The Perpetual Sale

This article was originally published on Kotaku.

As another Steam Holiday Sale comes to a close, I have spent roughly $100 to purchase 22 games. In the past 2 months I have picked up 3 Humble Bundles. Not a month ago I spent around $50 on 11 games in the Steam Fall Sale. By the time the next Steam Holiday Sale rolls into town I will be lucky if I have played half of these games. I have a problem. I am a Compulsive Collector. And after 1,400 gamers took my recent survey on their game-buying habits, I know that I am not alone.

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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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Why the OFT’s 8 principles for in-game purchases are great for game developers

On Thursday, the UK’s Office of Fair Trade released its Children’s Online Games report and consultation. The report outlines 8 principles for games targeted at children that contain in-game purchases. The “report outlines the main issues we identified through our investigation and our proposed remedy: to produce a set of industry-wide Principles to make clear the OFT’s views on businesses’ obligations under consumer protection law and what they should do to avoid being the subject of targeted enforcement action.”

No doubt inspired by stories like the 8 year old girl who spent $1,400 inside of Smurfs for iPad, the report is one I have heard concerns about when talking to clients over the past few months. I am no lawyer, and this post in no way should be taken as legal advice, but my personal interpretation is that these 8 principles are largely great for game developers.

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Making purchases present

Over the past year and a half as a monetization design consultant, one of my core tenets is to make purchasing present. Perhaps the biggest missteps I see in games with IAP is that the developer appears like they are doing everything possible to obscure the fact that a player can spend money within the game. When I get in front of audiences at GDC and other events, I coach that IAP are like banner ads: one must create hundreds if not thousands of impressions of the ability to spend money in order to generate a single purchase.

I am not talking about bombarding the player with frequent blocking modal dialogs. This  tactic is likely to frustrate a player and cause him to quit your game permanently for another. An excellent example I point to in making purchasing present is Bejeweled Blitz.

If I were to open up Bejeweled Blitz and play 10 matches of the game, I would see the Add Coins button 20 times within that session. It is not blocking my progress or making a nuisance of itself. But simply by playing the game and following the path of least resistance, I see the ability to spend money regularly. Purchasing is present.
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