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5 features that generate revenue for mobile games in the US and China

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There are many features of the top-grossing mobile games that help them retain and monetize gamers, but which are the most effective and have the most significant impact? To find out, GameRefinery analyzed the top 200 grossing iOS games in the US and China, using feature-level and market insight analysis from our platform. We’ve then broken down the five most impactful mobile gaming features to show you how developers are using them to generate higher income.

Gachas in RPGs

Gachas (aka loot boxes) are increasingly common in mobile games, especially RPGs. Gachas tend to be tied to an extensive character roster, and there are several types of RPGs that are the most profitable. One of the most popular is the event gacha sold with wholesale discounts to encourage players to buy. AFK Arena regularly offers 800% value packs to meet specific milestones. Fire Emblem Heroes offers one-time monthly purchases that offer an “Orb Discount” as well as a consumable bonus.

These events can also be tied to festive themes or a new licensed character, as we’ve seen with games like AFK Arena and Assassins Creed.

Above: An example of how AFK Arena monetizes.

Image Credit: Lilith Games

Genshin Impact’s monetization focuses on gachas, where players are given characters and equipment. This RPG monetization mechanism has been important to Asian developers and is gaining ground in Western markets. Genshin Impact still has a few active gacha with different “featured characters” with higher drop rates. These “gacha banners” are the way the game always presents its new characters through events and more.

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Above: The revenue impact of the new character gachas in Genshin Impact on iOS in the US

Image Credit: GameRefinery

Above: Using gacha in the United States (above) and China.

Image Credit: GameRefinery

Cosmetic items: skins and accessories

Although popularized by Western shooters, cosmetic items have become a major source of income in a variety of mobile genres, such as casual match-3 games. These decorative items enhance the game by allowing players to express themselves, and there is no effect on the overall balance of the game. Developers can also create promotions around exclusive limited time content.

There are significant differences in how these cosmetic items work across genres. PUBG Mobile offers cosmetics in the form of character and weapon skins and various accessories, avatar icons, emotes and more. Access to these is often the root of various events, battle passes, gachas, and other stores.

US China mobile 9

Above: Using character skins in China (above) and the United States

Image Credit: GameRefinery

Above: Use of character decorative accessories in the United States (above) and China.

Image Credit: GameRefinery

Besides skins, other games offer players accessories as cosmetic items. One example is June’s Journey, the best hidden object game in Western markets. Its core gameplay consists of various hidden object levels, but its meta gameplay is all about building your “garden”. Players can develop buildings and decorate the base as they see fit. The events of the game are motivated by the collection / acquisition of new decorative buildings.

Above: Use of decorative buildings in the United States (above) and China.

Image Credit: GameRefinery

Guilds

Guild-based features are becoming increasingly popular to retain and engage mobile gamers. Guild-based feature implementations can vary in functionality and sophistication, such as seeking help through more complex cooperative guild gameplay, guild competitions, and even common tasks / objectives and gifts.

Guilds have become particularly popular in non-traditional games, moving from RPGs to casual games such as Homescapes. He first released guilds with simple chat and send / request features to lay the groundwork.

Then he started adding more guild-related features, such as the Team Chest event, a co-op task where guild members collect crowns from levels to add them to a common pool of rewards. He also added a Team Tournament event with mechanics similar to the Team Chest, but guilds compete against each other to see who collects the most crowns.

Homescapes also experimented with a ‘help your teammate’ feature where guild members can level up each other when stuck.

Above: More examples of Homescapes guild systems.

Image Credit: Playrix

Interestingly, we’ve seen Chinese games with a “double guild” system, which combines regular guilds with a smaller second (usually limited to around 10 people) to create a much tighter sense of community. A prime example of this is Honor of Kings in China, which runs such a dual system.

Above: The “second” guild system in Honor of Kings.e

Image Credit: TiMi Studios

Above: Using guilds in the United States (above) and China.

Image Credit: GameRefinery

Battle pass

The Battle Pass has been among the fastest growing features in mobile games in the United States and China over the past 12 months. Fortnite kicked off the battle pass mania and then from there it’s spread everywhere, even to the match-3 genre, where we’re seeing heavy season pass use.

Playrix was one of the first companies in the puzzle industry to double the number of battle passes. The Homescapes Battle Pass features various player boosters and collectible characters / areas for your home.

In a new take on battle passes, the Chinese PvP game Battle of Balls recently launched a new event that incorporates cooperation and relationship building mechanics into the proven Battle Pass monetization mechanic. This means that players choose a friend and “lock” them into the battle pass, and then both players strive to progress through the battle and jointly contribute to the same battle pass progression.

Above: 12-month popularity of the Battle Pass in the US and China in the top 100 grossing titles.

Image Credit: GameRefinery

Above: Using the Battle Pass in the US (above) and China.

Image Credit: GameRefinery

Promotional Collaboration Events in RPGs

In turn-based RPGs with metagames focused on collecting characters, the emergence of collaboration and character events work exceptionally well together to drive player engagement and monetization. Time-limited special events are critical to the success of these RPGs, so the sweet spot is the introduction of unique character collaborations around these events.

One such example is Nintendo’s Dragalia Lost, which has had several crossover events. In April 2019, he hosted an event with the Fire Emblem franchise that included a story-driven PvE campaign and limited-time characters such as Alfonse and Marth. He then hosted an event with Megaman where players could get the Blue Bomber and exclusive gear. There was also a recent collaboration event with the Monster Hunter franchise, including Co-op Raid Battles and the Dragon Rathalos.

Above: Megaman event at Dragalia Lost.

Image Credit: Nintendo

Above: Earnings spikes in Dragalia Lost around character crossover events.

Image Credit: GameRefinery

Another example of this crossover with Epic Seven and Kizuna, in which developer Smilegate hosted an event in collaboration with virtual YouTube star Kizuna AI. During the event, players could add Kizuna to their hero roster and receive Kizuna copies as a daily reward.

Above: Kizuna AI event for Epic Seven.

Image Credit: Smilegate

Above: Kizuna event revenue peak in Epic Seven.

Image Credit: GameRefinery

Conclusion

As mobile games continue to evolve, developers will find exciting new ways to introduce entirely new mechanics or simply expand existing ones. With social events becoming increasingly popular in mobile games, it will be interesting to see what the next 12 months have in store for us as the world slowly recovers from the pandemic and gamers venture further outside.

Kalle Heikkinen is the Chief Game Analyst for China at GameRefinery by Vungle, providing feature-level analysis, market intelligence and benchmarks for the mobile gaming industry..

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