Gameplay vs. Monetization

Discussion in 'Indie Business' started by TylerBetable, Feb 2, 2012.

  1. TylerBetable

    TylerBetable New Member

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    Hey all,

    As you guys may already know, I work for a game monetization platform. I've heard from a number of people here that one of their biggest complaints with freemium monetization is that it ruins gameplay.

    With advertising, there's really no good place to put it in the game that doesn't disrupt the user in some way, whether it's an annoying ad in Angry Birds or a full page interstitial popup between turns.

    This is what leads lots of people to do virtual currency-based models. But even those models can mess with gameplay, especially when the game is selling the most useful items: stat bonuses, equipment, consumable items, and energy refills. These items can change gameplay balance and make non-paying players frustrated.

    But on the flip side, you've got to make money. I mean, not just "oh I have to keep the lights on", but if you make a great game you should be rewarded.

    On the one side is making beloved free apps and not getting a penny for it, while on the other side is using predatory monetization practices that net you money but little love (and may leave you with a general sadness inside :p).

    So my question to you guys is where do you draw the line between monetization and gameplay? Do you think there are acceptable sacrifices to gameplay if they yield significant revenue? If not, what do you do to still make your games business possible?
     
  2. Pallav Nawani

    Indie Author

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    As of today nearly 70% of the top apps on the Apple appstore are freemium.

    None of my games are freemium, because I dislike the business model. But if that's what I have to do then I'll do it. At the end of the day, we must put food in our stomach! If people themselves prefer that we nickel-and-dime them, then what can we do?
     
  3. Applewood

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    I think you'll find that freemium is just a passing fad. It works for some, but then again straight up sales works for plenty of others. And it really depends on the type of game that attracts the right type of mug/user. I won't touch freemium with a bargepole - I've never even looked at the upsell texts for any games I know are monetised that way.

    I do think I have a third way though. Our imminent Great Little War Game sequel will be a paid app and a short free demo version like normal. But it will also have a one-off bundle of stuff you can buy as an in-app if you want more gear or just to help us struggling devs. Amongst the extra units and stuff will be 100 bullshit points. You can spend them like freemium tokens but you can't buy more. If you restart the campaign from the beginning, you get those 100 points back again perhaps to spend in a different way.

    Will report later in the year if that actually was worthwhile.
     
  4. Nexic

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    If this doesn't end up being worthwhile, I'll eat my hat, my raincoat and a 5kg tub of rat poison.
     
  5. Applewood

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    I know we've crossed swords in the past and I also know you're also very successful. So I take that comment as big encouragement that we're on the right track, thanks.
     
  6. Nexic

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    Yeh I'd say so. I use freemium as my primary monetization strategy currently, but honestly I think paid + micro transactions has just as much (if not more) potential overall. Worked nicely for Infinity Blade.
     
  7. NicolasGB

    NicolasGB New Member

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    We are developing a skiing game on iOS and Android and will be releasing it as a free-to-play title in March.

    Most of our monetization will be selling "ski passes". Each race costs the player 1 ski pass. The player can regain ski passes for free overtime (around 10 per hour or so). This is very similar to how a game like Diamond Dash is monetizing, for instance.

    What I expect this to do is that casual players won't have to pay anything at all, as they will seldom play for more than a few minutes anyway (while waiting for their bus or such). Heavy users however will have to pay if they want to keep playing intensively for a long lap of time.

    I think this will definitely impact gameplay since we will effectively limit and sell playtime, but I am willing to try and find out how such a game performs, both in terms of download numbers (being free vs paid) and revenue. My gut feeling is that we will have 3 groups of players:

    - a vocal minority of non-paying users that find our system evil
    - a great majority of non-paying users that are happy to get a fun, high-quality game for free
    - a silent minority of paying users that allow us to keep making games

    I should also say that I don't believe this is the best performing monetization technique we would come up with. Rather it is the simplest one to implement, as our #1 goal with this title is to get a first game out on the market as quickly as possible. I think better monetization techniques would not take anything away from the player, but instead add something to the game in the form of a bonus for instance.
     
  8. NicolasGB

    NicolasGB New Member

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    Agreed, free is really just a way to get a broader user base.
     
  9. siread

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    I am making a footy game for iOS/Android and it has role-playing elements (levelling up, energy, skills, equipment etc) so it actually fits quite well with the virtual currency model where you can buy extra cash. However, the game also has a little casino in it (blackjack, roulette, slots) so if the player can spend virtual cash in the casino so I'm wary of it having gambling elements and being unsuitable for minors. That leaves me with a few options but currently I'm leaning towards a free app with some consumable items (NRG drinks & football boots) but I wonder if it's worth releasing both a free version and a paid version along side each other. (I have no experience with mobile games so any advice greatly appreciated.) One thing I am determined to do though is not let a free version with IAPs impact the gameplay too much. The player will of course level up at slower rate if they don't purchase anything but nothing will be restricted.
     
    #9 siread, Feb 3, 2012
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2012
  10. TylerBetable

    TylerBetable New Member

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    Thanks for the awesome responses guys :)

    I think that a lot of the freemium games are popular right now not as a fad, but because "free" is the new normal. People with $600 phones on a $90-per-month cellphone bill will balk at purchasing a $0.99 app, but then happily spend much more than that on a freemium game. It baffles me too, don't worry, but this is psychology at work (and psychology is often far from 'logical'). Free is by far the most powerful marketing you could implement for your app

    The other reason why freemium games dominate the Top Grossing charts is because it gives users the ability to price themselves. Amazingly, the same people that won't spend $0.99 on an app will happily spend hundreds on a game that has them engaged. Two people at Betable have spent over $100 on Tiny Tower. Like, holy crap guys, you can only upgrade the elevator so many times! :p

    I think the struggle here is that everyone wants to make money, but they differ on how much of they allow monetization to encroach on gameplay. Paid apps works fine for keeping the "dirty" monetization hooks out of your game, but it doesn't give players the opportunity to price themselves like freemium does. Microtransactions work for games like Infinity Blade, but I feel like they contain more friction than a straight freemium model by having the user make a decision to purchase each time.

    Of course, with either of these models, the paying player usually has an advantage over the non-paying player. This isn't a problem for most players in single-player or non-competitive games, but it's hard to design a game to be challenging to someone who spent money on powerful items while keeping it fun for the players that didn't. You always have to dance this line between making items powerful enough to be worth buying, but not so powerful that they ruin the gameplay. Honestly, one of the reasons why I decided to work at Betable is because of the potential to offer monetization without sacrificing gameplay (via real-money play).

    So as a followup, I wanted to ask you guys what you thought about the idea of letting players bet real-money on game outcomes as a revenue stream? This can mean they play vs. the house (with a random chance to win real money every time they loot a chest, for instance), or that they bet against each other in a PvP match. Do you think this is a revenue stream that solves the problem of gameplay vs. monetization?
     
  11. NicolasGB

    NicolasGB New Member

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    I don't really have an opinion (never gambled nor even played poker ^^) but Nicholas Lovell of Gamesbrief does : http://www.gamesbrief.com/2010/10/ten-games-businesse-that-are-doomed/
    (check out #4)
     
  12. lennard

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    I agree with Mr. Lovell in the general case. However, for certain games it can be crack cocaine and, really, they only need one title that hits it out of the park.
     
  13. Applewood

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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  14. lennard

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    All due respect Paul it's not a straight line from here to there. You may be right but:

    Was Ngmoco going to be able justify that 400M price tag with a few 99 cent titles? They are still hiring - without knowing the situation on the ground is this one of those layoff rounds that justifies clearing out the dead wood while they bring in new talent through the other door? Sounds like they haven't released anything compelling in awhile - doesn't necc. make free to play broken. I think there is room for both models but I like freemium with upside better than selling my games for 99 cents.
     
  15. Applewood

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    Yeah I know it's a stretch with /far/ more going on, but I was just reading it and thought of this thread. We almost had them publish GLWG at one point - glad that one skipped by now.
     
  16. TylerBetable

    TylerBetable New Member

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