifically for mobile games. This would have to work in conjunction in app stores to ensure compliance of policies. 
  • Users sell mobile game data to the developer: There are services which do this but this would work through the game. Users could opt-in to sell their data and earn cash. Careful consideration would be needed to ensure compliance with GDPR, for example. 

Should I worry about monetization?

The short answer is yes and no. I know that sounds confusing but hear me out. It depends if you have already developed your mobile game or are just starting. If you are ready to go, give careful consideration to how you will monetize. Think not of the present but of the future as well. What can you do differently? 

If you are starting development, don't worry about monetization just yet. Focus on the creating the best game possible. 

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