Strategies for effectively monetizing genre mashing titles

New monetization trends to diversify your games revenue Post 5 of 6

Serena Shih
Aug 1, 2019 · 9 min read

Over the last two years, genre mashing has become an increasingly popular trend for both apps and games. By combining the mechanics from different genres, apps and games can appeal to new audiences and provide a fresh experience to maintain or improve engagement. Genre mashing also opens up new possibilities for innovation and diversification in monetization, with novel combinations of IAPs, ads, and subscriptions. However, the combinations of mechanics and audiences also create monetization challenges. For example, in the same game, how do you balance one audience that prefers IAPs with another that prefers to acquire in-app assets by watching ads?

In this post I’m going to share the experiences of three developers — IGG, Fourdesire, and Kolibri Games — to give you an insight into the options for monetization opened up by genre mashing. I also look at how these developers optimized their strategy to balance the needs of different audiences.

Kolibri Games — Idle Miner Tycoon

German developer Kolibri Games is perhaps best known for its titles that employ the idle game mechanic: Idle Miner Tycoon and Idle Factory Tycoon. In these games, the player acquires managers and workers who continue to mine or manufacture while the player is away from the game.

“We make our games as player-centric as possible” says Julian Erhardt, product director at Kolibri Games. “So, for us it’s important to know what our players want.”

Through listening to their players, Kolibri Games was steered to introduce aspects of RPG into Idle Miner Tycoon.

“As Idle Miner Tycoon started out as an idle game. we were constantly checking to see whether players were engaging with the idle mechanic,” says Julian. “However, we began to realize that players were showing an interest in the more RPG oriented features of Idle Miner Tycoon.”

Initially, because the game mechanic was idle, monetization was through ads implemented around the main game core-loop. The team then introduced IAPs, which arrived in the game initially to offer players consumables such as boosters, to increase production speed, and instant cash, where the user buys the in-game currency they would otherwise generate in the next 24 hours.

Kolibri Games had been considering the addition of RPG mechanics to Idle Miner Tycoon. However, the ultimate trigger was player requests for RPG features, that came through the player communities on Facebook, Reddit, and a Discord channel, “We soon realized that there was a lot of scope for using IAP to monetize characters,” says Julian. RPG mechanics then arrived with the introduction of the Super Managers as an IAP. The Super Managers are a more powerful variant of the normal managers. They help players to boost the income within the mines by a multiple of their not so super counterparts.

In the screenshots below, on the left is Idle Miner Tycoon before the introduction of Super Managers. The game offered players named managers but they were not unique (no visual differentiation or improved abilities). On the right is Idle Miner Tycoon after the introduction of Super Managers. Each new Super Managers are visually unique and highlight, and have their own backstory explaining their abilities. Players unlock them by playing a part of the main game and earning currencies to hire, level, or promote them.

Screenshots of mobile game
Screenshots of mobile game

They began by experimenting with pre-selling the RPG characters for a week before they became available as an IAP item. “We found this gave us a momentary increase in revenue,” says Julian. “But, long-term it didn’t bring the volume we expected, it turned out that hiding the characters behind a game mechanic, driving the already successful core monetization, is a better way of driving long-term revenue.”

According to Kolibri Games, IAPs have now grown to around 50% of game revenue, and are continuing to grow. Interestingly, adding IAPs did not impact ad revenue because IAPs appeal to the more highly engaged players, while ads remain relevant for the more casual players. “We considered using IAPs to remove ads,” says Julian. “But decided against it, the feeling was that it simply wouldn’t be attractive enough to our casual players.”

The addition of RPG mechanics has brought a broader audience to Idle Miner Tycoon and strengthened the opportunities to drive IAP. Kolibri Games had been using Live Ops and events successfully in conjunction with the idle game mechanic, an approach that was driving a significant portion of the revenue. The introduction of RPG characters improved overall engagement, in turn enhancing the effects of Live Ops and events, boosting IAP sales and helping to improve player retention.

Julian doesn’t see Idle Miner Tycoon as simply an “idle plus simulation” game, but rather more of a platform for offering players experiences that could span any number of different genres. “The growth of hyper-casual games shows that people are now more open to different game mechanics, instead of focusing on particular genres,” says Julian. “It’s not just about a simulation, not just one ‘manager’, it’s about introducing a genre that will retain players by offering them more ways to stay in the game.”

I Got Games (IGG) — Lords Mobile

Headquartered in Singapore, developer IGG started out creating strategy games for PCs, which focused on high-value players. Moving into mobile exposed IGG to a far wider range of players, bringing both challenges and opportunities.

When IGG started development of Lords Mobile, the goal was to create a game with broad appeal to casual players that built upon their core expertise in strategy games. They also wanted to appeal more broadly to players in Western markets. However, this created a challenge. Casual games in the West typically focus on genres such as match 3, as found in games such as Candy Crush, but this type of genre doesn’t mash well with a strategy game.

IGG, therefore, cast around to see whether there were any other genres they could use to increase casual player appeal. “The massive online battle arena (MOBA) genre looked like an interesting option,” says Kevin Xu, COO of IGG. “The revenue in this genre is amazing and the install behavior is great, indicating that the audience is incredibly wide.”

Combining strategy and MOBA genres in Lords Mobile has given IGG a greater mix of paying and non-paying users. A consequence of this was that their initial single strategy approach to monetize, using IAPs only, did not work well. Not only did it fail to generate revenue it also proved difficult to retain players, leaving them with day 2 retention dwindling to 20%.

The team realized that they needed to find a way to help ensure free-to-play players could play at a closer level to paying users. To do this they added rewarded ads and offerwalls. This change in approach helped improve the 2-day retention to 30%.

IGG is now experimenting with incentivised promotional events. For these events, players invite a friend to take part in a quest and the player is rewarded when their friends complete the quest.

Screenshot of quest completed in game
Screenshot of quest completed in game

IGG then introduced subscriptions focused around the Kingdom vs Kingdom monthly battles and found them to be a perfect match with their loyal players, who anticipate the monthly in-game battles. The subscriptions offer weekly and monthly bundles that enable players to prepare for the monthly battles.

Screenshot of subscription page for the game
Screenshot of subscription page for the game

The appeal of the subscriptions is reinforced by weekly notifications about the resources needed for the forthcoming battle. Not only that, these notifications proved beneficial in prompting players to revisit the game. The introduction of subscriptions has increased revenue and the overall engagement with their buyers has increased by over 20%.

Fourdesire — Fortune City

Taiwan-based Fourdesire has taken one of the more unusual approaches to genre mashing, combining utility apps with gameplay. For example, in their expenses tracking title Fortune City, the process of tracking expenses is tied to the creation of a city simulation.

“We’ve always been looking for ways to motivate people to do things that they might see as dull but recognize as essential, such as drinking water, walking for exercise, and tracking their expenses,” says Taco Chen, the founder and CEO of Fourdesire. “So, we looked for ways to make our utility apps playable, so people get a sense of joy from an otherwise mundane activity.”

The change in the way people interact with games has been a significant factor in enabling Fourdesire to take this approach: more specifically the emergence of casual games such as Angry Birds and Candy Crush. Unlike PC or console games, these casual games don’t require the player’s full attention: the player doesn’t need to turn on the machine and be seated in their living room. Instead, casual games enable the players to play in fragments of time: they may play a quick game before going to sleep or while waiting for a bus. “We realized we could combine this new fragmented approach to gameplay with solving people’s life challenges,” says Taco.

This mashing also has some interesting implications for retention. As Taco notes “retention is an issue for games because players will always seek the latest trends. With a utility app tool, if it closely caters to your needs you’ll likely not change. However, you may stop using the app because you lose interest in the activity it records. By combining a game and a utility, developers can better increase overall retention.”

Utility apps often rely on a premium or one-time purchase approach for monetization. But, with the introduction of a game to their tools, Fourdesire believed they had other options for monetizing their titles. The challenge was to ensure that the game experience and the monetization didn’t detract from the original goal.

Fortune City takes a three-pronged approach using IAPs, ads, and subscriptions.

The IAP mechanism is straightforward, users can purchase diamonds to assist with building their city. However, this option is very much kept in the background and deliberately not strongly promoted to users.

A similar low-profile approach has been taken to rewarded and native ads. As part of the city simulation, players will occasionally encounter salespeople who will ask the player if they would help the character reach their sales target by watching an ad. “The balance has to be perfect when you use ads to monetize a title,” says Taco. “By merging our ads into the gameplay I think we found the perfect experience for monetizing non-paying users.”

Example of merging ads into gameplay
Example of merging ads into gameplay

Subscriptions were originally introduced as a motivator for the core tool; if people were paying a regular monthly subscription for additional features they were more likely to continue recording expenses. However, Fourdesire found that as users become more engaged with the title, there was an increasing need to add more content and premium experience. One way that Fourdesire addressed this was by introducing the chief financial officer function. This subscription package buys users additional features including trend analysis, expense frequency watchlist, and the ability to export records.

Analytics page showing trend analysis and expense frequency
Analytics page showing trend analysis and expense frequency

Closing thoughts — Monetization in your genre mashed title

The challenge all three developers needed to address, when it comes to monetizing genre mashed titles, is the mix of audiences genre mashing can bring to a title. Unlike a single genre game, you may have to cater for both paying and non-paying users. This becomes more of a challenge when the game includes multiplayer features: how do you prevent paying users, who have better access to in-game resources, overwhelming non-payers. We have seen how IGG and Fourdesire use rewarded ads to help maintain a healthy balance between payers and non-payers.

Despite the challenges, mashing genres often has advantages over a single genre approach. Genre mashed titles add an appeal for a broader audience and offer a varied experience that keeps people engaged, with more flexibility in the ways they can contribute to the game.

What do you think?

Do you have thoughts on monetizing genre mashing titles? Let us know in the comments below or tweet using #AskPlayDev and we’ll reply from @GooglePlayDev, where we regularly share news and tips on how to be successful on Google Play.

Google Play Apps & Games

Tips, trends, and industry thoughts for app and game developers building businesses on Google Play.

Serena Shih

Written by

Business Development @ Google Play

Google Play Apps & Games

Tips, trends, and industry thoughts for app and game developers building businesses on Google Play.

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