I don’t know about you, but even though I earn a pretty decent living making actual games, the thought of earning money for playing a game still excites me. Or it used to excite me. Until I worked on one and well, I’m here to answer your question: Do games really pay you money?
Amongst the mobile games that I worked on, some of them really were paying users for playing them. In some of our other blog posts we covered the topic of “How Do Free Games Make Money“. The short answer to the question is by displaying ads and getting users to perform in-app purchases.
I also mentioned the topic of developers having to pay good money in order to bring users into the game (acquisition costs). But what if a game can sidestep the advertising part? What if a game could pay the user directly for playing the game, instead of paying the advertising industry.
Your answer up front:
Games can indeed pay you real money for playing them. The whole point behind the system is that the developers get paid for displaying ads. Instead of spending money to acquire new users, a developer can redirect a percentage of the money they receive from the ads they display back to the player, to keep him engaged in the game. Or they rent the player to other games in exchange for a cut of the revenue. And then pay a percentage of that commission back to the player.
Note that I am not talking about Crypto games here. That’s an entire different industry. In this post I’m talking about real mobile/smartphone games that allow you to cash out (usually via paypal, but some do it via gift cards).
How do games really pay money?
Mobile game developers have a huge problem – the market is extremely crowded. Hundreds of mobile games arrive weekly on the Google Play and Apple App store. They need to stand out in order to attract users. Some do that by making fake ads in order to attract people at a lower cost.
Other games attract people by promising a “real money payout” for playing their game. A lot of the games that advertise this are scams. But some of them aren’t.
The principle behind paying money to gamers
Let’s say you are a game developer and you want to make a new game. You look at the average cost to purchase advertising for the game. It costs $1.5 per user. So if you want to bring in 10 000 users, well, you better cough up $15 000.
You can make your advertising cost back by displaying 50 interstitial ads to a user, over the course of 5 days. So let’s say 10 ads shown per day. Sounds easy and seems worth it. Though usually around 1 in 4 users continue playing a game after first downloading it.
So out of $6 spent to bring in 4 users – you need 1 user to play 20 days straight in order to cover the cost of the other 3 that bailed.
What if instead of paying $15 000 to the advertisers, you pay that some to the users? What if instead of having users bail on you, you can keep them enticed with real money payouts?
This is something SOME developers are doing nowadays. Where they release a game on the store, do very little user acquisition in order to bring users into the game and offer them real payouts. So that those users can then spread the word in communities like r/BeerMoney.
You effectively turn the user itself into – tadaaa an advertiser for your game. And with a bit of luck, it’s going to cost you less than traditional advertising methods.
How do games really pay money?
You install game A. You start it up and start playing. Every time you die in game A, you are bombarded with an ad. A developer can earn anywhere from $0.01 to $30 for that ad (ballpark, but stick with me). In a good and honest, less greed driven industry, the developer can decide and say “Hey man, that guys earns me 5$ every time he watches an ad. What if I pay him back $2 for this? This will keep him in the game for a long time, and he’ll earn me more money”.
But as things go, the real numbers are way less than the 40% mentioned above. And most games don’t actually pay YOU from the ads you watch. They employ a mediatory service for this. In short, they keep the ad revenue for themselves from the ads they serve, but they give you the possibility of PLAYING OTHER GAMES. Why?
Because the developer of game A get’s paid to advertise and get you to play game B from Developer B. So you start playing game B. Developer B knows that if you play game B for 10 minutes, he’ll show 2 ads and make $1 from you. So Developer B agrees to pay 40c to Developer A for the 10 minutes YOU spend in his game.
Dev A is happy because he just made 40c basically renting you out. Dev B is happy because he earned $0.60 from you. From the 40c earned by dev A, the mediatory service takes 50%. So game dev A received 20c. From this 20c, he sets aside 10c for you.
You go through this loop enough times and you earn $0.5. Guess what? You can now cash out that money via paypal or gift cards.
That’s the whole principle behind games that pay real money.
How much money can you expect to be paid from a game?
Most games have payout options with a minimum payout of around $0.5c to $100. Other games claim to go to thousands of dollars.
Don’t get me wrong, you can actually earn up to thousands of dollars but just think of how many hours you have to spend to do it. If you can realistically earn $0.5 by spending 50-60 minutes in a game, is that something you want to do? That’s way bellow the minimum hourly salary in a lot of countries.
And there’s a caveat. The amount of money Game Dev A can earn from renting you to another game varies between countries.
In the advertising industries people from 1 country are worth a lot more than people from other countries. This has nothing to do with the actual person, just the average buying power of people from certain countries.
An ad for a new iPhone 14 advertised to a person from the US who watches the ad on an iPhone 13 rewards more money than the same ad advertised to a person from India (who has less disposable income ON AVERAGE) who watches the ad on a cheap android phone worth $100.
That’s the sad reality of the advertising industry. A billboard in Time’s Square costs a lot more money than a Billboard in middle-of-nowhere Idaho.
So if a person from the US can earn $0.5 – $5, someone from Russia would earn $0.1 – $0.5. Have this in mind.
Can I earn money from playing games another way?
If you want to earn money from playing games at a better hourly rate, you can always apply to get a job as a game tester. Yes, I know – you’re not gonna be paid to play the game and that’s it.
You’re going to have to do real work, put in a lot of hours and deal with horrible managers and layoffs. But your hourly rate would be much much better.
The Gaming Industry is horrible in all ways, I know. But let’s fix the mobile gaming industry first, at least in the types of games they release. By forcing them to make good games and raising the standards for what a good game is, maybe we can also raise the standards for how they should treat their staff.
Think about it, what helps make a good game besides Quality Assurance? I say they’re an instrumental aid in this and they need better standards. So we can get better games. One step at a time.
I chose to not advertise the games I worked on or other games that may or may not pay real money. My goal here is NOT TO Earn affiliate income from this or to boost the games I was involved in. My goal with this post is to educate users interested in these kind of games and help them understand what they’re getting themselves into.
Also to have this post rank on google and receive organic traffic from it. So I can display ads and earn revenue this way. See, I also have an angle in this. I talk about and explain why the mobile gaming industry does what it does so I can fix it. If I can’t, I might as well earn some ad revenue myself.
The idea of games paying users for earning the developers money is a good idea. I’m not against it. Let’s split the profits for all I care.
But the reality is that the mobile gaming industry isn’t doing this out of love for gamers. They’re doing it because the mobile gaming industry dug it’s own hole and now is trying to dig itself out of it. By digging sideways.
The numbers presented in this post are factual and are not based on the numbers I had access to.
A lot of games claim to pay real money and they don’t. Do your due diligence, read the reviews on the stores and talk with other people from the communities. The only thing worst then being paid $0.5 an hour is not being paid at all. And some games do this.
This is not financial advice. I am not a financial expert or advisor or have anything to do with the financial sector.
Where To Next?
You’ve reached the end of this article. I write extensively about the mobile gaming industry, their tactics and how greed influences a game’s design. I believe that you might be interested in more articles on game monetisation. So if you want to stick around, you can check out “How Do Free Mobile Games Make money“, “Why Do Mobile Games Have Fake Ads” and “Why Do Mobile Games Have In-App Purchases“.
There’s also a monster post (about 4000 words) that answers the question: “How Hard Is It To Make A Mobile Game“. It goes in depth with actual examples on how Experience, Resources and Financials affect the difficulty of developing and releasing new mobile games!
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