May 7, 2024

From player to patron: An overview of subscription-based mobile game monetization

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What are subscription models?

What is a subscription-based monetization model for mobile games?

4 types of subscription models in mobile games (with examples) 

  1. Season or battle passes
  2. VIP memberships
  3. Ad-free subscriptions
  4. Publisher-level game passes

How to price subscriptions in your game

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As the free-to-play model dominates the mobile game market, different monetization models – like those based on in-app purchases (IAP) or in-game ads (IAA) – have gained popularity for publishers to generate revenue. Though historically more common for other categories of mobile apps, subscription-based monetization is now also on the rise within mobile gaming as an avenue for publishers to monetize their titles.

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of the subscription-based monetization model and the different types of mobile game subscription models to explore for your games. Dive in to see how you can turn players into patrons and unlock the increased lifetime value (LTV) potential of subscription models in your mobile game offerings.

👀 Related reading: From models to metrics: A publisher’s guide to mobile game monetization

What are subscription models?

Subscription models are a type of business model in which users pay a recurring fee on a set time frame (weekly, monthly, yearly, etc.) to maintain access to a product or service. Subscriptions are a popular form of payment system for many business and app categories, such as streaming services like Netflix or Spotify, or software like Adobe or Shopify.

Subscriptions are similarly gaining momentum in the mobile world, with annual subscription app spending up from $7.8B to $13.5B USD on the App Store and from $1.9B to $4.8B USD on Google Play – a 73% and 152% increase, respectively, just from 2019 to 2021.

While not the most common form of payment model in mobile gaming specifically, subscriptions are increasingly finding their place in the industry in a variety of ways.

What is a subscription-based monetization model for mobile games?

A subscription monetization model is a type of freemium (or premium) model for mobile games in which players can pay for the game – whether in full or for specific content/features – through a recurring fee. The most popular way that mobile games implement subscription-based monetization is by having the base game itself be free, while locking different features, content, or game modes behind a subscription paywall.

Even though the most prevalent types of monetization models for mobile games in 2024 are in-app purchases (IAP) and in-app advertising (IAA), subscription-based revenue has shown promise in the industry. In fact, subscriptions made up 36% of mobile gaming app revenue in Q1 of 2022, with consumer spend on video game subscriptions throughout the industry projected to reach $11 Billion USD by 2025.

Here are a few key types of subscription models to consider for your mobile game: 

  • Subscription-only: Players can only play the game if they purchase a subscription, but are usually given a short free trial first as a sneak peek of the experience.
  • Subscription optional: Players can enjoy the base game for free and access more features, items, content, etc. through a subscription package. This option is commonly paired with either IAP or IAA as the primary source of revenue.
  • Cross-game subscription: A more high-level type of subscription where players subscribe for access to a catalog of games – usually either from a specific publisher or on a specific platform like Google Play.
  • External subscriptions: A newer type of subscription model in mobile gaming where a non-gaming publisher integrates other publisher’s games into their app – like Netflix Games or Crunchyroll. The subscribers of the app then get access to these games as part of their base subscription.

👀 Related reading: ​​Clicks to coins: Your guide to in-app advertising for mobile game monetization

4 types of subscription models in mobile games (with examples) 

1. Season or battle passes

A season pass or battle pass in mobile games is a monetization model that offers players a tiered system of rewards, challenges, and exclusive content over a specific period, typically referred to as a “season.” Players can purchase the pass to unlock a range of cosmetic items, in-game currency, XP boosts, weapon or character skins, emotes, and other exclusive rewards as they progress through the levels of the pass by completing challenges or tasks within the game. While a season pass can be a subscription in itself, publishers can also offer access to the current and future seasons with an auto-renewing subscription for players to purchase.

This is one of the most common types of subscription models used within games, with Sensor Tower’s State of Mobile Gaming 2023 finding that 41% of the top grossing games have season passes as a form of subscription-based monetization. Battle and season passes are particularly effective for Strategy, RPG, and Shooter games that typically follow a “seasonal” approach to their content drops. However, season passes are also growing in popularity in the Puzzle genre as well, with Gardenscapes and Homescapes both introducing season passes in the last few years, which presents an opportunity to introduce subscriptions for continuous player access to these events. 

Example: Call of Duty: Mobile is a popular multiplayer Shooter that drops new seasons nearly every month with different Battle Passes depending on the season, region, and tier level. Players can purchase a Battle Pass Subscription called “Ground Forces” to get extra rewards and varying XP boosts each season, as well as various discounts on in-game purchases.

2. VIP memberships

VIP membership subscriptions are most commonly found in Social Casino titles and can include things like access to exclusive tournaments, in-game currency bonuses (like chips), and extra content. A VIP membership could give subscribers out-of-game benefits too, such as access to an exclusive online community or priority support when they encounter any issues within the game.

This type of subscription also opens itself up to different tiers of members, where the higher subscription provides players greater access to better rewards. This can operate like a type of tiered loyalty program, which continues to grow in popularity both within and outside of the gaming industry.

Example: Scopely’s Wheel of Fortune features a VIP subscription that gives players an all-access pass with exclusive rewards, sales discounts, and extra content within the game. The “VIP All Access Pass” subscription auto-renews every month with a monthly recurring payment of $9.99 USD.

👀 Related reading: Lessons in loyalty: Cross-industry insights for mobile game publishers

3. Ad-free subscriptions

An ad-free mobile game subscription is exactly what it sounds like: a subscription that lets players play through the game without any interruptions from in-game advertising for a recurring fee. This type of subscription is incredibly popular across all verticals of mobile app categories – from streaming platforms like Spotify to health and wellbeing apps like Headspace – as it can benefit from both IAA and subscription-based monetization models at the same time. 

According to our 2024 Mobile Gaming Spender Report, 29% of mobile game IAP spenders would willingly pay to enjoy an ad-free experience in their mobile games. Such mobile game subscriptions could then further increase revenue in your mobile titles.

Example: In Trivia Crack 2, players can purchase a subscription that removes ads (with a few other benefits, like extra lives) so they can enjoy an uninterrupted experience while playing various trivia challenges. The subscription starts at $4.99 USD per month, but players can also get a three-month subscription for $11.99 USD, or a year-long subscription for $39.99 USD.

4. Publisher-level game passes

Publisher-level subscriptions act like a game pass where players gain access to a variety of titles and/or in-game benefits across a publisher’s whole catalog. This subscription model not only offers players a cost-effective way to explore a wide range of titles from a publisher they like, but also creates a sense of brand loyalty towards your brand.

There are two main ways you can approach a publisher-level game pass subscription: 

  1. By bundling all of your premium games under a single subscription service
  2. By giving access to exclusive content, features, or resources within all of your free-to-play titles

By offering exclusive access to titles or benefits under one subscription service, you can attract a loyal subscriber base, enhance player engagement across multiple titles, and drive recurring revenue.

Example: Rockstar’s GTA+ subscription gives players access to multiple Grand Theft Auto titles across both console and mobile platforms. The subscription costs $5.99 USD a month and includes GTA Liberty City Stories and GTA Chinatown Wars on mobile. 

How to price subscriptions in your mobile game

Just like with in-app purchases, finding the right price point for your subscription models can be tricky. Price your subscriptions too high, and players won’t see the subscription as having a fair cost-to-value ratio. But price them too low, and you won’t generate sustainable revenue for your business.

A good starting point can be found in the average subscription costs for mobile apps. RevenueCat’s State of Subscription Apps 2024 shows that the most common price points for subscriptions are:

  • $4.99 USD for 1-week subscriptions
  • $9.99 USD for 1-month and 3-month subscriptions
  • $29.99 USD+ for 1-year subscriptions 

Of course, subscription costs will always fluctuate in response to the economy and inflation. RevenueCat’s report further states that the overall average monthly subscription cost across verticals has increased from $7.05 to $8.01 USD from last year, with costs expected to continue increasing over time.

When crafting your own pricing strategy for subscription-based games, follow these general guidelines:

  1. Conduct thorough market research: Research what other mobile games (and apps) charge for their subscription plans, and look into your target demographic’s spending behaviors to align your pricing with player expectations. 
  2. Define your value proposition: Once you understand what offers there are in the market, define clear and compelling benefits that differentiate your subscription tiers. Just ensure that your subscription pricing reflects the perceived value of the benefits offered.
  3. Design subscription tiers: Try implementing multiple subscription tiers at different price points to cater to varying player preferences and budgets. The higher the tier, the higher the value of perks, bonuses, and exclusive content.
  4. Offer a free trial and promotions: Consider providing a free trial period to encourage players to experience the benefits of the subscription. After the trial ends, run limited-time promotions or discounts to further incentivize players to subscribe.
  5. Continuously gather feedback: Collect and analyze player feedback on pricing and subscription features so you can continue to iterate on your pricing strategy based on player data and market trends.

Find loyal players (and patrons) with Mistplay

Choosing the right subscription monetization model for your game requires a deep understanding of your game’s audience and the competitive landscape of other games within the genre. Delving into player preferences, habits, and spending behaviors is essential to tailor a subscription offering that resonates with your target audience to achieve sustainable growth. 

However, beyond your monetization strategy, the journey to long-term success lies in cultivating player loyalty. By partnering with a loyalty-first UA and engagement platform like Mistplay, you can reward players for playing (and spending) in your titles to increase your LTV.

Read up on how publishers like Trailmix achieved 25% greater D1 retention with Mistplay and contact us today to unlock the power of your player loyalty.


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