Rethinking Monetization Strategies that Are Choking Valued Players Out of Your Game.
I am proud to be a ‘whale’ when it comes to free-to-play mobile games. (That means I am a player who is willing to pay for in-app purchases that help my enjoyment and progression in the games I play.) But lately, some free-to-play games have made me feel punished for paying.
To explain, let me share a bit of background. I used to be a big console gamer in my youth. But now that I have a family with three young kids, it’s hard for me to find time to play console games anymore. And when I do play them, I end up being destroyed by younger players who are far more skilled than me. Not fun.
So, free-to-play mobile (F2P) games now fill that gaming void in my life. I play a range of games – match 3s, arcade-style, endless runners, and tower defense; or I’ll check out whatever is trending on the charts regardless of the genre. I am quite willing to buy virtual currency or items in mobile games, as long as they add value to my playing experience. If paying a buck or two helps me crush a friend, upgrade my character, or finally get through an unbeatable level, it’s worth every penny to me.
But, I also really like having ad-funded options like watching a video to earn extra currency, as that gives me an opportunity to improve my playing experience without always having to open up my wallet. In fact, I often find that the ad-funded options to earn currency enhance my gameplay, as I can advance in the game more quickly than I otherwise could, which generally causes me to purchase items more frequently than I typically would. Rewarding me for my attention is a positive bonus that I welcome that makes me feel good about paying because I don’t feel forced to pay to play.
But there is a recurring monetization strategy that makes users stop playing. We are literally choked out of games we that we otherwise enjoy playing. How? After I make my first in-app purchase and become a player who paid for content, I am considered converted to their “paying player” monetization strategy. At this point, many games now choose to eliminate any free ad options I have that allow me to earn currency going forward. So I no longer get the same extra bonuses other non-paying players get unless I pay every time. Ugh! As a player, why should I be penalized and no longer have ad-funded options the minute I become a payer?
Logically, developers may feel that if they identify users who are willing to pay for a premium experience, that they need to remove free rewards which should push those paying players to buy more. But it’s flawed logic. First, if a user feels cheated or that the game is shaking him down for more money because he is an easy target, he will leave your game with a bad taste in his mouth. Second, there may be a misconception that users prefer ad-free games, when the reality is that many find the ad-funded options a benefit to gameplay and would encourage more ad-sponsored options to improve the free gaming experiences.
Here are just a couple of player reviews I found from some popular mobile games talking about rewarded ads and video.
“Great game! I love run games. Huge Tomb Raider fan... Yes there are ads but they don't last long and it doesn't interrupt game play and I love the idea of watching a ad video to revive. Works for me every time.”
M.W. June 13, 2015 (Google Play Review: Lara Croft: Relic Run)
“I really like the way they do their advertising. No banner ads to accidentally click on, no mandatory videos to watch…just a 15 sec optional video at the end of every level that rewards you with a difficulty-linked amount of in-game money if you choose to watch it.”
Nependerp, Jan 4, 2015 (Google Play Review: Tower Madness 2)
“This is one of my favourite games…Thank you for adding the new way to get extra moves with gold. It shows that you have been listening to our reviews.”
D.M. June 5, 2015 (Google Play Review: Best Fiends)
As “Crossy Road” co-creator Andrew Sum stated in a recent article, “Treat your players with respect. Make a game that people will want to share, and encourage them to come back tomorrow."
So, in order to monetize me, you need to respect me. You can’t cut off the bonus offers you give to non-paying gamers just because I have paid once. Don’t punish me for purchasing and I'll happily keep coming back to play.