Category Archives: Free-to-play

The Collectables monetization analysis

On the face of it, one would expect The Collectables to make a big splash on the iOS marketplace. A high-end visual treat from proven developers Crytek built in partnership with mobile powerhouse DeNA. A core-gamer targeting, squad based RTS with a collectable card meta-structure. A feature by Apple upon release. These all sound like the ingredients for success. Yet at the time of writing, the game has failed to crack the top 200 grossing for iPhone or iPad in the US. This analysis seeks to identify issues with the design of The Collectables that contribute to its weak monetization and propose solutions to issues identified.

This analysis is based on 4 hours of play of The Collectables on iPad, spread out over two days. As the game uses a structure of rewarding the player for repeat wins on a level with progressive rewards, I played each level 5 times to get the maximum reward before moving on to the next. I spent my gold bar premium currency only at the very end of my 4 hour session, and only to see what the experience was like. As a player, I did not feel compulsion or need to buy additional card packs during my session.
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Maturity and immaturity in League of Legends

This article originally appeared on GamesIndustry.biz

I’m 28 minutes into my 4th ever match of League of Legends when it happens. Another player lets me know that I “is noob” and “suck ballz.” Post game, the player antagonizes the chat room saying we are “so fricken bad” and the “worst team ever”. That’s when TwoBigButts comes to our defense, letting the abusive player know they were not so great either and that they should go back to Heroes of Newerth because “we don’t need more toxic players.”

And I was terrible that round. I had 1 kill, 11 deaths and 8 assists in a 40 minute match ending in a miserable defeat. I was roughly 5 hours into learning League of Legends as a complete neophyte to MOBAs and I experienced the oft mentioned toxicity firsthand.

I played 6 more matches and experienced one more act of toxicity. Despite 0 kills, 9 deaths and 13 assists in my 9th game I was not the target of the abusive behavior. One player on my team told another “go kill yourself.” Other than playing against a player named TittyQueef, the toxicity experienced in my first time user experience (FTUE) was much lighter than I was expecting when I started this project.

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The demon driving Dungeon Keeper backlash

EA is in a unique position as games publisher with a deep history. Between internally created games and a long history of acquisitions including Origin, Bullfrog, Maxis, Westwood, DICE, BioWare/Pandemic, Mythic and Criterion (just to name a few), the company holds the reins on any number of classic game brands.  Like few competitors, any time EA wishes to develop a new game for a given genre or platform, there exists at minimum one IP that can be leveraged as opposed to developing a new brand. Browser-based strategy MMO? Games have been made using both Ultima and Command & Conquer settings. Casual city building game? Sim City is a natural choice, but so are Populous, Theme Park and Theme Hospital. Mobile based infinite runner? Mirror’s Edge, SSX and even Burnout would get the job done. Any time a new category breaks and EA feels the desire to be competitive, there is a reasonable case to be made for taking an existing brand and using it to build hype and awareness in the ever heightening competition for player’s attention and dollars.

EA is the company the internet loves to hate. It is the two time winner of Consumerist’s Worst Company In America. It has made its share of public mistakes as well as releasing its share of incredible games. Over the years, the company has used its stable of intellectual properties in a variety of ways. Although there is always some backlash, the recent release of Dungeon Keeper on iOS and Android has been met with an unprecedented wave of hatred.

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The case for an IAP off button in mobile games

While preparing for a recent Thanksgiving trip to visit my family in Chicago, I decided to pack a mostly unused Android tablet. Although I purchased the 7” Galaxy Tab for mobile game testing I could easily part with the device given the number of iOS and Android devices I owned. I plotted to load it up with movies, games and a few apps, bring it to my Grandmother in the assisted living home, and see if I could teach a woman who had never owned a personal computer, smart device or email account to use a tablet.

Over the past year and a half that I have worked as a monetization design consultant writing, lecturing and working on F2P games, I have grown to be a vocal, public champion for the business model. Yet teaching my Nana to play games I publicly praise, I saw firsthand how valuable it would be to have an IAP off button.
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Understanding F2P with the four pleasures model

This microtalk was originally presented at Unknown Worlds’ monthly Postmortem meetup in San Francisco. In the talk, I explain the 4 pleasures model, a mental framework I use to aid hesitant developers in better understanding F2P players. This model, presented by anthropologist Lionel Tiger in his book The Pursuit of Pleasure, explains 4 different types of pleasure:
  • Physio – pleasures of the body and derived from the sensory organs.
  • Socio – the enjoyment derived from relationships with others.
  • Psycho – pleasure pertaining to people’s cognitive and emotional reactions.
  • Ideo – pleasure from or relating to a person’s values.

As explained in the talk, these four categories of pleasure can be helpful in explaining the joy derived from games ranging from Candy Crush Saga to Call of Duty: Ghosts to Demon’s Souls.

Designing in-game purchases – GDC Next ’13

Description of my talk from GDC Next ’13 – Designing in-game purchases:

In-game purchases are here to stay. Now more than ever it is clear that players are comfortable spending money in browser, mobile, and download games. But just because players are willing to pay does not mean game developers know how to give them something worth buying. This talk gives practical, hands-on guidelines and processes for designing your game’s monetization. Core loops, feature design, economy design, user interface tips, user experience flows, and forecasting tools are all covered in this actionable talk from a 11 year design veteran who has successfully made the leap from designing paid games to freemium games.

Designing for monetization from day one

As more mobile game developers move into the F2P space or integrate IAP into their premium game, a common set of problems occur around process (or lack thereof) when it comes to designing for monetization. Many game teams I talk to or work with in my role as a monetization design consultant are working in F2P begrudgingly. They distrust the business model and this sentiment bleeds through to the game’s implementation, limiting their chance for success.

In my opinion, the ideal game development process on a game with IAP will consider monetization from day one. Not only will the design of the game as a business be considered from the outset, but each member of the team will embrace the business model in their work. This does not mean starting your first discussion of the game with the question “how do we milk our players for all they are worth?” Instead, it means that each member of the team recognizes that success depends on a game that forges a long term relationship with the player and is unafraid to ask the player for money when appropriate.

This idyllic vision is at odds with what I tend to see out in the real world. In practice, there tends to be one person on the team responsible for the money side of game design. This person (be it product manager, producer, CEO or other) leads a frustrating life where she is constantly suggesting ways to improve the game only to be shot down by her teammates, or fighting to get a small part of her overall ideas implemented. This results in a compromised game where monetization elements are hidden from the player or overall lacking, and can result in the failure of an otherwise good game.
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Bruce Wayne’s millions can’t buy F2P success

This article originally appeared on GamesIndustry.biz

When it comes to superheroes and intellectual properties in general, there is no name bigger than Batman. Thanks to Robert Downey Jr’s charisma and Jon Favreau’s directing, Iron Man is having an incredible resurgence over the past few years. But in terms of perennial, world-wide appeal Bruce Wayne is right up there with Michael Jordan and Star Wars in the pantheon of intellectual properties.

The fact that NetherRealm’s free-to-play Arkham Origins is currently enjoying a top 5 position in the US free charts on both iPhone and iPad is not a surprise. What is surprising is that relative to the incredibly strong performance of the studio’s first free-to-play outing, Injustice: Gods Among Us, the Caped Crusader appears to be significantly underperforming.
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League of Legends and the top of funnel imperative for F2P

When it comes to free-to-play, few games are held up as paragons of virtue as frequently as League of Legends. When writing about my practice as a monetziation design consultant, LoL and TF2 are the two games that come up whenever anonymous internet commenters let me know how much they hate me and all F2P games with these two exceptions. LoL, and by extension Riot, is a smash success on every conceivable metric: from daily user engagement to workplace happiness of employees to valuation at time of successful exit, Riot has crushed it.

As part of a forthcoming article I’m writing on LoL, I decided to take a good, hard look at its first time user experience (ftue). When working in F2P, the ftue is simultaneously one of the most important places for a developer to focus his effort and one of the most underserved parts of a game.

Based on my experience in game development, the forces that result in an underdeveloped ftue (in both paid and free games) are natural and somewhat inevitable. Implementation comes near the end of development, frequently during a crunch period in the lead up to launch. Tutorials generally involve a lot of one-time use code or script to guide the user throughout the game. Outside of the test team, game team members are unlikely to revisit the ftue regularly or if they do, overlook it as a series of rote steps instead of examining it with intention.
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A purchase makes a promise

I will never buy a Ps Mini again. I was recently exploring the interface of my Ps Vita, looking for a novel diversion to buy while waiting for insomnia to dissipate. After browsing through the catalog of Ps1 games I thought, “Hey, I’ve never bought a Mini before. They’re always mentioning them in the list of new releases on Podcast Beyond. Maybe I ought to try one out.”

I found one with an intriguing name and icon, Floating Cloud God Saves the Pilgrims. I clicked the icon and was disappointed with the amount of information the Vita gave to help me make a purchase. Here I was, looking for an excuse to open my wallet and there was no video, no screenshots, no Metacritic, no clear explanation of genre.


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