Free-To-Play vs. Customer Happiness – Part 3

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3 (Currently Reading)

The following is a presentation created by Martine Spaans, owner of Tamalaki Publishing and frequent contributor on Business Development matters here at FGL.  Martine has 8+ years of experience in the online gaming industry and has served as Licensing Manager at Spil Games, worked in Online Marketing at Ubisoft, and is a Marketing Advisor at CFE.


Part 3 – What Can We Do?

In retail, 6 to 12% of goods are returned. Returns are also on the rise—up 19% from 2007. For every $1 spent on merchandise today, 9¢ is returned. ( Online retail 60% of goods are returned. Crazy high numbers! Retails Return Policies are on a counter-movement of becoming more strict again, to protect themselves from all the abuse and costs. Compared to that, our Free-to-Play problems are nothing. Compared to that, our audience actually loves us, right?

Also, most people who are silent are just silently enjoying your game. Sometimes the biggest complainers are the most loyal players. Don’t be shocked when you see lots of bad feedback. Compare it to the hard data. Your analytics. Follow the trend of your players instead of listening to the ones with the biggest mouths.

So…if Free-to-Play is nothing new, and is apparently a problem that is not exclusive to the gaming space, how can we learn from examples outside of our own industry? I have one for you.

Several large North American cities have attempted zero-fare systems, but many of these implementations have been unsuccessful. A 2002 National Center for Transportation Research report suggests that, while transit ridership does tend to increase, there are also some serious disadvantages. This report suggests that, while ridership does increase overall, the ultimate goal of reducing emissions by enticing drivers to take transit instead is rarely met: because fare-free systems tend to attract large numbers of hooligans, vagrants and other “problem riders”, zero-fare systems often have the effect of frightening potential riders back into their cars.

When we translate this to F2P, this is an example of a badly executed F2P design. Originally designed as premium multiplayer, then suddenly transformed info F2P. Because of the bad design, trolls can take over, and create a bad experience for the nice paying players.

When we think if the primary goal of games, it’s to make something fun. Something people really enjoy. This counts for any type of game.

For educational games, learning should be the secondary goal.
For dancing games, physical benefits should be the secondary goal.
For multiplayer games, social interaction should be the secondary goal.
For Free-to-Play games, Monetization should be the secondary goal.
For any of these games, if Fun doesn’t come first, the second goal will never be met. If you design your goal to get maximum monetization, you increase the risk that players will not think your game is fun, and they will leave the game before spending a dime. That’s how many badly executed F2P games came into this world and failed.

Skinner Box: Don’t condition your players that they will suffer a disadvantage when they don’t pay. It worked in the beginning of F2P, but by now there are too many competing games out there who focus on fun, that a punishing system is not immersive enough anymore to keep player attention. Focus on making a game fun for everybody, and reward the players who do go out of their way to pay in your game.

Payment wall: Don’t design your game in a way that players have no other option than paying when they reach level X. People will just abandon your game and play something else. There are plenty of alternatives out there.

Gaming Medium: Be aware of the short game sessions. Try to keep that in mind when designing your In-App Purchase options. People should be able to play for free for 5-10 minute sessions if they like. Or special premium content shouldn’t force them to sit through long sessions either. The hardest thing of mobile design is to make it possible to play a game for only 5 minutes, but to also make it possible to enjoy a game for a few hours.

Overwhelming: People need to get the feeling that they only scratched the surface, and that unlocking content and getting to higher levels faster will open up more gates.

Spending cap: When people can spend $20 max on in-game items that will never expire, you’ll never get more out of your 2-3% payers. Even though they might want to. When you build in some purchase items that expire, or they can stock up, you open up a way to spend more. However, be careful that you don’t make it feel unfair by taking away their purchase. For example, a system where players can “rent” special armor for 24 hours only works when there is a clear incentive, like a special quest they can use it for.

Ownership: Character customization, gender specification, naming, building a house or town, etc.

Generosity: Something they desire, that helps them in the game. Something that makes them feel good. Take away that fear that you only want to earn money from them. Give them a cool gift for free.

Easy: Very attractive discount. Turn off advertisements. Add exclusive goodies.

Different: Various flavors of the game. Some people go for customization, some for high scores, some for collecting achievements. Make your In-App Purchase options attractive for everyone.

Gifting: A mechanic that not many games have tried out yet. Do you know that feeling when you see a silly gadget and you feel ashamed if you’d buy it for yourself, but you think it would make a perfect gift? Same with the emotion behind In-App Purchasing. Works well in multiplayer games in Korea. Works in immersive co-op worlds. When you’ve captured a certain audience in one game, try to transfer that audience to your new games. This is a lot easier when you stay with the same genres. It might be fun to try out new things, like building a racing game, a puzzle game and a shooter. However, it will be hard to capture an audience that shares this scattered love. This way you have to re-invent your audience over and over again, and you might end up spending a lot of budget on buying users.

Tamalaki publishing focuses on Hidden Object games, and sometimes we publish something slightly different for a similar audience, like a Match-3 game or a Time Management puzzle. This might be less challenging for the developing teams, but this way it’s easy for us to always capture the attention of our audience and serve them new games they will probably like. We don’t have to spend a lot of marketing money trying to find our audience, because we already have them. The snowball of users keeps on growing this way. -> subscribe and get a free F2P forcasting sheet that allows you to calculate the financial success of your F2P model.


We’d like to thank Martine Spaans for sharing this presentation with us.  If you have any questions or comments for Martine regarding Free-To-Play games, monetization strategies, or any of the other topics touched on in this series, feel free to leave your comments below!


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Free-To-Play vs. Customer Happiness – Part 2

Part 1

Part 2 (Currently Reading)

Part 3

The following is a presentation created by Martine Spaans, owner of Tamalaki Publishing and frequent contributor on Business Development matters here at FGL.  Martine has 8+ years of experience in the online gaming industry and has served as Licensing Manager at Spil Games, worked in Online Marketing at Ubisoft, and is a Marketing Advisor at CFE.


Part Two:  The Problem

When people set out to buy a boxed game for their console, they have a sense of ownership and commitment. It’s their game. They will try their very best to master it.

This is something that Free-to-Play games are lacking. The user does not feel that sense of commitment. They will not go out of their way to master something that comes for free. In fact, it seems they get more satisfaction out of complaining about their free product. So now you end up trying to sell something for nearly nothing and most of what you get back is negative feedback. How did we end up in this spiral?


I just love this quote, because it fully captures the problem of the value of free. Entitlement to getting a product for free turns into hostility towards the creator.

To prove that the problem is not with the quality of the product itself, but really with the perception of free, I only had to look in my own Customer Support mailbox for evidence. Rory’s Restaurant is a game that is available on Google Play for free (with advertising), and on Amazon and Nook as a premium game for 1.99 (without ads). During one of the updates to the game, we accidentally wiped player progress. Of course this did not go well with our players who spend hours and hours getting to the higher levels, carefully building up their restaurant. Statistically, most of the customer complaints come from Google Play.

Amazon has a nice promotional service: Free-App-of-the-Day. A Premium app suddenly gets the opportunity to harvest a lot of eyeballs and downloads during this 1-day free promotion. It also brings in worse user reviews then when the same app is just a paid one. FREE opens the floodgates. And that brings in the crap players. It basically means letting a death metal band play during the Superbowl. A lot of people will complain that the band was horrible, even if it was the best metal band in the whole world.


Tomorrow: Part 3 – What can we do?  Some solutions…

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Free-To-Play vs. Customer Happiness – Part 1

Part 1 (Currently Reading)

Part 2

Part 3

The following is a presentation created by Martine Spaans, owner of Tamalaki Publishing and frequent contributor on Business Development matters here at FGL.  Martine has 8+ years of experience in the online gaming industry and has served as Licensing Manager at Spil Games, worked in Online Marketing at Ubisoft, and is a Marketing Advisor at CFE.


Part One: History and Current State of Free-To-Play

Some people seem to think that the Free-with-optional-upgrade model is quite new and exclusive to gaming. I disagree and would like to point to the newspaper as an example. Do you know those small black&white comics that you get for free every day? They’re short, lower quality, and you have to wait for a day until you get a new one.

Or…you can go out to the store, spend a bit of money, and get all the content instantly, get some exclusives, in full color.

Or how about movies? You can pay for the cinema now and get the full big-screen immersing experience, or you can wait 1-2 years and see the same content for free on a smaller TV screen.

This has been around forever. Consumers are used to this model. So if Free-to-Play is a problematic model in the games industry, I don’t think that the monetization mechanic itself is the problem. I think it lies deeper within the emotion behind the introduction of Free-to-Play to the gaming industry and the rapid changes that we dealt with in the last few years.

Another example:  Who remembers the old Panini stickers? You had to spend ALL your pocket money on buying blister packs, not knowing what stickers would be inside. Especially hunting down the last few missing stickers could cost you piles of money. The grand prize was to proudly complete your sticker book.

So why is that all accepted and fine, while Puzzles & Dragons “Complete Gacha” was banned in Japan?

I can even give another example of our skewed thinking within our own industry. Go out to the store, buy a boxed console game for $60 and play it for 60 days. That’s 2 months of daily fun. Quite a reasonable amount of content for a console game, and the price point is just an accepted given. So compare that with a Free-to-Play game where you gradually spend $60 over the same amount of time. Why is that considered a lot of money? I don’t even want to know how Arcade machines would compare against this, where you only get a few minutes of gameplay for a quarter.

Actually, I think we are looking at this situation with the wrong glasses. Think of F2P as a street artist. His music is for free. His audience is big. If you really enjoy his music and you stop to listen to his music for a few moments, you are expected to give him a small fee. His conversion rate is maybe the same as the average play-pay ratio we work with. Maybe 1 to 5 percent of his audience pays something.

He has no marketing and no magazine will write about him. The only audience he captures are the people walking by that street corner where he’s performing.

A big chunk of his audience doesn’t want to pay for his music, because they are used to getting it for free. His audience doesn’t see the value of paying for something that comes free. And that is where the street performer and Free-to-Play games struggle.


Tomorrow: Part 2 – So what’s the real problem?

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