The app world is a-buzz about the success of Hipster Whale's Crossy Road.
It's becoming a Flappy Bird, albeit a Flappy Bird that made money.
A lot of money.
The game has racked up over 20 million downloads, has made over a million dollars in incentivized video ads on iOS alone, and is in the top 100 grossing in the US, despite the most expensive IAP being a one-time $3.99 coin doubler and character unlock.
So what should we conclude from this?
I think it still requires a lot of luck to get a lot of users without a significant marketing budget, but if you can get them, then smart monetization can pull in a lot of money.
Start of the funnel
Getting those millions of downloads remains difficult, however.
If you're an indie studio with limited marketing resources, you're hoping for an Apple and/or Google feature, and then some form of virality in order to get the users you need.
Any game that does this is something of an anomaly.
Yet I do think it's possible to hedge your bets if you make multiple games, and can find smart ways to expand on the games and cross-promote to increase long-term retention and to attract additional users.
Getting players to return is part of successful monetization.
If anything, success may be a multi-step proposition of finding the games that work, and then doing what Blek did, spending your initial revenue on marketing the game further.
Essentially, this is a tall mountain to climb: you have to acquire users in a market where acquiring users is a challenge, and doing so without the money to spend at market rates is an even more slippery slope.
Crossy Road may be a success, but it got very lucky to get so many downloads in the first place.
Our second takeaway is that it is still possible for indies to cause the anomalies necessary to succeed in the world of free-to-play.
Apple likes to feature indies, and the press wants to talk about indie games that do free-to-play well.The gold rush days are definitely over, but there's more gold than ever to be found if you can get those users.
Monetizing a game like Crossy Road, which is basically an endless Frogger, is a challenge to do right.
What Hipster Whale did that was really smart was to design their game around a monetization system that was fair - and possible to entirely ignore - while still convincing people to watch their ads and to give them things they might actually want with the IAP.
Hipster Whale have built a system where it's possible to ignore all IAP monetization entirely.
When you see that they've made a million dollars off from incentivized video ads, it's not just a sign that as a developer, you should put in video ads.
You need to find a way to make video ads worth your users' time so that they want to use them.
Crossy Road smartly used them to fund a character lottery.
Coins can be earned while playing, but each video ad playback will earn a player a spin of the lottery. The system also smartly pops up randomly, in a way that doesn't make them run out of video ad supply, which is one of the more annoying things about games with incentivized video ads.
As such, each ad feels like a limited-time opportunity that should be taken advantage of.
In addition, the game's push notifications are always done in such a way that incentivizes players to return through the free gift system.
And getting players to return is part of successful monetization.
While I wasn't a fan of the character lottery generating duplicates. This means there's some risk to trying to buy a character through the lottery system because you may get one you don't want, or a duplicate.
But it incentivizes the IAP system. Creating desire for a certain type of player spend via IAP is a genius move. In this case, they're just simple $0.99 purchases for a character, but players know exactly what they're getting.
Similarly, for another type of player, the addition of a $3.99 IAP to add a character and a coin doubler wound up being another brilliant decision.
You need to find a way to make video ads worth your users' time.
This shows Hipster Whale were flexible in what they were willing to offer, while still providing fair value.
Additionally, frequent content updates are a huge help: they convinces people to get back into the system of getting coins through watching ads and claiming gifts and just buying them outright.
Greedy, not too greedy
The final piece of the puzzle is to realize that Hipster Whale have built a system where it's possible to ignore all IAP monetization entirely and just play the game.
This balances the common indie desire to not rip off players with free-to-play monetization, with a system that even monetize users who don't spend money.
You hear of indie failures, like Gasketball and Cannon Cat , which racked up lots of downloads (millions in the case of the latter) but did a terrible job at getting players to actually spend money.
While incentivized video ads as a successful strategy didn't really catch on until after those games came out, it shows that there's two parts to the equation - each equally important.
Find a way to get the users, then don't be afraid to make money off them, but do it fairly and with different options for different types of players.
Crossy Road did this, and that's why the game has done so well. And I believe other games can replicate the formula.