How do the best mobile game developers succeed?


Today’s app developers operate in an extremely competitive environment. The App Store and Google Play contain over 800K and 700K apps, respectively, and all of them are competing with each other for users.

Given this competitive environment, how can app developers simultaneously differentiate themselves from the pack and effectively monetize their games? We’ve picked three notable publishers that are making waves in the mobile gaming space to analyze. Their freemium games have earned millions, and stand head and shoulders above their competition.

King: Candy Crush Saga

King is the developer of the well-known Candy Crush Saga, in which players line up and organize pieces of candy from increasingly complicated starting positions.

Candy Crush appeals to people of all ages with its simple and family-friendly design. While other top-grossing games appeal to a specific demographic (e.g. comic book fans or sports followers), Candy Crush is approachable for everyone.

It also incorporates an amazing amount of social integration. Players can see their Facebook friends’ progress and request extra lives from them, as well as continue games on their desktops or laptops, allowing for increased exposure to potential new users. In this way, new user acquisition was integrated into Candy Crush’s game design.

GREE: Crime City, Modern War

GREE is a Japanese game developer founded in 2004 that has released high grossing games internationally. GREE’s acquisition of Funzio in mid-2012 added tactical roleplaying (RPG) games including Crime City and Modern War to their huge portfolio.

GREE’s beginnings in Japan resulted in significantly higher average revenues per user (ARPU). Greater mobile user “downtime” due to Japan’s prevalence of public transportation, and audiences’ receptivity to traditional advertising channels (e.g. TV, which GREE invested heavily in) both contribute to this higher ARPU. This was in addition to the now-defunct “gacha” game mechanic, which operated in a lottery-like manner to dispense rare game items to players for a fee.

As GREE expands globally, they have also partnered with mobile ad networks worldwide to drive monetization of their non-paying users. For example, GREE worked with Aarki to implement non-intrusive ads that resulted in a month over month increase in their ad revenue of 66%.

Supercell: Clash of Clans, Hay Day

Supercell is the creator of Clash of Clans and Hay Day, which are currently the 2nd and 5th top grossing apps, respectively, in the US iOS app store.

Supercell set out to solve a problem that they perceived in mobile gaming: a lot of games were merely ports from PC gaming, that didn’t take into account tablets and phones’ smaller screens and different control scheme. They designed Clash of Clans’ tower defense-like game, and Hay Day’s new take on farming to succeed where others had not; in fully touch-based controls that fully leveraged the power of phones and tablets.

Supercell has also invested heavily in user acquisition investments, both through mobile ad networks as well as through online media channels such as Facebook. In addition, their in-app purchase structure- consumables- lends itself to continued user monetization.

The Importance of User Acquisition

While the game mechanics and monetization strategies of these three developers all differ, their success is due to one thing: consistent acquisition of high lifetime value (LTV) users. From Candy Crush’s ubiquitous Facebook integration, to GREE’s spend on traditional media in Japan, to Supercell’s work with mobile ad networks, successful developers must experiment with and navigate a variety of user acquisition channels to succeed and successfully monetize their games.

Topics: Industry News