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The no-brainer first dollar: Free-to-play Design Rule 8

By on September 26, 2012

After you have designed your game to make it possible for people to play the game for free, for ever, you need to start thinking about how to monetise them.

For a player, the decision to spend for the first time is a momentous one. The game they are playing will move from being a free game to being a paid-for game. You need to think hard about what will motivate a player to spend that all important first dollar.

(Note, it doesn’t have to be a dollar. The first purchase should be so obviously good value that someone who was enjoying your game would be crazy not to buy it. I like to price it at the lowest amount the Appstore will accept – i.e. $0.99 – but a $1.99 version might work. Outside the Appstore, in, say, Facebook or the wider web, you might try a different price point. But don’t be greedy and do keep the price low. The objective of this no-brainer first dollar is to get the player to spend for the first time, not to maximise revenue. If you are using the GAMESbrief free-to-play spreadsheet, then you would consider that this technique is targeting conversion rate, not ARPPU.

Jetpack Joyride uses this technique extremely well with their Counterfeit Machine. Jetpack Joyride is an endless runner where you collect coins to upgrade to better clothing, gadgets and jetpacks. The core game is staying alive, while the metagame is about earning coins to gather equipment to fulfil achievements.

The Counterfeit Machine costs $1.99 (£1.49 in the UK) and gives a duplicate coin for every coin you collect in the game. It doubles your rate of progress (or halves your grind, depending on your perspective on the world). If you are enjoying Jetpack Joyride, it is self-evidently a good deal.

Similar no-brainer first dollar items exist in Triple Town (where you can pay to have unlimited turns rather than turns that have to be bought with earned in-game currency) and in Stronghold Kingdoms (where your first cash purchase gives you free virtual items every week for ever).

There is a $0.99 upgrade in, although to me that fails this test. You can play 10 matches for free. After that, if you want to continue in the campaign mode you have to pay up. That is charging for content, not appealing to emotion, and runs the risk of kicking out players that are so expensive to acquire (although it doesn’t seem to have hurt New Star Soccer that much)

To summarise the no-brainer first dollar purchase:

  • Make it something that helps the player forever: a ring of XP, a coin duplicator, etc
  • Make it cheap
  • Make it optional (i.e don’t slam a paywall down that prevents people from playing your game if they don’t pay up)
  • Make it really, really good value.

How do you know if it is working? Because your conversion rate will go up.

These three rules – 7, 8, 9 – are a different way of expressing my rule of 0-1-100. The next post will explore the $100 point.

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: thecurveonline.com
  • Nate

    Hey Nicholas, I’m curious about your thoughts on a question I have. If a developer is implementing the “no-brainer” first purchase do you recommend only making it available via an in-app purchase or should it also be attainable with premium currency a player finds in the game and saves up?

    If it is only available as an in-app purchase it gets them to open their wallet and increase the chance they’ll open it again which is what this post is about, but if it can’t be “earned” some (maybe many) will be turned off by the fact that you can only get it with hard cash.

    If it can be earned by saving up premium currency then it defeats the purpose of the “no brainer” first dollar and the crux of this rule.

    Any thoughts on this?

  • http://www.gamesbrief.com Nicholas Lovell

    My view is that this should only be available for real money.

    The reason is that this object is designed to be a no-brainer: a reason to buy that is self-evidently good value. You dont need it to play, but if you are enjoying the game, owning this is a great thing to have.

    So my conclusion: make sure players can visit the game without buying this; make sure that if they are really enjoying this game, the no-brainer is worth it

    n