Monetization trends for casual mobile games

GameRefinery's Joel Julkunen on what's changing

Monetization trends for casual mobile games

Joel Julkunen is the head of game analysis at leading mobile game feature data provider GameRefinery.

Getting monetization right isn’t easy when it comes to casual games.

So we’re going to take a look at some macro trends to give you insights and inspiration to take your monetization to the next level.

First up we have to discuss - what are casual games?

Defining mobile game types and genres is not a simple task.

Casual gets more core

In this post, we’re going to define casual games according to our genre taxonomy, which focuses on the featureset and the key game audience.

Casual games come in all shapes and sizes so to speak, but they all share certain key characteristics. So whether it’s a match-3 puzzler, a word game or an endless runner, it’ll be…

  • Straightforward and easy-to-learn
  • Enjoyable in short sessions
  • Primarily focused on core game (instead of the metagame)

The third point actually takes us to the subject of casual game IAP monetization.

As the core game is the key focus, the monetization of casual games has traditionally revolved around squeezing bucks out of core gameplay.

This is the primary difference between casual and midcore games.

The three main building blocks for monetizing your casual games core are Boosters, Continues and Energy/Lives (depending on the game type).

They all have slightly different uses and goals, but all three appear in the vast majority of casual games.

However, things are changing.

Meta on the rise

During the past few years, the mobile game market has matured and casual gamers, in particular, have become more familiar with gaming.

As a consequence, they are looking for new ways to be engaged. Five years ago it was enough to crush candies in repetitive levels with simple mechanics, but now you have to give your players much more to maintain that same level of engagement.

This is why meta game has been recently making its way to casual games. As a result, we’ve started to see a lot of collectible mechanics, plus character, item and building aspects in casual games.

Candy Crush Friends Saga, and Panda Pop have ramped up their monetization with light meta elements

The reason for this ‘collection boom’ is simple – it works.

One of the greatest things of adding meta monetization elements to your game is that it doesn’t have to affect the core game at all.

For instance, it’s possible to introduce almost any kind of collectible system to your slots game without breaking its core game balance.

This is something you might want to consider when working with your next casual game concept or creating a road map for feature updates post-launch.

 Avoiding pitfalls

But even with this increase meta monetization, the primary focus of monetization for casual games remains the core experience.

As discussed earlier, you can pretty much find all core game monetization tricks from one of these three baskets.

  • Boosters
  • Continues
  • Energy / Lives

Each of these elements has its own strengths and challenges. For example, boosters are great in allowing players to get through hard levels and freebies can be used to get players reliant on their powers.

On the other hand, some players might feel that relying on boosters is “cheating” and are reluctant to purchase or use them all together. Others might hoard boosters to use them in “really tough spots”, which then may never come, as there’s always a “tougher spot” on the horizon.

Conflict arises when you monetize by restricting play times but at the same time try to monetize gameplay.

Continues have similar strengths and challenges as boosters, but monetizing through energy and lives is very different because it often clashes with other monetization mechanics.

This is because energy and lives are all about restricting players’ session length and the time they actually play the game. In other words, a conflict arises when you monetize by restricting play times but at the same time try to monetize gameplay.

Let the players play!

The balancing challenge laid out above is closely related to a recent big trend we’ve witnessed in the casual game market.

More and more top titles are loosening lives/energy monetization in order to boost the efficiency of their other sinks (e.g. boosters, continues, collectibles).

Players get to play more and as a consequence are more likely to spend money to progress (and save their progress).

It’s no surprise that top casual games regularly rotate various events and offer special playing modes so that players have more meaningful and diverse content to engage with.

Special playing modes and rotating events are an excellent way of giving players more meaningful core game content.

Together with “loose enough” session length restrictions, they help in creating more core game monetization sinks. And what’s even better, special playing modes and events have excellent synergies with meta layer monetization (e.g. event-exclusive collections or characters).

To find out more details about how GameRefinery uses this methodology to create actionable insights in terms of which Genres and Subgenres are getting the most downloads or making the most revenue, please visit GameRefinery and try the service for free.

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