Let’s open this guide up with a question we’ve seen a lot on forums and in discussion about chasing the elusive ‘Indie Dream’:
Is game development art?
Answer: Yes, and it often pays the same… if you don’t have a strategy.
Of course there’s no escaping the fact that living off of game dev income full-time does take luck, but luck only matters when you put yourself in the right position for it to take effect. With the right monetization knowledge, tools, and strategy, you can set yourself and your game up for success and build towards a full-time income as a game developer.
What is a game monetization strategy?
A video game monetization strategy is a plan for how your game is going to generate revenue. It can be as complicated or straightforward as you like, but it’s an important step in turning your game dev hobby into a full-time career.
For this article, we’re going to focus on mobile games – purely because every platform has very different needs, and would require wildly different articles.
So let’s start by talking about the various kinds of monetization options you have as an indie mobile game developer. It’s also worth mentioning here that a lot of these strategies can actually be used together… with caution. Some work together better than others, and the more you use the more chance there is of players getting burnt out and quitting your game. We’ll highlight a few key things to keep in mind as we go along.
Also, don’t be intimidated by all of these options. Monetization design can be fun, easy, and generate great passive income if you choose the right tactic for your game.
This is the model that most people think of when starting to build a game, and essentially means that you’ll be charging a one-time cost to download your game. You’ll then see a certain amount of that cost as income – usually 70% – as both Apple’s App Store and the Google Play Store take between a 15% to 30% cut.
While this is a dominant strategy on platforms like Steam, mobile is a very different ball game. When the App Store initially released, 75% of apps and games were premium. Just a decade later, less than 10% are. Gamer expectation is wildly different now, which means that a premium model is a tad less viable than it once was.
If you do decide to follow this route, bear in mind that players who pay for your game will expect a smooth and uninterrupted gameplay experience. That means that many intrusive ad types aren’t recommended, though in-game purchases for extra lives or cosmetics could be a great way to boost revenue further.
We’ve all heard about the massive success stories of games on platforms like GoFundMe or Kickstarter. They can be a decent option for making a living on games, but this is a very, very active source of income — we’ll explain why in a second — and will only really fund your current game, rather than your life.
In order to make a great crowdfunding campaign, you need to market the hell out of your work. Lots of promotion, lots of asset creation, and lots of time – for some developers, all of that is a welcome break from hardcore dev work. For others, it’s a big distraction from your core love of making games.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that, much like the premium model, gamers won’t be too keen on seeing intrusive ads in your game after they’ve crowdfunded it. In-game purchases or non-intrusive ad formats could still be viable though.
This is your classic paid DLC approach. In short, implementing little paid extras in your game that players can purchase whenever they want. Lootboxes, cosmetics, weapons, new levels… the world is your oyster!
It’s worth mentioning that you have to find a real balance between enticing users to purchase these items and not changing the flow or challenge of the game. This is especially important in multiplayer games where players will just quit if it starts to feel unfair. It’s also important to remember that only a small percentage of players will even purchase these in general, and you definitely don’t want a troupe of overpowered fun stealers on your servers. Good in-game purchase design is about giving players fun, utility, and new options. The last thing you want to do is make your game ‘pay to win.
This monetization option is pretty easy to use with basically anything else, which is pretty great. As it’s just a bonus, and assuming it doesn’t impact gameplay if you don’t buy them, casual players of your game won’t care too much if they’re in there. Of course, not every game is well suited to in-play purchases but that’s a guide all of its own.
Get a publishing deal
This is a very common aim that we hear about from developers these days, and is literally the process of ‘selling’ your game to a publisher and making a deal for how much profit share (if any) you’ll receive. Usually that share is based on a game’s performance, but you’ll have less control and less insight over optimizing that performance if you’re not happy.
A good deal with a good publisher can be worth your weight in gold, or VBucks, or whatever currency you value the most right now. Those publishers will have amazing experience, know-how, and advertising and marketing resources which could give your game a great chance at popping off.
While this route has a lot of potential, it also has a lot of pitfalls and will definitely require you to take off your game developer hat and put on your business person one. From finding the right publishers, to pitching your game over and over, to negotiating a deal that doesn’t hurt you in the long run, you’ll definitely have your work cut out for you if you go down this route.
‘Intrusive’ ad formats
This is a catch-all term for most of the common ad formats that you’ll recognize in mobile games today. They range from the old and bold banner ads that lay across the bottom of your screen constantly to full screen video ads that appear either in between a game’s levels (interstitials) or that can be triggered by the player in exchange for some reward like in-game currency (rewarded video, shown above).
If you’re curious to learn more about the nitty gritty of these ad formats, we have a monetization guide that goes in depth with stats, figures, and tips.
These ad types vary in their effectiveness, but they’re all great passive ways to generate revenue from players. However, every ad type in this category does interrupt or distract from gameplay in one way or another. The natural break created by a 30 second interstitial can be a very common moment for players to just shut your game down rather than finish the ad.
Another point to be cautious about is over-using these ads. While more intrusive ads will generate more revenue, it will also put off a large amount of your players and could actually lead to a reduction in revenue!
Non-intrusive ad formats
This is another umbrella term and you can probably guess what it’s referring to – any ad format in a game that doesn’t distract from or interrupt gameplay. Audio ads are an example, as well as brand custom integrations like being sponsored to have a real Coca-Cola can appear inside a game.
Easily the most accessible non-intrusive ad format is Admix’s very own In-Play. These ads appear as videos, images, or GIFs inside game scenes in the same way that a billboard would appear in the real world.
Formats like this have some distinct advantages over the others. First of all, while it can be very time consuming to implement a rewarded video from a code and design perspective, formats like In-Play use a Drag & Drop interface; many partners are up and generating revenue in twenty minutes!
Non-intrusive formats also show no impact to retention unlike other ad types, so they’re just a good boost to revenue with little downside. There’s also a fair bit of creative freedom with this format, especially with the ability to add shaders and dynamic lighting to them.
The other major benefit is that non-intrusive ad formats play very well with other ad formats, and using more than one could boost your revenue even further. Of course, you have to be careful not to harm the player experience too much when using intrusive and non-intrusive ads.
The need for marketing
Making a living from game dev means treating yourself like a one person studio in many ways. Figuring out how much time you want to spend in each role is a big part of that, so, before you choose a monetization method, remember that you’ll be balancing the time it takes to add that method to your game with the time you need to spend promoting it.
We know that devs rarely like hearing it, but you really really really do need to market your work.
In fact, how you market your game can be one of the most influential factors in its success!
The good news is that marketing can be free and fun if you let it be. There’s a huge crowd of engaged and keen developers and indie game lovers on the internet, from Reddit to Twitter and even to Artstation if your Art Direction is a big draw of the game. You can build your own community through platforms like Reddit or Discord while promoting images, devblogs, or clips of your game in various other places. Even Admix has its own Discord to discuss games and game monetization!
Sure, you’ll need to learn about video creation and how to capture the best clips, but that can be rewarding and fun in itself. The hard part is investing the time and really putting yourself and your awesome work out there.
That’s the gist of it
So that was a whistle stop tour of the key info you need to make game development a full-time career on mobile. It can be a rewarding experience, and as easy or as challenging as you want it to be.
Expect plenty of more detailed guides to follow about every step of this process, but — in the meantime — start making your monetization plans and feel free to reach out to us on our Discord or visit admixplay.com for more info on In-Play specifically.
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