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5 rules of monetizing like a mobile game developer
App Revenue,Mobile Game Developer
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App Developer Magazine

5 rules of monetizing like a mobile game developer



Sean Webster Sean Webster in Game Development Wednesday, January 9, 2019
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Learn to monetize your app using these 5 tips that teach you to act like a game developer in order to maximize the user’s return to your app and increase session length. Study your stickiest users, get to know their behaviors, and create more experiences that cater to their preferred engagements.

Mobile game developers are some of the most successful monetizers and marketers in recent history. Need proof? Mobile gaming revenue accounted for nearly 82% of all app revenue in 2017 and will surpass $100 billion by 2021.

The formula for success for mobile game developers is simple: easy payments, a finely-tuned monetization strategy, and great customer support. But to date, few non-gaming app developers have been able to replicate gaming’s success. 

So what can millions of app developers learn from the success of mobile gaming? What strategies from gaming can be implemented to boost engagement, drive monetization, and increase retention and loyalty to your app? Let’s start answering those questions by exploring the different ways in which gaming and non-gaming users think and behave.

Users may play today but they will certainly be working tomorrow

The key considerations in marketing any app are how your audience uses your app, the engagement channels utilized, and the message or experience delivered. While monetizing mobile games is largely a matter of engaging a user’s impulse to play, non-gaming apps engage based on a practical, ongoing need for a particular type of content, experience, or utility. As a result, non-gaming app audiences are smaller and more specialized. This makes finding and engaging them with desirable content and experiences more difficult than it is with gaming apps. 

Non-gaming apps are inherently more difficult to monetize as well. As Trace Ronning writes, “With non-gaming apps, marketers have to be really picky about where they spend money...The messaging is often more educational because the benefits need to be explained and digested by the target audience.”

But with a clear understanding of your optimal audience, channels, and messages in mind, you’re set to apply the rules of mobile game marketing to create new monetization opportunities for your non-gaming app. 

The rules of non-gaming engagement

In the same way, mobile gamers think differently than non-gaming users, successful gaming app marketers create within a different philosophical framework than their non-gaming peers. To cross the divide, non-gaming marketers need to learn the different rules by which gaming marketers play.

Rule #1: Your app needs a business model. It sounds obvious, but many developers in their quest to design a cool app, overlook monetization.

The key to monetizing like a game developer is to go find the monetization touchpoints that appeal to the needs and passions of your user base. If this isn’t possible given your app’s scope, then using game marketer tactics is not for you. Revenue is elemental to how a gaming marketer thinks. 

One great example of a good non-gaming app that failed because it had no business model is Everpix. Believing its product was so good it would sell itself, Everpix never invested in a promotion or implemented a real monetization strategy, and died a predictable death as a result. This sort of “build it and they will come” approach was not uncommon in the days of the dotcom boom when proven financial models were scarce. But in 2013 when EverPix folded, and especially today, the absence of a good business model is guaranteed failure.

Rule #2: Make payments easy. Business models are great, but they’re not much good without a smooth and simple payment experience.

To that end, non-gaming app marketers would do well to find a payment processor that is well regarded and offers a range of trusted payment options. Services like Apple Pay, Google Pay, and PayPal are the most popular payment solutions in the US and make it easy for users to buy in-app. That said, Western brands have much to learn from their counterparts in China, where mobile payment friction is almost a non-issue.

Rule #3: Explore monetization options. Rule #2 covers the in-app purchase and commerce side of monetization, but non-gaming apps can also learn to explore other monetization options.

For example, many games combine several monetization methods like in-app purchases and advertising. This gives users more choices while helping developers monetize better. 

For example, messaging apps could have users watch a video ad to earn minutes for international calling. And if your app regularly offers new content, you can give users the option to pay for it via an in-app purchase or to “rent” it by displaying an ad. 

Obviously, you want to maintain a good user experience and drive retention so testing is important. Developers should experiment with a small group of users and analyze the data to see what’s working. KPIs to look out for while testing number of sessions, session lengths, daily active users, weekly active users, and other retention metrics. This will help you assess the risk of the new monetization model and allow you to accurately calculate the impact on monetization. Adding these monetization strategies should be done cautiously so you can measure and find that sweet spot for significantly increasing your revenues without driving users away.

Rule #4: Make sure you have great support.

This one is obvious, but again, often overlooked: If you offer commerce platforms and in-app purchasing options in your app, make sure users have immediate access to support for any questions. If Amazon has taught us anything, it’s that good customer support is required for long-term success. 

Rule #5: Optimize for retention

No matter your business model, a frequently used app offers value to users and means opportunity for developers, publishers, and brands. To maximize the user’s return to your app and increase session length, study your stickiest users, get to know their behaviors, and create more experiences that cater to their preferred engagements. On the flipside, you also need to study where most users abandon the app. Is there a predictable point where people hit a wall and dropoff? The solution employed mobile game developers is to then take what you’ve learned about these users, and fix the technical barriers (whether it’s a complex on-boarding, or a nagging UI problem) that might be responsible for the bulk of user churn. 

Once a solid basis for retention is established, you can evolve your buyer personas and tweak channels/messages/spend to target ideal prospects. To really get with the game marketer’s philosophy, don’t worry too much about cost of user acquisition, or get caught up in cost per Install rates. If the lifetime value of a prospect makes sense, spend what you need now to capture that user and longtail revenue opportunity.

No matter what type of app you have, your best bet for monetizing is to find good quality users. The ideal methods to find, engage, and keep those users will vary with the type of app you have, but in both gaming and non-gaming apps, it boils down to providing a good experience and driving a sense of value for your users.



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