Sponsored By

Game Design, Marketing, and Monetization on iOS

Having released 2 iOS games in 2011 we spent a lot of time thinking about and researching game design, marketing and monetization for the platform. Here's a summary of our findings that we hope will be helpful to those getting into iOS development.

Wojtek Kawczynski, Blogger

November 1, 2011

12 Min Read

Cross-posted with our Studio blog 

So you’ve decided to take the leap and make an iOS game. What should you know before you start? You’ve heard every opinion - how well you can expect to do, what the best strategy is, and who the right partners are.  Everyone has their own methods, their own tricks and their own silver bullets.  Finding the right approach for your game takes a lot of thought and a lot of research.

 We released two iOS games in 2011: Garage Inc. (January) and KULA BLOX (September). Recently, we spent a good deal of time thinking about these experiences and we tried to figure out what we could learn from them so that we can do better the next time. Here’s what we came up with. 

 Above all, you need awareness, whether it is awareness of your game or just awareness of your studio.  People need to know you exist, they need to know that your game exists, and they need to care that your game exists. This seems rather obvious when you state it outright. However while many people know this, very few manage to carry it through game design, monetization and marketing decisions. I’ll explain what I mean in the next few paragraphs.

 Let’s start with game design. Unless you are a well known developer, or have a large pile of money that you can spend on marketing, or have a popular license that will guarantee some level of awareness, you’ll most likely be dependent on word-of-mouth for your game to become popular. 

 Think about what made you get most of the games that are on your personal iOS device. (If you do not personally have an iOS device, you might want to think again before getting into the market.) If you’re like us (and I speak for the studio here as we’re all in agreement) you make most of your purchase decisions based on a friend handing over their device with a game to try out. He or she says: “Hey I like this game - try it out.”  You say: “OK” and you do. But for how long? Maybe 10 to 15 seconds or maybe a bit longer, but that’s about it. 




 Your potential customers will do the same. So the design implication is this: make sure that a person who is brand new to your game, who hasn’t seen any of your clever tutorials, or watched your cutscene, or read your marketing materials, will really enjoy themselves in those first 10 to 15 seconds. If they don’t, then they won’t buy your game. Period. You will lose that sale.

 How do you make a game that captures players that quickly? We’re trying to figure that out ourselves so I have no magical solution to offer here.  It’s just something to seriously consider when you’re designing and focus testing your game.

 As a side note, keep in mind that positive reviews - even on the main iOS sites - will not give you the kind of awareness (and therefore downloads) that you might expect. Even being featured by Apple, while many times more valuable and desirable than having professional reviews does not guarantee success.  You also shouldn’t bank on being picked by Apple as a strategy. We were lucky enough to have both our games featured in the New and Noteworthy section of the app store and yet chances are good that you haven’t heard of either of our two titles. This is not to say that you shouldn’t get your game reviewed or that you shouldn’t try to get your game featured on the iTunes App Store - you absolutely should. What I am saying is that those things will not be enough.

 So let’s say that you’re now making your game and that you’ve designed it to have that immediate appeal. Great. Is that it then? Well, no. You shouldn’t stop there even if you think you’ve nailed that. You can’t really be sure until the game ships.

 Your next step is to consider as many awareness raising services and monetization services as possible to see what will make sense for your game and what you’re comfortable with. I won’t be making any recommendations here - I’ll just try to give you an objective summary of what’s out there and how they work.


Giving it Away

 There are a number of services and approaches that involve making your app available as a free download.  In case you’re wondering how giving your game away for free will make you money, let me digress for a bit to explain how this works.

 The obvious way is to have in-app purchases (IAP).  These allow you to sell upgrades and add-ons to users even if they do not pay for the app itself.  

 If you don’t have IAP (in app purchases) in your game then the advantages of offering your game for free are less obvious.  The goal is to build awareness so that more people will buy your game when you start charging for it again.  This model works by having the people who download your game for free talk/tweet/post/demo your game to their network of friends, effectively becoming evangelists working for you. The extra noise of having your game in their hands pays off when you start charging for your game again and you get a declining ‘tail’ of extra sales beyond what you had before the promotion. The amount of extra sales that you get will depend on how many people download your game when it’s free and how willing they are to recommend it (word-of-mouth).  That’s where those first 10-15 seconds of gameplay need to be magical.


Raising awareness

 Hey Zap  This is a service that allows you to get greater visibility of your game without costing you cold hard cash. It works like foursquare except that you check into games instead of places. People who follow you can see what you’re playing. Once you check-in enough times, you get a badge. There is an SDK which allows you to integrate a Hey Zap button into your game so that people can check-in from within your game. Hey Zap’s website shows that there have been over 10 million check-ins to date.

 Game Center  Apple’s social network for games got a significant update in iOS 5 with three important additions: friend recommendations, game recommendations and the ability to buy games from within the Game Center app. Before iOS 5, Game Center was a good idea as it had leaderboards and achievements. However, the new updates significantly increase the visibility of games being played by your friends and as such is a much stronger service for building awareness than it was before. 

 OpenFeint  This is similar to Apple’s Game Center, only bigger as it's been around longer.  They have achievements, leaderboards, and friends. They also have an iPhone/iPod Touch app called Game Channel.  The main feature of this app is their “Free Game of the Day”. 

 Integrating OpenFeint into your game is free and the benefits you get from doing so are similar to integrating Game Center: your friends can see you on leaderboards, you collect achievements which give you points, etc.  However, unlike Game Center, OpenFeint allows you to pay to be seen. This is where the “Free Game of the Day” comes in.

 For a price (either a minimum guarantee or revenue share) your game can be featured in OpenFeint’s Game Channel app as the “Free Game of the Day”. That gets you awareness which will hopefully translate into sales. If your game was free to begin with, don’t fret - you can still do a “Free Game of the Day” promotion as long as you make something in-game free so that there is still a deal for your new customers.

 OpenFeint has three other services that can help. Fire Sale is a crowd-sourced discount program where the OpenFeint community votes on which game they want to see discounted and by how much. The second is GameFeed, an in-game social activity news feed which is relatively new so you might have not seen it in-game yet. It’s like a stock ticker that scrolls at the bottom of your menu screens showing you what games your friends are playing and how they’re doing. The third is OFX which is an OpenFeint-hosted app store that allows you to make non-hard currency changes to your in-game store without the need to submit new binaries to Apple. It also saves your customers’ purchases (history and balance) on their servers.

 Free App A Day  This is a service that is similar to OpenFeint’s Free Game of the Day but without the social network aspect. It’s strictly a paid service that has an app, a website and lots of users who can see games that are being featured.


TapJoy is a good segue from pure awareness-raising services to awareness + monetization services. TapJoy allows you to do both. The company’s main service is the Offerwall - a way for developers to pay for customers to download their game. Players get virtual currency in the game they are playing for downloading a new game. The developer of the new game pays real money for the download and TapJoy splits that revenue with the developer of the game from which the download originated. Apple started rejecting apps that contain these types of services earlier this year. However, I’ve heard that some apps that contain the Offerwall are being approved but the situation is far from being clear.  Proceed at your own risk.

TapJoy has a few other services, including traditional in-game banner ads, video offers and full page interstitial ads. They all work in a similar way - you pay to have your content displayed in other games (awareness-raising) or you get paid when your customers click on an ad (or watch a video) in your game (monetization). From the player’s point of view, they get rewards from the game that hosts these various forms of advertising in return for interacting with the ads and videos.

 AdColony  This service offers players virtual currency for watching videos, similar to the video offers in TapJoy. If you show videos in your game, you get paid for every completed view. If you want your trailer to be shown in other games, you pay for each completed view.

 Flurry  While Flurry is mainly known as an analytics company they also have AppCircle, a cross-selling network for iOS which uses their recommendation engine to suggest games to players. As with other such services you pay if you want your game to be seen in other apps and you get paid if you show other developers’ games in your app. 

 Flurry also has a new service called AppCircle Clips, which again pays users virtual currency for a completed view of a video (typically a game trailer). And again, same situation as before - the developer doing the advertising pays and the developer hosting the video ad gets paid.

 Kiip  This is a new company that for now operates only in the US (so your app has to be available in the US app store). Kiip ties real world rewards to getting achievements. Unlike the other services, this one is all about monetization.

 Here’s how it works: you’re playing a game and you get an achievement. Great - who doesn’t like achievements? But now you also get a message that you just got a reward from Kiip. That reward could be anything like a bag of chips or a discount on a drink or a tube of lipstick. As the developer, you integrate their SDK and they take care of the rest. You get paid when your users click to collect their prize.

 So there you go - a run-down of the major services out there and a brief description of each. Here are some things to keep in mind:

 You probably don’t want to integrate all of them as it will be a lot of work for you and will likely be rather confusing for your players. 

When you’re launching a new game, try to go out strong right off the bat as the most important thing for sustained sales is positioning in the app store so you don’t want to dilute your key marketing effort over too long a period of time. Gain momentum quickly and then try to keep it going.

 Raise awareness first (start early) and then focus on monetization.  You need to have players in order to monetize them.  In other words, all of the monetization in the world does you no good if there’s nobody to monetize.

 Unfortunately, you can’t wait too long to start monetization.  Each of your players will only play your game for so long.  Keeping those users interested involves a whole different set of strategies, around game design and content updates.  Again, you cannot monetize players you do not have - regardless of whether they have not arrived yet, or if they have already left.

 And a final thought in case it’s not obvious: don’t make crappy games. It doesn’t matter what you do, there are too many good games on the app store for a crappy game to stand a chance.

 Good luck and please let me know in the comments if I got something wrong or if there are any other services that are significant in reach or new/innovative that I did not include. Thanks.

Read more about:

Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like