How to sell a Mobile App or Game Outside App Stores -

Feb 22, 2024

 Thanks to Tony Markov for contributing to this article!

If you're not certain what to do to market your app direct to consumer (D2C) in addition to app stores (or if you're looking for a new method to make money from your game or mobile application You may be wondering what possibilities you have.

High fees on platforms like platforms like Apple App Store and Google Play are a reason that can cause game developers and app developers to think beyond the ease of use and accessibility of traditional marketplaces for app apps however, the restrictions of platforms make it more challenging.

But, due to current court cases as well as the development of new regulations and laws, the mobile landscape is evolving.

You may have more options than you think, but where do you begin?

In this piece will cover:

 How Mobile App Stores Work Currently

With the majority of smartphone OS's market share globally, Android with the Google Play Store as well as iOS using an Apple App Store enjoy a duopoly over mobile software distribution and mobile app ecommerce across the globe. As these markets begin to expand and are becoming more accessible, it's important to know the framework that apps stores have traditionally worked with.

On the plus side, as the most popular app stores are utilized by basically every human on earth with an mobile phone, their potential to draw new customers for your app or players who play your game is unrivaled. Additionally, apps provide a simple and easy way for users to purchase and download new applications and purchases using a platform they already trust, and by using the payment method they've added to their accounts.

App stores can also facilitate app developers to market their applications. They also manage crucial aspects of transactions like varied payment methods and currencies, as well as fraud, tech support related to the transaction, and also collecting and settling sales tax.

However, that convenience can come at a steep cost to the developers.

 What are the Downsides of Monetizing via Major App Stores

In the event that your app or game is approved by gatekeepers for the mobile app store initially, the complete lack of competition means that fees for sales through iOS and Google Play app stores are quite high -- typically at least 30%..

Those fees also apply to in-game purchases as well. So, regardless of whether you decide to launch a completely free app and then monetize it through online purchases, your users as well as users are charged hefty fees to the app stores.

 Passing the Fees -- - or Savings- - to the Consumers

A few apps are starting to announce that a certain percentage of their high-cost app store charges are being passed along directly to the buyers, despite that there are lower-cost options alternatively.

 Otter's 2023 Pro Pricing Updates

Otter changed its pricing plans by mid-2023. The the changes to pricing for package packages going to effect on August 20, 2023..

A screenshot of Otter's August 2023 pricing changes announcement post, as of December 2023.

There was a notable Pro option: Paying for a year-long subscription on the Apple App Store or Google Play Store will cost users additional $10 and will raise the cost approximately 8%, from $119.99 up to $129.99 USD.

In order to explain how customers can avoid this upcharge, Otter placed a green "Tip" box right below that Otter Pro pricing grid, informing users that they can "Learn the steps to transfer their Apple App Store or Google Play Store subscription to Otter by Web ."

A screenshot of Otter's 2023 pricing changes grid showing current and new prices, broken out by package and method of purchase.

To address this pricing discrepancy more directly, in the FAQ section at lower left of the announcement page states that the more expensive price through apps stores "reflects the cost of additional fees for hosting the Otter.ai subscriptions both on Apple and Google's storefronts for apps."

The article goes on to explicitly recommend users cancel their current Apple App Store or Google Play Store subscription, and then renew their subscription on Otter's site..

 The Growing Trend of Player Account Purchases for Video Games

As with Otter Many game application makers are offering discounts to users if they purchase from outside the app through an external account linked back to the app.

Developers can advertise these kinds of discounts and user accounts on their websites.

An example game website screenshot mockup stating that users can save when purchasing online, to illustrate mobile app monetization.

App developers make it quick for a user to sign-up by accessing the app from the phone, then pressing an icon to register an account as a user, and signing up.

It is then possible for users to purchase items from the website, and pay lower prices than for similar purchases within the app. (More about user accounts here.)

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 The App Store's List of Developers Selling D2C Will Grow

Although there are many advantages when selling games and applications via the iOS App Store and Google Play, the downsides on pricing and the limitations on distribution of games mean that, as court cases continue and regulations are introduced to open the marketplace, more developers will be wondering how they can adopt an effective D2C approach for their application or game.

 How To Sell Apps outside App Stores

Although the app can be available for download via the Apple App Store or Google Play Store -- and Otter is charging a higher rate if you are paying annually for their Pro subscription via those stores -- there's an alternative that's less expensive for users to download the app through one of the stores, but paying for their subscription on the Otter's website with a different payment service supplier.

This is a good example of the differences between distributing apps through app marketplace, or monetizing an app via app marketplaces.

Although downloads for your application are restricted to proprietary stores, that isn't a guarantee that this is the sole option for customers to purchase your services or features.

Here are some key things to consider before setting up your own option for monetization independent of the major app marketplaces.

 Pick a Payment Provider

There are a variety of options available for payment services providers (PSP) as well as merchants of record (MoR) on the market that you can set up to take payments outside of the app stores that have device capabilities.

There is however a significant difference between payment services providers as well as merchants with record.

A PSP can help businesses market a product by handling the specific solutions and connections required to do so (such as connecting payment gateways, payment processors, and a merchant account).

MoR MoR like does all that and is able to take on significant responsibilities including ensuring cards brand regulations, regulatory laws in a variety of countries as well as risk, sales taxes as well as VAT, and much more. That includes calculating, collecting taxes, and paying them.

 Why Shouldn't You Just Choose an even lower-cost solution like Stripe?

Stripe comes with multiple upgrades to help fill in those needs, but every upgrade package will continue to increase the price anyway.

 Users Accounts

For the purpose of connecting purchases from your own checkout option as well as your app downloaded via an app store, you'll need some kind of user account system that allows users to keep track of -- and get in-app credit for -- their purchases.

Users' accounts allow them to make purchases outside of those on the App Store and Play Store, then sign into the app for the credit to be reflected there.

In the case of , we provide consumers with support -- so if there are any problems regarding their purchase or purchasing account, we'll on hand to help.

The purchases that are tied to accounts of users typically take the form of currency in-app or subscriptions.

 Game or in-app currency

To make your app monetizable using in-app or in-game currency The currency is bought using real money on your website and later redeemed within your app to purchase in-app items, features, etc.

For numerous games for mobile, apps use an in-game currency that includes gems, coins, gold, or a unique fictional currency that users can redeem for bonuses within the game. The currency can usually be bought in a variety of packages which include exclusive pricing on the web if users leave the app and buy straight from the game developer's site.

 Subscriptions

Rather than individual purchases as needed, you may prefer to offer access to your app (or the premium services and features) via a subscription, typically available either monthly or annually.

Apart from a freemium plan the Otter's plans are also available for yearly or monthly subscriptions.

A screenshot of Otter's plans and pricing offerings as of February 2024.

 items and upgrades

Upgrades and items are an additional option to monetize your app. These are a great alternative to other options such as subscriptions and currencies in-app, or can work in tandem in conjunction with them.

The case is Otter, which offers a freemium version of their services (either on the web or through their app) upgrade options like more transcription minutes, team collaboration, and advanced export options help motivate users to join their Pro and Business packages.

In the case of games, the options are nearly endless -- with exclusive items, characters or power-ups to motivate players to shop on the site and then redeem through the app.

An example game website screenshot mockup showing website exclusive purchase items, to illustrate mobile app monetization.

If you're unfamiliar with the ongoing and recent legal battles that could impact both Google and Apple's stores in a way, there have been quite many across the U.S. and Europe alone.

 The Digital Marketing Act (DMA)

 Epic Games' Lawsuits

Following the incident, Epic Games used discounts to promote its Fortnight users to make use of a different payment system rather than the app marketplaces that both Apple and Google then deleted Fortnight out of their store in the year 2020. Epic Games then separately sued both Apple and Google.

In the Google appeals, the case will remain, however a December 2023 ruling found in favor of Epic on all counts.

 State-Led Cases

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Katie Stephan

Katie Stephan   Katie Stephan is the Senior Content Strategist for . Besides her extensive marketing experience and expertise, she also holds an MFA in nonfiction creative writing and has worked in the communities she lives in as a college writing instructor.