Designing to your business model
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 28 May 2013, 5:34 am
Recently I walked into a bank because I needed change for a 10-Euro bill. The bank refused to do that, because I didn't have an account with them, then asked me whether I'd be interested in opening an account. I told them that their refusal of service to not-yet-customers made me less likely to open an account with them. I was thinking of that episode when in yesterday's thread the question popped up how companies designed Free2Play games to cater to the small percentage of people paying for the game at all, and the even smaller number of "whales". I think the correct answer is: They don't. At least not if they are any good. Because just like that bank, people will judge you on their first contact, where you aren't a customer yet. Being rude to non-customers in the hope that they'll become customers to get nicer treatment simply doesn't work.

One of the pioneers of marketing in the early 20th century, John Wanamaker, is quoted as having said: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.". The problem is still the same a century later, only that for a Free2Play game it is far more than half of the efforts of a game company that go towards people who will never spend a cent on they game, and thus could be considered "wasted" effort. But every time a game company tries to "kick the bums out", or persuade people to spend more through game design, the overall effect is always negative. The games that do extremely well on a Free2Play model are those in which the business model is the least visible: I constantly get commenters here on my blog erroneously claiming that League of Legends only sells fluff. It is only the people who actually give money to Riot Games who are well aware of all the advantages you can buy in that game via Riot Points that are only available for cash. Another extremely successful Free2Play game is World of Tanks, and they only ever changed their game to make paying appear to be less necessary, for example by changing gold ammo to be available for currency gained by playing.

The basic idea is always to get people engaged with your game first. Once they really, really love your game, they will spend money on it automatically. And that basic idea is not new. A game with a monthly subscription business model works exactly the same, because if the game fails to engage its players, you get the famous "three-monther" flop. Even single-player games which are "pay first, play later" need to be designed to be engaging, because otherwise you'll never sell the sequel. Just look at the irreparable damage EA Maxis has done to the SimCity brand by trying to push a game which looked good in the previews and then turned out to be deeply flawed when you tried to spend hours with it.

But single-player games that make you swear to never buy a game from that company again, or monthly subscription games which are designed as endless grinds so that people keep playing, are never cited as evidence that those business models can't work. People perceive the Free2Play model as something new and thus threatening, even if it is just a variation of the old shareware model: Play for free first, pay me for more of the game if you like it. Claiming that this can't work because companies would gravitate to game designs that punish the majority of the players is just nonsense. Some bad companies will do that, and it won't work. Good game companies have a proven track record of being able to make Free2Play work by *not* just designing for the whales.
Tobold's Blog

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