Monkeys Guide: How to make money from ‘free’ games?


I know you are passionate about making games and money comes second. But without a sustainable income source, your indie career will certainly be short-lived. It is very important to recognize the importance of making revenue from your game. And it is also very important to have a monetization strategy in place. Without a clear monetization strategy, no good publishers will accept your game. And you as an Indie developer will not get the exposure and revenue you deserve. But before you can put together a strategy, you need to know the basics on game monetization. There are primarily three ways, you can monetize your game.

First one is a no brainer, make your game paid. People pay for your app upfront when they download it from the store (App Store/ Google Play/Whatever). It is a good strategy for games with a previous following like Super Mario Run or premium Indie Games like Alto’s Adventure or Monument Valley. However, unless your game offers something really out of the ordinary, people will not pay for it.

A Second method can be to provide In-app purchases (IAPs). IAPs can take various forms. You can offer premium characters, unlock/skip levels, remove ads and so much more in exchange for a small payment. Most of the successful Indie Games integrate IAPs seamlessly into their gameplay. One example of that can be ‘Through the Fog’ by Boombit Studio. It is a level based game, and each level has several checkpoints. Every time you die, you can resume from the last checkpoint using free credits. So when you finish your free credits, you shall have to buy checkpoint credits.

Third and most important one for Indie Developers is the integrating ads to the game. Make the game free, offer some IAPs and ultimately make money with ads. It has been the go-to strategy for almost all successful indie games in recent times. However, earning money from ads can be very challenging. When we first started out, understanding how Mobile Ads work was a big challenge. Here in this article, I shall try to break it down for you. Also, I shall do it in an interactive manner.

So FAQ Time:

Q: How do you show Ads on your game?
A: Integrate Ad Network.

Q: What is an Ad Networks?
A: They are companies that work as a bridge between you the developer/publisher and advertisers. They collect ads from advertisers and show them on your game.

Q: How do they Show Ads in my game?
A: Through SDK’s. You put the SDK’s of the ad network(s) you want to work with inside your game and give them specific permissions, and they shall show ads to your users maintaining those parameters.

Q: So what sort of Ads can I show inside my game?
A: Short Answer ‘Many’. However, here I shall focus on top 4 that are more relevant for indie game developers.

a. Banners: They are small advertisements usually shown at the bottom (Rarely at Top, Example: SIX! by Gram Games) of the screen. Banner ads are easy to create and also very cheap to advertise. Users do not mind banner ads as the ads do not interrupt the usability of the game. However, remember, banners sit on a corner of a small screen and thus have notoriously low engagement rates. The average click through rate on the banner ad is 0.1%. According to Hubspot chances of you climbing Mount Everest is higher than clicking a banner ad in your lifetime.

b. Interstitials: These are full-screen ads. They often freeze on the screen for few seconds until you can close them. By utilizing the full screen, they bypass the biggest problem of mobile advertising, small real estate. Interstitials stop the normal gameplay and forces users to interact with the ad. As a result using too many of these may lead to app uninstalls.

c. Videos: Video ads are typically 15 to 30 seconds long. As mobile advertising evolves, in-app incentivized videos become increasingly popular. With incentivized videos, users watch short clips redeem extra lives or currency within games. With the increase in device performance, internet speed and low cost of mobile data, Video ads are becoming more and more popular. While non-skippable videos interrupt the user experience, it still manages a 13.64% Click through rate on mobile.

Q: How Many Ad Networks can I put inside my game?

A: As many as you want! However, remember every SDK adds some size to your game. It also impacts your games performance. Moreover, you have to update the SDKs inside your game on a regular basis. At times, SDK’s have conflict with one another. Also, even with a mediator,(Think of Mediators as ad network aggregators), there is not much point of using more than 7-8 ad networks in a game. We at GameOver try to limit ourselves at maximum 6.

Q: Which Ad Networks should I use?

A: It significantly varies on the genre of your game, your target demographics and your overall monetization strategy. Moreover, there are more than what meets the eye. When we think about ad networks, our focus is more on fill rate, ad format, payment terms, etc. However, Ad Networks have different retention rate, and it has a huge impact on your game.


Source: The AppsFlyer Gaming Performance Index

However, here is a short list of Ad networks we work with on a regular basis. Also take a note that, the list is not comprehensive by any means. We have left major ad networks like Kiip or Leadbolt, as we do not use them often.
General Comparison:

  Payment Model Campaign types Minimum Payout Minimum for Wire Supported Payment Methods Payment Terms Revenue Deductions (Net Revenue)
AdColony Rev-share (50%-70%)** CPM, CPI, CPCV $100 $100 Wire, Paypal, ACH NET 60 Sole Discretion
Admob Rev-share (68%) CPC, CPM, CPI $100 $100 Wire, Check, EFT NET 21 Limited ***
Applovin Rev-share CPC, CPI $20 $150 Wire, Paypal, ACH NET 15 Sole Discretion
Chartboost Rev-share CPC, CPI, CPCV, CPM $75 $300 Wire, Paypal, Checks NET 45
Facebook Audience Network Rev-share CPC, CPI, CPM $100 $100 N/A NET 21 Limited ***
Flurry Rev-share CPM (RTB) $250 $250 Paypal NET 60 Limited
Fyber Rev-share CPC, CPI, CPCV $200 $200 Wire, Paypal, ACH Sole Discretion
InMobi Rev-share CPC, CPI, CPM $50 $300 Wire, Paypal, EFT NET 60 Sole Discretion
MoPub Rev-share CPM (RTB) $100 $500 Wire, Paypal, ACH NET 60 Sole Discretion
Revmob Rev-share CPC, CPI, CPM $50 $250 Wire, Paypal, Payoneer NET 30 Sole Discretion
Tapjoy Rev-share CPC, CPI, CPCV $250 $250 Wire, Paypal, ACH, Check NET 45 Sole Discretion
Unity Ads Rev-share CPC, CPI, CPCV $100 $100 Wire NET 30 Sole Discretion
Vungle Rev-share CPC, CPI, CPCV $50 $1,000 Wire, Paypal, ACH, Check NET 60* Consistent – 10%


Special Remarks:

*Vungle gives an option for Net 30 with 1% fee or Net 10 with 2% fee
** Bigger volumes increase the publisher share of the revenue
*** Admob and Facebook only deducts only for refunds and invalid click activity


  • CPI: the advertiser is paying only after the user downloaded, installed and opened his app
  • CPC: the advertiser is paying when the user clicks
  • CPM: the advertiser is paying when the user sees the ad
  • CPCV: the advertiser is paying when the user finished watching the video ad
  • Payment Terms:  Ad Networks don’t pay you immediately. NET 30 for example means that revenue that was made during June is paid on August 1st –30 days after the end of the month.

Mediation Support:

Admob Fyber Mopub Heyzap
Admob Self SDK SDK SDK
Applovin SDK SDK SDK
Chartboost SDK SDK SDK SDK
Facebook Audience Network SDK SDK SDK SDK
Flurry SDK SDK
Fyber SDK Self SDK
MoPub SDK Self
Tapjoy SDK SDK


Supported Ad Formats:

Interstitial Video Banner
Adcolony yes yes
Admob yes yes yes
Applovin yes yes yes
Chartboost yes yes
Fyber yes yes yes
Heyzap yes yes yes
Inmobi yes yes yes
Inneractive yes
Revmob yes yes
Tapjoy yes yes
UnityAds yes
Vungle yes



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