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Beware the convenience wall: it is every bit as dangerous as the paywall

By on October 29, 2012
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Everyone knows the dangers of the paywall.

They can be good for making money, but in a market where it costs between $1 and $4 to acquire a customer, it is critical to keep those customers. Paywalls kick customers out of your service so you had better be sure that you know what you are doing if you implement one.

The traditional paywall is a 30 day trial. To my mind, a 30 day trial is insanity: you spend lots of money acquiring a customer and showcasing them how to use your product. Then with no nuance, no analysis, no customer understanding, you slam down a hard paywall exactly 720 hours after the user first downloaded the product.

  • You are not using salesmanship to convert a user when they are ready to buy;
  • You are not using marketing to convince them of the benefits of subscribing now;
  • You are not using customer insight to identify the aspects of your service that your prospect is willing to pay for.
  • You are taking an arbitrary moment in time and saying “That’s it: pay up or piss off.”

Your customer might be broke until payday, or in a bad mood, or busy, or just not receptive to a sale. Why anyone thinks this is good marketing is beyond me. It’s why I say “make your game free to play forever”. Get your customers, keep them, work out how to make money from them over time.

Paywalls are not the only walls

In this week’s GAMESbriefer’s post, my friend Harry Holmwood referred to “convenience walls”. Convenience walls can be just as off-putting for customers or players as paywalls, but they can be harder to notice. The same logic applies to convenience walls as applies to paywalls: if it costs you that much to acquire a customer, why would you put a convenience wall in the way of the customer becoming a paying user? Here are some of the common convenience walls:

  • The download wall: There may be no way round this. If you have a client, you are likely to lose customers in two places: before they download the game or after they download it, but then forget to go back and play it. You may feel that the marketing / monetisation payoff of having a high-quality client-based game offsets the disadvantage. You may be right. I would always rather have a browser-based game than a big download if I possibly could.
  • The registration wall: I still see companies asking for 8 pieces of information before they let me even register for a game. One client recently presented me with a form where I had to fill in my username, password, email address, date of birth (!), two marketing opt-ins and agree to four (!) different terms and conditions before I could click the “Register” button. Every single line item is another opportunity for me to think “I can’t be bothered”. If this had not been a client game, there is no way I would have got to the end. Top tip for marketers: ask for an email address and nothing else. Everything else can be earned over time.
  • The difficulty wall: Harry refers to games like League of Legends and World of Tanks has having steep learning curves. You don’t want a tutorial, but you don’t want players to feel they are making rapid progress through the early elements of the game.
  • The complexity wall: I was recently playing Legends of Grimlock, an old school RPG I downloaded from Steam. I came down from putting my kids to bed and thought to myself “I haven’t got time to get into Grimlock right now.” I sat down on my bed and pulled Pocket Planes out of my pocket. Two and a half hours later, I was still playing it. I was alienated by the fear of the perceived complexity of Grimlock, and how long it would take me to start having fun. I was drawn in by the accessibility of Pocket Planes.

These are four “convenience walls” that leap out to me. Can you think of others? I’d like to make an exhaustive list of the walls that get between you and playing a game. Then we can help designers eliminate them from their games.


Thanks to mahidoodi for the image

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:
  • TACK PO at Unity Studios

    Or do make a PVP looting defense mechanism; Like Camelot (FFN) -hide or “unhide” troops in town, build a Store House where your resources are safe to a limit. Store House is then part of the managing game-play (can be upgraded) hide and “unhide” the town troops is then a part of the combat game-play… clever.
    Take the obstacle or “wall” and make gamplay around it.

  • It’s a nice way of putting it. I expect to keep refining the rules. Thank you.

  • sean

    This post reminds me of a talk Damion Schubert (now a designer on SW:TOR) gave 5 years ago (I had to google it to remember clearly 🙂 ) called ‘Zen of Online Design’ where he talked about payer exit points – points in a game where a player decides to stop playing/paying – and how it is the job of the designer to reduce these exit points. Some of these exit points/ convenience walls can’t be avoided: eg, Legends of Grimlock *is* it’s complexity; this makes it more niche than Pocket Planes, but it can’t really be reduced without making it a different game. Schubert gives both in-game (guild dramas in large multiplayer games) and out-of-game (growing up) exit points that a designer can’t avoid – but fundamentally, those that *are* in the power of the designer to avoid *should* be avoided.

    Just as one of the F2P rules is ‘it has to be easy to spend a small amount of money the first time’, another one might be ”pay up now or the fun stops’ moments should be avoided’, and a third ‘you should never give your players the opportunity to agree with you that they should stop playing your game’.

  • i agree with you about PvP walls. It’s tough to design a game that appeals to PvPers and non-PvPers alike, but I think it can be done.

  • That’s a really interesting point, and chimes with Rule 12: I must not fail.

    What’s interesting is that the GAMESbriefers have almost universally reviled Rule 12. Their comments will be up at the end of the week.

    The two walls idea is very helpful. Thank you.

  • I think “difficulty wall” is two separate walls. Steep learning curves is a wall, but there is a wall (similar to the complexity one you describe) for difficulty. If I turn a game off when I die, I have to try to get over the “if I start playing this game again I’m up against a hard bit that beat me before, when I was familiar with it” mental hurdle to play it again. Usually I don’t. And the longer I leave it before going back to a game the more I think that my skills will be rusty and I definitely won’t be able to beat that hard bit, so why bother?

  • In games with agressive monetization like Clash of Clans, you have a convenience wall turned into an “almost pay wall”.
    If the player doesn’t want to take 15 minutes or more to construct buildings (that’s a convenience wall) he/she has to buy virtual currency, since the currency earned through grinding is not enough for this particular loop in the game to “flow” . It’s like paying for not having a convenience wall in front of you. It´s like a soft paywall actually.
    In this particular game, one have to spend a considerable ammount of money in a weekly basis for a convenient experience.

  • The PvP Wall: I took to apps like oxygen when the iPhone came out and downloaded everything and anything. Eventually I realised I had to scale down my arsenal of games and the first ones to go were the real-time PvP ones. I picked up the phone one day, scanned the icons and looked at a couple of them and thought “I’ll probably have to rebuild my defenses in the three hours I was away and work on regaining the resources that were farmed from me” and I deleted them. Without a limitation as to the amount of abuse you can take, from a game mechanic point of view, the aggrivation becomes too much and you can’t be bothered after awhile. When you realise you are a user that would prefer to have a life over spending five hours to rebuild a dynasty that was destroyed in the two hours you were away, there’s little point.

  • Sik

    Still nowhere near as bad as having to go through *two* many-page sized EULAs in a language I’m still learning (yes, I actually read them), then having to download a client, and it turns out that the download page sniffs both the browser and the operating system and unless you have the right combination it won’t show up the download link at all (I wanted to give it a try on Wine), and even then, I look into the source code of the page to see if I can find the download link somewhere there, and it turns out it’s structured in such a way as to make it impossible to retrieve. And all this is forgetting the fact that you needed an account from an unrelated service beforehand (where I was already registered), and then later you needed to make *another* account just to be able to buy stuff, and only available from a single country (which needless to say I never would have bothered making).

    If somebody as determined as myself gave up on it, imagine your average F2P player =P And now you get what I was talking about with my “How not to F2P” tweets. That was just… BAD.

    Also yes, I agree with the time trials thing, that annoys me like crazy regardless of the business model. I’d rather have access to a limited part of the game I can play whenever I want instead of being forced to stop after a while (I used to do this with the Sonic Heroes demo, just one level and one team but I kept replaying it for months despite being the only thing it had – and yes, ended up buying it when I got the chance and I don’t regret it).