The four essential steps to successful monetisation of free-to-play games
Convincing people to buy games is, of course, a challenge, mainly due to the many factors they’re likely to consider before making a final decision: genre, familiar IP, review scores, word of mouth, and pricing can all play a part. Assuming the game meets a player’s preferences for genre and IP, the most important criteria are feedback from friends and professional reviewers, then price – and probably in that order. In recent years, these two main purchase barriers have been seemingly addressed by the free-to-play model. Firstly, the up-front price is completely removed, and secondly, you no longer have to imagine what the game will be like; you can actually play it to find out.
By removing these barriers, F2P games have encouraged millions of people to play games who would not typically consider themselves gamers, and many current gamers are trying out titles they may otherwise have overlooked. Although games can be finished without spending any hard currency, it is typically possible to enhance the experience by purchasing items through microtransactions. If players chose to make a purchase in a free-to-play game, in reality it means the barrier to payment has not been removed, but simply moved from up-front to in-game.
The four-layer model of monetisation
It seems reasonable to assume that a player is much more likely to spend if they’re enjoying a game, so identifying the things that might prevent player enjoyment is critical. For our clients’ F2P games, we use a four-layer model to help identify the potential barriers to successful monetisation.
This is the base layer of the model. Without a clear understanding of the game’s rules and goals, players may fail to see what is unique about the game, or more simply, where the fun is. Players typically don’t persevere as long as developers may wish them to when trying out a new game. If the rules are either unnecessarily complex, or don’t sufficiently highlight where the fun is, then players may play without correct knowledge of what is possible, or abandon the game before they find out.
Whilst it’s important that the player has an accurate understanding of the goals of the game, it’s equally important that they’re able to achieve these goals. Awkward menu design, unusual control layouts or confusing UIs may frustrate the player to the point of walking away. If the player is failing in the game it should be due to the game’s challenge, not usability flaws.
It doesn’t matter which of the Bartle gamer types – socialiser, achiever, killer or explorer – players are; all that matters is that they enjoy themselves. In the interviews we conduct after a playtesting session we seek to determine if a player has enjoyed the game, and if not, what precisely were the underlying causes. Broadly speaking, we map the underlying causes to one of the three layers discussed so far; problems with understanding, problems with achieving, or problems with challenge and satisfaction.
This approach is useful as it leads to producing practical, actionable feedback. If, for example, the player isn’t aware of key game features, then we know we must address this base layer before focusing our attention higher up the model.
The previous three layers are barriers to the all-important fourth: monetisation. Games which are effectively monetised ensure that the player understands the benefits of IAP, that they are able to make the purchase easily, and perhaps most importantly, that they feel their purchase was justified. It may be possible to make a player pay once, but if you want them to make a repeat purchase, then leaving the player with positive feelings of trust, value, and even reward, is vital.
It’s clear that F2P games are designed with IAPs in mind – they have to be – but if designed with an understanding of these four layers, then it’s more likely that players will feel comfortable about paying for content. Yes, developers would like players to pay for some content, but for this to happen, both game and player need to fulfil essential criteria at each layer of the model.
The free-to-play business model is changing how we pay for games and how developers make their income. By being able to try out games for free and identifying those which are best, the main barrier to us paying for more content is now the quality of the user experience itself.（source：edge-online）