From a monetization perspective, the greatest strength of the free-to-play mobile games model is its flexibility.
The challenge of convincing people to pay for a game is as much a problem as an opportunity, allowing developers to create a model that works for both their players and their business. But what different approaches to F2P games monetization are there currently in the market?
Here are some of the most popular — and effective — approaches.
Currency driven free-to-play is the most commonly known approach in the market. Developers create a game which features at least one in-game currency and allow players to either earn in-game or spend on an in-app purchase to receive it.
Usually, most of these games will feature two in-game currencies. One is a basic currency, which is easily earned and used for the essentials of the game; the other is a premium currency used to unlock the best content or speed up progress.
Without premium currency, in-game progress is often slowed – encouraging greater spend.
- Pros: Currency systems are relatively easy to understand. The more you have of it, the more you can progress. Players get this knowledge from simple, real-world mechanics. It’s also well placed to take advantage of in-game sale mechanics, with players easily encouraged to spend more for a better deal.
- Cons: Currency systems deliberately obfuscate value, forcing players into spending a certain amount on an IAP and relying on them to understand the exchange rate. Currency systems also require a lot of work to make perform correctly, and an imbalanced system will either frustrate players with slow progress or allow them too much success.
- Example: Clash of Clans’ currency system is one of the smartest around. Gems, its premium currency, are difficult to obtain, but they allow you to speed construction, make purchases in the sub-currencies (gold and elixir), and recruit builders to expand your in-game speed. Purchasing gems drives the rest of the economy, encouraging players who do spend to consider a further investment.
Booster pack free-to-play
Booster pack free-to-play usually offers players a full in-game experience with few limitations. You can play and unlock content at a faster pace than an IAP currency game will allow you, and booster packs significantly improve your experience.
Featuring randomly generated content, and usually guaranteeing a high quality or rare piece of equipment/card and so on, boosters allow players to progress faster by providing them with more content and more options to proceed. For sports games, this might mean better players for your team. And for card games, it’ll mean more options to build a deck with.
- Pros: The booster mechanic is built on a strong real-world basis established by the likes of Magic: The Gathering and is well understood by players. By directly purchasing new content, there isn’t the stigma of failing to understand an IAP currency and being ripped off. Equally, players understand the content is random and that it can vary between good and bad. This means they are more tolerant to bad moments, particularly if they’ve had a positive experience previously.
- Cons: Booster packs are seen as low-cost, multiple-purchase items. Overpricing them and not delivering enough value in a pack will mean players will refuse to pay. Players are also more likely to reach satisfaction in game after spending a certain amount, meaning that the best players may plateau at a certain point.
- Example: Fallout Shelter uses a booster system with its suitcases and showed both the pros and cons of the system. Each suitcase clearly helped players progress, but the spend was restricted to two frantic weeks as super fans exhausted the content. The likes of FIFA Ultimate Team and Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft demonstrate the more sustainable side of the booster equation.
Capped IAP models
Favored by indie developers, capped IAP models are intended to put a lid on the amount a player can spend in game.
As much a response to ethical concerns as a realistic response from smaller developers to the level of support a game can receive, capped IAP models allow players who spend a certain amount free reign in the game.
One part trial, one part paid game model, it uses the distribution approach of F2P to reach an audience before making a more traditional play for sales.
- Pros: Capped IAP models are perfect for F2P games which have a limit on the amount of development time put into it. Whether it’s because the team wants to move onto new projects and offer small updates or the game doesn’t lend itself to being a full service, capped IAP allows the developer to move on while still benefitting from free distribution.
- Cons: The simple one is that it caps lifetime value. Players can’t spend more than a certain amount, meaning you have a limit on what your super fans can actually do in game. This renders this model tricky for companies needing to get a certain return from each title.
- Example: Pac-Man 256, a cross collaboration between Bandai Namco and Hipster Whale (the makers of Crossy Road), caps the spend on in game credits to $7. As the game is a relatively limited arcade title, though well-designed, capping IAP keeps the power players happy and means it can live on with relatively little support in the future.
A.J. Yeakel is the cofounder and president of Growmobile, a leading provider of user acquisition and engagement solutions for mobile businesses.