Principles of monetization in Belka Games. Mechanics, monitoring and interconnections

The head of monetization at Belka Games, Evgeny Gilmanov, opens a series of materials about the principles that guide the company in developing and implementing a monetization strategy.

Evgeny Gilmanov, Head of monetization at Belka Games

What will it be about

I’ll tell you right away what won’t be here. I decided not to write about what monetization is, how much LTV should be higher than CPI, what is ARPPU, and so on. All the basics are on the Internet.

Also, we will not talk about “honest game dev” in the spirit of “you just need to make a great game, and life will get better.” Of course, this is true, there will be no monetization without a good game, but still let’s talk about business. And in business, the math is simple — you either earn or you don’t.

In the first article, I will tell you what mechanics are used in monetization, how to set up monitoring for yourself and for the company, and how monetization is related to other areas of the company.

In the second article we will talk about how to set up monetization. How to build a funnel of first payments, why study repeatable payments, how to segment players and where to get ideas from.

The third article will contain advertising tips, a portrait of a monetization specialist, market trends and a couple of practical cases.

Almost all theses and cases are taken from my experience with Belka Games:

  • Clockmaker;
  • Bermuda Adventures;
  • Solitaire Cruise;
  • and several projects at the R&D stage.

Monetization: Key focus, mechanics and monitoring

You can set as many metrics as you want as benchmarks: ARPDAU, Revenue, Profit, ARPPU, LTV, conversion to payment. But if we consider the game solely as a set of numbers, we can lose sight of the integrity and the very essence of the game. It’s nice to invest in a good product and pay, so monetization cannot be considered separately from the game.

In 2022, monetization in Belka Games became a separate direction in the company, with its own department and KPI. We work very closely with product teams, and together we focus on the balance between the playability of the product and the growth of monetization metrics.

In this article, we will analyze not only the monetization itself, but also all the relationships between monetization and product development. Let’s start with the base — what tools are there in monetization, how to monitor key metrics and how to interpret them.

Points of monetization and mechanics

They can be found in almost any short course on the monetization of casual mobile games, so I will list briefly:

  1. A bank consisting of packs (only hard currency) and bundles (hard currency + other entities sold or received in prizes in the game).
  2. Offers with timpressing and one-time. In fact, the same bundles from the bank, but having conditions for purchase, regular / irregular launch, the logic of popups.
  3. Separately , it is worth highlighting:
    1. Piggy bank.
    2. Starter/velcom packs.
    3. Personal offers located on the player’s path and appearing after reaching the milestones in the game.
  4. Advertising monetization (interstitials, rewarded, interstitials-rewarded, banners).
  5. Subscription and VIP statuses (rarely used in the casual gaming segment).

Monitoring

Mistakes in business cost money. Your mistakes will cost the company a lot of money — after all, an incorrect interpretation of the dynamics of metrics will lead to incorrect decisions and wasted time of product teams.

It is important for you to deeply understand what is happening in the product and establish the right cause-and-effect relationships. The analytical system, accordingly, should make it possible to analyze monetization metrics under a variety of slices. Otherwise, one day you will wake up with a drop in revenue of tens of percent and a complete misunderstanding of where to run and what to grab.

We check these verticals first of all if something goes wrong (without taking into account deep game features):

  • platforms;
  • countries;
  • installation date (usually reduced to the month of installation);
  • segments paying by the amount of payments for N days (we have set the last 30 days for ourselves);
  • the structure of payments by category (bank and offers — in general, individual items — in detail);
  • places of transition to purchase. From the core, from the main screen, from the event screen, by the offer trigger, and so on.

Ideally, if your monitoring system is able to send alerts if metrics abnormally deviate from the norm. Alerts can be configured according to the three sigma rule and based on the sensitivity of a specific metric.

Also, to keep abreast of the pulse, it is useful to highlight:

  • “the golden cohort of players.” It can be organic or a stable channel of advertising traffic on one of the platforms on the market, for example, organic installations of the USA iOS. The main thing is that it should be stable and large enough;
  • the cohort of the engaged audience. They have been with you for a long time, actively playing and / or paying, and their reaction to this or that change will allow you to draw conclusions about whether the players liked the feature.

Monitoring for managers

I will highlight a few rules of good form.

  1. Garbage in — Garbage out. You and your managers need to be 100% sure of what you see in the reports every day. In the case of monetization, it is worth paying increased attention to this, since any mistake here can cost the company a lot of money.
  2. Managers don’t have to see too many details, this will only blur the picture and focus (but on request, of course, they should get the most detailed picture with comments). For them, prepare reports with the main metrics characterizing the health of the project: revenue, the number and share of payers, ARPU, ARPPU and the structure of payments.
  3. Create more detailed dashboards for yourself — because you should always have quick answers to most of the questions about metrics and their dynamics.

I will separately highlight the points on informing management.

  1. Send short and succinct regular reports to the corporate messenger.
  2. Make sure that the monetization charts in the analytics system are informative and understandable to anyone who has dealt with them. And if you have several products, then the main charts should be the same — like twins.

Intersections with the product and the surrounding world

You have to work together with almost all the structures of the company in order to get better insights and improve the work of monetization of products in general. It will also allow you to build communication more effectively and get a higher priority in testing the flow of purchases, in choosing features that affect the monetization of products in roadmaps.

In this section I will focus on the interaction with the most important structures of the company in my opinion.

Analytics

You can find a lot of insiders and growth points in the data, if you dig well. Therefore, we turn to the data first for answers. You can use the excellent knowledge of mathematics and statistics of the analytics team and conduct good in-depth data research. The main thing here is to formulate the task correctly, justify it from a business point of view and indicate why you need the data and conclusions.

In my practice, I have met many times with tasks that ended with reports. At Belka Games, we try to generate a pool of tasks for the development of a feature or product in each task based on the results of analyses and research. There are benefits from all sides: the analytics team sees its participation and direct impact on business development, you get good insights and ground for new ideas.

Ideally, if you yourself have experience working with data — an independent working unit is always more mobile than a team.

An effective tool is RFM analysis. It should be done regularly in order to understand how much players pay, how often, and how long ago they last paid. Having gathered groups of players in this way, you can figure out how to work with each of them.

One such recent analysis from a team of analysts showed that in one of the games there is a fairly large cohort of players who pay a lot in total, but with minimal transactions. Based on the observations, we formed a pool of hypotheses to increase the average payment and amount for the period.

Marketing

There are many traffic sources, they are constantly changing and evolving. It is possible and necessary to use channels in different ways, building monetization schemes based on the source. Therefore, it is important to be on the same wavelength with the marketing team. Including being around when there are significant changes in the purchase of traffic in order to adjust your monetization strategy to the realities of the market and procurement.

Based on the traffic structure, it is possible to develop several versions of the monetization of the application:

  • focused on direct purchases of game entities (IAP) for tier1 countries;
  • hybrid (direct purchases + advertising) for tier1 and tier2;
  • pure advertising is for tier3 countries, since IAP monetization is not so well developed there yet.

Different versions of the monetization of the application can also be applied not only based on geo, but also on the sources of purchase. The same US traffic can be equally well monetized by IAP and advertising, the main thing is to know which user is in front of you.

Your marketing circles of interaction with colleagues outside the company can be very different, forming a completely different information field. By combining them, you will qualitatively enrich the general expertise — and perhaps formulate new qualitative ideas for the development of monetization.

Content and Product

I repeat — there will be no good monetization without a good product. If you don’t have a working product with a potential audience, then attempts to add monetization to it will most likely fail, so first of all make sure that your product has Market Fit. We check its availability at the R&D stage, when the project team is still small, the project is flexible, and you can check different approaches to the game’s crust. Many hits of the mobile market were limited only to a bank with six packs of hard currency without complex offer systems and reached their heights, so it’s not always worth chasing a huge body kit of monetization features.

You are responsible for the product on a par with the team, and you can influence almost all aspects of it. The inverse relationship is also true: the product directly affects your work, and this should be taken into account. For example, there will be no point in an offer timed to a feature if users disappear at the beginning of the path of interaction with the feature.

In our practice, there have been cases when equally configured monetization (offers, display points) worked with completely different effects in plus and minus.

Example

Bermuda Adventures

One of the main driving features of the product are temporary expeditions: the player needs to complete a history map for a certain time, meet various heroes and complete a number of quests. Each expedition is created by different level designers, and each, in addition to common standards and rules, has its own developed patterns of creation.

A system of trigger offers has been built inside the expedition at points specially verified by the designer. But the effectiveness of monetization varies from launch to launch, because the involvement of users in the feature directly affects whether they want to support the developer with a wallet.

As an example, in one of the locations, the complexity curve of the level design was built suboptimally. The passage of players was blocked at the first stages of the funnel. It is logical that they did not need additional resources to pass. As a result, the entire system designed for content consumption simply did not work, and no one saw the offers.

The real world

The 2020 pandemic has shown how much the mobile games market depends on world events. During the lockdown, game sales in 50 key global markets increased by 63% — because people needed entertainment. In 2021, most of the restrictions were lifted, we began to slowly return to society, market growth slowed down, but 2022 hit the industry so hard that the number of payments in mobile games decreased by 5% compared to the previous year.

This dynamic only proves how unstable the market is and how easy it is to lose progress, and it should remind us that we need to be flexible, be able to rebuild, accelerate and look for new growth points every time.

While the main money is still being earned in tier1 countries, but the dynamics of emerging markets should at least attract attention. And this means that you need to take into account the features of a new audience for you.

The following approaches will insure you in monetization:

  1. Price diversification.
  2. Strengthening the share of advertising in the revenue structure of the product.
  3. Working with the conversion to the first payment.
  4. Complexity or, conversely, simplicity of payment mechanics.

It is also useful to delve deeply into the specifics of the market and the audience of this market. Everyone has their own “rules of the game”, especially APAC- and MENA-regions. For example, in South Korea, our game was once temporarily blocked in the local Google Play for the image of playing cards on the icon.

Or for example: the text in Arabic localization is read from right to left, but the numbers are written from left to right. Because of this, an unpleasant problem arose: the cost of kits and prices in the bank were “reflected” due to the orientation of the texts. So, the price tag of $4.99 turned into $99.4.

Also pay attention to local holidays (Ramadan in MENA, for example). Using them in games, you can both get revenue peaks and strengthen the company’s brand, as well as increase product engagement in a particular region.

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