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Be Generous: Free-to-play Design, rule 6

By on September 12, 2012
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F2P-design-rules-thumbBeing generous is ideological with me. I believe that if you are generous to your players, they will be generous to you.

Call it Karma. Call it goodwill. Call it what you will, I believe that there is logic and evidence in favour of being generous.

  • You are making work that you are proud of. Get as many people as possible to play it.
  • If you are generous, people will be more likely to tell their friends about your game. If you slam down a paywall early, they are more likely just to click away or uninstall.
  • People buy more from people they like. Being generous makes people like you more.
  • People buy more from people they feel they owe. That’s why expensive delicatessens will cut up small pieces of Italian cheese or French salami and put it on the counter on small wooden cocktail sticks. Taste one of those and BOOM, you owe them.
  • Being generous with premium currency encourages players to spend the currency, not hoard it. If a premium currency becomes, in the player’s mind, an endless rising score, they will be reluctant to spend it. This is not good for your monetisation.
  • Zynga is not generous. It uses psychological techniques (often derogatorily called Skinner boxes) to drive player behaviour. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that – although like all things it can be done with more or less concern for ethics – it does mean that players tend to play more for the behavioural triggers and less for all the other reasons a game could make you want to play. In the long term, Zynga will need to break free of its reliance on behavioural psychology, which is just one part of a free-to-play designer’s toolkit, and make players like them. By being generous.

I fully accept that the evidence for generosity is not yet conclusive. There are plenty of free-to-play games in the top grossing charts on the App Store which appear to fail the Generosity test.

That’s fair enough. There are many ways of making money from free-to-play games. In the end, I want games I work on to have good word-of-mouth; to succeed because players like the game, not simply because it is psychologically manipulative; to encourage players to spend money because they love what I and my clients do, not because they have no choice.

To me, that is all best satisfied by being generous.


Expanding on the theme of generosity, the next post in this series will argue that your game should be free forever, with no paywalls

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