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[Gamesbriefers] Is the no-brainer purchase over?

By on May 23, 2014


This week’s question comes from Daniel Kromand, product manager at GameDuell.

“There seems to be some inconsistency between the idea of the no-brainer purchase, which Nicholas recommends and many other industry people seem to agree on, and the actual offering of these no-brainers in the games I play.
Frankly, I hardly ever see them, and when I do it is in limited-time offers that are good value. This for example includes games published by Kongregate, so it can’t just be rookie mistakes.
Has the market changed? Are companies really making this mistake? What is going on?”


harry holmwoodHarry Holmwood CEO of Marvelous AQL Europe

I don’t think there’s such a thing as a standard no-brainer purchase from the user’s perspective, any more at least – any spend is pretty far from being a ‘no brainer’ for the vast majority of players – not surprising when there’s so much great entertainment to be had elsewhere for free.

What we see is that it’s all about offering the user the right thing for them, at the right time. We include things like life/coin/whatever doublers at really good (no-brainer) prices in our stores, but people are much more likely to want to buy something like that if it’s rolled up into a deal which offers great value (maybe a bundle of consumables+consumable doubler) at the point where they can see real value in it – which, for many games, might be quite a way into the game. People generally don’t want to spend early on in the game so I’m not convinced that it is important to try to drive early monetization. Much more important to drive retention (which itself is incredibly difficult).

Mark SorrellMark Sorrell Game design consultant

I don’t believe in ‘no-brainer’ purchases particularly, or at least not in the ‘coin doubler’ sense. As Harry says, early in the game retention is more important, which means making the game as much fun as is possible, which means balancing for progression that is joyful, not that is pointing the user towards the coin doubler.

Then there’s the – to my mind more important – issue of value perception. It’s better to work on making sure you are setting a strong and consistent sense of value for your game’s currency (or equivalent objects. Hearthstone does a great job of this) than it is for that value to be low. I’d argue that high price points and high value are a far better plan in the long run and that *what* the first purchase is will beat out *when* the first purchase is.

So I’d argue ‘no-brainers’ are actually a bad idea in many cases, and there are more effective ways of getting over the payment hurdle. Clash of Clan’s builders, for example. Of course arguably they *are* a no-brainer, but they are one that keep value perceptions at a high level, as they work on a totally different vector to the rest of the game’s resources/currencies.

So – 1) aim for the first transaction to be as large as possible 2) aim to keep the perception of value of in-game objects a) consistent and b) high 3) no-brainers *are* a great way to cross the payment threshold, but should operate on unique in-game vectors 4) all the while remember- no to pay-to-win.

Emily GreerEmily Greer CEO and co-founder at Kongregate

Since we got called out on this I’ll answer, though generally I agree with Mark & Harry.

We do consider having a good value, medium price new buyer package to be a good practice but not a crucial one, and when you do have them they should be designed thinking not just about getting somebody to buy once, but about getting them to make a purchase that leads them into the main monetization path of the game, and leaves them more likely to make subsequent purchases.

Getting more players to convert is nice, but a lot of one-time $5 or even $10 purchase is going to drive a relatively limited amount of revenue — for high monetizing games the % of revenue that comes from those spending <$10 is less than 5%. The average # of purchases by a buyer is more highly correlated with LTV than the % of players who buy.

While I’ve never had a coin doubler type of no-brainer purchase in a game whose stats I could look at I’ve always assumed that it fundamentally undermines monetization since it reduces the need to buy currency, presumably the focus of long-term monetization in the games that have them. If you have a game with a very short life cycle it may be optimal but if you have a game with a very short life cycle you’ve got all sorts of problems.

Our recommendations are to focus on retention (especially long-term retention) and depth of spend first. The industry generally obsesses over % buyers and D1 retention, and while I agree that they are important stats, are not the most important to optimize.

About Gamesbriefers

Every week, we all ask our august panel of luminaries a burning question in the world of free-to-play and paymium game design. Or we ask a broader question on the future of the industry. We’re not going to announce who is a GAMESbriefer. You’ll just have to read the posts to see who is saying what to whom. We have CEOs and consultants, men and women, Brits, Germans, Americans, indies, company people and much more besides.