Free-to-play mobile games are so successful that even industry juggernauts like Electronic Arts (EA) have entered the fray. That might lead one to assume that most free games are successful. The surprising truth, however, is that more than 99 percent of Android and iOS games aren’t, and when factoring in the cost of development and operation, it becomes clear that most actually lose money.

1. Engage the Audience

A free game’s most powerful feature is that it’s an easy sell, which allows an app to build a large initial base. Most games take that advantage for granted and quickly lose it. The reason why Mobage is so successful is that it delivers games with substance and a great hook.

2. Value the Player’s Time

The effort to turn a profit should never trump respect for the player’s time, which is the most important resource to the venture. This is why the most successful apps only display non-intrusive ads and reserve elaborate ads for those players that opt in to claim a reward.

3. Interact with the Community

All mobile games should have a website, including a forum, hosted by the game company. Use that platform and social media to listen to the community and refine the game based on those wishes.

4. Develop with the Revenue Source in Mind

The approach to revenue should not be an afterthought. That plan should be in place during the development phase so that the game architects can integrate it in a fundamental way.

5. Use a Multifaceted Revenue Approach

A free-to-play game should not rely on a single point of revenue. A popular combination is to use advertisements, a fee/subscription that removes ads and a micro-transaction platform. In an ideal scenario, the ads provide early revenue and the micro-transactions sustain the game over the long term.

6. Optimize Ad Impressions

Optimize the effectiveness of ad impressions by targeting the niche, using channels and employing a/b testing and analytics. A single ad on the gameplay screen is enough, and additional ads should never be the answer to ad revenue that is below expectations.

7. Avoid Pay-to-Win or the Appearance of It

Gamers will reject the pay-to-win model. Even large commercial games like Neverwinter eschew it in favor of paying to save time or paying to personalize the experience. Focus on providing gamers with something that’s unique but will not disrupt balance.

8. Expand the Market

Outside of first-party games, exclusivity is never a sound business decision. Target both iOS and Android to start, and if the game takes, then consider exploring other avenues, including BlackBerry, Microsoft apps, Steam and Xbox Live.

Summary

There are two keys to a successful free mobile game. The first is that the game must be fun, have substance, be suited to the mobile screen and have a great hook. The second is that it must cater to the player and that revenue must be a byproduct of successfully doing so.

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