How to Turn Free Viral Apps Into "Feeder" Apps That Actually Make Money

Posted on Posted in Blog - Insights

When mobile game developers think of apps which monetize well, they tend to name three categories:

  • Games with a natural power-up or items-based strategy to generate in-app payments. (I.E. Clash of Clans, Candy Crush.)
  • Games with high engagement and traffic over time, but little or no opportunities for IAP, earning revenue from ads. (I.E. Flappy Bird.)
  • Premium download games with a strong consumer identity or branding component. (Fewer and fewer these days, though they sometimes do well for traditional publishers.)

There’s another type of app which doesn’t neatly fall into any of these categories, but is important to monetization: Popular free apps which are simple but highly polished and engaging. Because their gameplay is so simple, there are usually few places to add natural hooks for IAPs, while ad-based monetization would probably feel intrusive, angering players and hurting viral growth (not to mention sending players to other games). Viewed properly, however, apps like these have the potential to be an important component in a network of games strategy.

Game companies should view the creation of feeder apps as a deliberate and integral part of their IAP and monetization plans.

How? Our recommendation is simple: Create addictive and simple games with huge organic traffic and make them “feeder” apps that entice players to download other games designed to monetize through IAP. In fact, we think game companies should view the creation of feeder apps as a deliberate and integral part of their IAP and monetization plans.

In many ways, feeder apps are a generalization of cross-promotion techniques that have existed for quite awhile. (See Chartboost’s excellent advice on free cross-promotion functionality). Leading developers such as ZeptoLab have been cross-promoting their catalog through their most popular game (Cut the Rope, in this case) for years. Brick and mortar casinos now do this as well: You play the casino’s app for free (or close to free) and get loyalty points that are only redeemable at the physical hotel casino.

Figure. ZeptoLab cross-promoting King of Thieves inside Cut the Rope

Instead of adding a paywall or an advertising stream that just sends players to a competitor’s games, a feeder app should display a well-integrated native ad which promotes and links to the developer’s other games. The ad artwork should resemble that of the feeder app, and include an organic call to action: “Love [Feeder App]? Play our other games for free!” (See the Cut the Rope/King of Thieves example above). And because the traffic is being sent to an application which monetizes well, the ads don't have to be displayed as often, or as intrusively, as they would be with a more traditional advertising strategy.

We think this is the best strategy for leveraging a popular app unable to earn revenue through in-app purchases -- encouraging players to try other games that may not have as broad an appeal as the feeder app, but which monetize players better. But we also think developers should actively create fun, simple feeder apps as part of their overall publication strategy. After all, while it’s hard to tune a game for engagement; it’s even harder to tune a game for monetization. And there are game designs that are highly engaging and fun and worth building that don’t monetize. Instead of trying to monkeywrench monetization into them, we recommend making these games into feeder apps.

In fact, we are working with a partner facing this very challenge with their simple but beautiful and highly entertaining games, who asked us for strategies on how to better monetize them. In addition to turning these games into feeder apps, we also recommended another strategy we’ll discuss in a future post.

Kudos to Lloyd Melnick for first discussing feeder apps.