Ads can be hugely successful, but you need to start with the math.

At our outsourced game-dev studio Double Coconut we like to start by working with clients to not only build a high-quality yet economical game, but come up with a business plan for the title that has a realistic chance of return on investment.

Let’s assume you want your game to make $50,000. This may or may not be a good ‘living’, especially when you factor in the development costs of the game, but it’s a good sample number for us to play with.

Here’s the recipe:


  1. Money Earned. See the chart above: So let’s say you make $5 CPM on average. That’s 1/2 a cent ($0.005) per user who watches an ad.

  2. Traffic. To hit $50,000 you’ll need to make $0.05 from 1 million users. This is definitely doable:

    • From #1 it follows, your game needs to achieve a whole lot of users. That starts with mega-downloads, especially in countries with high ad value (China, Japan, Korea, US, England, Canada, France, etc.)

    • If you can get a billion users from high-ad-value countries to download and watch one ad, congrats! … you achieved your goal!

    • Okay, a billion ain’t realistic. But let’s assume 1M users, which is possible these days for a solid mobile game.

    • Is your plan to just publish and pray to get a million downloads? Hope your gods are kinder than mine. :)

    • Game amazingly cool-looking? Apple or Google may feature you — or then again they may not. That may help you hit a few tens of thousands.. but still not there… So in short, make sure you have a good cross-promotion partner / influencer / publisher / scheme to get yourself traffic.

  3. Session Length & Retention. Assuming 1 million people at $0.005 per ad, each person needs to watch an average of 10 solid ads.

    • To make this happen, your game needs people to play long sessions, so you can show a lot of ads without boring people…

    • And/or it needs people to return to your game often and continually. Lifetime customer value will be based not on installs, but on how many installers come back later days and weeks and how often they play.

  4. Flow. Ads need to be designed in a way that they are interacted with several times per session, but without frustrating people and impacting #3.

    • Nobody is going to watch 10 ads in a row. But people may watch 2 or 3 ads per session over four different sessions if the design is right.

    • Making players feel they are being rewarded for watching ads is a subtle and essential game design skill.

    • So definitely is doable but make sure you not only build an awesome game ,but have a plan for traffic.

And if your plan is to buy ads of your own to get players — have at it! But make sure to deduct that $1 per user (at best case, assuming you found an untapped channel) from your math and multiply all the numbers above.