Many games have been monetised by a single transaction in a retail store, however the explosion of platform choices in the last decade has led to ever more innovative and complex ways to generate some hard-earned revenue for the game developers.
Player acquisition, engagement/retention and monetisation work together to keep a game alive. Free to play games most typically use one or more versions of in-app purchases (IAP), affiliate marketing, advertising, freemium, and restricted access. These things are often combined to offer the player reward-based choices without negatively impacting their enjoyment of the gameplay and core loops. Other factors include whether to use an in game currency such as coins or diamonds or real hard currency to buy things. You could also throw in some loot drops or Gatcha mechanics - the design possibilities are almost endless. With such a lot to decide, which is best?
Knowing your audience
“There is no single, universal method that will improve the monetisation of your game” Alan Gray, Lead Designer of Crafty Candy at Outplay Entertainment told us. “The best path, is to listen and respond to your specific audience.”
To monetise your game around the audience, it’s important to know who they are, Gray explains. “Analytics, reviews, and feedback should all build a picture of who your audience is, and it is this that you should be using to identify the best way to monetise.” The categories of casual, mid-core, and hardcore provide a quick reference to style but Gray warns this is only really the start of understanding who your players are. “The truth is that even from match-3 game to match-3 game, the audience can be different, and that within a single game, there can be multiple sub audiences. Identifying and listening to those sub audiences will highlight the best way to monetise them.”
Doing the groundwork
Jo Haslam, Designer at Mediatonic, points out, “The best way to monetise is to choose a business model which matches the game mechanics and genre. Different methods such as subscriptions, micro transactions, or the traditional pay upfront model are all working successfully on different games, and it's important to understand why”. Haslam also highlights the significance of timing. “Think about the business model for the game early on. This helps in making the right decisions during development and allows the creative and commercial aspects to work well together. If this decision is left too late, it can result in having to make multiple compromises in the design of the game later on to retroactively suit the business model.”
Gray of Outplay agrees that preparation is key. “The first part is laying the ground work. Establish a brand that people are drawn to. To do that you first have to answer some questions; who is your ideal audience? What do they typically play? What non-gaming things do they enjoy? Where is there an opportunity to offer them something familiar, but fresh? Once those questions can be answered the right visuals needs to be created.”
Paid, IAP or Ads?
Highly experienced commercial director in this space, Lorraine Starr told us “In the free to play market it is essential to have compelling in app purchases, particularly if the game is of an addictive or immersive nature. These might take the form of life or coin packs, or paid additional content/levels if the game is successful.” Remzi Senel, Head of Operations at Gram Games concurs. “If your game is a simple one for a broad audience, ad monetisation might end up working the best for you, however, if your game is for a respectively niche highly engaged audience, you might want to go with a iAP based model.”
There are other options as Starr points out: “If you have a license or big franchise the paid app market can still be viable. If the title is aimed at the younger end of the market, say age four or over, in my experience parents prefer to make a one off purchase safe in the knowledge that their kids will not be expecting continual spend.”
“It’s critical to have a good integrated analytics system which will help the developer to react quickly to sticking points within a game, and also to monitor which iAP are working best and which might need replacing.” continues Starr.
Gray agrees. “Once you have the right players, the best players for your game, then you have to identify who they actually are. What do they like about your game? What do they not like? What do the spenders like? What made people want to spend in the first place? What makes the non spenders continue not to spend? Then when you answer those questions, you can start to emphasise the areas that work, and rework the areas that don’t. Giving players who want to spend more of the thing that they want to buy is the lowest hanging fruit. Finding out what less-likely-to-spend players would spend money on is a harder question.”
In The Balance
“In general, the casual market players don’t really want to pay for anything, unless they feel heavily invested in the title, so it is important to get the balance absolutely right to ensure that the player does not feel badgered or nagged in any way by either the ads or iAP mechanism.” Starr observes. “Similarly, if adverts are too frequent or forced it will frustrate the player so it is important that the player is rewarded for watching the ads either with extra lives or in game currency, depending on the model.”
Senel of Gram Games agrees that this type of reward-driven combination is very effective. “The lines between various monetisation methods blur - as in IAP based games implementing rewarded videos, or ad monetised games adding content unlocked with IAPs. The games doing best in this competition are the ones that know the advantages and disadvantages of their audiences and understand how their monetisation method works with their audience.”
Monetisation is evolving
Monetisation methods will continue to change alongside their technical enablement: “The technological advances in ad tech and hardware add even more monetisation methods to our toolboxes every day” says Senel.
For now, to answer the question in hand Starr suggests "Either depth of gameplay or producing something simple that is highly addictive are the keys to making money. The hardest part is getting the game noticed.” she points out. Alan Gray of Outplay concludes “So the answer is, the best way to monetise your game is to understand your audience from start to finish and from first sight to fiftieth purchase, and then give those players what they want and need at the exact time they want and need it.”