Using gacha to monetize your game

Gacha is a monetization tactic that originated in Japan but has spread to dominate the top grossing games worldwide. Gacha games provide the player with random “loot drops” that can be used in the game. Top grossing games like Clash Royale, Madden NFL Football, and Golf Clash all use the technique very effectively to drive their monetization.

Adam Teifer from Mobile Free to Play has a great presentation on how to design an effective gacha system:

How to Design a Gacha System

Five Mobile Gaming Trends in Q1 2017

The Think Gaming team analyzed Q1 2017 performance vs. Q1 2016 for the top ten mobile publishers. Here are the key trends in the industry.

Continued domination by the biggest franchises: Established titles continued their dominance at the top of the charts. Supercell still reigns supreme with Clash of Clans and Clash Royale. Machine Zone titles Mobile Strike and Game of War: Fire Age continue to print money and King had a solid quarter thanks to their enduring stable of Match-3 Puzzlers. The gaming business is certainly hits-driven, but the rewards for creating a hit are enormous.

Pokémon GO isn’t going anywhere: Niantic’s Pokémon Go appears to have the staying power to join the ranks of the hits. Early naysayers suggested that the game didn’t have enough depth or variety to stick around, but it’s continued performance at the top of the charts suggests otherwise.

Mini Clip’s quiet growth. Mini Clip has been steadily growing. 8 Ball Pool and Archery King have seen slow, steady growth over the past year, though we’re seeing a bit of an April slow down for those titles.

But where there are winners, there are also losers. Publishers EA and Big Fish suffered the largest year-over-year drops.

EA needs a new hit. EA’s revenue decline was mainly driven by a lack of new hits. Madden NFL Mobile remains EA’s top mobile title but is on the decline, and the replacements haven’t materialized.

Social Casino is shrinking. Big Fish Games is suffering from industry-wide declines in the social casino genre. Big Fish’s top title Big Fish Casino saw a multi-million revenue drop despite growth in new installs. While social casino remains a big category, it appears that growth may be over.


Revenue Rank 1Q17 vs. 1Q16
1Q17 1Q16 Revenue Change New Installs Change
Supercell 1 1 -8% -13%
Machine Zone Inc 2 2 31% 19%
King 3 3 38% 5%
Epic War Llc 4 5 214% 40%
Niantic Inc 5 n/a n/a n/a
Electronic Arts 6 4 -42% 4%
Miniclip Com 7 14 124% 128%
Playtika Ltd 8 8 11% 56%
Zynga Inc 9 7 -9% 24%
Big Fish Games Inc 10 6 -37% 10%

Think Gaming will be keeping an eye on these trends and any emerging hits as 2Q 2017 unfolds.

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March 2017: New Game Releases

RollerCoast Tycoon Touch

We’ve fired up the Hit Potential Algorithm to take a look at Atari’s anticipated RollerCoaster Tycoon Touch game.
The game — released on February 23 — received favorable reviews and spent nearly 1 week week as the top Free Game. But three weeks in, it has already dropped to #178 on the charts. When you take a look at the Daily Active User trends, we’re seeing only 10% of the install base actively using the game.

All of this adds up to a low Hit Potential Score.* Our algorithm scored it as a 13 — much lower than the January and other February releases we’ve profiled.

RollerCoaster Tycoon Touch’s numbers are unlikely to support paid acquisition so it will continue to decline on the charts over time. Overall the game will not be the boost to this franchise that Atari was hoping for.

New Paid Game to Watch

The Escapists a new paid game is gathering steam and good reviews. With no in-app purchases, it won’t be a blockbuster but should be a solid money maker for publisher Team17 Software.

Upcoming March releases

We’ll be keeping an eye on these new games over the coming weeks.

Dead Ahead: Zombie Warfare

Release date: March 8, 2017
Publisher: Mobirate Studio Ltd
Genre: Adventure

Power Rangers: Legacy Wars
Anticipated Release Date: Mar 23, 2017
Publisher: nWay
Genre: Fighting

The Bunker
Anticipated Release Date: March 2017
Publisher: Green Man Gaming
Genre: Adventure

Red Barton and the Sky Pirates
Anticipated Release Date: March 2017 (postponed from February)
Publisher: Schism Worldwine
Genre: Action

* As a reminder, we look at the revenue and install trajectory of new launches during their early weeks to identify characteristics of games that will have long term success. Our Hit Potential algorithm scores games from 1 (bust) to 100 (blockbuster).

If you’re interest in seeing Hit Potential Scoring on more new releases, click here to schedule a demo.


January 2017’s Anticipated Game Releases

Last week we rolled out our new Hit Potential algorithm to score new releases on their likelihood of becoming a hit.

What is the Hit Potential score and how is it calculated?

  • We look at the revenue and install trajectory of new launches during their early weeks to identify characteristics of games that will have long term success
  • We score games from 1 (bust) to 100 (blockbuster)

Let’s run last month’s (January 2017) most anticipated releases through the algorithm to gauge their staying power…

Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links

  • Hit Potential Score: 27
  • Genre: Card Battlers
  • Publisher: Konami  
  • Release Date: Jan 11, 2017

Star Wars: Force Arena

  • Hit Potential Score: 27
  • Genre: Card Battlers
  • Publisher: Netmarble Games Corp.
  • Release Date: Jan 11, 2017

Bubble Witch 3 Saga 

  • Hit Potential Score: 21
  • Genre: Bubble Shooter
  • Publisher: King
  • Release Date: January 11, 2017

Pokémon Duel

  • Hit Potential Score: 20
  • Genre: Card Battlers
  • Publisher: The Pokemon Company
  • Release Date: Jan 24, 2017

Card battlers Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links and Star Wars Force Arena were the best of the bunch with scores in the high 20s. Bubble Witch 3 Saga and Pokémon Duel bring up the rear with scores in the low 20s.

Do scores in the 20s mean these are duds? Not exactly. What the scores do mean is given the level of monetization these games have, it will be challenging to use paid user acquisition to profitably drive growth. As a result, these games will likely fade and continue to drop on the charts.

Check out Fire Emblem Heroes Hit Potential. And stay tuned for scores on the rest of February’s top releases.

If you’re interest in seeing Hit Potential Scoring on more new releases, click here to schedule a demo.

Hit or Miss: Fire Emblem Heroes

Nintendo’s Fire Emblem Heroes launched two weeks ago, the company’s most recent attempt at mobile gaming super-stardom. Our assessment: Fire Emblem Heroes is a solid single but won’t be a homerun. Tweet: @GamingOutLoud's early assessment of FireEmblemHeroes: solid single but not a homerun #FireEmblemHeroes #nintendo

To conduct the analysis, we used our (brand new) Hit Potential score to rate Fire Emblem Heroes’ launch metrics. Hit Potential scores are derived by looking at the launch patterns of over 1,100 games that launched and made the Top Grossing Game List. We look at how games monetize, how they add new users, and we’ve identified patterns that indicate longer-term success.

Fire Emblem Heroes is right in the middle: it monetizes well enough to support paid user acquisition and avoid flop, but isn’t strong enough to create a blockbuster. We expect it will soon descent to the lower echelons of top grossing games (e.g. 40-60 in the US). If Nintendo pursues paid user acquisition, it may stay there indefinitely.

That’s a nice success that many smaller developers would be thrilled with. But the game will fall well short of Nintendo’s success with Pokémon GO and the industry-leading Clash Royale.

We’ll continue keep an eye on this one as Nintendo just released new characters yesterday. Let’s see if this helps to up the engagement level and/or in-app purchases.

We will be rolling out our Hit Potential scoring to all new releases over the coming week. If you’re interest in learning more, click here to schedule a demo.

The Verdict on Super Mario Run

Nintendo’s Super Mario Run was December’s hottest mobile game release. The high-level stats looked great, reviews were very positive, and the business press has been positively giddy.

But here’s our take from a deeper look at the numbers: Nintendo left a ton of money on the table.  Tweet: According to @GamingOutLoud, Nintendo left a ton of money on the table with Super Mario Run #mobilegames

The headline stats look great. Since its December 15th launch, Think Gaming estimates that Super Mario Run earned roughly $36MM in gross revenue on ~80MM installs since launch. It spent 1 month as the top free iPhone game in the U.S. And, it remains in the top 10 as of February 2, 2017.

But Super Mario Run started with two unique benefits: top tier IP (the Super Mario Franchise) and unprecedented promotion from the App Store. Remember Apple’s September 2016 event? Nintendo’s Super Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto took the stage to announce Super Mario Run after Tim Cook’s company update? This was followed by the first-ever pre-registration promotion, and the app was featured extensively after launch.

Real success as a top grossing mobile game means a high lifetime value (LTV). That basically breaks down into two questions:

  • Is the game sticky?
  • Does it drive players to open up their pocketbooks?

Super Mario Run only spent 1 week as top grossing game and is currently hovering around #60 on Think Gaming’s charts. Generally, games in the top 50 grossing games make at least $5.00 in 1-year customer lifetime value. Our current estimate of the LTV of a Super Mario Run player is quite low: $1.18.

What went wrong? Retention looks fairly good, so it’s a sticky game. And the conversion rate of 4.5% to the $10 paid offering is in line with other well monetizing games. The big problem? Nintendo capped their revenue per user with a single $10 in-app purchase. Games like Pokémon Go, Game of War, and Clash Royale make much more money from their super fans (aka their whales).

Compare Super Mario Run performance to this summer’s hit Pokémon GO. During the 7 weeks immediately following launch, Pokémon GO earned $100MM in revenue and had 45MM installs with 9.4MM Daily Active Users. One of the most successful mobile launches ever. And it has proven to have staying power.

Just since Super Mario Run launched (December 15 to February 2), Pokémon GO earned nearly $30MM in revenue — 1.5x what Super Mario Run has earned. And this isn’t just the case of having a larger base of players from which to earn. The LTV of a Pokémon GO player is dramatically higher.

From Think Gaming’s perspective Super Mario Run is not the hit Nintendo wanted or needed. If we were in Nintendo’s shoes, we’d evaluate whether the Action genre was the correct genre to pursue with IP as valuable as the Super Mario franchise. The Action genre accounts for 12.4% of U.S. iPhone game installs BUT only 3.6% of revenue. This simply isn’t the type of game that drives tremendous in-app purchases.

We’re keeping a close eye on Nintendo’s new iPhone release Fire Emblem Heroes to see how well it performs and whether it can be a meaningful driver of in-app purchases.


Interested in learning more about Think Gaming? SCHEDULE A DEMO.


New Game Releases: Winners & Losers

We’re excited to start a new series looking at how each month’s most anticipated new releases perform. We’ll tell you who the big winners and losers are.

Do January 2017’s most anticipated releases have staying power? Later this month we’ll be doing a deep dive on these games:

Pokémon Duel

  • Genre: Card Battlers
  • Publisher: The Pokemon Company
  • Release Date: Jan 24, 2017

Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links 

  • Genre: Card Battlers
  • Publisher: Konami  
  • Release Date: Jan 11, 2017

Bubble Witch 3 Saga 

  • Genre: Bubble Shooter
  • Publisher: King
  • Release Date: January 11, 2017

Star Wars: Force Arena

  • Genre: Card Battlers
  • Publisher: Netmarble Games Corp.
  • Release Date: Jan 11, 2017

As February 2017 begins, we’re keeping an eye on these upcoming titles:

Fire Emblem Heroes (Android and iOS)

  • Genre: RPG, Strategy
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Release Date: Feb 2, 2017

Red Barton and the Sky Pirates (iOS)

  • Genre: Action
  • Publisher: Schism Worldwide
  • Release Date: February 14, 2017 (Updated: PUSHED BACK UNTIL MARCH)

Forma.8 (iOS)

  • Genre: Action
  • Publisher: MixedBag
  • Release Date: February 2017

Stay tuned for our upcoming deep dive on Super Mario Run – December 2016’s most anticipated new game.

The Resurgence of Card Battlers

2017 looks to be the year of the Card Battler. Since January of 2016, we’ve seen share of revenue for the Card Battler category grow from 1% share among Top Grossing Games in the US to almost 16% share a year later. Tweet: Is 2017 the year of the Card Battler?

After early success, the genre had been in steady decline. First generation card battlers Rage of Bahamut, Marvel: War of Heroes, and Blood Brothers were among the first mobile gaming mega-hits, but were eclipsed as base-building titles like Clash of Clans and Game of War captured a more mainstream audience.

Card Battler US iPhone Revenue Share of US iPhone Top Grossing Revenue Share of US iPhone Mobile Game Installs
January 2013 $9.4MM 4.6% 2.4%
January 2014 $7.7MM 3.9% 1.7%
January 2015 $7.7MM 2.2% 1.3%
January 2016 $3.1MM 1.0% 1.4%
January 2017 $61.8MM 15.8% 3.6%

Source: Think Gaming

Supercell’s launch of Clash Royale in March 2016 created the first mega-hit for the category in years. Hearthstone laid the foundation, bringing a simplified style to broaden the appeal to a wider audience. Clash Royale combined a casual, frenetic match style with a huge audience of paying users from Clash of Clans to create a rocket ship.

Even excluding Clash Royale, category revenue has increased by 80% since since last January. Think Gaming’s player lifetime value (LTV) estimates have increased across the category.   

And the trend continues. Last weeks’s hottest new top grossing games were card battlers: Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links and Star Wars: Force Arena. Both are seeing strong early results.  

Stay tuned – in our next blog post we’ll explore how the new generation of Card Battlers combines the best parts of the original hits with best practices discovered in the interim. 

Interested in learning more about Think Gaming? SCHEDULE A DEMO.


What lifetime value do I need to have a top grossing game?

What does it take – in terms of lifetime value (LTV) – to have a top grossing game? It’s a topic of interest to game developers and publishers. It helps them benchmark their newest games against the current crop of winners, understand the competitive landscape for marketing spend, and forecast payback on marketing spend.

Since Think Gaming provides LTV and retention estimates on thousands of games, we looked at the distribution of LTV on the top grossing charts (US/iPhone). We looked at ~300 games that were in the top grossing charts in January, where we had LTV estimates [Some details on methodology at the bottom of the post for the wonky]. We divided those games into deciles and published the mean LTV for each decile in the chart below.



LTV distribution for Top Grossing Games

Lifetime value by decile


A few things stood out:
1) As in everything app store related, the rich are really rich. The top 10-20 games make a ton of money per user. Interestingly, though, these aren’t necessarily the top games on the charts. Some of the best monetizing games are in niche categories where the average revenue per user (ARPU) is very high but the market for new users is fairly small.
2) There are a surprising number of games succeeding with LTVs that don’t support buying users via paid advertising. Some of these are games that were once huge and are in decline, but others have managed to acquire an audience without having to compete with the Supercell’s and Machine Zone’s of the world. These tend to either be viral “gimmicky” apps or licensed IP with built-in audiences.

Hope you find this interesting!

Updated: We’ve added a graph showing the percentage of revenue earned by games in each decile. ~75% of revenue is earned by games in the top 50%.


A few notes on methodology:
1) This is gross revenue, prior to the app store’s 30% cut, and it is in-app purchase revenue only. We recently started estimating ad revenue, but it’s not included in our LTV calculations yet.
2) We estimate LTV as the revenue earned by an “average” player over the course of 1-year.
3) These lifetime values are much higher than “average games”, as these are top grossing games, even more so because this analysis focused solely on US/iPhone, one of the richest markets.
4) Generally we need to know the game’s genre and have 90 days of data to make accurate estimates.

Smarter TV buying from SimulX

Some of the biggest mobile games use TV advertising to support their business. Supercell, King, Machine Zone, and others have all spent heavily on TV over the past year. Unlike online ads, however, it can be very difficult to track the effectiveness of those ads. And the planning/buying/optimization cycle is much slower than the tools used by digital marketers.

Enter SimulMedia’s new business unit SimulX. They’ve combined Think Gaming’s performance data with TV spend history by games to determine the best TV spots to buy for mobile games.  And they’re building out tools to make TV buying look similar to the digital tools that marketers know and love.

We’re excited about our partnership and look forward to a new generation of smarter TV buyers.