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Make it possible to spend $100: Free-to-play Design Rule 9

By on October 3, 2012

F2P-design-rules-thumbThe secret of success of a free-to-play game is not about getting a little money from lots of people: it is about getting a lot of money from the players who love what you do.

How much is a lot? That completely depends. Bigpoint has players who spend over €2,000 on a single item. I have clients where the high spenders are spending significantly more than that. Kixeye is believed to have instigated a cap of $150 per day on players of its iOS games, which suggests some people were spending way more than that.

The really big whales are great. It’s free money for you, hopefully from people who can afford it. But I don’t think you should design your game on the assumption that gigantic whales will turn up.

They might do. You ought to make it possible for someone to spend a lot of money. But for the core heavy spenders, I recommend that you target $100 per month from each of them.

Why $100?

  • It’s about the same price as dinner for two with a bottle of wine with someone special. It’s cheaper than being a fan of Premiership football. It’s a reasonable price to pay for your hobby.
  • It’s not so crazy high that the industry gets in trouble for its ethics
  • It is manageable in your planning

If you download the GAMESbrief free-to-play spreadsheet, you will see that I actually forecast that whales will spend an average of $20, not $100. So why do I recommend you design your game with a spend of $100 in mind.

Early in 2011, I was working with a company trying to improve their “true fans” strategy. In their forecasts, they had an average spend of $16 for the whales.

The total amount of money it was possible to spend in their game was $18. A true fan, in their world, was someone who had bought everything they possibly could, and there wasn’t very much to buy. This is a common problem amongst traditional game designers: failing to understand the extremes of the power-law curve. True fans in free-to-play games will spend a lot of money, and you need to make it possible for them to do so.

You also need to bear in mind that not every player will spend for the same reasons. Some will spend for aesthetics. Some will spend to level up faster. Some will spend so that they can help their friends. Some will spend to beat their friends.

If you make it possible to spend on all these angles, few players will spend for all of these reasons. So the aesthetic items you build won’t appeal to the killers and so on.

By making it possible to spend $100 in the game, you make it possible to get an average of $20 from your whales or true fans.

And then you have a successful free-to-play business.

These three rules – 7, 8, 9 – are a different way of expressing my rule of 0-1-100
. The next post will propose a new set of priorities for freemium game design, showing why AAA developers find it hard to make the transition.


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: