Selling digital goods is a science — here are 5 tips for getting it right

Image Credit: OtnaYdur/Shutterstock

Designing a revenue model based on digital goods might seem straightforward. Create a compelling product, give users a way to buy incremental content to improve their gaming experience, then sit back and count the transactions.

Experience tells us it’s not that simple.  A number of considerations feed into a successful strategy, and each of them can mean the difference between profits and losses.

Here are 5 tips on getting the digital goods mode to work:

1. Understand the Art of Visual Merchandising

There’s an art to merchandizing virtual currency, but it’s easy to miss the basics. A common mistake is becoming too structured with virtual currency, where all price points have the same value ($10:100 Points, $20:200 Points, $30:300 Points, etc.).

Learn the three golden rules when merchandising virtual currency:

  1. Offer a low price point (<$5) and a high price point (~$100, or more). A low price point will encourage the first purchase — “breaking the ice” with the first purchase is critical.  A high price point is important for “anchoring” the more affordable options and rationalizing their value.  For example, a first-time gamer might be hesitant to spend $99, but when used as a higher anchor price, it makes the $29 option appear to be a more “sensible” purchase.
  2. Position the most popular price point just above the average price. Over time this helps drive up the average price by drawing gamers to the “popular” options.
  3. Include a “best value” option.  Bottom-line: gamers appreciate value.

2. Avoid the Muddled Payment Wall

The common wisdom is that every payment method you add will earn you incremental revenue.

Unfortunately, many publishers do their best to follow the rule, but disregard design. The result is a cluttered checkout page that’s easier to navigate out of than navigate through.
The fix?  Show users a smart design and relevant payment options, and you’ll quickly monetize users and add new ones.

3. Design an Even Better Checkout Experience

It’s common for a checkout page to quickly clutter over time — and it can happen even with the best intentions.

It works like this. At launch, the checkout page is clean, intuitive, and streamlined. Pass Go – collect $200. Within a few short weeks requests are coming in to add text with customer service options or integrate certification language from the legal team.

These type of requests come one after another, and soon the checkout page looks unnecessarily cluttered with disclaimers, caveats, and warnings.

The fix? Look at market-leading checkout pages and recognize how intuitive they’ve become. Users should only have to log-in once, required fields should be well marked, and recognized trust symbols (i.e. Verified by Visa) should be made prominent.

In the digital goods space, the priority is a fast, easy, and secure checkout. Make it frictionless and functional, and you’ll keep gamers coming back.

4. Stop Giving Away Too Much or Too Little Virtual Currency

An easy mistake for game developers is giving away too much virtual currency. You may be thinking, “What better way to attract an audience than giving away virtual currency?”

But while gamers will quickly enjoy the premium features at no cost, they may be less inclined to purchase virtual currency at an additional cost. In contrast, dispensing too little virtual currency can also lead to problems.

It’s also not uncommon to see publishers offer an earned virtual currency, e.g. experience points, and a paid virtual currency — and that’s an excellent strategy. However, the psychological and mechanical divide between earned currency and paying for currency is larger than you might think.

Through experience, we’ve seen strong results by offering a small amount of paid virtual currency — where users can receive the psychological benefit as well as understand the mechanical routine of how it works.

Going through the process of paid virtual currency once or twice makes the act of buying virtual currency more familiar, natural, and probable.

5. “Buy More” Should only be One Click Away

Most games today monetize using virtual currency. Virtual currency has become the “gas” that keeps the game engine running.

However, it’s often hard to find the virtual currency balance during game play.

Here are two simple rules to follow:

  1. Make virtual currency totals available and visible on every page of game play. Think of the virtual currency indicator as the speedometer on a car – ever present.
  2. Next to your virtual currency option add a “+” or “add more” link/button to encourage and facilitate purchases.

Get bonus points by making the purchase experience in-app or mobile, so gamers don’t have to leave the gaming environment to make payments.

I’ve outlined five steps to improving your in-game monetization process, and the underlying theme to them all is this: simplicity is paramount when it comes to checking out. Gamers expect a frictionless experience, where it’s easy to find what they need and purchase what they want.

Do you have other ways to simplify the checkout process?  Let me know in the comments.

Mark Rose is head of product marketing for monetization platform PlaySpan/Visa.

[Top image credit: OtnaYdur/Shutterstock]

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