Category Archives: Game Business

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 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

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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Failing fast and hard

It’s the Jewish New Year and I’ve taken a brief break from the two week old Enhanced Wars Kickstarter campaign to attend services. I check the time on my phone and see the notification that we have had two new backers. Despite my best intentions, I cannot help but open up my email to check the details. I recognize both names. At that moment, I know that Quarter Spiral is finished.

We’ve crawled over the 20% funding mark past which 4 out of 5 projects are successful. But with a platform wide backer average of $25, we will need to attract over 1,500 new backers to the project in two weeks. In the past 36 hours the small number of new backers are friends and family. Despite the common wisdom that many projects get funded in the final 48 hours it feels impossible.
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7 lessons I wish I learned before starting my first games internship

It is rapidly approaching 11 years between my entry into the tech industry interning at Pandemic Studios and founding an indie game development studio to build Enhanced Wars. Although it is still early days in my career, I think I have at least gained a modicum of insight worth sharing. When one of my mentors asked me to speak at the college course I credit for setting me on the path from enthusiast to professional, I saw an opportunity to reflect on my time in the industry and codify the lessons I wish I could go back in time to teach my youthfully arrogant college self. It is not like I am not still making missteps regularly;  I hope that 40 year old me is telepathically beaming back his list through time to send some wisdom my way. But it feels like a good time to share the top 7 lessons I wish I knew on my first day as a tech intern:

1) It’s a small world after all
The industry is small. Remarkably small. The sort of small that only becomes apparent when you have been working in it for a while. In the past year and change that I have worked as a monetization consultant to help fund Enhanced Wars, I have been recommended for gigs by people I worked with 9 years ago I did not expect to work alongside again. I have been able to pay my rent thanks to jobs I was referred to by people at EA that I am certain I aggravated at one point or another. I have walked into meetings to instantly regret the actions a younger, more abrasive self thought were completely justified at the time.
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So you’re a manager now

You’re good at your job. You’re a leader within your discipline and your job title may or may not say it. You’re one of the more senior members on the team. And one day you are told that you are in charge of other people. These people are probably your friends. You play games with them during lunch and go grab drinks after work on Fridays. Now you’re their boss.

Back before I went indie to work on Enhanced Wars, I was a producer of the Dragon Age Legends game team. Near the outset of the project, as his already heroic work load continued to grow, my boss started handing off some people management to different members of the studio. By the time the game team hit its peak at 25 members, I was the direct manager of 19 of them. Learning to manage people was a trial by fire, and I made many mistakes along the way.

Management is a whole second job and skill set. It is time consuming, tricky work that involves human dynamics and ambiguity. If you are the type of person who is very comfortable putting on headphones and coding, animating or working on spreadsheets all day then these soft skills may or may not come naturally to you. My goal is to give you something of a map to what being a manager really means.
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