This post was originally written by Brian Mahoney, Director of Game Design at Skillz. You can read it here.

Picture this – your mobile game is doing well. You have really high player engagement, and your retention is looking strong. All in all, your game is bringing in a steady stream of money, so you’re happy.

However, you start to see a drop in your acquisition strategy. And on top of that, you need to keep making iterations and changes to your game to avoid losing your most highly-engaged players (the ones who expect more and more content). So, what do you do?

This scenario is all too familiar amongst some of the mid-to-larger sized gaming studios. One of the biggest challenges developers face today (which I’m sure all of you can agree with) is competing in a market where players have an abundance of games to play. So for this reason, we’re going to take a look at some design tips for mobile game monetization, and what the benefits are when launching a competitive version of your game.

So, why should you create a competitive version of your game?

You’ve heard the phrase ‘content is king’, right? Although this is true for the most part, and you should always maintain and release new content for your game, this can be a time-consuming process that some studios just can’t keep up with. And if you can’t keep up with your players’ needs, they’ll just go somewhere that can.

So by making a competitive version of your game, you’ll be adding a whole new level and meaning to your title. Players won’t just play your game to mindlessly complete the next level. They’ll play for the psychological thrill of beating someone else.

This is also a really quick win. You may be thinking ‘yeah that’s great, but I don’t have time to make a completely new game for esports’. Well, the reality is, you don’t have to. Most of the top competitive mobile games actually have a short gameplay time. So all you really need to do is pull out a section or mechanic from your main game, and use this as the basis for your esports title. We have a dedicated platform for this, which you can look into here.

This way, you won’t be going back to the drawing board, but instead will be creating a second version from an existing game. Once the esport version is live, you can continue working on the primary game, but also have a stream of revenue from your competitive version. Win-win.

Here’s how you can create a competitive version of your game, without harming your current game’s performance

Before making a competitive version of your current title, you’ll want to take these things into consideration.

Make sure it’s short and sweet

Find that part of your game that can be turned into quick matches. The ideal length of a competitive mobile game is between 2 – 4 minutes. Any longer, then you’ll be at risk of players dropping out, which can affect your game’s monetization.

Have enough DAU if you want it to be real-time matches…

Having one player compete against another in real-time is a brilliant monetization strategy, as this means your players get that psychological reward of competing against a real-life person.

That being said, there is nothing more disruptive to a multiplayer experience than waiting to be matched against another player of equal skill level. So, in order for your competitive game to be successful, you’ll need to drive a large amount of DAU during the initial launch.

…or start with an individual gameplay approach

If you don’t have the DAU to start with, then you could consider this approach. Have each player compete individually, and have the player with the highest score win. This checks all of the boxes in a way, as players can quickly compete in a match, and then receive a notification when their opponent beats their score.

This basically means: 

  1. Players can compete in match-after-match without needing to wait for an opponent, and
  2. you’ll also increase your retention rates, as players will need to come back into the app to check their score.

If you’re still not sure about which type of gameplay to focus on, then we recommend you start with this approach, so you can drive up sufficient DAU, and then add a real-time element.

Show your players how they can do better

Intuitive scoring is a key element for helping players get more skillful in your game. When a player finishes a match, we recommend showing the final score along with the formula for how the score was calculated. Knowing what exactly they need to do to get better will entice them to try again.

Make sure it’s fair

A crucial requirement for any skill-based competitive game is to make the game fair. To keep a level playing field, all players need to have the exact same starting conditions in the match.

Also, the game should be set up in such a way that players can’t win just by memorizing a sequence or answers. This can sometimes be difficult to do, so here at Skillz we do thorough fairness checks for every game. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about this part.

How to avoid player cannibalization

This can be tricky, but try to avoid promoting your game to your non-competitive players. Instead, focus on cross-promoting to the ones that are highly competitive and engaged, and you should see this audience continue to play your original version, but also your new competitive game.

Here’s why they’ll play both: 

  1. Your main game – These players are already bought into the original version of the game. They’re already invested in its progression system, and will likely want to continue exploring the content.
  2. Your competitive version – These players have access to an evergreen piece of content that is consistently challenging. Also, there’s an added excitement at the idea of cashing in prizes and winning tournaments. This can really help keep your retention high.

What can you do now?

Competitive gaming is on the rise, so if you really want to stay in the game (excuse the pun), then we strongly recommend going down this route. We have a ton more information on how this works, what you need, and how to get started, which you can find here. Equally, feel free to get in contact with us if you have any questions and want to learn more about competitive mobile gaming.

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