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The rule of 0-1-100

By on March 22, 2011
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Publish a successful game: a basic rule of free-to-play

A free-to-play game is fundamentally different from a traditional game. It no longer seeks to charge every user the same amount of money for the same experience (a business model that is rooted in the atoms-based world where differentiating between customers was prohibitively expensive.


Instead, a successful free-to-play game follows the rule of zero-one-one-hundred

Zero, one, one hundred

A free-to-play game:

  • Enables a player to play the game for ever, for free, and gives them a good – even a great experience while doing it
  • It makes it easy for them to spend a dollar. Getting gamers to reach into their pocket the first time is hard. Making it as easy as possible for them to spend a tiny amount is very worthwhile
  • It lets them spend $100 per month. I’m not expecting them to spend this every month. I’m not sure that’s sustainable for many people. But in a free-to-play game, many people will only spend $1. To achieve a high ARPPU for a free-to-play game, you need have some people spending a lot more.

Isn’t that immoral? To push for high spenders.

My objective is to get people to be prepared to spend a day’s wages on something they love. In other walks of life, this would not be seen as unreasonable. A football fan spends that in a month. An Xbox gamer does. A dinner out with a loved one. A ticket for a concert or a show. In the UK, a day’s wages is about £100. Is it unreasonable to think that someone who loves what you do would be happy to spend that much? This is a fundamental change to how we think about media. If I spend £40 on Homefront and hate it. Tough. But in free-to-play, no-one is suckered into it by clever marketing. They have been playing the game, for free. They have decided that progress, or self-expression. or gifting is worth paying for. The reasons for paying will vary from person to person. The constant is that they have chosen to pay. A wise game designer will create a range of different things for them to buy. A wiser game designer will ensure that those who love the game can spend $100 a month.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve:
  • ChrisBateman

    Hi Laura,
    It’s definitely not a given that 16th century English will hold for 21st century English – this I gladly concede! 🙂 But I would far rather defend a position on our language by drawing against literature that has been part of our culture for five centuries than deploy the more disappointing justification that we are gradually absorbing US English via the internet, television and film. 😉

    I could ramble on about this, but I think we are travelling quite far from Nicholas’ original post!

    Take care!


  • Laura Carter

    Ah my apologies, I assumed you were American as one hundred reads perfectly to me (in the context used). However, I’m not sure that Shakespearian English is necessarily the best example of correct English grammar for the present day.

    I stick by my point that ‘a hundred’ is used more in American English, and one hundred is more correct grammatically in (proper) English 😉

    In English, one would say
    That cake had one hundred calories in it

    In American English, one would more typically say
    That cake had a hundred calories in it

    Now I want cake.

  • I will fight every grammar battle with Shakespeare from now on.

    Cry havoc.

    (or is it havok? 🙂 )

  • ChrisBateman

    Hi Laura,
    Thanks for your comment here, but both Nicholas and I are English, and ‘a hundred’ is fine in UK English. I shall cite, in my defence, Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2, Act IV, Scene I:

    “A hundred mark is a long lone, for a poor lone woman to bear ; and I have borne, and borne, and borne, and have been fub’d off, and fub’d off, from this day to that day, that it is a shame to be thought on.”

    Both ‘one hundred’ and ‘a hundred’ are allowable in UK English.

    All the best,


  • Laura Carter

    The writer is English not American and in English one hundred is correct, a hundred is not. zero-one-hundred reads very badly in English.

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  • rupazero

    Thanks for your comment! The short answer to your question is that basic game mechanics should be free. Forever. But you’ll find longer, better answers in the design rules series. All the design rules posts are here:

  • light

    how about putting something else on the rules of free to play

    should you get basic game mechanics for free or do you have to spend money for it IN a free to play game

  • Free to Play is not immoral.
    Pushing on player weaknesses too much/only that is immoral.
    Free To Play is the greatest news for game designers , it allows us to put our games in the front of much more people then ever before.

  • I disagree. Both with the crack comparison (especiallly if you are targeting true fans, not whales) and with the idea that those aren’t games.

    It sounds a bit like Socrates arguing that debate could not survive being written down, because arguing from the memory was the only way to preserve purity.

  • Nick

    crack is a good comparison… give some for free… then…
    also a wider questions is : should we remove the word game from those discussion. The definition of game does not fit anymore.

  • That is a very good point. My friend Tadhg Kelly wrote a great post on the value of demos. He’s given me permission to cross-post it, and it will be appearing on GAMESbrief soon.

  • It perhaps won’t surprise you that I don’t agree. So much so that I think all media (books, television, games, music, film) are trending towards a business model where basic access is free but the biggest fans pay a meaningful amount.
    I tend to look for the rule of 0-1-100, where anyone can get a good experience for free, where it is easy to spend a dollar and possible to spend $100 a month. (Possible does not mean required). That gives a range of pricing options based on time spent and is, to my mind, the likely future for many games.

  • Jaque

    The free to play model is immoral and you know it, you’re just trying to justify your endorsement of it. Unlike your other examples, the free to play model intentionally deceives the player into sinking their personal time into a game in which the late gameplay is stacked to make high-level free play impossible or impractical. Then it purposefully plays off consumers’ poor willpower. Again, it’s all about intent. Homefront is like paying for a carnival ride, Smurf Village is like paying a crack dealer. If you don’t see a difference I pity you.

    Just like any other business model that tricks young, dumb and poor people (for example, American Idol or X Factor for you) nobody argues that it should be illegal, but it is immoral. If you don’t feel some shame for profiting from this kind of scheme you might want to check your moral compass or start your own ponzi. If you admit that it’s immoral but you can live with that I can respect that more than denial.

  • Anonymous

    Like you, I know of companies making this scale of income of individuals… unlike you, I’m doubtful that we’ll manage to self-regulate. Co-operation has not been digital entertainment’s strong suit. It also seems to me that it’s difficult to wave the alarm flag on this one without causing a strong opposition reflex i.e. denial that there’s a problem.

    But on the other hand, the trading card boom also caused a lot of gambling-scale expenditures (Magic: The Gathering in particular) and they managed to ‘duck below the radar’ of any question of legislation. So I’ll try not to declare the sky is falling too soon. 🙂

    All the best!

  • Brian Cronin

    Your post got me thinking 🙂

    You argue that big retail games require an up front cost without the ability for the player to try out the game first while free to play allows the user to play the game before deciding that they want to spend any money.

    What about the demos that the big games usually put out? Not all games do I realize but many do. The purpose of a demo is to market a game, let the player try it out and convince them to buy it. Once that is done, the player can get past the marketing and actually play the game. What is the point in marketing once the game is already sold?

    Couldn’t we equate a free to play game as a constant demo for itself? It is always marketing itself and so the player can never get past that.

    This is the fundamental difference between social/free to play games and the more traditional video game market. They both are essentially outputting games and inputting money. It is how they are doing this and what effect is has on the game their players are playing that is significant.

  • Thanks for the suggestion, Chris,

    I think you are right about the risks. $5,000 is a lot. There are companies making that much in a single month from a single punter. The risk of legislation is definitely increasing.

    Let’s hope we are able to self-regulate, and that the actions of a few don’t lead to a legislative nightmare for everyone else.

  • Anonymous

    Two quick things… firstly, if you use this elsewhere I suggest “Zero, one, hundred” (or “a hundred”) not “one hundred” – the two ‘ones’ read badly. It looks much better as Zero-one-hundred.

    Secondly, few would think it immoral to score $100 in one day from a punter – hell, there are boxed products that ask this price if you include the cost of required peripherals. But when it comes to scoring (say) $5,000 a year from one punter it starts to look a lot more questionable. It’s at this point that digital games as an industry risks coming under gambling legislation – and we ought to be very careful about anything that carries such a huge legislative burden.

    Great piece, though – snappy and accessible!

  • You can go into a pub, sit down and order nothing.
    You can order a pint.
    You can get plastered.
    You can become an alcoholic.

    At some stage the bar staff make a moral choice whether to keep serving you or not. The game designer has two moral choices:

    – Do you build features into the game that specifically TARGET weak fools? I’d argue that to do so is immoral.
    – Do you build features into the game that PREVENT weak fools being exploited? I’d argue that it’s admirable to do so and I hope designers do.

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  • Montis

    I wish I was in a job where I was getting £100 a day!