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Free-to-play design, Rule 1: Make it fun

By on August 8, 2012

F2P-design-rules-thumbThe first rule of free-to-play is make the game fun.

It shouldn’t need to be stated, but it does.

It is entirely possible to make a game that doesn’t focus on the fun and make it a successful free-to-play game. Some of the criticisms levied at the free-to-play industry – that it uses operant conditioning, that its games are nothing more than Skinner boxes, that psychological tricks are not enough to make a game – are tied up with this idea that the games aren’t fun.

Fun is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. As a player, I love Nimblebit’s games Tiny Tower and Pocket Planes. Many people I know believe that these titles, particularly Tiny Tower, barely count as games.

I disagree. There is fun in them. There is fun in Farmville. There is fun in Dragonvale and MyHorse and Temple Run and New Star Soccer.

In the end, though, GAMESbrief is a blog about designing games for ARM: Acquisition, Retention and Monetisation.

I am not going to talk through all the many different definitions of fun, or ways of achieving it a game.

What I am going to say is that you need to make a successful free-to-play game, you need to get players into your game (Acquisition), you need to keep them in the game (Retention), and you need to make them enjoy it enough that they are prepared to spend money on things that they value (Monetisation).

It’s hard to do that without fun. Which is why making your game fun is the first rule.

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: