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.

4 comments on “What lifetime value do I need to have a top grossing game?

  1. alexis says:

    Hi what is the decile with the most gross revenue overall? Not very clear if for example a candy crush is in decile 1 and Game of War in decile 10. Is that the case?

    • togilvie says:

      Hi Alexis-Interesting question! We just updated the post to show the percentage of revenue in each decile. It’s heavily weighted towards the top decile (33%) and 75% of revenue comes from the top 5 deciles.

  2. I’d be curious to see estimated LTV for games by their revenue decile, not their LTV decile. (E.g. The top 10% of grossing games have an estimated LTV of X, the bottom 10% of grossing games have an estimated LTV of Y.)

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