Mobile Mavens

Monetizer Mavens on their best games of 2014 so far

Learning from the best

Monetizer Mavens on their best games of 2014 so far

It's still summer for the Monetizer Mavens, so their task this week was a gentle one.

This week we asked that...

Given we're now over halfway through 2014, what are the games that have caught your eye in terms of how they integrate monetisation with user experience. or how they update the experience to improve retention and keep players playing?


Jon Jordan Contributing Editor A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.

I've been impressed with the integrated monetisation of Royal Revolt 2, and the virality of Kim Kardashian: Hollywood - particularly the sneaky mixture of fake and real Twitter accounts.

Finally, the updates to Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff have been excellent. The new Comic Con theme introduces Patrick Stewart as a character.

Giordano Contestabile VP, Product Management and Revenue Tilting Point

This is probably an easy answer, but in terms of sheer effect of updates in terms of revenue, I can't refrain from mentioning Clash of Clans.

The game has nearly doubled its daily revenue run rate in 2014, achieving this with six updates in six months, all of which have driven incremental revenue. That said, the big one has clearly been the April update, which introduced Clan Wars, a massively important new feature that, 18 months after the game launched, finally allows clans to actually clash with each other!

Clash of Clans has nearly doubled its daily revenue run rate in 2014.
Giordano Contestabile

To me, the fact that a game 18 months into its lifecycle can receive an update that drives such a large increase in revenue and (I assume) in engagement is pretty remarkable.

Equally interesting is that the latest update, released in early July, also seems to have driven an increase in revenue, and did so with a much more 'pedestrian' balance pass, as well as the usual slew of new content that features in every Clash of Clans update.

Besides being proof of Supercell's skills in live game operations, this also proves the importance of a regular content update cadence, and of judiciously pacing the introduction of large new features with balancing tweaks and content updates.

Mark Sorrell Consultant

An equally easy answer: it's Hearthstone  for me.

It's my favourite free-to-play game in personal terms, but it also currently sits at 17th in UK Top Grossing despite basically having no traditional consumables or premium currency.

The Naxxramas update seems to be selling pretty well, as well as being a brilliant interpretation of the original raid mechanics, really succeeding in making a single player card game feel an awful lot like the actual boss fights, while clearly driving revenues and expanding the game's mechanics hugely, with an interesting single-player mode and greater card selection.

Hearthstone - the game everyone loves to love

The free-to-play mobile market feels like it is constantly at risk of eating its own tail and is definitely worryingly conservative in its search for new techniques and game types, so it's hugely refreshing to see something as (relatively) off-the-wall and counter to received wisdom as Hearthstone is, succeeding.

Also, did I mention that it's a great game. Because it's a great game.

Ben Cousins Vice President, Studios FRVR

Ben is a 15-year veteran of the games industry - he's worked as a senior executive, studio head, project lead, creative director and game designer at companies like DeNA, EA, Sony and Lionhead.

He started working on traditional games, but has been focussed on the free-to-play business model since 2006 - an extremely long time by western standards. During that time He's worked on a total of ten separate free-to-play games across five different platforms reaching over 50 million users.

I was talking to a potential client in April about what a huge open goal girls-focussed games are on mobile. Quick anecdotal research will tell you young girls in particular are highly engaged with social apps but not on games. This is largely because they've not been served anything at adequate quality or with a design tuned to their tastes.

Cue Kim Kardashian and Glu.

It's obvious within 20 minutes of playing the game that this is way above the typical dross that's targeted at this audience, and the use of an IP to reduce acquisition costs is exactly what was needed for this hard-to-reach audience. Very impressive strategic move and deserved success.

I also have enjoyed Farm Heroes Saga, which I think is the only follow up game so far from King that matches the quality and fun factor of Candy Crush Saga.

Wes Leviton Lead Designer Adrian Crook & Associates

Wesley Leviton is a lead designer and producer with a 15-year history of creating successful games across mobile, social, and console spaces. Wes is an early innovator in mobile gaming with a history of identifying, innovating, and incorporating emerging gaming trends.

Wes has worked for many major companies including Disney, Majesco, Sony of America, A&E, Hasbro, Warner Bros, and Ubisoft. His specialties include monetization strategies, live operations, game systems and mechanics, data driven design, user acquisition, and social game design.

Anyone that has worked with me during the past year is already aware of how much I admire Defender of Texel  by DeNA.

D.O.T. is a testament to how games as a live service can deliver steady long-term revenue.
Wes Leviton

Shortly after release D.O.T. spent over a year in the top 100 grossing apps on the iOS App Store. Now, over 20 months since its initial release, D.O.T. still maintains a loyal following of highly active and engaged users that keep the game within the top 100-300 grossing titles with no apparent support from user acquisition campaigns.

An absolutely impressive feat that many developers would be happy to reproduce.

D.O.T. is a testament to how games as a live service can deliver steady long-term revenue through the use of smart, well-crafted game assets. DeNA has developed and refined a process of creating low production cost content by way of competitive events that feeds and sustains an eager player base of long time, highly engaged players.

Plenty of heroes in D.O.T.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of their event execution is that there is always a special event for players to engage with, complete with new heroes and fighters available for purchase.

Clients AC+A has worked with that release new content on a regular schedule can create a dependable 500% or more increase in daily revenue that can last for 3-5 days after release. In massively competitive games like D.O.T., time limited events can cause that number to be even greater if you offer the right prizes for top performers.

I would encourage anyone looking to create competitive revenue driving events to spend some time with Defender of Texel. The design of their PvP and PvE events, coupled with their layered leaderboards and rewards structure is truly brilliant.

New users and more casual players can get involved and find small personal triumphs on a daily basis while hardcore users can really dig in and compete with each other for the biggest prizes.

Ethan Levy Monetization design consultant, writer of

I am impressed with the incredible staying power of two games: Injustice: Gods Among Us  and Minecraft.

Looking just at the US iPhone charts, Injustice has been in the top 75 grossing since its launch in April of 2013.

About a year into its life cycle, it went 2.0 with the release of an asynchronous PvP feature, which is unique due to the amount of traditional gameplay relative to the asynchronous PvP modes of other top grossing games. Given the long tail success of the mobile version of the game, I would love to know how the lifetime revenues for Injustice compare on console/handheld vs mobile.

Given its long lasting success, I am surprised that we don't see more triple-A developers leverage the quality of their existing art assets and the power of the Unreal engine to compete on the app stores.

Injustice  combines the power of cards with superheroes

Although no mobile version has been announced that I know of, I'm hoping we see Mortal Kombat X  join Injustice  on the top grossing charts next year.

Minecraft is a worldwide blockbuster, so its success alone is not a surprise. I am amazed by its continued dominance on the iOS top grossing charts.

For a game with no in-app purchases that is quickly approaching three years on the market, it has only two days in the US top grossing charts where it ranked below 50, and both of those came in December 2011.

At some point in time, one has to assume Minecraft  will run out of new players to sell to, but that day feels like it is years away.

Finally, I want to point out one game in the future that has caught my eye.

I am impressed with the Gamescom announcement of the Skylanders Trap Team  portal for mobile devices. I think this is an incredibly forward looking move by a company historically timid on mobile.

I expect that this accessory will be one of the big winners of the upcoming Christmas season and one of the first, big game accessory success stories for mobile and tablet gaming.

Jordan Blackman CEO Bright Black Associates

Jordan Blackman is a lead designer and producer with over ten years of experience designing, producing, and managing hit content for companies like Zynga, Ubisoft, NovaLogic, & Disney.

Over 80 million people have played games that Jordan worked on as either a producer or designer.

Jordan’s credits include Lead Designer on FrontierVille & CastleVille, Senior Producer and Original Concept on CSI: Crime City (Facebook), Producer on Delta Force: Black Hawk Down, and Writer on Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising.

I often find that clients say they want to “avoid the content treadmill”.

Let’s address that canard once and for all. Just like the perpetual motion machine, the dream of an app that just keeps making money without putting energy into it is just that, a dream.

Consider Candy Crush Saga. Puzzlers shouldn’t need new content right? Except that Candy Crush Saga now has 69 episodes, 1015 levels, and has been updated six times in just the last 90 days (iOS), having introduced the Dreamworld.

Sure, design your game to keep content affordable to produce and easy to integrate. But stepping off the content treadmill is also stepping off the gravy train.

The dream of an app that just keeps making money without putting energy into it is ... a dream.
Jordan Blackman

Build in opportunities to sell customers content, and then produce the goods! Yes, it takes work, but it’s better to be the Family Guy pulling in maybe $90k/day with a content cadence than to be Words With Friends pulling in perhaps $5k/day without one.

Top grossing games are like athletes built to excel ON the treadmill, not to get off it.

Now look, it’s hard to be too impressed by anything other than the top grossers because the drop off in revenue is just dizzying. And other than Kim Kardashian: Hollywood and Boom Beach, the top games were all released before 2014.

So my answer will be Game of War: Fire Age, which managed to get featured by Apple for its latest update. The new features seem aimed at building a marginally more midcore audience with PVE and events leading the way along with more contextual tutorials for players.

Not that I’m playing it myself any longer. I’m just not that much of a sadist. Or a masochist for that matter.

Eric Seufert UA consultant

Author of Freemium Economics, published by Elsevier in 2014:

Owner / Editor at Mobile Dev Memo:

I'm impressed with how TinyCo's Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff has managed to improve its monetization since launch.

The game had fluctuated between ranks 20 and 50 on the US Top Grossing chart for iPhone since release, with fairly regular updates being published every two weeks or so. But the title has steadily climbed the grossing chart since its July 7th release and has managed (as of right now) to reach a Top 10 grossing position.

Family Guy makes the most of its - and other - IP

This position may not be enduring, as it seems to coincide with a massive UA push on July 24th, but even if that's the case, it proves that its per-user monetization has improved since launch (it launched at #1 in terms of the US iPhone top downloaded chart with pretty heavy featuring).

Kevin Oke F2P Design and Production Consultant

Although Real Racing 3 wasn't released in 2014, based on the constant updates, live events and impressive monetization hooks it’s still noteworthy.

EA took a page out of Clash of Clans' book, starting the player off with plenty of hard currency, with the opportunity to earn more via achievements. This eases the player into the game and shows a more mature approach to paid user conversion than we’ve seen in the past from large console developers on mobile.

The car damage and repair mechanic [in Real Racing 3] is an interesting alternative to the standard tired energy mechanic.
Kevin Oke

Car upgrades are priced in both soft currency and hard currency. The pricing structure and soft currency winnings per race in the early part of the game are balanced such that paying in hard currency and skipping the grind is extremely tempting.

This does two things. It gets the player used to the instant gratification of being able to pay their way past grinding, and helps to drain that wallet full of hard currency they were given during onboarding.

The car damage and repair mechanic is an interesting alternative to the standard tired energy mechanic, by bringing more agency and skill to the table. Having to spend hard currency to fix a damaged car instantly (rather than wait) adds an interesting risk/reward dynamic (screw up and it will cost you hard currency), while also subtly pushing the player to master the nuances of each track and car to avoid wearing down their machines too quickly.

Real Racing 3 - a true game-as-a-service

The player can only fix a car if they have a mechanic freed up, and this becomes more of a factor as time goes on. As the player progresses, they acquire more cars and repair times increase. To mitigate this, they can purchase additional mechanics. This is a great example of integrating monetization as it serves a clear player need and is tied to the core of the game.

Beyond the above points and commitment to the games-as-a-service model, Real Racing 3 is a fun, highly polished game with beautiful graphics, impressive track designs and plenty of gameplay to be had without spending a dime. That is, if you’re patient and can resist the lure of those Porsches.

Michail Katkoff Founder of

Personally I admire Riot's League of Legends  the most when it comes to updates. In all simplicity their updates are about introducing a new character. These new characters enter the game with much anticipation as the game does a great job in community management.

What's so great about League of Legends updates from the numbers side?

Well firstly they are always targeted at a 100% of the user base, engaging active players as well as drawing back inactive ones.

Secondly, it gets the community going and significantly increases revenue.

You see, Riot always makes the new characters extra strong so that maximum amount of players would buy the character at a high price. When community complains about the overly strong new character, they respond by saying that players just haven't yet learned to play against it - encouraging more purchases as players urge to learn the weaknesses of this new character.

Finally, a good while after launching this new character, Riot tunes it down based on "feedback from community". Just in time before they introduce a new overly strong character...

Now that's what I call a great update that impacts both player experience and monetization. And the simple update strategy never gets old with the ever growing community.

Mikkel Celinder Owner,

Echoing Ben, it has been so interesting to see how Glu have read the market and actually followed through.

Taking the USP from Puzzlelot  and Zombies Ate My Friends - here meaning the beautiful art style, and the interesting gameplay with a well-timed gate - and then combining with the risk of that specific IP [Kim Kardashian] has been showed to be very effective.

I think will see a wave of games like this - and I think we'll see loads of them fail. But there is a huge potential here.

Kim Kardashian: Hollywood - celebrity meets well-timed gates

2014, so far, for me have shown that developers are more frequently, 'taking chances' with their monetization - which I, personally, am very pleased with.

I like to see how app store featured games like Fates Forever, and yes, even Hearthstone, have contributed to a possible shift from the 'classic' gating systems.

Though Hearthstone being the most and perhaps only successful one, it will be very interesting to see the development of these types of monetization strategies.

Mark Robinson CEO DeltaDNA

With over 15 years’ data mining experience, Mark co-founded deltaDNA, formerly GamesAnalytics, to unlock big data to drive player understanding, introducing the concept of Player Relationship Management to build better games.

I like what Hearthstone did with its Naxxramas update.

Basically, it's a single player update, and you get one 'wing' of the dungeon for free. Then you can buy the other wings for either real money (with a discount for buying them all), or for grind currency. They're also gating the content, only releasing one wing a week.

This is typical monetization for offline card collections which fits well with players, and giving them the grind route is good player management.

I've seen some good chatter on social media regarding this update and it seems to still be following an extremely fair monetization model.

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.