Spotting the Hidden Money-Grabbers: How Gaming Industries Generate Cash from Free to Play Games

Written by: Aisya A. & Steven S.

Designed: Daffa K.

Mobile technology has made the gaming universe more accessible than ever. Just like any other industry in the digital world, the gaming industry is also heavily influenced by it. The technological environment which is constantly growing and evolving brings numerous transformations, for example, early PC and console games have turned into mobile gaming, pushing revenue through the roof. At the same time, developers are being challenged to choose the right monetization model to keep gamers loyal and engaged.

One of the most popular game categories is the Free to Play (F2P) game. In 2019, F2P games amounted to 80% of all digital games revenue, but what was the reason behind the F2P success?

The most common guess would be through in-app advertising. Yes, free games monetized exclusively by ads do exist. But most revenue from F2P games comes from in-app purchases, which in 2019 generated $39.4 billion in revenue. These are the most common tactics used by game developers, especially in Asia. Some of these tactics are broken down below.

Firstly is the pay-to-win tactic. Pay-to-win is a way for game developers to give a competitive advantage to players through paid boosted stats, player enhancements, etc. A real-life example of the Pay-to-win game is Angry Bird 2. Players can use gem purchases to buy upgrades if they want to progress faster or if they run out of lives right before completing a level. The game arena in Angry Bird 2 is also straight-up pay-to-win as players can ensure their win by purchasing more birds and using boosters.

Secondly is the gacha model, which was based on Japanese vending machines that dispense capsuled toys. These appeal to collectors who want to complete a character set, and can also monetize from normal buyers who want to get a specific character. Nearly all of the top 200 games in Japan have gacha mechanics. We can also see this from the game Genshin Impact, where users have to wish for certain characters and weapons. Gacha is one of the most revenue-driving tactics as it stimulates players to purchase repeatedly from them to fulfill the need of a certain attribute in the game.

Thirdly is battle passses. Battle passes required players to pay a predetermined fee for a defined period of time in order to obtain additional advantages, boosts, and rewards. Battle passes, which were made popular by “Fortnite” in 2018, normally cost $5 to $15 for a month or season, during which time gamers are guaranteed an ad-free experience where they can compete and progress to unlock new content.

All in all, wherever a business is, it will strive to make profit. It is no different for gaming industries. Even though the change of gaming media from PC and consoles to mobile gaming, developers have continued to make profit through in-app purchases such as pay-to-win, gacha model, and battle passes.


From playing to paying: The art of monetizing games in Asia. (n.d.). Think with Google. Retrieved November 23, 2021, from

Katkoff, M. (2017, July 5). How Angry Birds 2 Multiplied Revenues in a Year — Deconstructor of Fun. Deconstructor of Fun. Retrieved November 23, 2021, from

White, D., & Tenbusch, A. (2020, March 20). Free-to-Play Mobile Gaming: Why F2P is So Popular Among Gamers. Medium. Retrieved November 23, 2021, from

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