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[Gamesbriefers] How much friction should there be in F2P games?
When designing F2P games, how do you decide how much “friction” to build into the game to drive monetisation without hurting retention, and who has done it well?
As a quick bit of context, my experience is primarily with mid-core games, generally multiplayer, so these lessons may not translate as well to casual games. While we don’t develop games ourselves, at Kongregate we have studied monetization patterns across a few hundred games on our platform. Based on these studies, we generally recommend keeping “friction” very low early on. The focus should instead be almost entirely on retention – showing the player the fun of the game and encouraging them to come back.
We looked at number of gameplays and purchasing metrics from players across our successful games. The average first purchase of a buyer comes on the 23rd gameplay for a multiplayer game (single player games monetize earlier, but smaller). A very small percentage of revenue is generated from players in their first 10 gameplays, with the vast majority coming from players who have loaded a game at least 50 times. Players are much more likely to decide to spend, and spend substantially, on a game that they are engaged with and enjoy. You want your game to become a hobby for them, and at that time they are going to be interested in supporting your game and getting an advantage in it through virtual goods sales.
One game I would point to that has done this very well is Wartune, published with us by Reality Square Games. The game does a great job early on introducing players to new gameplay elements, doesn’t heavily restrict their play session, and even provides a fair amount of premium currency at the beginning. Spending is slower to ramp up, but players get deeply engaged in the game and understand the value of currency after they’ve gotten into the game, at which point more opportunities to spend open up.
The obvious answer is through testing in beta — I’m not sure that a universal rule would apply to all game types (for instance, Diamond Dash vs. Kingdoms of Camelot vs. Subway Surfers). I think Hey Day hit the retention / monetization equilibrium point perfectly: very little friction in the first 15-20 game sessions, but as the friction builds with more sophisticated recipes and wait times, the appeal of unlocking a new animation or building (since they are so beautifully designed) creates a powerful additional incentivize to purchase HC.
I think Anthony’s point is so good, I’d like to repeat it. I’ve seen so many games that monetise too early, introducing the store, consumable items and ‘introductory offers’ within the first ten minutes, and I really think this is a huge mistake for F2P games. Your aim is first and foremost to delight players, get them to fall in love with your game and look forward to their next play. Do this well, and even a slightly shoddy monetisation will work. Do it badly, and the best monetisation strategy in the world won’t help you.
Maybe I’m naive, but I’m not a big fan of “friction” as a mechanic. I prefer “temptation”. I don’t want players to feel that the game is slowing them down/holding them back, and they need to pay money to play the game properly. I want players to feel constantly tempted to jump ahead, speed up, get the amazing items, show off more or make the game even richer.
So our design tends to be, “Make a great game, then add things to make it even better that can be earned/bought” rather than “Make a great game, then cripple it by adding friction and inconvenience”.
We weeere talking friction. But thats the negative view on things. Thats why we never use friction as a design principle.
We use progress and design the player progress as if there is no monetization. When we are happy with the progress time (life time) we simply put in various progress accelerators or helps for monetization.
Note: the friction only exists because there is a faster way to progress: when you pay. Thats why we give players currency for game mechanics so they can buy it. Suddenly there is no friction anymore.
Whilst, like most of us I don’t like artificial friction added as a game mechanic. However, the concept of Friction is very useful to assess the flow of the game and to ensure that we players get the most possible use out of the expensive assets we have created.
What I mean by this is that the enjoyment comes largely from solving patterns/puzzles against some challenge. In simple resource management games this challenge is in the rate of the creation process. It becomes a kind of challenge when their objects require maintenance or simply time to complete their growth; as long as the result is compelling enough for me to return. Players can overcome some of this with money, but monetisation shouldn’t be limited to just removing that friction or you remove the challenge of the experience. Other game models use friction in different ways, obstacles in the endless runner, fuel in racing games, health packs in shooters. The balance of these adjust the level of friction of the play in natural ways associated with the playing experience; and which allows us to sell the cheap to create consumable or durable assets. Understanding the level of friction in your game against the propensity to restart playing immediately (and in future playing sessions) at every point in the lifecycle of the player is as important as how you decide to monetise the game in the first place.
We know it takes time for players to be willing to spend money and they have to complete their ‘Learning’ stage before they enter the ‘Earning’ stage; and for whales it seems to take 8-12 days of play to make that transition. Your content needs to be replayable to that extent and create goods which add to their playing experience in order to maximise the potential of your audience.
In the end its natural friction that works with the game that’s important and how balance it in order to enhance the enjoyment and replayability of the game. This is a dynamic equilibrium and if we get it wrong then players will churn either because there is not enough challenge or because the challenge is too great, But hasn’t that always been the case?
I’d agree with Patrick here completely, I’d personally go for low friction as it feels more natural from a design point of view but the world of F2P has successes all over the spectrum.
Our own recent experience with Score! has given us some great data almost by accident – it was always designed to be a paid app, but had a couple of IAPs added a few months ago, of Golden Shots (cheats), and a new levels pack. Then as part of Apple’s 12 days of Christmas we went free from the 21st December, and then we had the big promo on the 27th.
It would be no surprise that the huge number of downloads we got on the 27th led to a huge revenue increase, but in the 6 days the app was free before the big promo, revenue was much higher, even accounting for natural holiday season increases. Around 75% of this was from the Golden Shots pack, and the other 25% from the level pack purchase.
So here we have zero friction in a traditional F2P sense, the entire game is open and free, with the majority of revenue coming from users paying to (effectively) cheat. As a result of this, we’ve left Score! free, largely to capitalize on the chart positions we’ve had, but also genuinely that as a paid app with some limited IAP tagged on it’s making more money.
Our other main app, Dream League Soccer, which has been more successful for us than Score!, but doesn’t get the same level of coverage, is also very friction light. As a result it has fairly high retention, but relatively low ARPDAU. The high retention, and resultant DAU gives us pretty good advertising revenue too.
In terms of who has done what well, it’s hard to look beyond the usual suspects, but I’d say many approaches can work. Thankfully from an old fashioned game developers point of view, you can still be successful by creating a great game first and then figuring out a way of low friction monetization. Realistically though to be hitting the top ends of the top-grossing charts, you’re going to need to be a bit more aggressive, or have some other magic. But also thankfully, there’s still good business to be had at the lower ends of the top-grossing charts.