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How App Developers Earn Millions (99¢ at a Time)

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How Game Makers Earn Millions — 99¢ at a Time

Admit it, there's at least one game on your smartphone that you've played in the last week. Chances are, it's more like ten (or more) mobile games, and you've already played one of them today. We love games, and mobile games are even better —you can play them anywhere!

We also love a bargain. Dishing out $50 for the latest version of Mario Party is one thing. We have no problem committing to that once a year, but most of us can't drop that kind of money for a new game every week. But 99¢?!

We'll spend a dollar without thinking twice. Another couple of bucks to get rid of those annoying ads? Sign me up! And a dollar here and there to get some extra game cash or boost our level? Sure thing! Mobile gaming is a lot like a trip to the dollar store. Everything is cheap, but it's easy to spend a fortune. And we do — billions of dollars a year!

Creating apopular mobile games can be hugely profitable, but with hundreds of thousands of games available in the App Store and on Google Play, is it realistic to think just anyone can make money on game development? Yes and no. If your app never finds an audience, you're not going to become rich. But if it catches on, you could see substantial profit. If it becomes a viral hit, you could make hundreds of millions of dollars. That's what has many traditional game developers eyeing apps and investing big money into app development.

So what makes certain mobile games a viral hit? There's no magic formula. The top mobile games are as diverse as mobile users, but they all have three things in common: they're fun, addictive, and people love to share them with friends. Learn how game designers are turning this new, always-present gaming medium into massive profits — and hopefully we'll be writing about your hot mobile game in the near future.

How Game Makers Earn Millions -- $0.99 at a Time

How Game Makers Earn Millions - $0.99 at a Time

Mobile gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry. The console games of the past are being replaced with smartphone and tablet games. In fact, roughly one-third of the time we use smartphones is spent playing games. Follow along as we look at the state of this growing industry and the big games that brought us here.

Mobile Gaming as a Whole

  • Gaming is a very big industry
    • People play games more than anything else on their phones
      • 32% playing games
      • 20% surfing the web
      • 18% using social media
    • It is big money
      • Mobile game revenues is expected to reach $29 billion by 2016
      • This is a growth of more than 38% from 2014
  • It is growing quickly
    • The broader game industry is moving from consoles to portable devices
      • Phones and tablets have become better platforms
        • Enhanced graphics
        • Faster computation
        • Greater storage
        • More connectivity
    • The diverse games offered have resulted in users playing longer and more often
      • They are also a waiting market for new games
    • Rising disposable income in less developed areas
      • Southeast Asia
      • Latin America
      • Eastern Europe
  • Mobile gaming
    • Buying methods
      • Free
        • Many people create games for fun and release them to the world
        • Ads generate revenue for the developers
      • Freemium
        • Often includes ads
        • The game is free, but extra features and ad removal are available for a price
          • Features within the game that may cost money
            • Gems
            • Building faster
            • More levels
      • Pay
        • The game costs a set amount to download
      • Subscription
        • Subscription is not available yet, but chatter in the gaming world suggests the idea is growing in popularity
        • A Netflix-type subscription would allow gamers to play multiple games for a monthly fee
    • Types of games
      • Puzzles
        • Tile-matching
          • Tetris
        • Word scrambles
          • Words with Friends
        • Strategy
          • Angry Birds
      • Trivia
        • General knowledge
          • Trivia Crack
        • Movie, sports, and other topical trivia
          • MoviePop
          • SongPop
          • Sports Jeopardy
      • MMO
        • Massively multiplayer online game
          • Final Fantasy XI
          • 4Story (Gates of Andaron)
      • Endless running
        • A chase game where the player is constantly running as scenery streams past
          • Super Mario Bros
          • Flappy Bird
            • Although it is actually "endless flying"

Words With Friends

  • Released: 2009
  • Game overview
    • Multiplayer word
      • Similar to Scrabble, players compete with each other to form words with the highest point value
    • Freemium
      • Paid option is $4.99 to go ad-free
  • Number of downloads: Zynga hasn't released this information
    • By April 2013, the game had 22.8 million monthly users
    • In 2015 named number 10 most downloaded game app of all time
  • Revenue: Unknown
    • Created by Newtoy, an indie game company run by two brothers
      • Zynga purchased Newtoy for $53.2 million in 2011
  • Did you know?
    • Alec Baldwin was once asked to leave a plane because he wouldn't turn off his game of Words With Friends
    • In the game's first 5 years
      • 55 million matches going on at any time
      • The most commonly played valid word is "qi"
      • The most commonly tried invalid word is "te"
      • Players have used as many as 5478 words only one time
      • Over 58 billion words have been played
        • That's 217 billion letter tiles
      • At one time named Apple App Store's #1 free game of all time
      • City with the highest average score: Santa Cruz, CA [Idea: person on surf board, playing game on phone.]
      • The record for longest streak of winning games by a player: 9,678 games

Angry Birds

  • Released: 2009
  • Game overview
    • Puzzle/physics
    • Paid ($0.99)
  • Number of downloads: 2 billion+ (as of 2014)
    • In August 2015, Angry Birds 2 reached 1 million downloads in first 12 hours after release
      • 20 million downloads in one week
    • 200 million active players monthly
    • In 2015 named number 3 most downloaded game app of all time
  • Revenue: Over $500 million
    • The first release spent 275 days as the most downloaded paid app in Apple's App Store
  • Did you know?
    • Cost just over $100,000 to develop and complete
    • There is an Angry Birds theme park in Finland: Land at Sarkanniemi
    • Angry Birds has its own cartoon show
      • Watch it at https://www.angrybirds.com/watch
      • Sony Pictures Imageworks is releasing a movie based upon the game in 2016
    • The antagonists of the game are pigs because the swine flu pandemic was happening at the time, and developers thought pigs would make good enemies

Fruit Ninja

  • Released: 2010
  • Game overview
    • Action, Arcade
    • Freemium
      • Paid option is $0.99 to go ad-free
  • Number of downloads: 1 billion+ by 2015
    • Within first 4 months of release, it hit 1 million downloads
    • In 2012, it was installed on 33% of US smartphones
    • In 2015, named number 2 downloaded game app of all time
  • Revenue: by 2014, $1 million+ per month
  • Did you know?
    • Inspired by late night infomercials selling knives
    • Players have chopped up 150 billion+ pieces of fruit
    • The game's About screen is actually two haikus
      • A haiku is a three-line poem consisting of up to 17 syllables
    • Most requested food item to be added to the game: the tomato
    • The original version of Fruit Ninja was made in three days.
    • A version of the game is being used to help stroke patients.

Temple Run

  • Released: 2011
  • Game overview
    • Endless running
    • Freemium
  • Number of downloads: by 2015, 1 billion+ (including its sequel)
    • 15 million daily active players
    • In 2015 named the number 7 most downloaded game app of all time
  • Revenue: Imangi Studios hasn't released this information
    • They've said it's "in the millions"
  • Did you know?
    • Created by a three-person team:
      • Keith Shepherd, co-designer
      • Natalia Luckyanova, co-designer
      • Kiril Tchangov, artist
    • 10 billion sessions played
    • People have spent a combined 54,000 years playing the game
    • Temple Run 2 was downloaded over 20 million times within 4 days of its release

Draw Something

  • Released: 2012
  • Game overview
    • Multi-player drawing
    • Freemium
      • Pay option is $2.99
  • Number of downloads: 100 million+
    • 50 million downloads within 50 days of its release
  • Revenue: $250,000 per day
  • Did you know?
    • First app to score #1 spot in three of the App Store's categories
      • Paid
      • Free
      • Top Grossing
    • Players have:
      • Created 11 billion drawings
      • Tweeted about the game 14 million times
      • Played for 28 thousand years (in terms of hours played)
    • On average, 3000 drawings are created per second.
    • Most guessed words:
      • Rainbow
      • Catfish
      • Sun
      • Fish
      • House
      • God
      • Tornado

Candy Crush Saga

  • Released: 2012
  • Game overview
    • Puzzle/Match three
    • Freemium
  • Number of downloads: 500 million+ in its first year
    • 93 million daily players on average
    • Roughly 1 billion games played each day
    • In 2015 named the number 1 most downloaded game app of all time
  • Revenue: $850,000 per day
  • Did you know?:
    • In December 2014, Candy Crush earned more money than Twitter did in that same period
    • 70% of players have never made an in-app purchase (IAP)
    • The number of times Candy Crush has been downloaded is roughly equal to the populations of the US and Brazil combined
    • Candy Crush is six times more popular than King Digital's next most downloaded game (Pet Rescue)

Clash of Clans

  • Released: 2012
  • Game overview
    • MMO strategy/tower defense
    • Freemium
  • Number of downloads: ~83,000 per day
    • 29.5 million active users in 2015
      • ~5 million daily active users
    • In 2015 named number 6 most downloaded game app of all time
  • Revenue: by 2015, $5 million per day
    • Top grossing iPad game in 122 countries
    • Creator Supercell valued at over $5.5 billion in 2015
  • Did you know?
    • One unit's name, P.E.K.K.A., doesn't stand for anything
      • Supercell ran a Facebook contest to see what their fans could come up with for words to fill in the acronym
      • The winner was " Perfect Enraged Knight Killer of Assassins"
    • When the game was updated to support Japanese, its revenue tripled in Japan
    • In February 2014, in-game currency in storage equaled:
      • 6.5 trillion Gold
      • 8.4 trillion Elixir
      • 43 billion Dark Elixir
    • Less than 0.2% of daily players are in the Champion league (the highest tier of play)

Flappy Bird

  • Released: 2013
  • Game overview
    • Endless "runner"
      • Bird is flapping and flying
    • Free
      • The game is no longer available
      • Phones with the game installed have been put on sale for thousands of dollars
  • Number of downloads: 50 million+
  • Revenue: ~$50,000 per day from ads
  • Did you know?
    • Creator Dong Nguyen coded the game in a few nights
    • Has been reviewed over 47,000 times in the App Store
    • Originally named "Flap Flap"
    • Became the most-downloaded app on Google Play within seven days
    • People have tweeted "Flappy Bird" over 16 million times
    • Nguyen removed it from the App Store and Google Play in February 2014
      • He tweeted, "I am sorry 'Flappy Bird' users, 22 hours from now, I will take 'Flappy Bird' down. I cannot take this anymore."
        • He felt guilty about people's addiction to the game

Game of War: Fire Age

  • Released: 2013
  • Game overview
    • MMO
    • Freemium
      • In-app purchases of game's gold currency
  • Revenue: $1 million a day
    • As of March 2015
    • Second-highest grossing app in iTunes, as of May 2015
  • Competitor of Clash of Clans
  • Did you know?
    • A 2015 Super Bowl ad campaign for Game of War included spokesperson Kate Upton, against Clash of Clans' spokesperson Liam Neeson
      • The four-month campaign with Upton cost $40 million
    • A 15-year-old Belgian boy spent over $41k on in-app purchases on his mother's credit card
    • The app automatically translates messages from players typing other languages into your set language with 70% accuracy
      • Supports 32 languages
    • 3 million players can play Game of War at one time
    • Its developer, Gabriel Leydon, calls the game more of a social network rather than a mere video game

Mobile games are easy to learn, fun to play, and very addictive. As a result, they've created an important industry worth billions of dollars per year. No one knows what new games will come in the future, but we can count on a diverse selection from this thriving industry.

Sources: techradar.com, theguardian.com, skillz.com, statista.com, blog.appannie.com, s3.amazonaws.com, bigfishgames.com, gamesindustry.biz, gamasutra.com, fortune.com, npd.com, mashable.com, businessweek.com, eonline.com, clashofclans.com, supercell.com, venturebeat.com, forbes.com, pocketgamer.com, reddit.com, heavy.com, vg247.com, qz.com, n4g.com, sarkanniemi.fi, ign.com, theverge.com, blogs.wsj.com, richincomeways.com, cdn.toucharcade.com, usatoday30.usatoday.com, thefusejoplin.com, businessinsider.com, fastcompany.com, theguardian.com, theatlantic.com, mashable.com, time.com, telegraph.co, cnet.com, nytimes.com, bbc.com, kotaku.com, blog.games.com, ign.com, play.google.com, itunes.apple.com, schedule.sxsw.com, techcrunch.com, laughingchakra.com, thefw.com, gamespot.com


Jaramy Conners

About Jaramy Conners

Jaramy has been a technical writer for many years, specializing in privacy, identity theft, blogging, business, and communications writing. But he's also a children's writer. His short story "Steve" won the Hunger Mountain Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing. He lives with his wife in upstate New York.


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