15 ways to make free-to-play pay

15 ways to make free-to-play pay
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

September 26th 2012 at 3:31PM

Gamesbrief's Nicholas Lovell delivers a guide to success at the F2P Summit

Games industry business consultant Nicholas Lovell has used his presentation at today's F2P Summit to offer 15 points of advice for success in the realm of free-to-play.

A summary of his ongoing guide to free-to-play on Lovell's own Gamesbrief website, the developer-centric advice focuses on games design and mechanics, and will be welcomed by many still daunted by the sometimes bewildering world of free-to-play.

The 15 rules are summarised here. All insight is that of Lovell's:

Rule 1

Make your game fun as a core starting point. Cloned games, and games focused on passing around acquired users often miss out this fundamental element of games design. Before all the theory, fun remains as key to free-to-play success as in other fields of games design.

Rule 2
Let your players get a meaningful experience from the game in the time it takes to make a coffee. Short form game experiences are vital to success in the free-to-play realm.

Rule 3
Within the short-form gameplay model, encourage long playing sessions. Aim to be like Bejewelled Blitz, which, despite offering a sub-one-minute game structure, sees players on average play for 45 minutes at a time. Encourage repetition of 'snackable' gaming.

Rule 4
Free-to-play games need many 'levels of complexity', as with Jetpack Joyride, where new achievements, IAP items and updates constantly reinvent the players interactions and aims in the game's world.

Rule 5
Free-to-play games must never end. Do not design a game a player can ever truly complete.

Rule 6
'Be generous'. Give players a lot for free and it will encourage them to stay in the game, observe what spending players are enjoying, and eventually pay themselves.

Rule 7
Make your game free-to-play throughout. A game that forces payment at a given point is less likely to succeed.

Rule 8
Provide a '$1 no-brainer' purchasable item. The theory is that an affordable IAP that has a significant and positive impact on a player's progress in game will – even if it upsets the core balancing of the gameplay – quickly take players who may generally be unsure about paying in-game to a point where they will spend money.

Rule 9
Allow players to spend $100 in-game. Expensive items and upgrades will sell well, and not put off other purchasing players.

Rule 10
Implement 'pizzazz, and not polish'. Games designers should be more concerned with visual and audio elements that stimulate and reward the players' senses than with purity of visual design in the classic form. For example, feedback in the form of a shimmer and sparkle of a recently used UI element matters more than the finely tuned layout of a menu screen.

Rule 11
'Kill the tutorial'. Your game shouldn't need one if it is well designed, and tutorials put off players.

Rule 12
Limit the amount your players fail in-game, as this will alienate them. Players can still fail, but be kind to them when they do. Even replacing 'Game Over' with 'Congratulations' will help.

Rule 13
‘Sell emotion, not content’. Grant players self expression, status, power, gifting and so on, and they will be more inclined to spend.

Rule 14
In spite of all of the above, do not be afraid to experiment. But know what you are looking for when doing so, don’t risk too much, and learn from the results; implement your findings.

Rule 15
Remember that making free-to-play games 'never ends'. What to do and how to do it is an ongoing learning, so approach the process with that in mind.


Lovell is presenting each of these rules of free-to-play games design individually and in more detail on a weekly basis here on Gamesbrief.