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

By on September 19, 2012

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: