When I talk to game developers about their games in various stages of production, the most common question I get is “what is the best strategy to make more money?” The most obvious answer (to them) is “analytics”– gathering behavioral data and analyzing player behavior to understand actual consumer game play and maximizing revenue potential. However, as a game designer by trade, I usually always focus on the gameplay rather than the monetization tactics. After all, if the game isn’t fun, game over. This is why I’d like to introduce a concept I call Emotional Monetization.
Analytics simply can’t quantify or measure emotion, and emotion is what will ultimately help your game monetize. Some developers think that monetizing is all about A/B testing, segmentation and return rates. It’s not. You need to establish an emotional connection with your players through engaging gameplay and amazing design. By definition, games are series of decisions, designed to create emotional attachment and be fun. Art and science become a game when a developer constructs game mechanics that allows gamers to make their own decisions with skill, strength or luck. For example:
Skill decisions are a series of chess moves: move the pawn or knight to take the rook?
Strength decisions are a series of physical and mental moves in sports: pass or shoot the ball?
Luck decisions are a series entries when playing slot machines: max bet or one coin?
Games are played to temporarily escape from current life by role playing a life as a treasure hunter, elite athlete, or puzzle solver. Through role playing, gamers can experience emotions, such as: overcoming challenge, defeat, success, and camaraderie.
So, make a decision, reap the reward, and repeat. Think about monetization through a similar lens. When do you introduce the decision, or in this case the point of monetization? Again, you want to create an emotional attachment and present the decision at the right time. Too early in gameplay and it’ll be a turnoff to your players. If you incorporate it too late, you may be giving up on an opportunity to drive revenue. An example of precise timing can be found in Candy Crush where after 15 levels, the player is forced to decide to either pay $0.99 or ask three friends for help. Would your players’ emotional attachment be different if it were 7 levels instead of 15?
Now that question is, what technique or monetization gate do you use? The game genre may lend itself to a particular technique, but there are definitely no hard and fast rules. Combining and mixing them can make your game different and compelling. Indie devs are great at this.
Here’s a rundown of the different types of monetization gates you can incorporate into your game:
This type of Gate places timers on various components within a game, which include pay to bypass the timer or wait for the timer to elapse. This is a commonly used tactic in mobile games that represent something being upgraded, built, recharged or repaired. An example is Real Racing 3 where there is a timer placed on the car after upgrading before it can be entered into a race.
Time Gates enables a level playing field for paying and non-paying gamers who are patient. However, you need to offer other things for the player to do while waiting for the component, otherwise they are unlikely to stay for the long term. EA’s Real Racing 3 does this well where one car is under a timer, but the other cars can still enter races.
One thing to watch out for is that many gamers know how to bypass this mechanic by changing the time and date settings on the device. If you want to limit cheating, put the timer in your server and remove it from the client.
The probability gate can be presented to the gamer in various forms such as: landing a critical hit, reward loot, a treasure chest, or pack of cards. Instead of receiving a known return for a decision, the reward a gamer receives is left to chance. This game also emphasizes rare items, which can be used to make games feel special but are difficult to acquire without payment.
The ideology of the unknown is a powerful tactic. Creating an emotion where gamers are excited to have the opportunity to receive something rare keeps gamers coming back for more. You can use this concept in standard game mechanisms as well by replacing static variables (e.g. 20 coins for a victory) with a randomized range (15-25 coins).
Supercell Hay Day is a good example. It’s great to collect resources from a lot of farming, but not as great when the gamer runs out of room to store it. Every time a crop is picked up there is a chance to collect rare pieces to upgrade the barn or silo. Even better, there’s the opportunity to find the barn pieces in the Roadside Shop. The patient player can eventually get the pieces required, but the urge to speed up the process with an In App Purchase (IAP) is strong.
A common gate used in all free to play (F2P), which allows for users to decide to play the game a lot (for free) or pay (to advance faster). This type of gate is usually the easiest to implement into a game once a virtual economy and store is established. IAP items such as coin doublers and coin triplers, are levers used to reduce the grinding necessary for gamers to enjoy a game. Kiloo’s Subway Surfers does a good job with integrating a virtual economy and IAP store. Gamers can play a lot and enjoy the game or they can buy coin packs to bypass some gameplay.
Games that focus on grinding have a difficult balance of having fun versus monetizing and are heavily dependent on the virtual economy. If there’s a low or no positive player feedback early on, the gamer could lose interest quickly. Devise ways to avoid repetition without emotional rewards and look into methodologies that would allow game variables to be tuned remotely because when gamers are asked to grind, loop holes are found and used.
Look into methodologies that would allow game variables to be tuned remotely. When gamers are asked to grind, loop holes are found and used.
This type of gate is analogous to the old term shareware or lite, where a player is not given access to features or levels unless they pay. Games with premium gates often reflect a previously paid title that hasn’t been as successful as hoped.
Fortunately, we’re seeing less and less of these types of games recently in favor of F2P games that offer rich experiences to non-paying users. In most cases, when forced to decide to pay or not to continue the decision made is often go find another game. If you add a premium gate, make sure gamers have the opportunity to play previous levels or give other options to enjoy and consider paying to move forward.
King’s Candy Crush is a good example of a premium gate that hasn’t turned off players. After beating about 15 levels, there comes a point where gamers have to pay or ask their social network for help to unlock. While asking a social network for help may sound easy to do instead of paying for more, this action helps keep more players playing the game.
This type of gate is pretty self explanatory with slot and poker games. There is an obvious gray layer here with games that mix traditional games with other mechanics. For categorization methods, it’s easier to stick to traditional methods of gambling with virtual poker and slots. Examples: Zynga Poker, Big Fish Casino, and Playtika LTD’s Slotomania
In conclusion, F2P monetization is not plug-and-play, rather a blend of art and science, or “Emotional Monetization.” You need to sit in your players seat, get in their head, and truly understand what they’re feeling. Practice sending the emotional shifts in your select games and more importantly ask other people the same questions about games. Every game will trigger different emotions for different people, and gauging emotion can make all the difference in the world.