Well, that's a word most people hate hearing. And I can completely understand why. If you've heard about "monetization", you've probably heard it from some discussion of free to play games where they're talking about how to maximize your monetization by basically treating your players like garbage. It's an ugly word, with ugly baggage. But the problem is that it's also an absolutely critical part of making games, which means that it's also a critical part of playing games.
I know, as a player, it often doesn't feel like monetization is an issue with "real" games. But it totally is, you're just very used to seeing one particular model. If you're used to paying $60 up front for a game, that's monetization. It's just a style of monetization where everyone who plays pays up-front, and if you like the game, great, but if you don't like the game, oh well. Maybe you can recoup some of your $ through trade-ins, or selling your game, but basically, every time you want to play a game, you bet $60 that you'll like it.
So "free to play" presents a different model. It lets players try out the game for free. That's great - full stop. But historically, most of the successful games have made $$ by basically exerting a huge amount of pressure on players. "Fear of Missing Out" (FOMO) is a huge "tool" that a lot of F2P games use. One time promotions, sales, etc. There's also the fear of losing something you already "have". Games that give you things while playing, but only let you keep them if you survive (Angry Birds 2, Puzzle & Dragon). Then there are games that let you get tantalizingly close to success, only to choke you of some resource (Candy Crush) that you can refill with money. Most powerful of all, it seems, are games that let you develop highly competitive relationships, but then cause you to lose if you don't actively pay (Game of War, Clash of Clans). They're not (well, sort of) pay-to-win, they're more like pay-to-not-lose.
These kinds of tactics aren't all necessarily "bad". Some of them can be used in ways that are beneficial to players. And honestly, you have to apply a little bit of pressure for people to pay, because even if they want something you're selling, you at least have to let people know it's there. We tried a zero-pressure approach in some of our earlier games, and the result was that basically, without any pressure, everyone assumed you were making money in some other way, and never felt a need to pay. And that's fine - that's a lesson we learned, and it makes sense if you can put yourself in the player's shoes.
But I think one thing that isn't necessarily directly apparent to most players is a simple fact of life: If no one pays, the game dies.
We hope that we're able to attract an audience of a reasonable size. We hope that we're able to give them something they enjoy playing. And we hope that we'll have things that they're interested in enough to buy with real money. If we do, what does that money get?
It lets us keep making games. It is the only thing that lets us keep making games.
Here's what we spend money on: salaries, so that the people we're working with can make a solid living doing this. Unfortunately none of us can survive on just ramen anymore, and rent in the Bay Area is $$$. Equipment. Computers, desks, chairs, etc. Snacks & drinks. Licenses for things like Photoshop (Yes, we do things legally here). Medical insurance (Medical, dental & vision, covered 100% for all employees & dependents). A lawyer, to cover some of the buisness-y stuff. A bookkeeper, because there's a lot of stuff that can go wrong, and paying someone a few hours a month to make sure everything is on the up-and-up for taxes is worth it.
We've had some wonderful investors who have helped us cover those costs while we're developing our first game. We also hope to pay them back in time, along with a profit share that's ongoing. But eventually, we'll need to make enough from our games to cover 100% of this on an ongoing basis or we stop making games and have to go find different jobs.
So instead of creating an antagonistic relationship between us, the game's developer, and you, who will hopefully be one of our players, we want this to be a collaborative relationship. We hope that your goal isn't to "play as much as possible without paying a cent", we hope it's that you really like the game and want more of it, and happily decide to buy something that you really enjoy, and as a great side-effect, we're able to continue working and make more of what you like. In an ideal world, our game would be just like something you enjoy on a regular basis, like a coffee, that you'd be willing to pay for every once in a while. I don't know of anyone who thinks, "I'm gonna drink as much free coffee as I can without paying a cent!" because they feel an antagonistic relationship with the barista. People understand they're paying for something they want, and feel like it's a fair exchange.
I think it's a difficult thing to do - to create something that's sustainably fair - because so much of gaming has been essentially stripped of its value. iPhone games are priced well below what is "sustainable", unless you can achieve success through astonishing volume. And even then, of the millions of apps that have been released, I'd guess less than a tenth of a percent of developers ever turn a profit at all, and less than a hundrendth of a percent actually survive more than a year or two.
In that sense, being in the mobile game development space is a really difficult and strange place to be. But at the same time, we're doing it because we love it, and we think that our best chance of success is creating something that you'll love, too.