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The future of mobile gaming and how developers can deepen their app economy

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(Image credit: Shutterstock)

It’s an exciting time to be in the app industry, with the mobile games market expected to grow to $120 billion in 2021.

The once-fragmented app economy has evolved tremendously over the last few years. As the industry becomes more competitive, developers and advertisers are incorporating insights from different markets, verticals, and monetization models to increase user engagement and revenues.

Several years ago, mobile game studios primarily focused on a single genre but now, portfolio diversification is a top goal. Mobile game developers want the retention of a premium casual game with mid-core in-app purchasing (IAP) monetization. As a result, new hybrid app economies are emerging.

Opportunities to monetize  

Historically, casual mobile games relied primarily on ad monetization because free-to-play users were difficult to convert to payers. 

Now, more games and apps add new features such as limited-time events and collectibles, as well as upgradable virtual goods to increase engagement and app retention. These features follow a similar model to mid-core games and other apps that offer deeper user experiences. This overall strategy considers how to engage, delight, and monetize those users with a heavy emphasis on long-term user satisfaction. 

Wordscapes, PeopleFun’s top premium casual word game on iOS and Android, has evolved to include LiveOps events and vanity rewards to boost engagement and monetization.

How app economies are evolving to go deeper 

No matter what kind of game or app you develop, there are many ways to create highly engaged players and deepen app economies by incorporating features such as: 

  • Limited-time LiveOps events in which players can earn exclusive, durable rewards in exchange for incremental engagement and monetization during a focused time period.   
  • Vanity collectibles for users to complete and show off to each other.
  • Personalization and customization so players can create their own unique experiences. 
  • Battle pass that interacts high engagement with IAP monetization so users can unlock successive tiers of rewards through engagement. Highly engaged users can make an in-app purchase to unlock even better rewards after satisfying the engagement component.
  • Rewarded video provides opportunities for users to boost their rewards by watching a video.

These features were historically used in mid-core games but have now been adopted in other apps and genres.

Engaging and delighting players with LiveOps events 

Another way to create immersive and engaging experiences for users is through limited-time events.  

For example, in Wordscapes we wanted to boost player retention and find a new way to engage players, so we tested two events. One was our Sticker Event in which players play normal gameplay levels to earn gacha prize boxes containing gorgeous stickers with plants and animals, travel, and astronomy themes. Once a player collected three of the same stickers, it unlocked and became usable as a player portrait.

The Sticker Event, commonly referred to by our players as the Binoculars Event, currently runs on Wednesdays and Thursdays and generates a 6 percent lifetime value (LTV) lift. On event days, there is a 40 percent increase in missions completed, corresponding to a 20 percent increase in ad ARPDAU. The Sticker Event also increases IAP ARPDAU by 15 percent on event days.

The second is our Butterfly Event that allows players to collect cocoons, hatch many different beautiful butterflies, and unlock enchanting habitats. The Butterfly Event runs on Tuesdays and generates an engagement lift of 30 percent and ARPDAU lift of 10 percent. The overall LTV lift for this single-day weekly event is 1.5 percent. We are currently working on seasonal Butterfly Events with fresh content to further incentivize engagement.

The concept behind both of these events was to create features that would drive deeper engagement with higher ad and IAP monetization. Players also had the opportunity to showcase their stickers to other players through the leaderboard, further driving interest in the event and its vanity collectibles.

AppLovin has also been a wonderful partner for us as we scale up these types of events. AppLovin’s leading marketing software provides developers a powerful, integrated set of solutions to grow their mobile apps. Its platform is powered by machine learning technology that predicts, with increasingly high accuracy, what apps users will download and engage with next, and helps improve customers’ return on marketing spend goals.

This allows us to intelligently scale user acquisition (UA) and target users most likely to engage with the events and features we’re implementing. As we make product changes, we are able to quickly optimize our UA and ad monetization to drive even more successful results than from the product features alone. We’re also able to quickly see the positive impacts on retention and monetization in the analytics dashboards on AppLovin’s platform.

We are also able to customize user acquisition campaigns to install players who are likely to have high retention and high engagement with our LiveOps events. Purchase-optimized campaigns target installs that are likely to make in-app purchases. Once the users have installed, we use MAX, AppLovin’s in-app bidder, to optimize our ad revenue as players engage with our LiveOps events. This allows PeopleFun to focus on what we do best—making great games. 

Vanity, collectible, and upgradable 

Tournaments and LiveOps events have the potential for great LTV lifts, but rewards need to be interesting to motivate users. For example, if players have to spend coins and hints to earn more coins and hints, users can become unmotivated to continue the same cycle.  

Rewards that showcase a user or player’s accomplishments such as portrait stickers and seasonal crowns are huge drivers of user engagement.

Vanity rewards that were collectible and upgradable tended to be more engaging for players, rather than simply offering more coins and hints. Why? Upgradable vanity rewards were an investment for players—they were more motivated to make their collection better and share it socially.

Strengthening engagement

Designing an app or a game with high retention means it’s easy to use, fun, and keeps players coming back for more. By fostering long-term user satisfaction, your app builds a relationship with your users and becomes a cherished part of their daily routine. Wordscapes’s delightful core gameplay drives high retention while LiveOps events with beautiful rewards drive engagement.

Product management, analytics, and user research work together to understand user experience, develop great new features, and measure performance. This data-driven, multidisciplinary approach helps us deliver the premium experience that our users expect and deserve. 

As the mobile app industry continues along its incredible growth trajectory, expertise and sophistication in UA, product, and monetization are required to achieve success. With AppLovin’s solutions, we were able to continue to focus on making great apps and save time by automating how we optimize user acquisition and monetization. Its easy-to-use analytics dashboards enabled us to monitor KPIs and make the right decisions—which ultimately gives developers an edge as they navigate an increasingly competitive landscape.

Carol Miu, Chief Product & Analytics Officer, PeopleFun

Carol Miu is the Chief Product & Analytics Officer at PeopleFun.