Skillz Blog

Open A Second Revenue Stream With A Skillz-Powered Version Of Your Game

Author: Brian Mahoney, Director of Game Design 

Picture this — you have a performant mobile game with strong player engagement and retention across the majority of your players. The game is consistently generating revenue, although you’re starting to see diminishing returns on your player acquisition strategy. Additionally, you’re consistently making game iterations to retain the attention of your most highly-engaged players, who are desperately seeking new content within the game.

This scenario describes the plight of many mid-to-large-sized mobile game studios. One of the core challenges of any larger studio is how to produce content continuously and efficiently to maintain the fleeting attention of players who have more games available to them than ever before. For this reason, we’re going to look at some design tips for mobile game monetization and how launching a Skillz-powered version of a main SKU game is an excellent way to open up a second revenue stream with solid long-term player retention rates.

Instilling Competitive Elements Into A Game Drives Long-Term Retention & Monetization

By nature, competitive games experience longer player retention curves than single-player games. One of the key reasons for these longer retention curves is that competition offers players compelling motivations to continuously re-engage with a game. Namely, players receive the psychological reward of being able to clearly benchmark their performance against other real-world opponents. Competing against others provides an ever-changing challenge to players, rich with opportunities to learn new techniques and strategies. And similar to single-player games, players also receive the psychological reward of showing a clear sense of mastery in their skills.

By instilling competitive elements into a game you are keeping your players coming back for more, which is key for driving long-term revenue to a game. But integrating competition into a game isn’t only effective for generating revenue; it’s also a key lever for increasing a game’s profitability.

In single-player games, players showcase their game mastery by completing new levels, unlocking new characters or game modes, and so on. To retain players’ attention, game developers are continuously tasked with introducing new content, whether it’s in over-the-air updates to an existing game or by developing a sequel or franchise.

In competitive games, players showcase their mastery of a game by moving up the ranks of a leaderboard. Competitive players are more averse to new content as it makes their previously learned skills obsolete. This is the reason why you see eSports retaining players for a much longer period of time than non-competitive games. Check out the content type and the initial release year of 2018’s top revenue games (all) vs. top revenue games (eSports):

The reason competition increases a game’s long-term profitability is straightforward: game iterations are costly. Therefore, with a player-base being retained in a game for a longer period of time and with the games requiring far fewer iterations, the revenue is increasing and costs are decreasing. In short, there are higher longer-term profits.  

Why Create A Competitive Version Of A Game?

First and foremost, creating a competitive version of a game is an easy method for opening up an additional revenue stream. Within your main SKU, there is likely a group of highly-engaged players that are desperately seeking new content related to your game. To retain these players, you can either consistently create new content within the game or offer these players a separate evergreen competitive SKU where they can compete against one another.

As the best-monetizing competitive mobile games have a short gameplay experience, you can pull out a subset of your main SKU’s content. That way, you aren’t going back to the drawing board to develop a new game concept, but instead, are creating a second version out of existing content. Once the game is live, you can continue monetizing off of your main SKU, but you also have a competitive version of the game that is generating additional revenue. And voila! You’ve now opened up an additional revenue stream!

How To Create A Competitive SKU Without Disrupting Main SKU Performance

After deciding to create a competitive version of your main SKU, there are a few key items to take into consideration.

    1. Short and Sweet Competitive Gameplay – Pull out the part of the gameplay that is most likely to guide player behavior into re-entering a match time and time again. The ideal game length for a Skillz-powered game is between 2 and 4 minutes as it provides enough content for the player to find engaging, but is also short enough to minimize match abandon rates and drive game monetization. Generally, the gameplay should be something that is easy to learn, but difficult to master.
    2. Synchronous Gameplay – Determining whether the gameplay should be synchronous or asynchronous really comes down to two factors: audience needs and the budget for driving early player adoption. Having one player compete against another in real-time (synchronous) is a solid option as players receive an additional psychological reward of competing on the same screen as their opponent. That said, there is nothing more disruptive to a multiplayer experience than waiting forever to be matched against another player of equal skill level. Therefore, to successfully launch a synchronous game, there needs to be a strategy in place to drive a large amount of DAU during the initial game launch.
    3. Asynchronous Gameplay – Having each player compete individually and then having the highest score win often checks all of the boxes for what a game’s audience demands. Players can quickly compete in a match and then receive a notification when their opponent completes the match, which results in a) enabling the player to compete in match-after-match without needing to wait for an opponent and b) increasing player retention rates by getting players back into the app. If you’re still not sure about which type of gameplay to focus on, then we recommend you start with an asynchronous version of the game, drive up sufficient DAU, and then add a synchronous format.
    4. Design Scoring To Reward Skillful Play – Intuitive scoring is a key element for guiding players in improving their mastery of the game. When a player finishes a match, we recommend showing the final score along with the formula for how the score was calculated.
    5. Ensure Fairness and Replayability – A crucial requirement for any skill-based competitive game is to make the game fair. In order to provide a level playing field, all players need to have the exact same starting conditions in the match. In addition, the game should be set up in such a way that a player cannot memorize solutions to a game and then deploy them in future matches. All Skillz-powered games go through a thorough fairness check before becoming cash-enabled, so if you’re a game developer looking to monetize with Skillz, it’s highly recommended to pay close attention to fairness and replayability in the design and development stage.

Game Iterations & Launching A Skillz-Powered Game

Whenever a game developer is looking to launch a Skillz-powered version of their game, there are a few key considerations that Skillz always recommends. The first is that the initial iteration of the game is probably not sufficiently optimized to spend a massive amount of time and money on promotion. We recommend that you do a phased rollout of the game, which allows time for making game iterations based on player feedback. This will help in maximizing player retention and monetization before heavy promotion.

Once the Skillz-powered version of the game is ready for prime-time, then cross-promoting to your main SKU players is highly recommended. To date, the best messaging methods of cross-promotion that we’ve seen for marketing a Skillz-powered game to players of the main SKU fall into two distinct buckets:

  1. If the main SKU doesn’t have a multiplayer option, then the Skillz-powered version can be promoted as a multiplayer option.
  2. If the main SKU does have a multiplayer option, then promote the Skillz-powered game as a way for competitive players to put their skills to the test and play for real-world cash and prizes.

After determining the right messaging, the last step is segmenting your most competitive players and running cross-promotion. This segmentation exercise is critical for avoiding player cannibalization from your main SKU to your Skillz-powered version.

Avoiding Player Cannibalization When Opening A New Revenue Stream

To avoid cannibalization, it’s recommended to not promote the Skillz-powered version to your non-competitive player segment. Instead, by focusing the cross-promotion solely on highly competitive and engaged players, you’ll see these players continue to play the main SKU along with the Skillz-powered version. Here are the reasons that we’ve seen this competitive segment play both versions of a game:

  1. Main SKU – These players are already bought into the original version of the game, are invested in its progression system, and want to continue exploring the content.
  2. Skillz-powered version – These players have access to an evergreen piece of content that is consistently challenging. Additionally, the ability to compete in cash tournaments and for real-world prizes adds to their excitement and helps retention amongst these players.

If you stick with solely promoting the Skillz-powered version of the game to the competitive segment, then you will have effectively eliminated the threat of game cannibalization. The other player segments of the game will not see the Skillz-powered version (unless they are organically searching for the game, which shows intent), and are therefore not at risk of abandoning your main SKU. Meanwhile, for the most competitive segment, you’ve successfully opened up a second revenue stream.

Reaping The Benefits

Once you have launched the Skillz-powered version of your game, you then have two distinct games that are generating revenue. There are some obvious benefits to having two games, especially when looking comprehensively at your return on investment.

Starting with the cost part of the equation, the overall investment in creating a Skillz-powered version of a game that already has a main SKU is much lower than if you were to create a brand new game. This is true, both in terms of the amount of development resources required to integrate and launch the Skillz SDK and from a marketing budget perspective if you can effectively leverage in-app cross promotion from your main SKU.

And from the return perspective, Skillz games have typically seen an $.18 uplift in ARPDAU compared to their main SKU counterparts. When you add this revenue onto the already existing revenue of the main SKU, you can see that creating a Skillz-powered version of a game is a highly profitable decision.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can create a Skillz-powered version of your game, then please write to devrel@skillz.com. Your next high-revenue mobile app might only be a few months away!