Lily’s Garden Monetization: Reaping the Fruits of a Great Strategy
(This article was originally published on Udonis’ blog.)
On the surface, Lily’s Garden seems like just another copycat of the games from the Scapes series.
How is it then possible that such a game is actually very successful?
You’re about to find out.
In this article, I will analyze Lily’s Garden monetization strategy in detail. I will guide you through all the methods this game uses to monetize its players.
Lily’s Garden Overview
Developed by Tactile Games, a Copenhagen-based studio, Lily’s Garden appeared on the market in January 2019.
The game falls into the puzzle match-3 subgenre.
However, while most match-3 games on the market are based on the swapping mechanic, this game is different. Lily’s Garden is a match-3 blast game.
In this game, players don’t swap tiles to create matches. Instead, they need to tap identical tiles grouped together to blast them. Each blast they make affects the order on the board, so they need to do it strategically.
Wondering how well Lily’s Garden has performed in the overcrowded puzzle market?
Let’s see what the numbers tell us.
According to GameRefinery’s data for iOS, during its lifetime, this game has gotten over seven million downloads. When it comes to earnings, it has reached $124 million in revenue.
As you can see from its revenue chart, after the release, the game was gradually growing. It reached its peak in August and September 2020. After that, the revenues have decreased but remained steady.
In the Google Play store, the game has gotten over ten million downloads. According to Sensor Tower’s U.S. top charts for Google Play, this game is currently the seventh top-grossing puzzle game.
Where is all this revenue coming from?
A lot of things play a role in the money-making process.
The game’s quality, its resemblance to other games, how it acquires users, etc. However, the most crucial factor here is the game’s monetization strategy.
Let’s dig deep into Lily’s Garden monetization strategy.
First-Time User Experience (FTUE)
Lily’s Garden welcomes players with the main thing that separates it from other match-3 titles on the market — its narrative.
It comes in the form of skippable cut scenes and brings us a story about Lily, the game’s protagonist. Lily has just experienced a painful break-up. To make things even worse, she has received the news that her great-aunt Mary had passed away.
Then comes the real plot twist.
Surprisingly, her aunt has left her a big property, and Lily hops into her car to check it out. When she gets there, the story continues.
The game relies on the power of the narrative to hook players during FTUE. The point of this unexpected early game plot is to immerse players and keep them excited about the next part of the story.
Soon after, players find out they need to play match-3 levels to fix the property up. This way, the game ties the narrative to the core and gives purpose to the actions players are about to complete.
As soon as players land on the property, the tutorial begins.
The game brings players text instructions and highlighted areas to pay attention to. For example, it introduces them to the Task feature.
The text lines are lengthy, which is not ideal. Generally, it’s recommended to keep the tutorial text up to eight words.
Next up, players reach the first match-3 level. On the board, they learn how to tap to blast match-3 tiles. This is the bare minimum players need to get started.
As players uncover new features, the tutorial continues. Every time a new booster, obstacle, or something else new appears on the board, the game explains them. This way, players don’t need to figure out their purposes on their own.
This type of tutorial is called a contextual lesson; we can find it in most top games. Its biggest advantage? It teaches players how to react in various situations.
There is not much to say about the game’s UI and UX that hasn’t already been said for other match-3 games on the market.
As you can see, the user interface strongly resembles what we’ve seen in some other meta-driven match-3 titles. For example, Gardenscapes, Homescapes, and Project Makeover. It is a tried-and-tested approach that obviously works for games in this subgenre.
How Does Lily’s Garden Work?
Lily’s Garden is a game that needs to form a strong connection between a match-3 core and a rich meta.
To achieve that, the game relies on these mechanics:
- Life points
- Match-3 level progression
- Meta-layer tasks
To get started on the match-3 board, players need to have enough lives. Every time they don’t complete a level on the first try, they lose a life point.
In Lily’s Garden, players progress by reaching new match-3 levels. As players play and progress, the levels become more challenging.
To complete a level, they need to complete a certain goal with a limited number of moves. To make things easier, players can take advantage of different boosters.
When players beat levels, they earn premium currency (coins) and a star. While coins are core-related, the other reward is needed in the meta layer.
In the meta layer, the players get to renovate the property. They do this step-by-step — in the form of tasks. To complete tasks, players need one or more stars they’ve earned by solving match-3 levels. For instance, they might get a task to lay out some flowers or fix a beehive.
Finally, with every task they complete, players can unlock new parts of the story.
All of these parts work together like a well-oiled machine. However, this is not a surprise since this concept has been tested in many similar games.
This game didn’t get its name after its match-3 board. The ads for the game don’t revolve around the core either.
This is because the game’s meta layers are the most attractive thing about it.
Lily’s Garden comes with two meta layers — a narrative and a renovation layer.
Even though the game’s narrative obviously draws inspiration from Gardenscapes, the storyline is still catching.
The protagonist is a young city girl that seems like a real person; not just some unrealistic game character. She appears to be innocent but also funny, quirky and traumatized at the same time.
Players get to discover some pretty realistic issues she is dealing with (e.g., the break-up). All of this makes the story very relatable, especially for young women — the game’s main target audience.
The story is very dramatic and comes with some interesting characters and twists. For instance, players will discover that Lily’s mother had an affair with her ex-fiancé.
Yup, you read that right.
Compared to the Scapes, this story is much more detailed and more grown-up. I mean, there is a dialogue where Lily jokes about a male character’s “junk” while removing some junk from the garden.
The decoration meta-layer appears every time players need to replace something on the property. For example, a fountain or a mailbox. Players get different design options to choose the one they like the most.
Some players care about these meta layers more than others.
These are the players who play the game to escape the real world and who like to express themselves through gameplay.
The narrative meta allows players to “lose themselves” in the story. On the other hand, the decoration meta lets them customize the game to their likings.
Lily’s Garden Monetization Strategy Breakdown
I wouldn’t introduce you to the game’s FTUE, gameplay, and meta layers for no reason.
All of these are important stops on the path of reaching the game’s final destination — monetizing players.
How does Lily’s Garden monetization strategy work exactly? What do players spend most on? In which situations? Can free-to-play players enjoy this game?
In the following section, I will answer these and many other questions you may have.
Which Monetization Models Does Lily’s Garden Use?
When Lily’s Garden was first launched, it monetized with in-app purchases only.
However, as of 2021, the game hopped on the hybrid monetization trend. Lily’s Garden monetization strategy now consists of IAPs and in-app ads.
How do the two work together? Keep reading to find out.
Lily’s Garden Monetization: In-App Purchase Set-up and Strategy
The majority of Lily’s Garden profits comes from in-app purchases. For IAPs to work, it’s important to present the right offers to the right players.
What kinds of offers does Lily’s Garden bring to the table?
Let’s take a peek into the game’ store.
Lily’s Garden in-game store is pretty modest. In it, players can find six different packs of the game’s only currency, coins. The prices of these packs range from $0.99 to $74.99.
I’ve seen this kind of set-up in many different games. These are usually games in the casual category, where the developers don’t expect players to spend much on single packs. For this reason, the smallest pack comes at the minimum price point.
Moreover, there are three offers priced under $10.
According to Sensor Tower’s free data, these three offers are among the game’s top four best-selling in-app purchases (iOS, the US). They even perform better than other special offers that bring better value for money.
Why is that?
These offers are always at the players’ disposal. Unlike the special offer pop-ups, they don’t come off as aggressive. Players usually visit the store and consider them when they get stuck in the game.
In those moments, the players are not thinking about value for money as much as reaching the next level.
Okay, but what makes players care so much about coins?
With coins, players can buy three things — moves on the board, boosters, and lives.
By purchasing extra moves, players can avoid defeat at the level they’re currently on. They will opt for this if they are extremely close to finishing the level. If they don’t, they will lose a life and start over.
Some players plan in advance. They want to do everything in their power not to get stuck on a level. For this reason, before starting a level, they will pick out boosters to place on the board.
Finally, the good old Lives feature restricts the players’ sessions. If players have zero lives in their stash and want to continue playing, coins can solve this problem as well.
All of these purposes make coins what they are — a premium currency. With it, players can get anything they wish for.
How In-App Purchases Really Work in Lily’s Garden?
In-app purchases go way beyond the in-game store.
What matters more is what exactly brings players to the store in the first place. To find this out, I played Lily’s Garden for five days.
My sessions were not too long — they lasted anywhere from five to ten minutes.
During my first session, I haven’t learned much about the game’s economy.
There’s nothing negative about this.
During this period, I played a total of three levels and made three fixes on the property. Each new level came with new features on the board and was a little bit more complex than the previous one. Nevertheless, passing the levels was easy.
As I was passing levels, coin rewards just kept on coming. However, in this phase, I was not aware of the value of the premium currency. This is because I still didn’t have to use it for anything.
All of this made the first session enjoyable and rewarding. It is the kind of session that should make players want to launch the game again.
On my second day of playing, passing the levels was still pretty easy.
However, there was one key difference between the first and the second day — day two was all about boosters.
On levels four, six, and nine, I received boosters from the game. In most cases, the game explained how to use them with tutorial instructions. Also, it encouraged me to try them out.
Why is all this important for the game’s economy?
Well, players become aware of the value of a purchasable in-game item for the first time in the game.
However, at this point, the developer is giving it out in the form of free samples.
People generally like receiving samples because they give them a taste of something new and exciting. If they like what they see, there is a chance they will be willing to pay for it in the future.
This is a subtle introduction to the game’s economy. From this moment on, players are aware of how the game’s boosters work. As the levels get more challenging, the chances are — they will start craving them.
After passing level ten, things get more challenging for players.
In my experience, I have barely passed some levels and had to buy my way out of others.
On level 12, I was very close to passing a level but didn’t have any moves left. The game gave me a choice — buy extra moves or lose a life and try again.
In this kind of situation, most players will choose the same thing — extra moves. The thing is, they have invested time and effort to complete the level they are stuck on. They don’t want all this to be in vain. Plus, they’ve accumulated a significant amount of currency by now, so they might as well spend it.
The game relies on a classic difficulty progression strategy.
After a challenging level, the next one is usually easier to please the player. Hence, the next level didn’t give me as much trouble.
Upon completing level 14, I got the first time-limited IAP offer from the game.
I was analyzing the game during the holiday season, so the offer was Christmas-themed. This is a good strategy because it makes the offers seem personalized and less generic.
It was named Luke’s Santa Outfit, after a character from the game’s meta layer, and it consisted of three different offers.
However, it was no ordinary choice.
The first offer was completely free — all players needed to do was claim it. And just like that, they have earned themselves a bundle of boosters.
The other two?
The players could unlock the next offer only if they bought the previous one. Moreover, only if they had purchased all three could they claim the outfit from the offer’s title.
With this approach, the offers feel more exclusive. Players can’t just pick out an offer and buy it as they usually would. Before that, they need to earn the right to access the offer.
Finally, the offer isn’t focused around Luke’s Santa Outfit for no reason. This is done to attract players invested in the game’s meta layers. Others won’t care that much about seeing a character in a Santa outfit.
When I first launched the game the next day, I was welcomed with a brand new special IAP offer.
It was named Treats Offer, and it worked on a similar principle as the first one.
The main difference? There was nothing free to claim here. Obviously, this is a point where the game closes the pipe of free samples.
The next level was quite challenging, so I had to buy extra moves to pass it. Once again, I had a sufficient amount of currency to do this.
The level after that was easier to pass, just like earlier.
It’s a bit problematic that in this phase, players still don’t really feel the need to spend money. Usually, when special offers begin appearing, players should be more motivated to consider them.
A new day brought another Christmas-themed IAP offer on my screen.
This time, it was named a Special Delivery Offer. The offer works on a similar concept as the previous two. However, here, offers aren’t lined up from the cheapest to the most expensive.
What is the logic behind this?
If players decide to purchase the first offer, there is a better chance they will buy the second, cheaper offer as well.
It’s like when you treat yourself with something. For instance, ice cream. While you’re at it, why not throw in a bit more cash and buy some extra frosting? This way, you’ll get the full experience.
This is how the developers expect players to react to this offer.
On my last day of playing, I only played one level since I had a lot of trouble with it.
First, I used my final stash of coins to buy extra moves. However, this wasn’t enough, so the game offered me to purchase the smallest pack of currency at $0.99. This is the kind of situation that can turn a player into a buyer.
On the other hand, players who don’t want to buy anything have the option to lose a life and try again. I lost two life points until I finally passed the level.
Now, this is the kind of situation where players will actually start considering the game’s IAP offers.
Lily’s Garden In-Game Ads
Relying only on paying players is risky. If you manage to turn a player into a payer, great.
But what about all those other players who play the game but don’t plan on spending?
You shouldn’t just accept the fact that you will get ZERO revenue from them.
The developers behind Lily’s Garden resolved this issue by adding rewarded video ads into the mix.
Why rewarded video?
This ad format is a great fit with in-app purchases. Plus, a lot of players actually like it and frequently engage with it.
Rewarded Video Ad Placement
In Lily’s Garden, there is only one rewarded video ad placement.
When players first start playing the game, they won’t be able to see it.
Only engaged players will have this privilege.
The thing is, the game’s rewarded video placement appears when players complete level 15. At this point, the levels are becoming more difficult, and the pile of currency from the beginning is slowly disappearing.
The placement appears upon level completion. It comes in a visual form — a hand holding a jar of coins with a play sign and an x2 tag. When players see this, they immediately know what it means. For this reason, the game doesn’t use tutorial instructions to explain it.
Upon watching an ad, players receive a double amount of coins for completing a level. However, they can’t do this for every level. The placement comes with a one-hour timer.
Here’s why the game does this.
If players constantly get something free, the “gifts” can lose their excitement and get boring. However, when there is some kind of restriction, it makes them more exclusive and exciting.
User Retention in Lily’s Garden
Match-3 games with meta layers tend to have excellent, long-time retention.
These two simply complement each other very well. While the meta layers immerse players into the game, gradual match-3 progression makes things challenging.
However, this is not enough for a successful retention strategy.
For this reason, Tactile games included some other popular retention techniques in Lily’s Garden. These include:
- In-game events
- Social media connection
- Surprise rewards
Are you surprised not to see push notifications on the list? So was I.
Apparently, this game relies on the players’ desire to get back to the game themselves. I’m sure they’ve tested this approach and decided to ditch it. However, almost all top match-3 games utilize push notifications. They wouldn’t be using them if they didn’t fulfill their purpose.
Hence, it is likely that push notifications could work for Lily’s Garden as well. Perhaps the developers just need to test another approach.
Lily’s Garden Monetization: Best Practices
In my analysis, you’ve read some good and not-so-good things about Lily’s Garden monetization strategy.
However, let’s end things with a list of positives.
Here are the best strategies Lily’s Garden developers use to monetize this game:
- Combining two monetization models
- Having only one purchasable currency
- Delivering limited time IAP offers
- Customizing offers to real-life events
- A moderately aggressive IAP strategy
- Rewarded video ads for engaged players
- Restricting ad engagement
Lily’s Garden Monetization: Parting Words
You’ve reached the very end of my Lily’s Garden monetization analysis.
Hopefully, this article helped you better understand how match-3 games with rich meta layers manage to attract, keep and monetize players.
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