In-game purchases: the indie dev’s best revenue friend

March 3, 2021
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Expand your mobile game business to PC and web to reach new players.

Game developers have several ways to monetize their games beyond the initial purchase event. For bigger studios, more established brands, or well-known franchises, generating revenue appears to happen easily and organically. Because people are familiar with the name of the studio or the game, it might seem they more readily open their wallets. But even those titles employ similar monetization mechanics.

The question then is, how can indie games come close to competing at the same level? By leveraging one of the best monetization strategies at their disposal: in-game purchases.

Free-to-play (F2P) games

Obviously, there is no real-world money exchange when a player acquires and installs a F2P game. Monetizing the game post-install becomes necessary to offset the development costs, and hopefully to also make a profit and reinvest in the team. Below we list existing strategies to generate revenue for F2P games and briefly outline their advantages (pros) and disadvantages (cons).

We also recommend that you discover how a player-centered design philosophy for monetization can strongly benefit any F2P game, by grabbing a free copy of our in-depth ebook, Game Commerce Essentials: Why You Should Add an In-Game Store to Your Published or Upcoming Video Game.

  1. Advertising-based monetization, such as using in-game ads, or a one-time payment from the player to remove all ads  

PRO

  • Keeps the game free for new and existing players
  • Motivates players to make initial purchase to remove ads forever

CON

  • Breaks players’ immersion in the game
  • Dealing with multiple third-party advertising providers can become a headache, especially when it comes to mediation or audience targeting
  • Advertisers might decide to stop their ads due to factors beyond your control
  • Ad content is not part of the game and doesn’t positively add to the players’ game experience, engagement or perceived value
  1. Reward-based monetization, which requires the player to ‘do this task’ (eg. watch a video, take a survey) to get something in return (eg. access content or a cosmetic)

PRO

  • Same as above, plus players perform only the tasks they need for the content they want

CON

  • Same as above, plus makes it extra grindy for players
  1. Lock content behind paywalls, sometimes also known as ‘pay-to-win’ depending on the type of content

PRO

  • Players pay for what they want, giving them a high level of control

CON

  • Limiting access to core game content until a purchase transaction can feel like the game is just squeezing money out of players artificially, especially if the game is F2P
  1. Subscriptions, whether monthly, quarterly or annually

PRO

  • Offer what you want at different tiers to entice a broad player audience
  • Passive recurring revenue that players can easily manage on their own
  • No extra development resources needed

CON

  • Need a mechanism to drive up the subscription tier engagement and keep strong subs loyalty, as players may perceive diminishing value in their subscription plans after a few iterations
  1. In-game purchases, via an in-game store with a variable catalog of virtual items and virtual currencies

PRO

  • Players pay only for what they want, giving them a high level of control
  • Allows players a very customizable in-game experience
  • Continuous and valuable player engagement via promotions, new and unique items, regional pricing and more

CON

  • Some development resources are needed – but if you integrate via the Xsolla In-Game Store, this is easily handled
  1. Physical merchandise, such as apparel or tangible representations of in-game items

PRO

  • Real-world brand recognition
  • Player pride and investment in the brand and the game

CON

  • Handling the logistics and challenges of selling physical goods
  • A potential high up-front cost to create the merch

Premium games

Many of the same monetization strategies are available for pay-to-play games, though the first three listed above are not typically employed. Rather, premium games offer additional content like DLC or expansions as one-time purchases.

  1. DLC or expansions, such as new zones, questlines, cosmetics, or weapons

PRO

  • Extra content extends the life of the game and can attract a new audience
  • Players pay for what they want, getting a high level of control

CON

  • Increased development resources needed
  • Players’ future expectations increased

plus #4, #5, and #6 from the F2P list

The best game monetization strategy for indie devs

Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with the typical monetization avenues, you might guess that the best revenue strategy for game monetization is to actually mix strategies. But if you had to just choose one, or you’re a smaller studio, we recommend starting with in-game purchases.

In a nutshell, incorporating an in-game store adds up all the pros and mitigates the cons of several different revenue streams. Essentially, it allows you to offer a high level of control and customization for your players – and thus frequently have them log in and interact in your game – while providing you with on-going revenue. You can also easily promote your in-game purchases externally, such as on your game’s website, with advertising or organic social media posts.

An in-game store allows developers to:

  • sell virtual items and virtual currencies, which include DLC, subscriptions, bundles (like supporter packs), season passes, battle passes, and more
  • create a shop in one place and offer it across platforms, such as on the web, with immediate access/delivery to in-game account
  • not worry about dealing with advertisers or multiple third parties
  • easily change and adapt to player preferences
  • give players a high level of control over customization and content purchases
  • obtain valuable information on purchases and transactions

How to get started

1. Get a free copy of our ebooks. Learn all you need about how and why to set up your in-game store.

2. Partner with Xsolla. We know that planning your revenue model doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why teaming up with a partner like us is valuable. We understand the unique challenges of video game commerce and can help you navigate them — so you can focus on what you do best.

New to Xsolla? Get started by registering for a Publisher Account.

Already an Xsolla partner? Log in to your Publisher Account or contact your Xsolla Account Manager to chat about the best In-game Store strategy for you.


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