This week I had a catch-up with the UKs new MVP for ID@Xbox Simon Jackson @SimonDarksideJ and got into a conversation of monetisation, Simon mentioned he had a section on this very question in his new book “Mastering Unity 2D Game Development” which has been published under Packt Publishing.
Simply put one of the hardest decisions developers need to make about their game or app is how to get paid, sure we love them and they are a part of us but there should always be some sort of reimbursement for efforts.
So the following is a quick run down of the various options available to developers today!
Some of the most common patterns for monetization in games are:
Your game is sold at a fixed price. For big game studios this is generally the only option, especially with disk based delivery and some marketplaces.
The emphasis with paid only means you need a high quality sale portfolio for your game, outstanding game marketing assets (logo’s, screenshots, videos, etc.).
What is also just as important is the blurb about your game, it really has to stand out and draw the player in to make them part with their hard earned cash.
Paid with trial
Offering a trial with your game is a great way to entice players in, obviously it gives them a taste of you game before they commit cash.
Be honest about the trial though, there have been many cases and annoyed players where games were published as free but were actually limited trials, do not upset your potential buyers, be up front about it.
You still need a good presence with your marketing and store front, but the trial is also another great option to draw them in.
When going down the trial route, just be sure to only pick a single path and stick to it, either by limiting the game, or only offering so many levels, or even having time limited play. Just don’t mix them.
Another factor in offering trials is that each platform you deploy to may have a different way of providing it, either directly from the marketplace or through marketplace API’s. It’s best to design how your game will behave in trial and link that to a flag or option you can then control separately from the menu or check on startup.
Often the route for a lot of “free to play” mobile titles, this is one option that can be hard to get right. Too many ads and the player will just get annoyed and uninstall it, too few and you are not going to get much back from it.
A key thing to remember about ads is that it’s all about presentation and numbers. You need thousands of ads presented through your titles to make any kind of money back from Ad Providers, better if the player also clicks on the ad as this generates better revenue but you cannot bet on the player doing this.
Warning, do not attempt to fake or force the player to click on ads. It’s a very bad experience and likely to get you uninstalled quickly. Also Ad Providers are clever enough to work out if you are faking the clicks and simply not pay you.
I have seen cases where developers have layered ads on top of each other to maximize ad presentation or use GUI controls in close proximity to the ads tricking the player in to clicking them. These are very bad practices and should be avoided, at best you won’t get paid for your ads, at worst it will significantly get you bad reviews and lower the population of your players.
A few patterns that generally work are:
o Display in a non UI blocking portion of the screen in game play
o Just display in the menu or non-game screens (e.g. inventory, pause screen)
o Displaying ads only in loading screens
o Pop up ads that appear when an event occurs
o Ads on purchase screens
You can mix and match but remember there is a fine line between a background annoyances the player can just ignore if they don’t want to look, to intrusive and overbearing. Test with a select audience and alter your implementation based on their feedback BEFORE publishing.
The terms use by Ad Providers aren’t meant to befuddle you but they do take some getting used to, here’s some of the terms and their meaning:
Fill Rate – The percentage rate at which ads will be sent to your game, if the provider has run out of ads or has none for your ad settings (age, region, language, etc) then this can drop to 0 meaning no ads.
Impressions – This is a figure to denote the number of successfully show ads in your game, be aware that if the same ad is shown several times that some ad providers count this as the same impression, and just check against your own experience.
Click through rate (CTR) – the higher paid option with ads to denote players are actually clicking on ads to look into them.
eCPM – basically a unit of measure of how much you will be paid per click or impression. Usually multiply this figure by your number of impressions to see how much you will get. Note this figure will go up and down based on just about anything, including the weather.
AdTypes – There are various ad types and sizes supported by each provider with different capabilities. Banners are the simplest being a screen area size it will take up when displaying the ad. Others like intersatials are interactive and generally take up the entire screen. Check each provider for what they support and which you want to use.
Another factor to keep in mind is around publishers themselves, they will all perform differently in different markets and languages. Generally Ad Publishers focus on a few select markets or only take advertisements in certain languages, etc.
Some examples of these are:
Microsoft PubCenter – strongest in the United States
Smaato – Strong in central Europe and US but poor in non-English countries.
Inneractive – good mix of support across the globe and mix of ads but suffers from low or poor fill rates in practice (something they are working on)
Google AdMob – strong across the globe but you need millions of impressions to make any real money
There are many more out there such as InMobi, VServe, Leadbolt and others which each have their strengths and weaknesses, only your personal testing will see what publisher works best for you in which countries.
When using advertising it is very important to add your own instrumentation to your title to track how the adverts are doing, don’t just use the Ad Publishers figures from their respective dashboards. That way you can manage yourself what works best for you and alter your plans accordingly. Don’t just publish and let it go, manage it effectively to improve your returns.
When implementing ads there is also no rule that says you have to use only one provider! Always hedge your bets with AdProviders and implement as many as you are comfortable with, structure your ad presentation in a framework so that you always show the best performing adverts first and use another ad network if the current one isn’t delivering.
If this seems a bit much to do yourself, then there are several frameworks out there that will do this for you. These Ad Rotating solutions are fully featured to work with a number of Ad Providers and ensure you always display ads.
One such framework is a solution called AdRotator which is open source and works with most platforms, you can check it out at http://getadrotator.com, There are others also on the Unity asset store, just be sure to check what platforms they support (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, etc), so you might have to use a few different ones for all the platforms you deploy to. Vserv.mobi (vserve.com) for example can also display ads from other providers and not just its own.
In app purchase
A common feature being implemented in most games these days are in-app purchases, they are simply your paid shop front within the game to unlock levels, purchase rare items or remove unwanted features like Ads.
In some cases in-app purchases have been used to implement trial functionality, publishing the title as free and then offering an in-game unlock option, on console like the Ouya, this is standard practise.
Note, as with the trial system, be upfront if your game is sold as a trial. Players do not like and will aggressively mark down and slam titles that appear free until they are forced to pay to play!
In-app purchases on most platforms come in two forms:
Items that the player can purchase and have a real world item they can own. These are generally single use and you can verify with the marketplace for the platform if the player has purchased them. Although it is advised that you also manage that information locally so as to not slow the game down on start-up while checking. If you can also keep that information on a back-end service in case the user resets their device or transfers to a new one, this is not mandatory however.
Can only be purchased once.
Effectively consumables are in-game currency, items that are meant to be recharged and replenished over time.
The big difference between consumables and durables is that they are not tracked on the server (other than in payment history but that is not available to apps/games)
Can be purchased many times over.
As well as the store/marketplace for each platform there are some online services that will do payment systems for you, saving you from re-creating everything for each platform you support. One such company is called Lotaris (http://www.lotaris.com/) which offer many different ways for players to purchase items and apps, you still however have to publish your app to each platforms store.
WARNING – If you are using in-app purchases be aware that big brother is watching. Employ unethical or illegal practices when implementing these systems could bring to a whole heap load of trouble.
Check the following article for more info: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20140402142426/http://www.oft.gov.uk/news-and-updates/press/2014/05-14.
READ NOW if you plan to or are already using in-app purchases
BitCoin as a practice in games has been rising steadily, the basic premise being that the game is generally free to play and uses some kind of in-game currency which players can earn in the game. This currency usually takes two forms, basic coin which can be earned in-game and premium coin which can only be bought with cash (or for completing rare and special events).
The idea is simple, play through the game slowly as normal but if you want to advance quicker or get ultra-rare items then you need to buy and spend premium coin for those items. In some cases you can also convert premium coin to basic coin to get in-game currency quicker
Although this makes a steady profit in single player or offline games, where it really comes in to its own is with online multiplayer. Seems there is a growing market for people to advance quicker than others or just to beat their friends quicker.
Doing coin systems is generally harder than just doing in-app purchases but makes for an easier to manage ecosystem.
Also see the warning about in-app purchases as this applies heavily to in-game currency/ bitcoin systems as well, if not more.
As you can see there are many options out there to get paid for your apps / games and lots of directions to consider. I’ll leave you with a few points to think on:
· Think long term when considering returns for your app/game. If you have services to support how will you pay for them
· Consider your whole app estate when generating revenue, give bonuses to loyal customer who get more than one of your apps/games
· Never annoy users with “Too Many” or “Too Frequent” ads, be considerate.
· Always ship an option to turn off ads. Offer several pay points for user to support your app/game, you may be surprised how much people are willing to support a good one
· Tie in your monetisation with other channels, promotions, competitions, think out of the box.
Monetisation is more than just about money, it is about brand awareness and the public’s view of your entire portfolio and says a lot about how you want to grow your business and treat your customers!
Simon thanks for the chat and inspiration and congrats on the MVP award!