Glossary of Free to Play

This is a glossary intended for those developing free to play mobile games.  It contains many definitions of specific terms that keep coming up as you explore free to play mobile game development.  Please feel free to let us know of terms we have missed using the contact form at the bottom of the page.

AnalyticsRefers to both data and the reports that are generated around that data to make it useful.  A game developer requires a broad range of analytics capability specifically around player acquisition, player retention and monetization. Data is usually generated from both the store(s) in which the game is published and the game itself.  Additional data is generated from any promotional functions such as website or landing pages and any third party services that the developer uses.  Given the wide variety of data sources and complexity of the reporting required a range of 3rd party analytics tools have emerged around games that attempt to make it easier for the developer.
APIIs an acronym for Application Programming Interface which is a specification for how some software components should interact each other.
ARPPUAverage Revenue per Paying User.  This is derived from the ARPU (see below) except the total revenue in any period is divided by the total number of paying players rather than the total number of players.  Games typically have a conversion rate of around 5% meaning 5% of players actually pay anything.
ARPUAverage Revenue per User.  This is the average revenue a game makes from each of its players even though not all of them spend money.   It is calculated by dividing the total revenue by the total number of players.  ARPUs are normally reported on an annual or monthly basis but they can be reported over any period really – its just important to ensure the revenues and number of players apply to the same period.
Backend as a Service (BaaS)Is a model for providing game developers with a way to link their games to backend server-side game features such as player management, push notifications, social network integration and lots more.  These features are usually hosted on the providers private cloud infrastructure and made easily accessible via one or more APIs.
ChurnRefers to the rate at which players leave the game and no-longer return to play.
CloudUsually refers to a large number of computers connected through a real-time communication network such as the internet.  In game development terms, we usually use the cloud to mean one or more publicly accessible cloud offerings which provide low cost server capability, for example, Windows Azure from Microsoft or Amazon Web Services.
Cloud Based GameA game for which either some of its content and / or functionality is served from a backend cloud service.
Cloud CodeRefers to the ability to write code snippets with a game developer tool that is hosted in the cloud.  The execution of code snippets is triggered when the code snippet is called from within the game usually via an event based API.
Cloud DataRefers to the ability to create data collections on the server from within the game development tool that is being used.  These data collections can be used for a wide variety of things such as game state management, player management etc.
CPACost per Acquisition.  Refers to the amount of money it costs the developer to gain a new player for the game.  In mobile games, CPA’s typically range from $2 – $20.  Its an important metric because if the LTV is less than this number the game is effectively going to lose money.
Cross PlatformA game which allows players on one device to play with players on another device.  There are various degrees of cross platform.  At a minimum, social features such as leaderboards and achievements should work across devices but over time more and more games will be fully cross platform.
DAUDaily Active Users.  The number of players that play the game in any given day.
FreemiumIs a business model adopted by many games where the game is offered free of charge to consumers but typically has elements (content or features) for which the player has to pay to access.  One of the more common freemium models is where the game makes the first X levels free and then charges the player to download new levels.
Free to PlayAlso known as F2P and Free2PlayFree to Play is a business model adopted by games where the game is offered for free but within the game there are items or virtual goods that can be purchased by the players.  The free to play business model is closely related to the freemium model but is regarded as being more advanced and harder to make work.
Game Developer ToolsIs a broad term usually used to describe an IDE or Integrated Development Environment (see below).  However, with an increase in the supply of third party capabilities via APIs or SDKs, the term has been expanded to incorporate these third party offerings including Backend as a Service APIs.
Game MechanicsAre constructs or rules intended to produce a game or gameplay.  Almost all games are built on game mechanics which in their most basic form are combined into core loops which are what makes a game enjoyable to play repeatedly. Game Mechanics can however touch wider aspects of gameplay and it is in these peripheral cases that they become particularly important to free to play games.
Game State ManagementIn many games the game is designed with the assumption that the player playing the game may not complete the game in a single session.  Therefore, if the user exits the game before completing the game should persist the state so that the player can resume from her or she left off.  Game state management becomes a bigger issue in multiplayer game design where the game must ensure that each of the players see a consistent view of the games state at any particular point in time.  Multiplayer games where the game play is played across separate devices must manage the game state to enable each of these devices to present a consistent game view to each of the players.  There are a number of ways of achieving this but with high availability of connectivity becoming the norm, the server makes the most sense.  If for any reason a player loses connectivity then the server should be able to update the device with the current game state when the connection is resumed.
gCommerceIs a new term that captures the combination of skills, systems and capabilities a game developer needs to effectively monetize a free to play game through the buying and selling of products within a game. It is derived from the broader term eCommerce and encapsulates capabilities around goods management, mobile transactions and player management. You heard it here first.
In App PurchasesAlso known as IAPsThese occur when a player tries to buy something from within the game.  In-App purchases usually relate to virtual goods or currencies but can also relate to other things such as new content or levels etc.
Integrated Development EnvironmentAlso known as IDE.Is a tool for building games where all of the code for the various aspects of the game can be written and debugged from within the same tool.  Usually these tools allow you to manage versions and projects as well as automate builds.  Most offer you a source code editor, debugger and automated build manager.
LTVLifetime Value.  This is the average net profit of a player over the total period the player plays the game.
MAUMonthly Active Users.  The number of unique players that play the game in any given month.
Micro-transactionsAre transactions for small monetary amounts which are done from within the game usually to facilitate the purchase of a virtual good or currency.  A store is usually required to facilitate these purchases from a developer’s perspective as without a store an alternative payment mechanism is required and typical transaction charges make micro-transactions uneconomic.
Player Management From a commercial perspective the primary goal of the game developer is to attract, retain and convert as many players as possible to paying players.  Each stage of this process requires the game developer to understand and manage their players.  For example in attracting players, developers need to understand the source of the player as different sources will result in players with different playing characteristics and attributes.  Player management is the collective term used to describe the ability to understand players across all lifecycle stages and optimize performance at each stage within this lifecycle.
RESTfulIs a term applied to an API and what it means is that the details of the component implementation or the protocol syntax can be ignored allowing the developer to focus instead on the roles of the component(s) and the constraints in how the API components can interact with other components.  The REST protocol normally has a consistent treatment of certain specific data elements which are defined as part of the standard.
RetentionRefers to rate at which players return to play the game. Retention is usually reported as percentage.  For example, of the number of players who play the game for the first time today, N-day retention refers to how many will still be playing the game in N days time.
SDKOr Software Development KIT.This is a game developer tool that allows for creation of applications for a certain software package.  Often third party products are offered to the developer as APIs however in order to make it even easier for the developer and give them less work to do these APIs can be wrapped in an SDK.
Server-side Game Developer ToolRefers to a game development tool that enables game developers to develop components of their game on a server or on the backend.  Server-side functionality is increasingly required in games to support functions such as multiplayer.  A server-side game development tool should integrate with the tools a developer uses to build the game itself and make it easy for backend or server-side functionality to be deployed and work with the game.
Social GraphIs really just another term for social network.  In a game context it refers to the relationships a particular player has.  Social networks are used for a variety of things within games and over recent years we have seen the dramatic impact of social games.  Social features or mechanics are used to both enable a player to play a game with his or her friends this connecting them.  For the developer, this has the added benefit of growing the player base.  Social features have long been understood to increase retention across all media types and in that respect games are no different.
Virtual CurrenciesAre in-game currency systems that are used to facilitate game play.  Virtual currencies have really taken off in popularity with the rise in popularity of the free to play business model as they are one of the most effective means of getting players to spend money within a free game.  Games typically have up to 3 virtual currencies and these currencies would typically be linked to form an in-game economy.
Virtual GoodsAre virtual game objects that are sold to a player to facilitate game play.  Virtual goods can have a number of different characteristics and games usually make use of a catalog of them to appeal to different player types.  Of the more important characteristics is whether or not the virtual good is consumable or not which determines whether or not it persists perpetually within the game once it has been purchased or whether using it within the game can actually cause to to be consumed.

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