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A Purchase Makes a Promise

When the player opens his wallet to spend money in your game, it is because your game has promised him future fun. This blog from free-to-play consultant Levy explains the disastrous consequences when your game fails to deliver on that promise.

Ethan Levy, Blogger

October 18, 2013

5 Min Read

I will never buy a Ps Mini again. I was recently exploring the interface of my Ps Vita, looking for a novel diversion to buy while waiting for insomnia to dissipate. After browsing through the catalog of Ps1 games I thought, “Hey, I’ve never bought a Mini before. They’re always mentioning them in the list of new releases on Podcast Beyond. Maybe I ought to try one out.”

I found one with an intriguing name and icon, Floating Cloud God Saves the Pilgrims. I clicked the icon and was disappointed with the amount of information the Vita gave to help me make a purchase. Here I was, looking for an excuse to open my wallet and there was no video, no screenshots, no Metacritic, no clear explanation of genre.

I know the name and player rating, which is a solid 4.26. I know it is a shooter, but do not know what style of shooter and can only guess it is a 2d scroller. I do not know what the game looks like, but based solely on the icon I am expecting a unique, watercolor style. Under normal circumstances I would balk at the paucity of information. But I was in the mood to spend money and I was willing to skip a cup of coffee if the game was not fun. I hit the download button.

When consulting on free-to-play games, a saying I have is “a purchase makes a promise.” When the player decides to spend money on your game, you are making a promise to him of an increased level of enjoyment he will have as a result of giving you his hard-earned cash. If your game delivers on that promise, your player will be happy to have spent his money and is more likely to do so again in the future. If your game fails to deliver, you are likely to have churned your most valuable user – the rare 1-2% player who is willing to spend money inside your game.

My Ps Mini purchase failed to deliver on two fronts. The first was technical. After I added funds to my wallet and agreed to purchase Floating Cloud God, I was stuck on the preparing to download screen.

I waited for minutes on this screen and nothing happened. I pressed the Home button and got the warning sign in the top, left corner. I canceled and was stuck with a grey overlay blocking all screen input. I had to restart my system, and when I did, my game was not downloaded. I needed to be savvy enough to know to return to the Ps Store, click the ellipsis button in the lower right corner and go to my download list in order to get my purchase onto my device. Otherwise I would be contacting customer service about my missing money and potentially leaving a negative review for the Ps Vita on Amazon.

The importance of a technically smooth purchase flow cannot be overstated. This poor user experience not only makes the player unlikely to purchase a Mini again, but hesitant about the idea of spending money at all in the Vita’s digital ecosystem. A disastrous effect for a platform that is more digital than physical. As an aside on the technical front, I have a hypothesis that the laggy new Ps Store interface for the Ps3 – though beautiful – has a measurable, negative effect on daily digital revenue.

The second promise my purchase failed to deliver was the game itself. As I said, I had limited information when I made my impulse purchase. I was expecting some form of 2d shooter with a unique, watercolor aesthetic.

The game delivered a shooter, with a nice little innovation in gameplay, but the art style did not live up to the promise set by the icon. Though beautiful, the style did not deliver the unique look I expected. The game was a fun little diversion for a few minutes until I was able to get back to sleep, but I was disappointed nonetheless. I had unmet expectations and as a result, did not feel that I could trust the Ps Mini store as a place to spend my money in the future. It will take a strong recommendation from a trusted friend to convince me to return to the Mini section of the store.

Contrast that to the Steam store. If I want to purchase Fallen Enchantress in the current Steam Sale, the product page has all the information I need to make an informed decision. Genre, video, images, description, technical requirements, Metacritic score, stock price and current discount, community recommendations and more. When I am primed to spend money, Steam makes it easy for me to spend that money wisely.

This same principle applies when I evaluate and consult on games with in-app purchases. A simple example of a purchase that delivers on its promise is the gold multiplier in Dead Man’s Draw. Although the “Get 2x Multiplier!” button that leads me there is slightly misleading (it should state “Buy 2x Gold Multiplier!” or similar) the purchase dialog makes a clear promise.

When I spend $2 I will earn double gold, allowing me to use consumable traits more frequently. As a player I know I have fun when I use the traits and as a result, win a tournament. When I made the purchase I expected to have consistently more fun in Dead Man’s Draw because I could use my consumable traits more frequently. And the game delivered on this promise.

Every time the player makes a purchase in your game, you are promising him more fun in the future. Delivering on that promise is the key to unlocking a long-lasting player relationship that is critical to achieving success with in-app purchases.

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