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There's an obvious explanation for mobile industry bias toward server-based games.
Servers are connected with success. While most small devs get their start building offline mobile games, server-based titles like Mobile Strike, Pokemon GO or even Madden NFL Mobile still dominate the top grossing charts.
But that doesn’t mean offline games don’t monetise. Idle game Fruit Ninja (released in 2010) has made as much as $1 million per month between ads, in-app purchases and paid downloads.
Even five years later, it’s the second most downloaded app in the iOS App Store, according to App Annie data released in 2015.
Some devs have even found success by building offline versions of games that would normally be server-based, like the not-so-subtly named Kingdoms and Monsters - No Wifi, a kingdom builder that performs well on both the download and grossing charts.
What’s more, offline games have many benefits for players, particularly those with connectivity challenges. And as a crop of new players from developing countries flood into mobile gaming, a trend is becoming clear: offline games have powerful benefits.
Offline games cost less for devs
It's true. Server-based games offer advantages like security, because vulnerable parts of a game's code don't exist on the client's device. For heavily multiplayer games, only a server is proof against cheating. In-app purchases are also better protected.
However, the advantages are counterbalanced by challenges. “Online games definitely require much more attention and effort," says Gabor Feredi, Co-Founder of Bitongo.
Servers can cost up to 10% of a studio's revenue; Zynga, for example, paid Amazon $63 million for hosting services before moving to zCloud, their own private cloud infrastructure.
Due to the cost and requirements of keeping servers running, server-based games are also notorious for dipping under the profitability threshold even while still making significant amounts of money, forcing their owners to shut them down - most recent victims to this include Battle Nations, Ghost Recon and Marvel: Avengers Alliance.
Offline games are more user-friendly
People move around. They go into subways, elevators and other internet dead zones. Popular server-based games like Clash Royale bow out the minute a connection falters, so it's easy for server-based games to lose players to disconnection.
Offline games retain players by keeping the momentum of a gaming session going and reducing player drop-off.
Offline games retain players by keeping the momentum of a gaming session going and reducing player drop-off. In fact, the many small inconveniences of playing online draw many players toward offline games.
The UK is one example where a majority of people prefer to play offline, even though stable, high-speed 4G is widespread. Google took note of the trend two years ago, giving offline games their own subcategory on the Play Store.
Offline is a must in developing countries, where many smartphone owners prefer to save their pay-as-you-go data plans for more important needs. In Latin America, for instance, there are 155.9 million smartphone users, but only 5% have an LTE subscription.
Offline games still monetise effectively
Accounting for offline or poorly connected users doesn't mean counting out ads as a source of revenue. Even YouTube - the internet's biggest video marketing platform - can work offline or with poor connectivity.
Ads work well in low-connectivity scenarios because of a process called caching. While ads do require a connection to count views and report to the server, they can load continuously in the background even when the connection is flickering on and off.
Examples of games that combine optional offline play with ads are multiplying. Frogmind, an indie studio recently acquired by Supercell, tells us that it's offline-capable, Android version of Badland earns 65% of the company's revenue from ads.
Auxbrain Inc's Egg, Inc., an offline idle game with rewarded ads and IAP, makes an estimate of $14,000 in daily revenue. The best ad-driven games trade rewarded ad views for a bonus that can last through offline play, like AdVenture Capitalist's four-hour boosts.
As mobile growth moves from LTE-saturated countries like the US into emerging markets with developing online infrastructures like Latin America and Asia-Pacific, more offline games are likely to crop up - and many small-to mid-sized developers may find offline is their best bet.