Why These Game Devs Are Betting on BitCoin as a Monetization Tool
Bitcoin is gathering ground as an alternative, flexible peer-to-peer payment system. Around 13 million Bitcoins are currently in existence — worth an estimated $3.2 billion — and $2 million worth of Bitcoin transactions take place every day, both online and at forward-thinking retail outlets.
Bitcoin’s small (or zero) transaction fees are inherently appealing to mobile game developers as they could open up a whole new world of tiny microtransactions. But Apple and Google don’t allow native Bitcoin payments on their app stores…just yet.
Still, that hasn’t stopped some creative developers from experimenting with the cryptocurrency — albeit in unusual ways.
Wait — you’re giving money away?!
MandelDuck is a one-man studio that actually pays out Bitcoin tips in two of its iOS games. Founder Chris Moss — originally from the U.K. but currently based in Japan — didn’t build them to make money. Instead, he had a bigger purpose (at least in the early stages): to open Apple’s eyes to the world of Bitcoin.
SaruTobi — a banana-grabbing arcade game that Moss released in January — has a Bitcoin pot that pays out when players collect enough in-game coins. Initially, anyone could donate Bitcoin directly to help fund this prize pot (and his aforementioned mission).
“Bitcoiners generally like to tip,” Moss says. In fact, Moss once received a tip worth $2,500. “I’m not sure if that was a mistake. With Bitcoin, it’s quite easy just to type in the wrong number.”
Despite such random generosity, players still tend to take more from SaruTobi than they put in. But a Bitcoin mining company, Genesis Mining — which completes Bitcoin transactions and releases new Bitcoin into the market — recently offered Moss a cloud-based Bitcoin miner in return for in-game advertising. That miner points to SaruTobi and regularly pays small amounts of Bitcoin directly into the pot.
So while Moss isn’t really making money from the game, it’s now self-sufficient — a constant reminder to Apple of the existence of Bitcoin.
Apple and the in-app tips
You can buy bombs in Game of Birds, but you don’t have to pay for them. Instead, Moss has added an option to tip alongside the free bomb packs. “I wanted to see how Apple would take that,” he said.
So how did the move go down? “You’re never sure if they’ve approved it or if they haven’t noticed it,” says Moss. “And I don’t want to ask them, but I can’t see them having an issue with it because I know for a fact that you’re allowed to donate Bitcoin [in an app].”
These donations go back into the pot for players to share. In fact, I won 0.0001 Bitcoins earlier today — about 2 cents worth. Moss says he’ll occasionally get an email from someone saying they earned enough in SaruTobi to buy themselves a coffee.
It’s clear that SaruTobi and Game of Birds are more proof of concept for Moss than money makers, and he’s happy with that. “I’m crazy,” he says. “I made a free application that gives people money. That’s why I still haven’t retired yet. Innovation comes from the small guys because we’ve got nothing to lose.”
Enter the big players
Some big mobile game studios are starting to explore the value of Bitcoin, too, even though they can’t directly integrate mobile Bitcoin microtransactions quite yet.
“Like most companies that are approached about accepting Bitcoin, Goodgame hesitated to adopt such a new payment method,” says BitPay’s international development lead Rory Desmond. But BitPay’s Amsterdam team explained the benefits of the cryptocurrency — which are mainly security, lack of chargebacks and protection from fraud, according to Desmond — and Goodgame now accepts Bitcoin in the United States and the Netherlands, with other regions to follow.
Desmond didn’t reveal the exact impact that Bitcoin has made to Goodgame, but he said that BitPay customers generally see a revenue rise of as much as 1-3 percent once they start accepting Bitcoin.
Bitcoin’s mobile game future
While there are still very few studios actively embracing Bitcoin, Desmond believes that opening iOS and Android to native in-app Bitcoin billing will make a big difference in adoption. And he thinks that’s inevitable at some point.
“With Bitcoin gaining a foothold with gaming companies and app developers, I think these changes won’t be far behind,” he says. “As a secure mobile payment method, Bitcoin is in a great position to take off in mobile gaming from there.”