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TIGSource ForumsDeveloperBusinessGameplay vs. Monetization
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TylerYork
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« on: February 02, 2012, 04:12:48 PM »

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 Tongue).

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?
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« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2012, 04:26:19 PM »

The route a lot of people take (and i will too when I finish one of my projects) is to just sell the game. It's noble enough, people know what they are paying for, there is usually a demo available, when you're selling a game (apart from mobile) you are getting more than just pennies per sale, but most importantly the game can be absolutely separate from the monetization.

Of course, the approach you want to take varies depending upon a huge variety of things. I don't personally like the idea of encroaching in the game's creative space to help push sales (whether in-app or game sales), but there are options such as selling extra chapters or sequels (such as captain forever), that gets closer than straight out sales, without appearing to be "greedy" monetization.
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« Reply #2 on: February 02, 2012, 05:34:19 PM »

So arcades did this kind of thing too and its not new. But if you as a developer (an author) are creating a game because you are passionate about the form and want to make a high quality game, then you are going to make the best game you can. The way many freemium games work, is that they make a game (usually a really shallow game), but then they intentionally handicap the player in ways they don't have to.

This to me is if everyone got a copy of Windows but then charged people to use a mouse. Windows is designed as mouse-based interface.

The same goes for freemium games, the things they are selling aren't new experiences or different experiences, they are the same experience that doesn't intentionally suck.

A good freemium game has the following qualities.

  • Each payment should purchase a system that was designed with the best intentions to provide the experience promised.
  • Each system should be a new or different experience that isn’t an upgrade of other systems. For instance, if we were to charge 5 dollars for each character class in a typical MMO, Knight, Wizard, Cleric, each experience would be very different, and each class could function correctly. It is a terrible idea to charge 5 dollars for “Knights who can do more damage” or “Clerics that can heal more”.
  • Players should not pay to shortcut an experience. Games are generally about the Beginning, Middle, and End. Buying a “max your level” upgrade is like paying an extra 10 dollars just to watch the end of a movie and is ultimately cheating a player out of the game itself.
  • This might bring up the argument, what about players that don’t want to level and want to skip ahead? If your game is so miserable that people want to pay in order to get to the good stuff that only happens after a 1000 of hours of grind, then you haven’t provided the players with a very good experience at all.

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« Reply #3 on: February 02, 2012, 05:37:13 PM »

Damn good question.

I don't really know yet, I'm struggling with the whole idea. I guess there are two types of purchases, support the developer to get a little bonus that doesn't greatly effect gameplay, and purchase additions to the game.

In the first category you might get things like skins that change the seasons, or maybe an extra hard mode. In the second category you might get additional classes, items, or levels.

I guess the bottom line is whether a player can enjoy the game without paying for anything, or even being sold anything in game. If you sell DLC on your webpage/sales portal, and the base game is fun, then I think it's safe to say that your not exploiting.
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« Reply #4 on: February 02, 2012, 10:39:24 PM »

I'm in the same boat as JMickle, I'd say that any of that jazz where companies add any of those micro-transactions , ads or otherwise annoying money grubs is too far, it's much better to release a part of your game for free, a part that will entice people to buy the fill product for a set, once off price.

I guess the issue really is, can you release a trial game that will make people want to buy? or is the app/game so limited that people would only ever get it for free.
I would theorise that 'freemium' games that have come out hated are almost always a matter of shallow content, as turgoz said.
They are just holding back core features of the game, if you have legitimate 'additional' content (new chapter or whatever) then making money of those would be easy, but isn't that essentially the same as releasing both a cost-money game with a free trail? so why not do that?
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« Reply #5 on: February 03, 2012, 12:24:52 AM »

gonna echo the others and say: sell the game. no virtual currency, in-game advertising, unlockable skins, purchasable DLC, etc. -- just sell it, like the industry has been doing for the last 40 years. those aforementioned gimmicks are not "monetization", they're ways to make money while avoiding the necessity to make a game good enough to sell

that's not to say those monetization gimmicks can't make money, because they can: just look at zynga. but who would you rather be more similar to: miyamoto or mark pincus?
« Last Edit: February 03, 2012, 12:35:29 AM by Paul Eres » Logged

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« Reply #6 on: February 03, 2012, 02:05:25 AM »

gonna echo the others and say: sell the game. no virtual currency, in-game advertising, unlockable skins, purchasable DLC, etc. -- just sell it, like the industry has been doing for the last 40 years. those aforementioned gimmicks are not "monetization", they're ways to make money while avoiding the necessity to make a game good enough to sell

that's not to say those monetization gimmicks can't make money, because they can: just look at zynga. but who would you rather be more similar to: miyamoto or mark pincus?

I wouldn't generalize like that. If you plan to make a single player game, like 'release and forget' only doing minor patches with bugfixes and balance changes it's ok to do that. But if you plan an ongoing project with added content, a multiplayer game that has to expand to live, things like microtransactions and DLC are hard to avoid. You can do them in tasteful manner, without sacrificing good gameplay or handicapping the player. What's wrong with adding a new character class for 1$ to your existing multiplayer game? What's wrong with adding a new campaign to your RPG for 4$ once it has been successful and fans demand more? Avoid crap like 5$ for a hat or consumable (*cough* or 10$ for character slot in Real of the Mad God *cough*), but reasonable price for new content or even gameplay possibilities is always great.
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« Reply #7 on: February 03, 2012, 02:20:20 AM »

Monetization works with certain types of games and others does not.  In a Hidden Object game in which you can buy extra levels to search, I say go for it.  In a strategy game in which you can purchase an in game "strategy guide" that would tell you the best way to beat the level, I say go for it. In a fighting game in which you can purchase new skins or new characters that are on the same skill tree as your base characters, I say go for it. But in ANY sort of PVP environment in which you can purchase your edge over an opponent, you have effectively destroyed the game.

I just went on a rant on Facebook about this the other day, which I am happy to share here.  I play Wild Ones, which is like a Worms clone, from Playdom.  This is a freemium game in which you can earn a lot of nice things, but the free-to-player can never beat a pay-to-player.  There are a trio of weapons among all the "cash purchase" weapons that do such a grand total of damage it makes any attempt to equal with the conventional weapons that are available for "game cash" purchase null and void. It has taken all the skill and desire to level up out of the game. This type of pay-to-play removes the free-to-player from the game due to frustration.  This also removes the casual player who might spend a few dollars on character outfits or kitch weapons, again due to frustration.  This only leaves the hardcore fans investing in your game, and maybe that's enough money but it does your game a disservice.

You have created a situation in which there is 2/3 of the fan base who will not continue to play once they have reached a certain level.  You have a situation in which 2/3 will no longer recommend your game, providing you with a diminishing return of the other 1/3.  And you have created an environment where you forget about the important elements of gameplay such as "Fun" and "Replay". 

Lastly, I believe this has a resounding societal effect.  What lesson are we giving if we set up a world in which those that have more money will always triumph over those that have more skill?  In the REAL WORLD, when you go to the arcade it doesn't matter how many quarters you sink, the most skilled player will always prevail.  In the REAL WORLD, it doesn't matter how much you spend on uniforms or equipment, the most skilled footballer will prevail.  In the REAL WORLD, it doesn't matter how much you spend on your rifle, the most skilled marksman will SHOOT YOU DEAD.
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« Reply #8 on: February 03, 2012, 02:21:30 AM »

@Moczan - what's wrong with it has already been gone into in multiple threads on this forum, i'd only be beating a dead horse to repeat it. but i do want to add this: in the case of multiplayer games, subscription fees (like world of warcraft does) can cover updates and server maintenance and so on; for mmorpgs and similar games you don't need to sell x$ thingamabobs in a game, you can just charge them x$ per month to play it. if the game is good enough, they'd be willing to pay a subscription fee to keep playing it. so again i feel the tried-and-true method is best here
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« Reply #9 on: February 03, 2012, 03:56:21 AM »

@Moczan - what's wrong with it has already been gone into in multiple threads on this forum, i'd only be beating a dead horse to repeat it. but i do want to add this: in the case of multiplayer games, subscription fees (like world of warcraft does) can cover updates and server maintenance and so on; for mmorpgs and similar games you don't need to sell x$ thingamabobs in a game, you can just charge them x$ per month to play it. if the game is good enough, they'd be willing to pay a subscription fee to keep playing it. so again i feel the tried-and-true method is best here

Again, I have to disagree with you. It's not tired-and-true, it's old and inefficient. If we are talking strictly multiplayer (as I mostly agree with you in terms of single player games), business model similar to League of Legends (only vanity items are strictly paid, no selling power) is better than subscription, especially for unknown developers because getting initial players to subscribe is awfully hard. While monstrous companies like Blizzard can afford millions of dollars of marketing and years of fame from previous work, it the worst example you can make on indie forums. Just look at all those recent AAA MMOs that are going f2p because they were practically dead with subscription model. Do your homework, cause it's 2012 already.

Good 'Freemium' model is 'Pay What You Want' model. Players can buy some items they can otherwise get in game if they want. There is no selling power, no exclusive content for paying users. You used it on one of your game, so please, don't be hypocrite.
« Last Edit: February 03, 2012, 04:27:09 AM by Moczan » Logged
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« Reply #10 on: February 03, 2012, 04:10:31 AM »

you're incorrect, i never used 'pay what you want' in the sense you mean. i let people choose the price at which they bought the game, not in-game content. it's also in no way a "freemium" model, because they have to pay at least a minimum, they can't pay nothing. nobody can get the game for free (unless they pirate it obviously)

league of legends is not really an example of what i'd call a good game either; i never said that these methods can't make money, just that they don't lead to good games. league of legends is actually a good example of how these methods can make a game worse; most of the gameplay flaws in that game are due to the way it makes much of its money. see the league of legends thread for more on that topic
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« Reply #11 on: February 03, 2012, 04:55:12 AM »

I think Temple Run uses a pretty sweet method of making money (it's similar to Farmville I believe), it boils down to this;

the game progresses through buying upgrades,
 upgrades are bought with 'coins',
coins are earned through play.

 If a player wants certain upgrades quicker, without earning them, they can buy a load of 'coins',
fast-tracking their progression, but who cares; it's a single-player game.

Through this the free-to-player gets the game in it's entirety, and can enjoy it just as much as someone who pays, but the avenue to get money from enthusiastic players is still there and they will pay it to save themselves time.

BUT

Like anything this method can be used for evil when the developer makes the free-to-players progression so painfully slow, and the paying player's progression steady and enjoyable, that you HAVE to pay to enjoy the game at all, which is just as bad as " pay 1$ to unlock: 'breath air' and 'walk' "
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« Reply #12 on: February 03, 2012, 06:07:54 AM »

you're incorrect, i never used 'pay what you want' in the sense you mean. i let people choose the price at which they bought the game, not in-game content. it's also in no way a "freemium" model, because they have to pay at least a minimum, they can't pay nothing. nobody can get the game for free (unless they pirate it obviously)

league of legends is not really an example of what i'd call a good game either; i never said that these methods can't make money, just that they don't lead to good games. league of legends is actually a good example of how these methods can make a game worse; most of the gameplay flaws in that game are due to the way it makes much of its money. see the league of legends thread for more on that topic

If I made a multiplayer game without thinking about monetization during development and focusing on getting the best game out, then made version with subscription and version with vanity items to buy guess which one would yield more income? It's still the same game, so why not take more money? I don't understand that 'purist' ideals, I thought being indie is about creative freedom, passion and doing wha you love, not making less money than your peers...
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« Reply #13 on: February 03, 2012, 07:06:30 AM »

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?

Acceptable to whom?

Here's the thing: with my player hat on (as opposed to my developer hat) if I see press coverage of a game or any kind of advert or promotion and I discover the game uses a freemium model that's it - I close the tab immediately and look elsewhere. Why? Because there are a lot of good games I want to play and my time is a scarce resource. I don't want to invest time discovering whether a game's going to play fair or not.

The one time I will go near a freemium game is if I know someone who's playing it and they reassure me that the premium aspects:

* Do not supply things necessary for a good play experience.
* Do not break things for non-premium players.
* Are priced sensibly.

So far, few games meet these criteria. (Except possibly League of Legends, but I don't play MOBAs anyway.)
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« Reply #14 on: February 03, 2012, 08:56:02 AM »

If I made a multiplayer game without thinking about monetization during development and focusing on getting the best game out, then made version with subscription and version with vanity items to buy guess which one would yield more income? It's still the same game, so why not take more money? I don't understand that 'purist' ideals, I thought being indie is about creative freedom, passion and doing wha you love, not making less money than your peers...

first off, i don't consider these purist ideals at all, i consider them practical principles about how to make good games

also, who said not to think about monetization? even when you make a game that's for-sale, or for-subscription, you need to keep in mind the market and what people want. you have to make games you believe people want to play

i'm also not saying you shouldn't make games like this. i was just offering advice about why i think these types of things are bad for the player -- for all the reasons named in this thread and others. if you want to go all ian bogost and make a game like cow clicker then that's your choice and right. and likewise if you made a game like cow clicker it'd be my right to believe or to say that you'd be taking psychological advantage of your players and not offering them anything of value (and perhaps even doing them harm)

the main thing i disagree with is that a multiplayer game would make more money with vanity items. i think a mp game would make more money with a subscription fee than with selling vanity items *if it's worth paying for*. a mp game would make more money with vanity items (or other freemium stuff) *if it's bad*. the only games that need this freemium monetization stuff are games that are not worth buying / paying for outright

also consider that most successful indies, even in the casual sphere, made their money by selling games, not by selling stuff within their games. if selling stuff within their games really did work better, you'd see a lot more successful indies who were using it, instead of less than 5% of them using it. how could that other 95% (notch, edmund mcmillen, derek yu, and so on) be so stupid as to all reject something that was as great as you say? are they all purists? or maybe they just feel that selling their games directly works better?

another problem is that these techniques *never* end in just vanity items, they almost always encroach into gameplay items. because players are *more* willing to spend money if they feel that it gives them a competitive advantage over other players, so the tendency will be to skirt a fine line between them and eventually "give in" and offer more powerful gameplay advantages to people who pay. league of legends went through that process, now it's very difficult to play LoL unless you spend money on it, because rune pages are important, and owning a lot of champions can give you an advantage. which, when the devs give in to, always makes the game a worse experience for the majority of players (the ones who don't pay anything), because it feels unfair to them

that's the major dilemma of this whole thing, the biggest trap about it: that devs will always be tempted to make what they sell attractive to their players, but by making them more attractive to their players they have to ruin the balance of the game for the free players, or else it's not as attractive to their players
« Last Edit: February 03, 2012, 09:15:14 AM by Paul Eres » Logged

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« Reply #15 on: February 03, 2012, 10:07:54 PM »

I think monetization should never cut into gameplay. Paying should never give you winning benefits. Once it does, you get less of a game. You get less players. You might get more money actually, since you retain people who are too egoistic to not pay, but too lazy to actually play. But you sort of lose some self-respect as a game designer and turn more into like a drug dealer who peddles things that people don't like but are addicted to.

If you're going to charge, charge for 'fun' features. I've only paid a subscription for one multiplayer game. It was a football management game, where paying would unlock all kinds of statistics, from player's growth, to comparing how well your team does, forum smileys, a quick analysis of players, etc.

Another game that gets a lot of 'donations' was one where you could buy only very minor in-game benefits. For example, $20 gets you ahead just enough to limit the damage from one attack, and about 10 days worth of growth. Someone who doesn't pay at all can still get very far with patience. Someone who really wants to race ahead can still pay a lot of money. The players didn't mind the system at all, except for a few sore losers who like to claim everything is cheating.

Another situation might be to use it to limit things. Like if you had a low-magic RPG, you could maybe charge players if they choose to play mages. Or a business MMO might charge in game and out of game for mines so that natural resources don't get depleted by a troll. That football game I mentioned earlier charges a very high price for people to own second teams. It keeps the good players from victimizing other players by flooding every country with an extra team, but lets people who really want it pay an excessive price for it.
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« Reply #16 on: February 04, 2012, 12:40:00 AM »

I've been following seminars and articles written by people from company that focus on monetizing freemium games ( GREE, etc. ) One thing you need to understand is that , you're not making a game. You're making an entertainment application for people to kill time.

Those people who spend a lot of money on this type of games, they're not gamers. They don't care about deep gameplay or skill-based gameplay. They want something to kill time in their free time. Something they can play on their phone during a break, or while waiting for the next train, or during a lunch break at the restaurant.  They are willing to spend money on the game to make them feels better. To make it easier for them to win. To have all those virtual items and bragging rights.  

The companies were not hiding these facts at all. They open seminars teaching people how to do the same thing in Japan. And many people in Japan know about this and disgust them, yet they still make money because the target group is large enough and those target group are either just don't care or ignorant.

So it depends on what you want. If you want to make lots and lots of money, these guys already made it clear that you're not gonna be making a game. And this is from a company that can sell a virtual beautiful pixelate armor that cost as much as a fresh copy of final fantasy 13. So you can forget about gameplay and ripping off some games out there and limit items and try to make as much money as possible.

For me, as a skill-based game lover, I'll pay if the game is fun, knowing that the money I spend will help with the development of the game.

Anyway, might be off topic, but making your game free != you'll never make money for it. There are many ways to make money from free contents. Look at the game like Kingdom of Loathing or Dwarf Fortress. These games make money from donation and merchandises. If your game is really good, then there will be a group of people follow your work. You can start thinking of how to make money from that.
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« Reply #17 on: February 04, 2012, 02:59:49 AM »

@Paul Eres: Your example of notch, edmund and other guys is wrong because they don't develop competitive multiplayer games. I have a feeling you don't really know the realities of mp games. Getting a subscription-based indie mp game to run is awfully hard because without extensive marketing, you won't get much players. Saying that "good game will sell" is bullshit and you know it the best. You develop good games, still you starve. Multiplayer games, especially ones that focus on PvP NEED players to live. It won't work when you have 20 players that subscribe to pay servers. They will quickly get bored fighting the same guys over and over again. You need variety and competition. Making the game free is the most powerful marketing you can get. With hundreds (or thousands) of non-paying players, even if the % of paying users is small, they are more willing to pay, because the game is fun. The most important aspect is to keep it fair between paying and non-paying players. As long as you can achieve it and have a steady income, your successful. Saying that it's impossible or that you will always turn into corrupted evil businessman trying to milk the cow is stupid.

Remember that League of Legends let's free players buy run pages and champions too. While the prices are a bit too high to be called fair, it doesn't make the game worse. Non-paying player vs paying player with same characters will always be fair, because there are no direct advantages that you can buy.
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« Reply #18 on: February 07, 2012, 11:16:42 AM »

Wow, there's been an incredible amount of responses here. Awesome  Smiley

It's interesting to see the differences in the way that people view their role as a game designer. Some people view their role as crafting a fun experience for the player, while others see it as an the equivalent of producing a movie. While no one is right or wrong, there are clearly two camps when it comes to game design: "the artist" vs. "the engineer"

That said, there's a lot that you guys agreed upon. When it came to freemium games, opinions were strong but largely reflected the same principles:
  • Content is key. If your game has enough free content to be worthwhile, selling more content is perfectly fine.
  • "Don't be a dick" rule applies. Don't use obnoxious advertising, make players pay for core gameplay features, or sell balance-breaking items in a PvP game.
  • Players don't mind if you can pay to advance faster, as long as the alternative isn't a soul-crushing amount of work. Just put on your player hat and think, what is reasonable?

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. 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?
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« Reply #19 on: February 07, 2012, 04:45:08 PM »

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?

This is called a Poker Machine, Obviously, if this is your source of return from the game, then the system will be engineered in a way that always results in the house winning overall, just like any and every casino game is designed. Personally I'm as much against this idea as I am against gambling in the traditional sense.

One exception to this, where I could find myself 'gambling' is in the case of tournaments or gaming events, where players can pay an entry fee into a PvP tournament, and potentially win everyone else's' entry fees (minus a small amount for the event organisers). But this requires a game that can be played entirely for free normally, and the tournaments/gambling are entirely meta, not ingrained in the games' systems.
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