First rule: You do not talk about the club.

The Economy behind Mobile Gaming Websites

Who is the creator behind those websites, covering multiple games and – most important – how profitable is that?

Mobile gaming economy

In this article, I offer a first-hand experience of the person who has created, managed and earned from a guide’s website covering a few popular at the time mobile games. It is a story of a take-off, exponential growth, an experiment and its consequences. In the end, there’s a summary and some thoughts on “how it could have been”.

How it started – a fight against boredom

In July 2020, during the COVID-19 isolation, I installed a few games on my mobile phone and tablet to explore the market I didn’t really care about before. I’ve played on PC for as long as I remember and owned various consoles for couch gaming. Playing on a small mobile screen seemed like a weird idea to me, both for its limited autonomy and computing power. The tablet provided a way better experience screen- and longevity-wise, however, was too heavy to deal with for longer sessions.

Since I struggled to find alternatives and I didn’t know what modern mobile games looked like, the exploration element was convincing enough. Eventually, those games got my full attention – both from the initial free-to-play aspect and social one, since many people did the same and community around them has grown exponentially.

Later down the road, I gave up both devices and switched to a PC emulator. The ability to host multiple sessions from different accounts, record a video and – at the peak of my popularity – becoming an official content creator for one of the games with a streaming obligation have all forced me to use my gaming PC.

But the article is about a website and earnings, so I’ll not gonna let myself carried away switch back my attention there.

Website launch and Google’s Search recognition

After a few months of playing numerous mobile games non-stop, I thought it would be a good idea to revive my old hobby of writing and combine it with the gap I noticed – very few sources of knowledge for this kind of game. Even though I played various types (RTS, idle RPG, MMO etc.), they all had something in common:

  • Being on the market for a year or less;
  • Very little news coverage on industry-known gaming websites;
  • Even less coverage of written guides and best practices.

That’s how I registered a domain, put a simple WordPress on top of it and rolled my sleeves on the first guide: how to speed up the development of your in-game settlement. At that time, I have been playing the game for about a month and was in the top-tier alliance within my instance. So I had enough experience from a free-to-play perspective, supported by our Discord pay-to-win members’ insights.

I connected the website to Google’s Search Console at the end of August 2020 and looked into one of my first article insights a week later… Almost 400 views! That’s huge! The euphoria coming from the acknowledgement of my work fueled a whole bunch of articles I was able to write overnight, combined with a full-day job during the day.

View stats for a guide on how to speed up the development of your settlement

I had never had issues finding a topic to cover for my guide since I was actively scanning all alliance discussions on Discord, following the game’s Facebook group and their Discord too. One question came up most often from the RTS game audience – which hero to level up first? This game had a lot of PvP involved and players were often struggling to combine the right captain with their troops. It didn’t take me a lot of time to write down a 10-page in-depth guide aggregating all the experience I’ve accumulated so far.

This article became my all-time biggest success and made my site famous through Google search keyword <game name> + <best heroes>:

View stats for a guide on how to boost your heroes

Since we are talking about free-to-play mobile games, the biggest issue the non-paying audience faced was finding hidden menus and ways to progress faster than others without swiping their credit card too often and that’s what I focused on most in my guides.

The majority of mobile games offered a variety of in-game events which required a lot of time investment to cover (due to their time-limited nature) and little return on investment (due to interest fading exponentially after the event has concluded). The upside part of the event coverage was Google Search once again – my website was mostly the only one highlighting it and was constantly at the top of search results without any sacrifice to the SEO daemons effort on my side.

First monetization attempt and first failure

I knew a bit about ads – that they existed. I’m a lifetime adblocker user on my PC and I generally struggle with ads on my phone since you can’t easily turn them off. No one in my social bubble has ever told me a story of buying something through an ad, whether it was on a website, in a Google search, in a video or elsewhere. I had no idea what a person playing a mobile game, visiting my website and following an ad on it, combined, would look like.

Nevertheless, hosting costs were something I initially felt had to be covered by “the free” service I provided. After a month on a free-hosted site, I started to notice some platform limitations, switched to their cheapest paid plan but eventually moved the project to a self-hosted Hetzner service (to demonstrate how good I’m in ad business now, here is my referral link) which was around $6 at the time. It came with a free 1-year domain, so seemed like a great opportunity to scale. And self-hosted WordPress provided unlimited opportunities for any plugin I needed.

With a little research, I connected my website to the AdSense program and went back to writing more guides. One evening this email hit my inbox which I quickly dismissed, while being busy with major in-game event coverage.

Good news!
Your site <…> is now ready to show AdSense ads.

Mon, 31 Aug 2020, 19:49

A week later or so I checked back on what was that AdSense thing about and was nicely surprised. My website has generated ~$10 in its first week and I thought it’s a great start to have the bills covered.

Time to open a bottle of champagne? πŸ™‚

Invalid traffic concerns

Then I got another email from AdSense, this time a bit more… concerning.

Ad serving limit placed on your AdSense account
We recently identified invalid traffic concerns in your AdSense account. As a result, we have introduced an ad serving limit on your account. We will automatically review and update this limit as we continue to monitor your traffic.

Why has this happened?
We found potentially invalid traffic being used to generate ad revenue on your account. As a reminder, invalid traffic is strictly prohibited by the AdSense Programme policies. Clicks on Google ads must result from genuine user interest. Publishers may not ask others to click their ads. This includes asking users to support your site, offering rewards to users for viewing ads and promising to raise money for third parties for such behaviour. Additionally, clicking your own ads, automated clicking tools or traffic sources, robots or other deceptive software are also prohibited.

We understand that you may want to know more about the activity we’ve detected. Because this information could be used to circumvent our proprietary detection systems, we’re unable to provide our publishers with information about specific account activity, including users that may have been involved.

Wed, 9 Sept 2020, 22:29

Since I never had experience with AdSense or anything SEO-related, I tried to look for help. There was not much help from Google Search on this topic, mostly pointing to site hacks or purchasing traffic, which was not my case. My best idea at the time was to create a topic through the AdSense community, hoping someone with a similar problem could share their experience. That didn’t help either, so I gave up… and decided to monetize through my YouTube channel.

A quick YouTube journey segway

This is where I learned that YouTube has a relatively high bar for paying you money – 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watched hours of your content.

I couldn’t find the old image without Shorts so here’s the current one.

That seemed impossible to me:

  • I’m not a native English speaker, which I could work around with a dictionary and grammar checker when writing online. That didn’t work when talking on a camera.
  • I had little practice in public speaking, even though the topic I covered was my bread and butter (all those nights playing – how about that, huh?)
  • Video editing skills and related software were completely unexplored territory for me.

In the end, I managed to record videos, upload and, with the help of the game community managers, got my videos promoted through their Facebook group (for one of the games, it had peaked at 1,000,000 members). I was not allowed to promote my website through the official game communities but YouTube videos – with my website in their description – worked like a charm.

The magical credibility recovery

I honestly have no idea what happened here cause I struggle to recollect any active actions on my side. Here’s the list of events:

  • Aug 30: Applied to AdSense. Google was happy to have me on board.
  • Sep 02: Policy violation was found on some pages, ads on these pages were restricted.
  • Sep 09: Another policy violation was found on some pages, ads on these pages were restricted.
  • Sep 09: Ad serving limit placed due to invalid traffic concerns. As you can see from the graph, the website managed to serve some ads between Sep 02nd and 15th.
  • Sep 15: “Your site is now ready to serve ads on AdSense” email arrived out of the blue. Had no effect on my ads revenue.
  • Oct 15: “September report: your revenue grew by >1,000%. You’re on a roll” email from AdSense. I felt someone was pranking me.
  • Mid to end Oct: a few bucks for some ads earned. I don’t remember changing anything.
  • Nov: I have completely forgotten about AdSense and now launched 3rd mobile game coverage in addition to the existing two.

Fast forward to the end of November, when another email came from AdSense, saying I need to verify my bank account… since I have accumulated $150 on my account and their payment threshold was $100 per month!

No, this is not the heart rate graph of a patient in an emergency room πŸ™‚

I went to check my account – and to my surprise – the website has earned me almost $11 per DAY in the peak (remember how happy I was to earn my first $10 in a week?). It was now averaging $2 per day in earnings, which was impressive.

Smooth sailing, an experiment and its consequences

I managed to put solid ground for three mainstream mobile games on my website. The results paid off – you can see the insight from the beginning and onwards on the graphs below.

How it started: August 2020

The “Make All Sail”

Between December 2020 and throughout the entire 2021 I enjoyed really smooth sailing. Google search has driven hundreds of thousands of visitors to my website for free. I was a local celebrity on the Discord servers. People came to ask for in-game advice. I received multiple partnership proposals.

Moment of glory: April 2021

And that’s not all. My bank account was getting a stable $100 payout every month. I even purchased my first paid plugin for WordPress. PC emulator affiliate program paid another few hundred bucks in this period (unfortunately, I can’t provide stats since they deleted my affiliate account due to inactivity) because people installed their software to play those mobile games on a computer.

$3.37 earnings per day, living the dream

I started dreaming big. I had my first thought ever: am I the lucky one who is looking at the tipping point? Dropping my full-time job and becoming a real content creator. Doing the stuff I like, being recognized and compensated? Hell, yeah!

The “Experiment”

The Western MMO market has been stale for a while. It was surprising to me that one was actively working on another “WoW killer” cause the COVID period felt like an ideal place to launch one successfully. People were eager for something fresh.

And the Hero appeared. A “well-known” Asian full-scale PC MMO RPG decided to enter the rich Western market. A lot of advertising, warming up the audience, big promises due to their pay-once-to-play model with only cosmetic microtransactions.

I was one of a few content creators who proactively joined their official English-speaking Discord and applied for the honour to promote their game. It looked well on paper – every person buying the MMO through my link gets me a % back directly to my account. No more in-game currency fluff rewards!

So I felt like my mobile gaming garden is well set and it was time for something big. I dropped further content creation for those three mobile titles and focused 100% on the big PC MMO. Started as usual: written down base articles, collected info through Discord, and carefully aggregated information on my website.

The “Decline”

You don’t need to second guess – yes, that was the beginning of the end. My ad revenue has plummeted to $1.39, the big shiny “WoW killer” has seen a surge in player base, went into the free-to-play model at some point and eventually was sunsetted by its publisher on the Western market.

My mobile games garden, however, has survived. Yes, it’s not blooming as before but throughout 2022 I saw an average of $100 check from AdSense every single month.

The only explanation for September’s peak – one of the games celebrating its 3rd anniversary

Only in 2023, I’ve noticed a significant decline in ad revenue. My monthly payments went into the quarterly ones (remember AdSense has to accumulate around $100 to pay out) and will keep declining. That’s the moment when I decided to archive the website and switch my attention somewhere else. I did my best to remove any links from this post for one to recognize the website but it shouldn’t take much of your time if you really want to visit it πŸ™‚

The potential income I have rejected

I don’t want to go too much into detail in this article but felt it’s somewhat funny to mention those.

Since my website had a contact form, every now and then I got a proposal to cooperate with a “no-name” mobile game developer and start creating content to promote their game. Usually, these came with the same clause: for the content created, I get in-game premium currency for free. However, there were a few proposals standing out:

  1. World’s top-5 mobile phone maker has approached me to promote their new app market, which was supposed to compete with Apple Store and Google Play. We had a quick exchange on Discord where I was informed about the earning model and was quite shocked. I rejected the offer based on my political beliefs.
  2. A few people reached out to me for private help about their in-game accounts and how to convert real money into game purchases more efficiently. I asked for some screenshots and wrote down a 1-page “guide” on where should they focus most while spending in-game for each case. As a result, every interaction has earned me around $50, I was super excited and launched a whole “VIP” section on my website to promote it further. It didn’t take off though.
  3. I was using a PC emulator to play all those mobile games simultaneously and also record videos. Their affiliate program brought in a few hundred bucks for people downloading the software through my referral. A year later, the second biggest emulator maker approached me to promote their platform instead, which required dropping the currently affiliated one. Even though they offered better $/download, I rejected the offer.

Summary and lessons learned

My mobile gaming guides website has got over two million views, and over a million visitors and through ads generated $1,600 in revenue between June 2020 and June 2023.

Here are some detailed statistics for the website:

Page Views2,428,697
Unique Visitors1,161,173
Posts Created124
Words Written110,691
Comments Left370
All-time website stats
All-time ad earnings. Peaking at $17 per day felt surreal!

And another perspective from my YouTube channel:

Watch hours8,441
All-time YouTube channel stats. YouTube doesn’t provide all-time comments stat*

What I have learned so far:

  • Finding a niche to create content creates momentum if you jump in earlier than everyone else. Building on momentum is way easier to advance than starting from scratch in a tightly competitive market. Had I started my website from scratch to write about, let’s say, Genshin Impact, I would not achieve much compared to having a website with almost 100k monthly visitors to write about the abovementioned game.
  • I don’t need to have extravagant public speaking skills to start a YouTube channel for niche content. Experience creating guides for mobile games has had a significant positive impact on my ability to speak and persuade people within my professional domain.
  • Content through video remains the best way to protect your work from being stolen. There’s little to no chance of a copyright claim succeeding if your text gets stolen. Yes, there’s another story I could share here. However, major video hosting platforms provide better tools to combat copy-pasta.
  • Mobile games have excelled in the art of creating, fuelling and monetizing human addiction. I have made a small research about this topic here. What I see happening around PC gaming to date (loot boxes, gacha mechanics, battle passes, paid boosts, pay-to-win elements) has been the industry standard within mobile gaming for years.
  • I could scale to generate content for different games simultaneously and multiply my revenue stream if the games chosen performed well on the market. Had I not neglected other income proposals, this could probably replace my full-time job.

Some follow-up thoughts:

  • With AI expansion which amplifies the signal-to-noise ratio, I want to believe human skill to write a well-thought decent piece of text is going to increase in value. As it happened in other domains (think about game streamers, marketing, lawyers or similar jobs), when everyone could start in the domain easily and once the market got overflooded it auto-correct leaving only a handful of people at the top of the funnel making 95% of the income.
  • Writing might follow a similar trajectory (a few professionals taking the biggest cut) or become too niche if humans will reduce information ingested through text (think about piano tuners – you can still find a few in the town but their opportunity to make a decent income is shrinking).
  • Search engines will have to start differentiating and – ideally – labelling human- and AI-generated content in the nearby future. This won’t happen unless the ad revenue approach changes. Remember a recent story on HN about a lady (?) buying something for her house and being bombarded with the same ads after the purchase was made? πŸ˜‰
Latest from the club

What's on top of mind

budget build comparison europe f2p gaming mobile movie pc psychology review tech threat united states wordpress

3 responses to “The Economy behind Mobile Gaming Websites”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. TechyList Avatar

    I really enjoyed this blog post! It was informative and well written.

  2. Devona Silver Avatar

    Excellent way of explaining, and pleasant paragraph to get data on the topic of
    my presentation subject, which i am going to present in university.