Monetization in mobile games: how to earn money

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Monetization systems in mobile games: how do they work and how to use them properly

Monetization systems in mobile games are the most discussed topics among game journalists and developers. They talk about microtransactions, in-game ads and lack of actual gameplay in most of the new games. They are right: modern mobile games are designed to make money in every possible way.

In this article we will tell you about mobile game monetization: how it’s designed, how it works and how much a mobile game can earn.

monetization is how to earn money on mobile game

What is a mobile game monetization

Monetization system describes a way to generate revenue from a project. Monetization can be applied to any intellectual property, including games. For example, news sites are monetized by advertisements, and streaming services — with subscription.

Games have a few ways of monetization:

  • flat sales – a customer buys a game;
  • additional playable content — a customer buys DLC, map packs or playable characters;
  • cosmetic content — a customer buys a character or weapon skin which doesn’t affects the gameplay;
  • subscription — a customer buys himself some period to play;
  • time savers — a customer can buy in-game resources or premium currency to save himself some time;
  • in-game ads — a customer watches a third-party paid advertisement.

Flat sales and DLCs are most useful for the AAA projects and big indie games. PC and console players know that a $60 game will give them at least 10 hours of good gameplay, graphics and often decent multiplayer.

AAA-games are meant to play in 1-4 hour sessions, mobile games — in 5-30 minutes

The mobile games must use other ways of monetization because of the mobile players habits. The big difference between console and mobile gaming is the length of a game session. A game session is the time for continuous gaming. Console and PC players tend to play for 1-4 hours straight for 1 time a day, while mobile players play for 5-30 minutes for 3-4 times a day. This difference leads to different approaches in game design and monetization.

Why flat sales doesn’t work with mobile games

The rarest way to monetize a mobile game is to use flat sales. It’s often used by big developers who’ve just ported their console game to mobile platforms. For example, the players will buy Minecraft or Plague Inc. because they played these games before and want them on their phones. These players want pocket Minecraft to play for 10 minutes while in transport or at lunch.

The mobile players won’t play for too long because the touchscreen is not as comfortable as a gamepad or keyboard.  As a result, new mobile AAA games for $5 won’t earn much money because of short game sessions.

Mobile users prefere casual games because of gameplay sessions

Mobile players don’t want to pay for big good games because of 3 reasons:

  • they think that there are no mobile AAA games at all and they will buy a 30 minutes length techno demo;
  • players know that they just don’t have enough time;
  • they want to play simple casual games to relax and don’t want to follow complicated plots or learn some deep mechanics.

For example, there is Pascal Wager — mobile 3D version of Dark Souls with 20 hours of gameplay and DLCs as microtransactions. With a development budget of $300 000 the game managed to earn near $500 000. It was advertised on Apple presentation and well treated by journalists but still failed as a product. Yes, it failed, because free2play hypercasual games with a $50 000 budget can easily earn more than $1 000 000.

How to properly monetize a mobile game

First of all, the successful mobile game must be free to play. By doing this the developer maximizes audience coverage and his potential profits. It is better to have 1 million installs with $0,15 revenue from a player than to have 50 000 players buy the game for $1.

Second, the monetization system must be integrated into gameplay in the first stages of development. We decide how to integrate monetization in these few steps:

  • choose a genre and think about of content, items or powerups we can sell for real money;
  • calculate an average gameplay session length depending on genre, think how to artificially limit gameplay session to this time;
  • develop a way to keep player in game for a few days at least;
  • if a core gameplay cycle is longer than 1 minute, think about showing ads after each or second try to beat the level;
  • if a core gameplay cycle is short, we can still show ads regularly, like every 2 minutes at the “Try again” screen.

By doing this we can adjust our monetization system to the game we are working on. For example, if we are developing a mobile runner game, it is a good decision to use ads and sell power ups for a premium currency. And if we are developing a mobile strategy, we will make the gameplay too slow and will offer to buy a speed boost.

loot chest monetization

Our secrets of monetization

Monetization will only earn money if the players will stay in the game for a week or longer and will want to spend money on it. We do it this way:

Make addictive progression. We need to make fast progress in the first 10-30 minutes of gameplay. The player will get his first level up in a few seconds, second level — in a minute, third level — in 5 minutes. We must give him something he will like and want to get again, like a loot chest with good skin, premium currency for level up or new gameplay mechanics. By doing this we make the player want to get the next level up and he will likely open a game again when he is bored.

make the player addict by fast progression curve

Make the player wait. Many games are using “energy” as monetization: every player’s action costs him a bit of energy and to play more he needs to wait for energy to restore or to buy it for the real money. Most players can not wait for 15 minutes and they will likely pay for additional energy or speed boosters.

It is interesting: energy and addictive progression is a part of game mechanics development.

Give free samples of premium features. Example, a bit of a premium currency at the end of the first gameplay session. By doing this the player will feel how easy it is to play with when you can buy anything you need at the moment. And when the free gift is over he will be more inclined to buy something for real money.

Make an illusion that the player will get a lot for a small payment, we can even give him a discount on a first buy. But in reality the resources he bought will be over in a few gameplay sessions.

premium currency monetization system

Advertise the premium content. The player must surely know that he could beat the level or other player easily if he had bought some premium items.

Make free bonuses for activity and progression. The player must know that if he will play the game for a few days straight he will get some premium currency, energy or skins. This fact will motivate him to play longer.

example of monetization interface


We must think about mobile game monetization to quickly recoup costs of development and earn enough money to make a new game. Game development is a risky investment, but every game can make profits with a proper monetization system.

If you are scared of losing money because of the monetization mistakes — contact us. We have experienced marketeers, procedures and monetization specialists who will implement ingame purchases and advertisements in the right way. It is possible to make a profitable game without flooding it with ads and turning a game into a casino and we know how to do it.

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