Mobile game developers know that there are two giants fighting for their hearts, minds and yes, their money: Google Play and the iTunes App Store. Both offer apps, music, books, film, TV series, and games, but come from humble beginnings. Apple’s store began in 2008 with 500 apps, but quickly expanded to 3000 apps after a wave of over 100 million downloads in a span of 3 months. On the other hand, Google Play launched in 2012 and served as a seamless merge with Google Music and the Google eBookstore. Back in 2015, they reportedly had 70 percent more downloads than the Apple competitor, although Apple had 70 percent higher revenue.
These days, both stores offer over a million apps and games, hence making millions of dollars in revenue, primarily based on the hard work of the developers behind all the sellable content, including every mobile game developer on the planet.
Or perhaps not.
Despite the fact that most mobile game developers choose either or to publish their titles, there are a few pros and cons to keep in mind. For instance, Apple’s App Store is built on a curated model, which dictates compliance standards that help keep the store free of malware and bugs. While important in keeping the store’s standards impeccable, this means extra work and consideration on behalf of developers. The Google Play store is more lenient in its process, but as a result, there is a significant amount of malicious Android apps being published in the store.
Perhaps this is why some mobile developers have opted out of publishing on either store, and have carved their own path. All without having to share any revenue. Let’s take a look at some of the alternatives that developers are trying out, and see just how effective they can be.
Selling from Your Own Storefront
There is a common misconception that mobile game developers are far less intensive than the typical indie or AAA developer. This stems from the fact that mobile game players tend to be casual players, meaning they are not traditionally the type of people who will play console games, or PC games. Anything RPG, FPS, or MMO would be too “hardcore” for this crowd. The primary player base is made up of females over the age of 35. Almost half of Candy Crush Saga players are 45 or older.
However, this does not mean that mobile game developers are less intensive, or serious about their craft. If anything it means they adhere to a different scope of people, and therefore, have to meet different standards and criteria in their creative projects. Different audience, different way of doing things. But it doesn’t make it any less intricate.
For instance, much like indie and even AAA developers, mobile game developers can opt to sell their games from their own official, E-commerce friendly website, with a landing page and storefront. Selling it directly to players eliminates the middleman (Google Play/iTunes App Store), much like when traditional game developers decide to not sell their games on Steam, or GOG, for example. This ensures all revenue stays in the developers’ pockets, and encourages better business practices.
Of course, better business practices include proper marketing, campaign management, and community engagement. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Setting up an Official Website
First things first; in order to sell from your own website, you will require your own domain, a well-designed website that is easy to navigate and features plenty of SEO integration, and a payment processor. Think of a short domain name that is easily searchable and reflects your game/studio.
For example, if your studio is called Barrie Games, a domain along the lines of barriegames.com would be perfectly acceptable, assuming it isn’t taken. You may have to tinker around with this for a while. Within that website, you could design a landing page that talks exclusively about your latest game release, containing all the information you’d normally include in a press kit (screenshots, trailers, game overview, platform information, etc.).
To ensure all the content, and website as a whole, is searchable, keep tabs on SEO. If you’re using WordPress, Yoast is the way to go, as it provides a clear, easy-to-use system that literally gives you a green signal if your posts are SEO friendly, or a red one if it’s in desperate need of work. Some quick tips to help you on your path to searchability are to include H1, H2, and H3 headers within your content, always add popular keywords, and then repeat them in your alt descriptions on any posted images. Also, websites with blogs are higher ranking than those without, due to Google’s algorithm.
Just remember to add a call-to-action on the top center of the page, telling players what you’d like them to do―”Buy Now!” This works best as a button customers can click and purchase the game seamlessly.
This brings us to the next point…
There are many ways to accept online payments seamlessly these days. Many choose to use services like PayPal or Stripe to collect payments from the customer. From there, developers can send the digital game file(s) to the customers. All information and tax pertinent information can be viewed with these services.
However, there are even better ways to collect payments. There are several options out there that do more than just collect payments. Xsolla, for example, along with being a game service provider, aiding in all things publishing, assisting with affiliate and influencer connecting, and providing in-game store management, also can handle payment processing. They make it possible to sell in-game virtual goods, such as coins or special playable characters, and then process the payments for you in one swift motion. They are also currently the only option that offers over 700 payment methods.
Furthermore, Xsolla can handle key related integration APIs, generation and delivery, inventory, and management. Players activate purchased game keys within special redeeming pages and interfaces that are fully customizable through PayStation, an intuitive platform designed for developers and publishers to deliver in-game items to gamers.
Another service provider that does more than just process payments is Digital River. The company helps games get to market quicker, expand faster and capitalize on full revenue potential. Developers enjoy working with the popular company due to the system which encourages developers to determine the customer experience they want, along with merchandising ideas and monetization preferences. From there, the company customizes your online store, the in-app commerce experience, and the payment options that generate the sales numbers you’re hoping for.
Now that we’ve covered the bare essentials—actually having a storefront/website—let’s talk marketing, campaigns and community, all of which go hand-in-hand. For starters, campaigns come in a variety of ways, from game launch celebrations to website unveiling. Pre-orders are also a given. One thing they all have in common is that they are only successful if you’re diligent about letting customers know about it. That means creating announcements on your blog, your website, social media, and anywhere else your target audience is. This is a part of marketing, and relies extensively on how you connect with your community. See, it all comes full circle!
If it all seems overwhelming, rest assured, it’s perfectly manageable and can be done in a series of routines. For instance, every morning for a month before a campaign you could write a blog post, and then tweet about it. You could also link to it on Discord and Steam forums. Suddenly, that’s four outlets announcing the campaign every morning for a month straight.
You could also record the development process on your phone, when you’re just goofing around with your team, or doing something particularly creative (think concept art creation, animation, or anything else that is visually appealing, because visual content does well on social media). Posting this video onto the studio’s YouTube account is a great way to put a face and name behind the game, suddenly making yourselves more approachable to players. Just be sure to reply to comments, like and follow fans, and keep things professional. Nothing offensive, or brand image damaging!
Selling from Other Third-Party Platforms
It might seem counterproductive, but selling on other third-party platforms that aren’t Google Play or Apple’s App Store is something to at least consider. Remember, mobile games are meant for phones and tablets, and geared toward casual players in their mid-thirties. What does your average 40-something year old woman like to do on her iPad?
That’s right, browse Amazon for things like the latest Echo gadget, handbags, eBooks and kitchen utensils. And, surprisingly, the latest mobile games too. The iconic Big Fish Games currently sells 396 titles on Amazon alone, as well as on their own official website. And clearly, the company is doing just fine since Churchill Downs Inc. bought the company for a whopping $885 million, and is driving record revenue growth—$1.2 billion, up from the record 49 percent in 2014.
Now, to state the obvious, yes there is a revenue split with any and every third-party platform. And yes, that means a loss of profit potential with every sale, especially compared to those selling on their own websites. However, that being said, the revenue split will depend entirely on which store you choose to sell. Furthermore, no one is stopping you from selling on both a third-party store, and your own website. Big Fish Games does it, and is profiting from the system.
The benefit of these third-party sellers is that they appeal to many people, they have a large audience of people looking to purchase digital goods, including mobile games, and they have the ability of processing all payments for you directly. They also distribute the games.
While most customers prefer Google Play, or Apple’s App Store, other third-party sellers have quickly grown in popularity. So, if you’re not keen on selling on either OS platform, try out Apkpure, BlueStacks, or Plonga. For a lengthy list of alternatives, see this informational piece on mobile game and app sales by Mobyaffiliates.
If you’re not entirely convinced, One Platform Foundation has found that developers who submit their games to multiple alternative app stores will increase their downloads by 200% when compared to the Google Play Store alone. AppChina has 30 million users, while Amazon has 25 million.
Things To Remember
Suffice it to say that the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store aren’t evil. They’ve made it possible for developers large and small to create and launch their projects. They provide everything from games to eBooks to customers, and they make it possible for creativity to spark. Mobile developers would be wise to at least consider selling their games on these two platforms, since the vast majority of customers use either or both of these platforms to some degree.
That being said, mobile game sales do not begin or end with these two platforms. There are plenty of third-party alternatives that are growing in popularity, such as the Amazon Appstore and SlideMe. These options make it possible for developers to expand their outreach and “cast a wider net,” so to speak. Studies suggest that selling your game on a few of these alternatives can generate more sales success than just by selling on the Google Play Store.
If third-party just doesn’t sound like it’s for you at all, not to worry. Selling on your own website is a perfectly viable and encouraged solution. Just make sure to create a website that’s easy to use, nice to look at, and answers all customer questions. Make use of tips like using Yoast SEO and blogging for searchability and making your FAQ page serve dual purpose. And remember, E-commerce solutions are essential. Players want to have a smooth, easy process to obtaining the games.
As always, if you enjoyed this article, feel free to retweet it! We love making new friends here at Black Shell Media, so don’t be a stranger.