Indie game developers are always struggling to maintain a balance between developing an app that the users would love and optimizing their resources. Be it the resources to build the app in the first place or those required to market it and acquire more users. But it all turns into a vicious circle that ends and begins at monetization. So we dug into some indie game monetization strategies that have been used by some of the top grossing gaming apps in the market today.
Indie game monetization strategies
1. In-game purchases
One of the best ways to monetize from a ‘free to play’ game, is offer in-game purchases. The concept of this tactic is pretty simple – you let the users experience your game for free and then sell them additional features inside the game to customize their journey. Here are some ways to use this strategy:
  • Currency: Creating an in-game currency enables your players to select and buy items with ease, without breaking the app experience. As one of the most used tactics, we have seen the use of currency in many games like the Clash of Titans.
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  • Premium items: When players have access to a few purchases all the time, they tend to ignore it and stall the buying decision for later. Offering premium items like a feature specific to a holiday season or celebration, is a smart way to nudge the player to get something that is ‘limited’ by instilling the feeling of scarcity.
  • Unlockable characters: Imagine if you could customize the way you look while playing the Call of Duty. Being able to choose how your hair looks, the fit of your uniform, the shoes you wear, will get you more involved in the game as if you were in it yourself. Giving your players additional characters to customize their in-game look and feel is another tested monetization strategy that works!
  • Extra lives/ chances/ turns/ fuel: We’ve all seen this one while playing Candy Crush. If your player fails at a level, offering them to purchase a life enables them to start from where they lost. For someone who doesn’t want to start all over again and wants to experience the game further, this is a great option.
  • Limited edition levels: Think of this as offering another game within your game or creating a locked level with additional game play and exciting features. For example, if you have a first person game play, you can create a special level that is open for a very short period of time, in which the player can rope in a friend to compete and earn more coins together. These could also be pay-to-enter contests or tournaments.
  • Pay to win: It takes time for a player to develop the skills needed to win a game and when they’re hooked onto the idea, they would do whatever it takes to reduce this time. That’s where offering customizations or upgrades that bring them closer to winning becomes an effective monetization strategy.
  • Consumables: While a lot of games enable a player to keep a purchased item with them forever, the strategy isn’t effective for driving in a consistent income. The reason being, you’re not nudging the users to make a purchase again. By using consumables, you’re just adding an expiry date to an in-app purchase. This nudges more app sessions from the player, as they would like to make the most of the purchase and also prepare them mentally to want to make that purchase again in some time.
There are a number of things you can do to monetize from your game. But selling in-game items or consumables works only when you pitch them to the player at the right time, in the right way.
For instance, if a player has just begun the game, offering them an upgrade to win level 2 would make no sense. They would see no value in it. But when the player has played level 2 and failed at it twice, showing him the offer wall of upgrades available, is a more contextual nudge towards a purchase.
2. In-app advertising
Ads are an obvious way to monetize from your game. They make for one of the most effective strategies to make money from a game without really nudging your players to make a purchase. Think of this tactic as displaying a sponsored post in the player’s activity feed for instance!
But before you jump to implementing this strategy, here’s the one mistake that most indie game developers make – using brute force and not focusing on the user experience at all.
Yes, we’re talking about using banner, full screen and interstitial ads. They tend to block the player’s screen to almost a 90%, taking away their interest from the game – even if momentarily. The push tactic of these ad formats results in not just breaking the player’s natural journey in the game, but also irritates them enough to abandon the game. And there are very few players who would want to ‘upgrade’ to remove ads.
So which ads work?
This is the tactic where developers ‘naturally’ place advertisements into the game flow. Using this strategy, doesn’t just capture the player’s attention in the right manner, but also ensures that their experience is not compromised on.
If Facebook jumped out at you with popups promoting all those brands, you wouldn’t go back to the social media platform – irrespective of how many friends you have there. But seeing sponsored posts in your feed of the right hand column of your desktop screen, is something you certainly don’t mind.
Here are a few ways to natively place your advertisements:
  • Activity feeds: This is where the user’s in-game journey gets logged and he is also able to see what his friends have achieved so far. Placing a sponsored post within these updates, is just like Facebook. The player would see an ad that might interest him, but it won’t take him away from naturally browsing through the game updates.
  • In- app push notifications: Push notifications are a great way to capture the user’s attention. Using in-app push messages, you can encourage a player to check out a brand’s product, offer them a discount from a brand or simply promote a specific product that you think might interest them. Since these are just notifications, the player always has the option to mark them as ‘read’ and continue playing the game.
  • App elements: Want to make your ads even more natural? Find elements in your game where you can introduce the brand you’re promoting, as a part of the game play. For example, the subtle branding you see across this cricket game. It peaks the player’s interest and at the same time, makes them feel the banners are a part of the game itself.
See how it works
3. Premium version
Similar to games that use the ‘pay to remove ads’ tactic, creating a premium version of your game is a tactic that has proven to be effective. Instead of just removing all types of ads from the game, you would need to include additional features, gaming levels and more to make the game feel more ‘exclusive’ and worthy for a user to pay for.
The freemium game is the one that lets the user play and experience the game, and develop an interest in it. But their premium paid version comes with additional characters, power ups, new levels and much more that the free model does not offer.
4. Player gifting and trading
According to Facebook, players are 2.9X more likely to pay if they have a sense of belonging to a community. So if your game revolves around forming teams and competing with others on different levels, offer your players the ability to share or gift in-app items to their team members. This will not just nudge them to purchase more to level up in the game, but also encourage the recipient to make similar purchases in the future.
Similar to gifting, player trading refers to how much can a player do in a game with a specific purchase. The more the use cases of an item or resource, the more valuable it becomes. The more valuable the item is, the more likely are the players to purchase them. Call it, fair play and being worthy of the player’s money!
5. Merchandising
This tactic may or may not make sense for all indie games, but is a great way to add an additional revenue source to your monetization strategy.
Here’s an example you’ve probably already seen – Angry Birds. Right from stuff toys to colouring books, posters, t-shirts and more, the game has upped their branding exponentially with merchandising. The reason merchandising worked for them is because their players already adored the characters in the game.
There are literally thousands of ways to monetize from your game. But it all boils down to how well you’re able to engage your players.
By focusing on the player’s in-game experience, you create an opportunity to generate revenue from it. The better the engagement, the more involved the player gets with your game. And the higher the higher the involvement, the greater are the chances of them converting on an in-game purchase.
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