We’ve showcased how you can utilize Appointment Mechanics and Communal Mechanics to boost retention and player loyalty in our earlier blog posts. In this post, we’re going to discuss how to monetize your high retention mobile game and those loyal players with IAP Mechanics.
Monetization is a fundamental part of games with a free to play model, and if the goal is to reach the top-grossing charts, nailing it down is just as important as the other aspects of the game’s design. One of the most common questions when designing a F2P game is “how do we build our monetization strategy?”. This is by no means an easy question with one simple answer, but there are certain fundamentals you should pay attention to when tackling it.
To take their monetization to the next level, several top-grossing games have started to implement innovative new IAP-features to support their basic, more traditional monetization mechanics (i.e. directly selling in-game currencies, items, boosters, etc.). Many interesting IAP mechanics have proven successful, many of which are not only focusing on boosting IAP revenue directly but also increasing player engagement and retention, filling two needs with one deed!
Let’s start by taking a look at popularity data relating to these IAP mechanics in different genre categories from the GameRefinery Market Explorer tool:
The popularity of IAP mechanics in different genre categories within and outside the US top 200 grossing
- The listed IAP mechanics generally differentiate the top 200 grossing games from the rest quite drastically
- Limited Time IAP Offers can be found in almost every single top 200 grossing game
- The Piggy Bank mechanic is most popular in Casual and Casino games, while in feature-heavy mid-core games it’s almost non-existent
- VIP Systems are extremely popular in the top 200 grossing Casino games
- Progressive IAP Reward System and Paid Progression Plan are overall not very popular ways to monetize in the US market and are almost exclusively found in the Mid-Core category (for reference, these two are heavily used monetization mechanics in the Chinese market)
- Battle Pass Plans have seen a huge rise in popularity, with it first being a Mid-Core exclusive feature, and now made its way across all the genre categories
Implementing IAP mechanics
Next, let’s take a look at how you can effectively utilize the monetization mechanics mentioned above. It is a good point to start by looking at how they’ve been implemented in top-grossing games across different genres.
Limited Time IAP Offers
As we can see from the table above, the majority of games have some sort of Limited Time IAP Offers implemented. Most commonly, they are limited-time discounts for items, currencies, or other bundle offers. But many developers have found more innovative ways to make these offers even more appealing.
Some of these innovations include progressive elements in offers, where there are different tiered offers available for players and players unlock tiers by purchasing the previous tier. Often the higher the tier, the better the offer.
These progressive limited time IAP offers can be found e.g., in Match3 game Lily’s Garden during many of its seasonal events, the first tier is a free gift that everyone can redeem. After that, each tier’s offer is unlocked after purchasing the previous one. Making the offer even juicier, there’s an extra reward for buying all the tiers. In this specific case, it’s two cute Bunnies that were introduced during the event, making the offer definitely hard to resist!
One very innovative IAP-bundle offer mechanics is the possibility to customize your bundle. In practice, this means that some games let players themselves choose the items they particularly desire and include them in the offer.
Idle RPG game AFK Arena has used these customizable bundle offers, giving a nice amount of premium currency on top of items that the players get to choose from a pre-made item pool.
Instead of time limits, some games also use limited sales units in their offers.
These kinds of sales can be found i.e., inbreeding game Dragon City Mobile that occasionally sells a limited number of an exclusive dragon – when the dragons have been sold, the offer disappears. The knowledge of how rare these dragons will be really adds more value and makes them more desirable to obtain.
Piggy Bank is a deposit feature where the players usually accumulate currency through normal gameplay. This accumulated currency is stored into a specific deposit (piggy bank), which players can claim for a fixed price. Piggy Bank is a clever monetization mechanic as the offer grows more and more appealing the longer the player waits. It usually offers great value in comparison to normal IAP-transactions.
As already mentioned, Piggy Banks are almost exclusively used in Casual and Casino game games. This feature has seen a massive rise in popularity among the top-grossing games during the past year. For example, Playrix uses the Piggy Bank feature in every single one of its top-grossing games.
In Playrix’s Wildscapes, premium currency is accumulated to the Piggy Bank by beating the Match3 levels.
It’s also good to note that even though Piggy Banks have not been as popular in other genre categories such as Mid-Core, it doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t work in those games as well.
A good example of this is a Tactical Shooter game World of Tanks Blitz, which has 3 different Piggy Banks (Vaults) filled with premium currency, soft currency, and XP points that accumulate through normal gameplay. The Vaults cannot be directly purchased but are opened at the end of the game’s Battle Pass season if the player has purchased the premium version of the Battle Pass Plan.
VIP systems have been a quite common monetization mechanic in mid-core and casino during the past years, and has maintained its popularity levels to this day. The system is similar to customer loyalty programs you might find in other industries and is designed to reward players for making IAP actions (and sometimes other gameplay actions) in the game. Players gather VIP-points and rise through VIP-levels that offer various perks and benefits. The higher the VIP-level, the better the benefits are, which naturally incentivizes players to make purchases and play the game to get those VIP-points. Moreover, in games with a high emphasis on social aspects, players’ VIP levels are usually visible to all other players and therefore act as a sign of prestige.
Turn-based RPG War of the Visions FFBE uses a typical VIP system where players gain VIP-levels through purchasing premium currency. The VIP-levels offer various perks and a special daily login bonus, all of which grow with higher levels.
Although VIP-systems are often considered a Mid-Core and Casino game feature, they can be found in top-grossing games of other genres as well!
The Wizard of Oz Magic Match 3 uses an interesting monthly system where players retain the VIP levels of each month, but lose some of the VIP points they’ve gained, incentivizing to get those few last points to reach the new level before the month ends. The VIP points are gained through all purchases in the game, and the system gives perks that, for example, boost the daily bonus and other rewards in the game.
It’s worth noting that usually the perks from VIP levels don’t directly boost the player’s power in the game or make the gameplay easier, but are more of a “quality of life” improvements (e.g. higher energy caps, bigger daily bonuses etc.). This helps to tone down the “pay to win” aspects, especially in more competitive games.
Progressive IAP Reward System
A popular IAP mechanic in the Chinese market, Progressive IAP Reward Systems reward players for IAP actions similar to a VIP system, but instead of gaining levels, players progressively receive direct rewards. These systems are mostly introduced in the form of limited time events, so players are incentivized to purchase or spend more during the event.
The mechanic has been especially common among Chinese style RPGs.
For example, MMORPG Perfect World Mobile uses a Progressive IAP Reward system as a limited time event. Players are rewarded for spending specific amounts of premium currency during the event, with a special premium currency that is normally only gained through direct purchases.
Another way of implementing this system is by rewarding players purchasing premium currency, instead of spending it.
FPS game Call of Duty: Mobile has used this kind of system, where players are rewarded progressively with special decoration items by reaching certain purchase thresholds during the event.
Paid Progression Plan
Similar to Progressive IAP Reward system, Paid Progression Plans are common in games on the Chinese market. In the Western market, it’s still quite rare and mostly appears in games from Asian developers. The idea is to invest a certain amount upfront to purchase the plan, and then once certain progression goals (such as leveling up your character) are met, rewards are unlocked.
4X strategy game King of Avalon has used this kind of plan that, once bought, gives progressive rewards to players when they level up their Stronghold (base headquarters).
Turn-based RPG RAID: Shadow Legends has also implemented a similar plan which rewards players for gaining levels.
These Paid Progression plans often offer considerable amounts of rewards in total compared to the initial investment and are often marketed as “huge earnings rates” but require the players to really invest time into the game to grab those last progression rewards.
Subscription Plans have been rapidly making their way across all industries, and again mobile games are no exception. Implementations of subscription plans vary from simply giving items/currencies every day during the plan to giving beneficial gameplay perks or locking some of the game’s content behind the subscription.
The most common implementation is subscribing to get a certain amount of items/currencies every day, which incentivizes the player to come back to the game to grab the benefits they’ve paid for.
This kind of subscription plan can be found, i.e. in Battle Royale game Garena Free Fire where players subscribe for 30 days to claim premium currency every day.
Kim Kardashian: Hollywood offers multiple tiers of subscription plans of different price points. These plans give not just daily premium currency, but also decorative clothing items and perks like extended energy cap to let players play more.
MMORPG Old School Runescape’s whole monetization model is based on a subscription plan, which opens most of the game’s endgame content.
Battle Pass Plan
Battle Pass has probably been the most trendy IAP mechanic during the past year, and as mentioned, seen a considerable rise in popularity across all genre categories. When implemented right, it works as an incredible revenue and retention driver. It hooks players by offering a plethora of rewards for usually a low price, but also requiring players to put a lot of effort during the Battle Pass seasons to reach the end thresholds and grab all the rewards.
Battle Pass plans have been a great fit, especially in competitive games like battle royales and MOBAs, where the monetization happens mostly through decorative items. This makes them a great fit for the battle pass rewards and without introducing any pay to win elements, which is essential for these types of games.
MOBA game Mobile Legends: Bang Bang definitely utilizes the Battle Pass system to the maximum potential as it has implemented not one but two separate battle passes. The first one focuses on the main game, where players gain Battle Pass levels by completing tasks mostly in the game’s MOBA modes.
The second was introduced when the game launched its Auto Chess mode and focuses solely on it. It has the same mechanics but the tasks to get Battle Pass levels must be done in the Auto Chess mode. In both Battle Passes levels can also be purchased directly, which synergizes nicely with a limited amount of time to complete them.
As we’ve discussed before, lots of other than competitive mid-core games have adopted Battle Pass mechanics, such as casual match3s.
Homescapes is a great example that the Battle Pass can well fit into casual games as well, where its Battle Pass levels are gained through completing the match3 levels. The Battle Pass rewards include boosters and also decorative items, which fit perfectly into the game’s decoration metagame.
To go deeper on Battle Pass trends check this great article!
In this blog post, we’ve covered trending monetization features of the current mobile game market across the board. It’s worth mentioning that these aforementioned IAP mechanics are not the only ways to monetize but rather examples of current monetization mechanic trends.
They shouldn’t be seen as some sort of golden tickets to perfect monetization, but just like with any other game feature, it comes down to the high quality of implementation and execution to counter potential cannibalization and hindrances to other monetization mechanics and the game as a whole. When implemented the right way, all these IAP mechanics can offer a tremendous boost to your game’s revenue potential and even increase your player engagement and retention at the same time!
More data and implementation examples about IAP mechanics and other 220+ features can be found in the GameRefinery service. You can also for example view how implementing these IAP mechanics like Battle Passes have affected the games’ revenues through our Game Update Impacts tool!
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