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Be Free-to-Play forever: Free-to-play Design, rule 7

By on September 19, 2012
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F2P-design-rules-thumbThe primary advantage that freemium offers over premium is a low barrier to entry.

Not just low but zero, in price at least. As Dan Ariely has shown in Predictably Irrational (and I will write up soon), we have a strong affinity towards something that is free rather than, say, 1 cent or, in the case of the AppStore, 99 cents.

The strange thing is how many people who make games still insist on slamming down a paywall at some later stage. To my mind, the Acquistion/Retention/Monetisation funnel is all about finding players, keeping players and make money from players. Chucking them out at an arbitrary moment in time seems like a strange decision.

I believe that you should enable your gamers to experience nearly all of your game for free. Make your game truly free. This gives you many benefits:

  • It feels generous, which is good for your business.
  • As long as a player is playing your game, you have a chance to monetise them. You don’t if you have kicked them out.
  • If you drop down a paywall, your timing might suck. The player might be busy, broke, distracted or waiting for payday. You spent a lot of money acquiring that player. Now you just told them to shove off at one particular instant in time. Are you crazy?
  • The criticism of your aggressive monetisation strategies won’t be there, improving your public image and word-of-mouth virality
  • You get the opportunity to experiment with what players will pay for, and allowing different players to pay for different things: aesthetics, customisation, progress, time-for-money, power and so on.
  • You are no longer charging for content (and I believe that consumers will start to be reluctant to pay for most content very soon). You have to appeal to players’ emotions and desire for self-expression, for achievement, to win and so on.

To my mind, this is why the argument that we have always had “free-to-play” via shareware, via demos or via free trials is nonsense.

Getting access to a short part of the game, knowing that at some moment very soon a paywall is going to come slamming down, is very different to the experience of playing a game that you can play for free for ever.

If it weren’t for the fact we’re up to rule 7, I would say that the first rule of free-to-play is to keep your players. Don’t kick them out by gating off the content that is no longer what makes you the most money.


These three rules – 7, 8, 9 – are a different way of expressing my rule of 0-1-100. Being free forever is the 0, and the next post will look at the $1 purchase.

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:
  • Pingback: Can free-to-play stop video games from being like golf? - Games()

  • Nick this article is tight, concise, says all the right things and doesn’t bog down anywhere. I hope whenever I need this again to prove a point I can find it. Good work!

    Any more books or updates to THE book coming?

  • Sik

    “You are no longer charging for content (and I believe that consumers will start to be reluctant to pay for most content very soon)”
    Honestly I wonder if it’ll eventually reach the point where merely making money off a game won’t cut it and one will have to make stuff that can cover several media – or maybe even outright resort into selling merchanside to profit.

    Again, my biggest gripe with F2P is that it isn’t very far from DRM right now… Yeah, of course you have to connect to the server to buy something, but what after that? How do you make sure the virtual goods the user has are legit? You could encrypt them or something, but that’d be equivalent to local DRM and would get broken sooner or later. You could call home, but that’d be equivalent to always on-line DRM. And if you do nothing, eventually it’ll get abused, and I wonder if the outcome would be even worse than for premium games. That’s something game developers really should find a way to overcome (if somebody finds a way to fix this I swear I’m pretty much jumping over this).

    Now, if you go for the masses then freemium is probably pretty much the only option. If you go for niches, probably not so much, there’s still a good chunk of players who would rather pay upfront than to pay tiny amounts all over the place. In this latter case the merchandise idea could be used to let them pay more than usual, rather than microtransactions (or better said, it’d be like taking the F2P idea into the real world).