Mobile Game Monetization in 2021

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Video game developers want two things: to make good games and to make money. While making a good game requires talent, creativity and hard work, successful game monetization mostly needs to use a robust strategy.

game monetization strategies

There are five main video game monetization trends in 2021: regular ads, reward ads, data monetization, microtransactions and paid games. Every strategy has advantages and disadvantages, so you must choose wisely what strategy will suit your project. We may help you with mobile app monetization design, development and implementing.

Buy to play—quality has its price

The basic monetization strategy is to sell your single player mobile game for $1. To make the players want to buy your game, you need to build a unique visual style, develop interesting game mechanics and balance the progression in the right way.

top paid games on ios

The best examples of paid games are Plague Inc., Geometry Dash and Stardew Valley. They have unique and recognizable features both in gameplay and visual style.

  • Plague Inc.—world map and hexagonal upgrade page in visuals, deadly virus development as a core gameplay;
  • Geometry Dash—bright neon colors and rotating cube-hero in visuals, hard and hand-made levels instead of random-generated ones;
  • Stardew Valley—top-down camera like in old Zelda games, complex farming mechanics as core gameplay.

Players buy those games because they are sure that paid games has no gameplay and progression limitations like free one. Also, the developers often provide free gameplay content, DLCs and updates.

What type of game can be monetized with a buy 2 play strategy? Mostly single-player games. The players expect great story and great gameplay, but not the possibility to play against a dozen of random gamers. Also, they expect to get a full experience without additional paywalls, distracting advertisements and grinding.

pa to play mobile monetization guide

In other words, paid games are popular within gamers who like quality gameplay and graphics. Just like the console gamers, who liked exclusives like Horizon: Zero Dawn, Spider-Man and Last of Us. If you can provide such quality—feel free to sell your mobile game for a few bucks.

Cosmetic items in free games

Cosmetics are the most popular strategy to monetize multiplayer games. Effectiveness of cosmetics is simple: players want to show off and will pay for cool looking skins. On the other hand, it’s the most difficult mobile game monetization strategy.

mobile game cosmetic items monetization

The difficulties are:

  • the game must be good and attract many players for a long period of time. A study on cosmetic purchases shows that 47% of players will buy some cosmetics after spending more than 30 hours in the game. Only 5% of players may consider spending their money after playing less than 4 hours;
  • the cosmetics must be good too. Few players would like to pay even $1 for a gun simply painted in camo pattern. But if the new skin changes the gun’s sound effects, animations, 3D-model and looks unique, gamers may give $50 or even $1000 for it. You can check it yourself in games like Valorant and Counter Strike: GO with overpriced cosmetics;
  • there must be plenty of cosmetic items. The audience can’t show off if there are only a dozen of skins, so give them more. For example, League of Legends has 1390 skins for characters, wards and pets. No matter what characters the players prefer to play, they have a plenty of options to choose from;
  • the players must have a chance to get cosmetic items with a discount or for free. It’s like a free trial: the player sees how good it looks compared to the basic looks and wants to buy more.

If at least one condition won’t be met, then the game will have 90% chance to fail. Bleeding Edge, Anthem and Destruction Allstars failed because of lack of cosmetics, bad game mechanics and greedy monetization system.

In conclusion, earning money with cosmetic items requires to pay the talented artists to make those items. Also, cosmetics are good only for game-services with 2 or more years of developer’s support. The players won’t buy cosmetics in a game that they know will die on the next year.

mobile game weapon skins

And if you want to make many good cosmetic items for your game in a short period of time—hire the Kreonit game art outsource studio to help you.

Game monetization with ads

Game ads work in a following manner: only 5% of players are going to buy something in the first hours of playing. The chances of them buying something grow with time. And when they buy for the first time, they will spend at least $50. Take it into account, that every player has different taste in visual style and gameplay. If the player tries a free casual mobile game and leaves it in the first hour, it doesn’t mean that the same player won’t play an anime gacha game for 100 hours and spend $100 on it.

mobile game ads

The logic is simple: if the player won’t spend a dollar in one game, maybe, he will do it in the other game. Mobile game developers buy ads in other games to lead the bored players to the projects they may like more.

The amount of money you may earn on ads depends on how many players will play your game and how many ads you will show them. For example, in hypercasual and arcade games you may show ads on every second “Game Over” or “Victory” screen. Or maybe add a timer to show ads on “Game Over” once in 3 minutes. In a turn based strategy game you may show an add while the AI is making its turn. There’s only one rule: do not break the gameplay flow with ads.

The new trend for in game ads is reward advertisement. Basically, the player have a choice to watch an ad and earn a reward or not. Reward ads have better click rate, because players at least know that they will get some game items for watching it. Also, they can’t skip or close the reward ad.

But beware: ad payments has dropped because of player base growth in year 2020. People got more free time and played more games, but most of the new players were the non-paying ones. So ad earning rates fell by about 30%.

Mobile game monetization with microtransactions

Microtransactions are rather profitable monetization strategy. But to make microtransactions work game developers need to balance the gameplay in a specific way and adjust the core gameplay loop. 

The most popular method to make the players pay is to exploit “energy” mechanic. If you have played at least 2 mobile games, you’ll surely see it. If not, here’s the explanation: every game action requires to pay some energy. That energy restores by 1 point for every 3-10 minutes. The player may wait for it to replenish or buy emeralds or batteries to replenish it for a few dollars.

mobile game energy monetization

The energy monetization strategy is very effective because of basic human psychology exploitation. If the player isn’t really addicted to the game, he will patiently wait or uninstall the game. But if he wants to play more, he’ll pay for sure.

The second most popular microtransaction monetization is to sell game resources and premium currency. You may come up with many items to sell for a gold coins: premium upgrades, experience and progress boosters, different bonuses like extra lives or instant revives and so on.

The key to successful microtransactions is to offer the player to save time. The game developer needs to make the players know that they can just pay a few bucks and don’t grind 200 pieces of wood for 5 hours to build a hut.

There is one more microtransaction monetization—the loot boxes. The players hate them, because loot boxes make them spend more money and become a gambling addicts. Why? Because players get tricked into thinking that the $1 loot box is equal to $30 or even more expensive cosmetic item. For example, there are streaming channels in Counter Strike: GO community fully dedicated to opening loot boxes on camera and counting how much money they make on selling cosmetics they got. 

mobile game lootboxes

Some countries have restricted loot box mechanics by law to make them more “fair”. For example, mobile games in the Japanese market must increase the chance of getting the most expensive items every time the players opens one case. By doing this they reduced the cost of getting a new character in gacha game.

But the loot boxes have a downside: a game must have tons of content, so the players will be slightly disappointed, but not mad when they get a cheap prize. 

Data monetization strategy—how to earn money without players noticing it

Maybe you have a question: “How do the advertisement platforms and marketeers know what ad to show to the particular user?”. The answer is simple—data collecting. 

Data collecting isn’t about personal data like spying on camera and microphone or reading private messages. It’s about collecting and selling common data like screen size, OS version, country, etc. You can easily implement data collection to your game via single SDK on Unreal Engine or Unity3D and use it along other monetization strategies.

game data collection

The best thing about data monetization is that this type of monetization doesn’t ruin the gameplay and doesn’t force the players to pay. It is compatible with story-oriented games like horrors, visual novels, adventures, quests, etc. Also, a mobile game developer may sell data to several collectors at the same time.

But data monetization has two big downsides: it requires many daily users and generates small revenue. For example, with 150 000 daily active users you may expect to earn only $900 a month.

Still, it’s the most innocent type of monetization. So we recommend you to use it on every popular game you’ll publish to make a few hundreds extra.


mobile game premium currency

These strategies are good for different game types. Here are some basics:

    • single player mobile game with great story or deep gameplay—paid game;
    • multiplayer game with no progression system (like Fortnite or Among Us)—cosmetics, loot boxes;
    • multiplayer or single player game with progression system (Clash of Clans, Homescapes)—microtransactions like boosters, resources and bonuses;
    • single player game with simple gameplay and many “Game Over” screens (hypercasual games, arcades)—ads;
    • literary any game—data monetization.

Remember, that ads, microtransactions and cosmetic items will require you to modify gameplay, balance it to  make paying and free users even in game terms and put a lot of work into items you will sell. If you have a soul of an artist and just want to tell the story—make a game and sell it for money. But if you see mobile game development as a business, then get ready to compete hundreds of other developers.

We can increase your odds with making a commercially successful game by consulting, designing a monetization system, making content to sell or developing a mobile game from the scratch. Our developers are skilled both with using Unity 3D and Unreal Engine for mobile games and ready to help you.

Kreonit game art outsource studio makes mobile game development cheaper, faster and more predictable than ever. Just fill the brief below.


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