Yes, But Can I Make Money from Mobile Games?

"An idea gets you exactly, absolutely nowhere. Sorry to be a downer on this, but that's the inescapable reality.  Even if you're already a professional game developer, the competition for getting ideas made into games is ferocious."
Mike Sellers on Quora, quoted with permission

One of the next Handshake(R) brand mobile applications might be a game.

I have an idea for a mobile game.  But from over three years in business, I have learned an important truth:  not all ideas are marketable.

Can money be made from mobile games? Sure, Zynga and Rovio have made money from mobile games, but can I?  What's the mobile game business model anyway?

My little entrepreneurial heart pounded when I read on Mashable, "Games can come from anywhere" and "innovative ideas can take smaller development firms far."  I'm from "anywhere"!  We have a "smaller development firm"!  But, yeah, yeah, that's true of any idea.  Been there, done that.  What about the numbers?   Can my idea make money? 

According to Nielsen, games are the top downloaded app and app downloaders are willing to pay for games. Those are trends, not numbers.  "Does this have legs?" I heard investors ask often of ideas while I was pitching She Chooses at Distilled Intelligence 1.0.  Can this idea take its "legs" and run up a hockey stick graph of growth so I can make money?

According to the New York Times citing a Gartner report, "Mobile gaming will grow from '15 percent in 2010 to 20 percent in 2015.'"  Hmm, not a hockey stick.  How much would that growth be in dollars?  Mobile Marketer cites a Pyramid report:  "the mobile gaming market is predicted to reach $18 billion by 2014."  Now that's a number.

But how much of that $18 billion is my mobile game likely to get?  How does one monetize a mobile game? 

"In-app ads" and "in-app sales" we hear about often and ReadWriteMobile describes them well.  I'd love to see this 2008 post on 29 business models for games updated for mobile.  (A mobile game monetization SDK plug-in featured on TechCrunch would, I'm sure, require hours of coding and game redesign to work technically.  Monetarily?  Unproven. And I'm wary of OPP – building business models solely on Other People's Platforms.)

Jamie Middleton did a very nice job for TechRadar with a two-page, comprehensive piece on making money from mobile games, identifying top mobile games, then interviewing their inventors – both wildly and modestly successful – for examples of how in-app ads and in-app purchases work.  In an article by Susan Wu in 2007, TechCrunch tagged virtual goods as "the next big business model."  Four years later (2011), Jackie Micucci writing for Microsoft describes the new ease for players to purchase those virtual goods and services via in-app micropayments for "new weapons, higher levels and other virtual goodies…to gain a competitive edge."

I used to be one of the inventors with a great idea – and hubris – who said, "This idea is so great the market demand for it will be huge!"  After the slog of trying to create a market where none existed for some of my ideas, I now envision myself as both inventor and investor.  I still have ideas but upon having them, my first questions are, "Is there a market?" and "How will we make money?"

Is there a market for mobile games?  These trends and numbers say yes.  So I make a mobile game – is there a way to make money from having made it?  These sources say there are multiple ways.

Is there a market for my mobile game?  If I have a great idea, execute its creation brilliantly, and market it extensively, will the market value my product enough to pay for it?

Ah, therein lies the risk, the gamble, the entrepreneurial decision.  Maybe, maybe not.

One of the next Handshake(R) brand mobile applications might be a game.

Other posts of possible interest:

Thought Full - an app to remember

Mobile App Design Infographic
What to Do with a Great Idea for a Mobile App
Getting Started in the Business of Mobile App Development
How Much Does a Mobile App Cost?

My First Mobile App Mock-up
3 Takeaways from the Top 10 in 10 Months on Handshake 2.0


  1. The successful games are fun and free- or at least offer a free version to get you hooked, and look for conversion to paid games.
    That way, you build market share and brand awareness, and others may contact you for professional development.
    What about niche games that Handshake knows alot about? Business simulators- empire builders, from lemonade stands to Venture Capital “Deal or No Deal”!

  2. Oh, Henry, you must know me well! Yes, my game idea is based on niche markets that I know well! Very reassuring to hear your suggestions of the same! Thank you!

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