42 Strategies for Monetizing Mobile Games


Are you a game developer looking to launch a free to play mobile game? We’d like to help. Recently, many game developers have moved from designing paid apps to making F2P games. In my endeavor, I came up with a list of 42 tricks, tips and new ways to monetize your game in order to increase your app’s revenue. Hopefully you’ll find some of these ideas interesting and worth considering.

Advertising Inside of Free-to-Play Games:

1) Banners

Banner ads only cover part of the screen at any given time and can yield a few dollars per one thousand impressions ($2 or $3 per CPM). While this doesn’t generate large revenues, and despite it being sometimes annoying to players, it’s implementation is easy and every bit of money can help you in the beginning. Flappy Bird, is one example of a game that drove around $50,000 per day from banner ads alone.

2) Interstitial Ads

These ads display between levels and are full size advertisements that can generate higher costs-per-mile than banners. Developers can get paid well for interstitial ads, sometimes reaching as high as $10 CPM. When done correctly, interstitials can be much less annoying for players than banner ads. Here are 8 providers offering interstitial ads.

3) “More Games” Button

Referring players to other games is another simple tool for making money from larger vendors. When the referral button is clicked by the user, they see a related list of titles which you get paid for showing.

4) Exit Ads

Showing ads when players are exiting the game is another way to advertise without being overly annoying. Adding an exit ad that shows whenever the user quits playing the game, can be the last ad you present to them in full size, so why not do it while they’re on their way out?

5) Drop an Icon

It’s too bad that this option is only for Android phones. The advertising idea is simple to implement and it doesn’t affect gameplay. When your game gets installed, since it is already authorized to send and push messages to the device, you can drop an Icon that can be used to promote other games for users to try. One such company that specializes in this function is Airpush. UPDATE – this method was recently shut down by Google Play.

6) Offerwalls and Download Incentives

There are many simple but clever ways to reward players for downloading other games that you suggest they try. For example, you could give virtual gold coins to players in exchange for them downloading and trying other apps by your sponsors. Every time a player downloads a new free app that you’ve referred, you get paid. Many developers use these kind of offer-walls to get paid  really well. Here is a list of companies that provide offerwalls to F2P developers.

7) Build a Second Offerwall

From the player’s point of view, offer walls provide real value because they offer an easy way to get coins. Offer-walls aren’t that annoying so to offer them a second, doesn’t risk anything. Simply put, two or more offer-walls will make you twice as much money as only having one.

8) Coupon Rewards

Coupons are another way to reward the achievements of players. Simply give a discount coupon as a player reward for things they might want to buy in everyday life. For example, rewarding players with a coupon for $5 off their next pizza order for completing a difficult level would be a great way to offer built-in incentives. One company that will pay you for coupon offers is Kiip.

9) Video Ads

This is a way for you to get paid whenever your video ads are watched. Rewarding players for watching advertisements with in-game coins is a great way to make sure your advertisers make an impact. Players watch ads while you make real money. This option is simple to implement and a way that is favored by many as the least intrusive. We suggest Adcolony as one video ad provider that can make this happen for you. 

If your game uses ads and you want to track the LTV per cohort, segment and testing groups, you need a traceback platform. Check out SOOMLA Traceback – Ad LTV as a Service.

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10) Install a Search App

This is another way to make a average of around $12 for every 1000 downloads. When a user downloads and installs your game, another search app gets installed along with it. Startapp is one company that offers this option, too bad it’s only for Android phones.

11) Brand Your Virtual Goods

This idea is a way for developers to brand virtual goods in their games in order to make money. Offering brand-name versions of virtual goods in your items can help you get paid by advertisers for showing their brands to your players.

Ways to Sell Downloadable Content (DLC)

1) Upgrades to Premium

This is a handy way of marketing your game, and especially easy if you’re previously a developer of paid games and are now turning to make free-to-play games. Offering the lite version of your game for free with the option of charging players to pay for the premium version upgrade is an easy way to make sure you get paid.

2) Make Different Level Packs

Instead of only offering one premium upgrade to your game, you can break it down into individual level packages that can be sold separately.

3) Add Visual Customizations

You can design new worlds by making different visually customized versions of your game. By building in different worlds for people to play, you might be able to get them to make a purchase. This option only modifies the look of your original game to feel like a slightly different one that you can then sell.

4) Offer Custom Live Wallpapers

When your F2P game becomes really popular, you can always sell players a wallpaper background for them to put on their mobile phone. Obviously, any image can be a background but if the user wants a live one, he usually can’t make it on his own.

5) Custom Ringtones

Do this especially if you are the composer of the original music score to your game. Players that love your game might also be interested in buying the custom ringtone for it.

Removing Limitations Via the Store

1) Remove Banner Ads

This is a popular way that many developers use to monetize their game. Simply offer players a paid version of your game for $0.99 that runs without annoying advertisements.

2) More Lives, More Energy and Additional Turns

This option uses energy mechanics to monetize games. Having built-in limits to continuous gameplay that keep session times short, say to around 5 or 10 minutes play at a time, is another way to get players to make purchases. Your store can offer players the ability to go past the normal time limits by paying. Simply put, you can get them to pay for unlimited play.

3) Purchasing More Time

These are mechanism in games that require players to finish levels within a specified period of time. If they can’t finish it in time, they may get impatient enough to want purchase more time in your store so that they can complete a difficult level.

Different Ways of Adding Virtual Economies

The development of a well designed in-game economy is the key to much of the revenues generated by mobile games. More than half of all revenue brought in by mobile games nowadays comes from virtual in-game economies.
Here is a breakdown of all of the different kinds of virtual economies that you can build into games. Rather than picking one particular virtual good over another, it might be better for you to think about combining qualities of different virtual goods together to create a complex economy.

1) Custom Characters or Avatars

In order to use avatars and custom characters in your virtual economy, you first have to design and build characters into your game that players can identify with. Building characters with unique attributes helps players choose characters that they can call their own. For example, you could design one character that is faster and another that is stronger.

2) Training Exercises and Tuning

Games with custom built characters can charge money for additional training with tune-up mechanisms that can make gameplay even more interesting. This way, players can buy additional training for their favorite avatar and enjoy the game that much more.

3) Player Advantage Items

Weapon upgrades or additional gear can be offered in your store giving players more abilities in exchange for real money. Remember to be careful when selling player advantages; it can always bite you back, especially if it makes the players feel like they are paying-to-win. Here’s how to avoid that pay-to-win feeling.

4) Offer Upgrades for Virtual Items

Rather than ever offering limitless advantage to paying players, it is a better strategy to offer the benefits of an upgrade for a particular item rather than an all out elimination of obstacles.

5) Offer User Customizations

Believe it or not but around 20% to 25% of all users surveyed expressed an interest in having the ability to customize their character’s look and adjust the feel of their game with custom animals, cars or weapon choices.

6) Offer Resource Items

Resources are virtual items that players accumulate and consume during normal gameplay. These items can turn into a main generator for income within a game’s virtual economy, because it compels users to become familiar with using your storefront during gameplay. Integrated with shopping, store resources can also serve as mechanisms for balancing your design.

7) Manufactured Items

You can build these functions into your virtual economy, they give players the ability to accumulate resources overtime automatically. In the store you can make it so that they can convert resources, from one to another, for what they have accumulates.

8) Give Double Coins

Adding a purchase for $0.99 that provides double coins to help players “cheat” your game’s resources will also help you make more revenue. There are some games where you can purchase double coin accumulations more than once, so they might come back to buy it again.

9) Rescues and Save Me Items

As they say “if you are going to cheat, then cheat death”. This shopping feature is great for games like endless runner ones that require players to start from the beginning when they die. Some people would be willing to pay to not start from square one all over again.

10) Items that are Discoverable

Besides selling many items that are already owned by players, there are many discoverable items you can hide in the game that players can then search for. You can always save them the trouble of finding them by offering discoverable items for sale in your store.

11) Surprise Gifts

Here players can purchase items without knowing exactly what’s inside until they purchase and open them. These features are very prominent in games like Far East.

12) Limited Edition Items

After you know which items players really like, one strategy is to sell them a limited edition series for the more popular ones. This gives players the feeling of purchasing something special that not everyone else has. These features can also be auctioned off if they become popular enough.

13) Seasonally Themed Items

Use your virtual store to spread the holiday spirit while boosting sales. This is a really easy feature to add, especially if your games already uses the SOOMLA store.

Flexible Payment Options

Even though Apple and Google are the main sources for billing in-App purchases, they often don’t cover all the sources for revenue internationally. In countries like Brazil, for example, many potential customers don’t own a credit card and would benefit by added options for flexible billing in your store.

1) Mobile Carrier Billing

While this option is only for Android, you can set up your store to bill purchases to a person’s mobile carrier. One company called Fortumo can help you implement carrier billing in your store.

2) Vouchers for in-App Purchases

This strategy is to offer voucher codes that can either be purchased online or offline and redeemed for game resources or coins. Voucher redemption is supported by both Google and Apple.

3) Implement a Virtual Wallet

This is similar to PayPal or air-miles. Players who accumulate a balance while playing can then spend their virtual money in your store. They might not have earned enough miles to afford what they way and would have to pay to make up the difference. To implement a virtual wallet option you will need to join with a payment aggregate tool such as PaymentWall.

Additional Merchandising

1) T-shirts

Give your fans the opportunity to show you their appreciation. When they love your game enough, you can sell them t-shirts to wear around town.

2) Lunch boxes

Game-themed lunch boxes and backpacks for kids make for popular items to merchandise in your store.

3) Cell Phone Covers

Custom cases can be sold to people who love playing your mobile game. Nothing is a better fit for a phone than a plastic shield with their favorite character.

Social Enhancements

1) Head-to-Head Duels

Even if you’ve offered your game for free, you can still turn it into a source for revenue, especially when you pit users against one another in order to win a prize. There’s a company called Nextpeer that will help you implement dueling features to your design.

2) Player Tournaments

This is a further enhancement of duels – just involving more players. Participants join tournaments to see who is the champion player. This first requires a large gamer base and perhaps some additional marketing. Works best when your design builds upon enthusiasm for real world tournaments.

3) Player Gifting

Your store can also be used for sending gifts to others. This feature allows users to give virtual goods like coins or upgrades to other players they know. Sometimes a person would rather spend $0.99 to give a gift to someone else instead of spending it on themselves to get ahead.

That’s pretty much all of it. If you think that I’ve missed one, please write me with more ways to monetize free-to-play games. Share your thoughts in the comments below. If you’ve had a gaming experience with a virtual economy enhancement that’s been fun to play, or if you know of any bad-apples out there and are annoying examples that go too far, we’d like to hear about it.

(Update: These are two suggestions I received by email or user comments.)

Caller ID Ads

Caller ID advertisements are available for Android only. This feature shows an ad in place of a picture whenever the phone makes or receives calls from unrecognized numbers. It’s an easy way to get paid without any real impact on the gaming experience. There is a company called Pingjam that allows you to install these types of ads when people download your game for free.

Cash Tournaments

Cash tournaments are duels or multi-player competitions that allow users to make the gameplay more interesting by putting some real money at stake. Each player would put a small amount of a few bucks and the winner will take all the money back. An easy way to implement cash tournaments is to use a provider such as Skillz

Slots and Lotto Minigames

A relatively new option to make some additional revenue from your game is to incorporate a revenue generating minigame such as slots and lotto. These games are known to be very effective at monetization and are very easy to add up by taking a 3rd party SDK. One provider in this space is InAppFuel – their design and customization options are quite limited at the moment but I’m sure they will add more in the future.
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  1. Thanks for the info Yaniv. I’ve noticed many arbitrary apps have
    recently been integrating slot machine type minigames into their games,
    for example Simpsons Tapped Out. I later found an article on Venturebeat
    on these guys – http://inappfuel.com/
    Basically, they offer developers a way to integrate a prebuilt slot and lotto minigame, by plugging in the sdk.
    I went, and having signed up, integrated the slot machine within forty
    minutes into my own app. So far I’ve noticed a definite engagement
    increase and have been happy with the seamless experience. They promise
    an “average revenue boost of 20%” so lets see what happens.

      • I read the faq and it says, that “Customization is not yet available as a self-service option. But, for
        midsize/large developers, the minigames can be fully customized,” if you reach out to them personally. I assume that font, text, and all image files in the sdks will be able to be changed in the future. Definitely a worthwhile addition though mostly aesthetic as the existing style is fairly generic and fits fine with the style of my work.

  2. […] If you’re going to develop a free mobile game application, you are in good company. Many developers have opted to make free games and it becomes harder and harder to convince users to pay upfront for an app. However, I’m pretty sure you still want to make money from the free game you are developing, so here are a few ways to monetize your mobile game […]


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