Like most peo­ple, I spent a lot of time with fam­ily over the hol­i­days. In between all the fes­tiv­i­ties, there was plenty of downtime—and these days, down­time means mobile devices. Cousins and nieces and nephews lounged on couches and floors, play­ing games on their iPods and iPads and Androids. Candy Crush, Angry Birds, Poker, Sudoko, Words with Friends … It got me won­der­ing, when did mobile gam­ing get so big?

As it turns out, mobile gam­ing is the fastest-growing seg­ment of the over­all video game indus­try. Accord­ing to Gart­ner, rev­enue from gam­ing apps is poised to dou­ble between 2013 and 2015, from $13.2 bil­lion to $22 bil­lion. And Newzoo’s lat­est trend report indi­cates that more than 100 mil­lion Amer­i­cans now play games on their hand­held devices. That’s a huge market.

If you’re con­sid­er­ing build­ing and mar­ket­ing a mobile game, or if you already have one in the app store that’s not get­ting much play­ing time, how can you ensure that your game works as hard as it plays?

Rule Book for Prof­itable Gam­ing Apps

  • Know your play­ers. With mil­lions of gam­ing apps that can be down­loaded for free, or for very lit­tle, you need a com­pelling hook that will engage and intrigue your tar­get audi­ence. Before start­ing devel­op­ment, iden­tify your ideal users and design the game with their needs and inter­ests in mind.
  • Keep it fresh. Gamers get bored eas­ily if there’s no ele­ment of sur­prise or chal­lenge. The most pop­u­lar apps offer a stream of nov­el­ties and incen­tives, whereas games that sim­ply repeat the same sequences over and over are quickly out­played by the competition.
  • Get social. Online com­mu­nity is a major com­po­nent of mobile gam­ing. Play­ers expect to be able to com­pete, inter­act, and share with oth­ers, whether it’s a friend or an anony­mous user across the world. Cre­at­ing a rich, mul­ti­player expe­ri­ence is essen­tial to engag­ing peo­ple for many games to come.
  • Offer in-app pur­chases. Although there are excep­tions, today’s users are less likely to pay for app down­loads, opt­ing instead for free games. But once they’re engaged, they can be per­suaded to make pur­chases while play­ing. Accord­ing to a March 2013 report from Dis­timo, in-app pur­chases now gen­er­ate more rev­enue than down­loads. In fact, they gen­er­ated 76 per­cent of the iPhone app rev­enue in Jan­u­ary 2013. Mobile ads pro­vide another poten­tial rev­enue stream—especially when you’ve accu­rately pin­pointed your audi­ence with a tool like Adobe mobile tar­get­ing. Be sure to use an ad for­mat that com­ple­ments your app’s design.
  • Cater to the plat­form. One mon­e­ti­za­tion strat­egy does not fit all. Each mobile oper­at­ing sys­tem has its own unique user behav­iors and tech­no­log­i­cal lim­i­ta­tions. Start by iden­ti­fy­ing your tar­get plat­form and then cus­tomize your mon­e­ti­za­tion strat­egy accordingly.

The first step to mon­e­tiz­ing a mobile game is to look at the data. Ana­lyt­ics are key to under­stand­ing how users inter­act with your game and what they want to get out of it. Solu­tions like Adobe app opti­miza­tion let you define spe­cific user seg­ments, test game ver­sions, and set up tar­get­ing cam­paigns with just a click. Then, tai­lor your app devel­op­ment to improve the gam­ing experience.

Fun for play­ers, prof­its for you. That’s what we call a win/win.

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