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Free 2 Play : Evolution - It's all about adapting the ride.

The changing face of F2P business model, a user experience designers take on how market forces and technology are changing and challenging existing paradigms of game design & player engagement.

Free to Play : Unarguably , a very successful business model generating millions of dollars in revenue attracting hordes of new casual players to games. But then we already know that, analysing a host of new games , we can clearly say this model has evolved and changing the way games are built and played today.

F2P model originated with a very simple idea of lowering the barrier to entry, Take out the initial paywall, allow more players to try out the game for free, once players get hooked and monetise.

It all began with breaking the initial Paywall...it has broken many walls since then!

F2P : Solves one problem, creates two...


F2P in many ways solved the initial problem of widening player funnels increasing download base, but creates the challenge of retention and hence conversion, Unlike premium model, players have not paid any money and are not invested in the game or highly engaged yet, to convert them game needs to retain them. which implies boosting  retention & conversion in the long run.

Recent player behaviour studies show majority of new mobile game players (especially casual), are after entertainment and want to kill time in short bust of game play sessions. Players are looking for fun, relaxation, socialising and rewarding behaviour, not stress inducing workout sessions. the balance has to be just right, make your game too easy and players will bail not finding it challenging enough, make it too hard and they will bail, finding the drill too difficult. There is no one -off sweet spot, in case you are wondering.

With potentially massive downloads the demographics & user behaviour are spread across a wide set of personas, players with different skill levels ,experience and expectations from the game, how do you cater to them all?

Players are expecting fun, relaxation, socialising and rewarding behaviour, not stress inducing workout sessions.

 

Personalise Player Progression & User Experience: Diagnostic Algorithm Design.

                   Game play = Immersion = Entertainment

With a wide array of choice available, on players device, it's like flicking channels on television, players will play a game for a short while, and as long as they are having fun & are engaged they will stick with it, the moment it becomes frustrating or disappointing, time to switch!

With the ability to process millions of events per second, CRM controlled decision making and system controls, We are entering a era where Devs. are making changes on the fly, incorporating flexible design and code which factor in player input and behaviour.  

Top Devs. are realising it's all about adapting the ride to the customer, not the other way around. 

In a very simplified example above, the orange curve marks player progression, the dotted green curve, is the diagnostic algorithm, which based on certain variables understands players frustration threshold and pain points, when a player looses the game 'N' times in a row, and the losses continue over 'N' log -in sessions, combining this info with the players cohort attributes (how engaged the player is for example) , the game may reduce the difficulty to let him progress minimising the probability of churn and vice versa on the fly. Without the need of a update or a time lagged intervention.

With assumptions derived from metrics & research based on player personas and user behaviour, it's not difficult to derive variables that can apply to different cohorts of players with varying level of engagement & skill, and design  Diagnostic Algorithms that can:

  1. Analyse player progression.
  2. Diagnose when player might bail.
  3. Action a preventive response.   

Personalise Social: Empower people to win and look good among peers.

         Create more opportunities for              everyone to win. 

Social networks exist so, people can share, brag and seem cooler then their peers. when players are competing with others, give them room to win, create more wins, let them see their name on top of the leaderboard. Shorten the leaderboard size, allow players to compete in small groups, gauge the ones who are consistently out performing others and then place them in a more extended leaderboard. Maximise the chance of rewards.

Zynga understands I stand a better chance (1/9) of winning in a group of  9 people, then the chance (1/9000) in a group of 9000. short consolidated leaderboards, can be very motivating.

So does King, which keeps the social leaderboard equally concise, clubs and shows only those friends, whose attributes match closely with yours. sorting by workplace, similar age, interests and activity level. 

Conclusion: Personalising player experience and optimising engagement is going to be a progressive trend.

 

From what I am seeing on the app store, and with advances in analytics and backend technology, the F2P business model of games is gearing towards how entertainment businesses, like media and television work, it's all about high TRP's aka retention. creating, crafting content that players want to consume, creating more emergent gameplay opportunities, rather then locking players in a hard & fast narrative. Competition for players prime time like TV slots has already began (no surprise a host of games now have exclusive time limited weekend events and special tournaments). Devs. understand when players will have more time on their hands and would be willing to spend more (holiday mode).

Advances in analytics &  investment in user research will allow us to break down players in to smaller cohorts, studying more personalised & wide sets of attributes in regards to playing, preferences & spending habits. leading to multiple tiers of diagnostic algorithms. that will optimise player experience with more precision.

Does this imply end of gaming as we know it? obviously not, there will always be Developers and games whose vision & deep immersion will keep players engaged without the need of any above said optimisations ,especially in the realm of hard core gamers and PC & Consoles. 

But mobile & casual gaming is definitely trending towards this path, clearly we need to acknowledge, that needs, choice's and behaviour of players differs across genre and devices.

Is this face of emerging F2P model good? bad?... too manipulative? or does it results in better player engagement and user experience?

That's not the argument this article is making, it's just an account of how things are shaping up, how market forces and technology are changing and challenging existing paradigms of game design & player engagement as we know it.

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