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Non Paying Users Saga

Insight about Non paying users in free to play business model, why are their importance in the ecosystem. This blog post would highlight many facts, myth, and analytical study to bring out potential advantage of non paying users.

Abishek Buchvani, Blogger

August 6, 2015

8 Min Read

Who are they ?

NPUs - Typically group of users who never pay to the game.

Why do i care about them ?

Before that, let’s find out why do care about ‘paying users’. Being game developer, primary focus to convert non paying into paying users in order to have better LTV that eventually determine profitability of your game. In recent study, 0.15% of users brings 50% of revenue, that’s substantial. With typical free to play games, there are around 2% of paying users who drives overall monetization through lifetime.

So, does it mean developers are purposely designing games to cater for dimunitive minority rather than the majority ?

Yes & No. However focus remains to convert non paying into paying. At hypothetical study, converting from non paying to paying through IAP is relatively hard due to nature of the audience. There are many methodology to follow by developers, some of them are - to provide integrated core game-play experience and the way to maximize using juicy 200% more currency, compulsive limited time offers or additional freebies for first time user OR very addictive in-game events that surface purchases within the loop (yes, thats smart!). It is effective at some extent, however non paying users are quite quirky, and doesn’t fall into any trap - they want to remain with the game forever without paying a single dime.


In general perspective, we think NPUs are nothing but shameless burden to the eco system, enjoy free ride of expensive content, responsible to increase server cost, and cost money to bring to the game.


Right yet Wrong!


NPUs contributes positively to overall ecosystem of free to play business. They add into various parameter that determines health of the products i.e. behavioral data, virality (K-factor), relative theory to measure engaging content & features in the game. NPUs are hard beast who strive for new way to explore possibilities to maximize experience with the content. At other side, PUs are better equipped, and have advantage for what paid over NPUs. So…

  • NPUs being  Free riders keeps PUs entertained

  • They brings behavioral data that helps to understand what works - what not!

  • They make game to go viral that eventually reduce overall CPI down, and drive better organic growth

  • They help in overall feedback ecosystem, giving honest review & suggestions to improve the game from their perspective!

  • They organically open up new monetization avenue

  • They are responsible to build user community


With older study, Candy crush claimed that 70% of their users on the last level haven't paid anything. That’s solid 30% paid conversion overall lifetime. A good reasoning not to have ads in the game and keep the overall experience premium to users. However, these 70% NPUs helps to build strong community, and responsible to go viral.  

Alright, still not enough ?

Before going deep into monetization tactics applied to NPUs, let’s find out - how can we still make them engaged, and consider them crucial part of ecosystem ? Simply by narrowing down the bridge between PUs and NPUs. Its pure form of “economy balancing” within the game. Let’s outline the perspective:

  • Do you want NPUs to suffer with bad pay-to-win syndrom ?

  • Do you want NPUs to behave punching bag for PUs ?

  • Do you want to strictly block down the progress, and force them to pay ?

Answer ‘YES’ would lead to drop off, that certainly we do not want! So, how to solve this ?

It needs to be followed in basic premise of free to play mechanics to entertain with content that is engaging and sustainable offering balanced way to enhance their experience

  • Design core loop that is equivalent to both categories (PUs, NPUs) to generate fun experience

  • Make other possible avenue to win currency / virtual goods in the game. Action would help to improve certain product metrics (virality, community, competition)

  • Incentivized action (video ads, invite friends etc). Leads to monetize efficiently

  • Fair virtual economy system that challenge skill to win, grow & compete


That’s a myth that NPUs are not loyal, and they may leave your game anytime, so it would better to monetize them showing few ads quite early in the experience. Well, thats of course helps to bring some $$ but fails to build scalable model.

There is no harm showing few non-incentivized interstitials ads to lift your revenue per user. However, it needs to smartly segmented, and well integrated with core part of game loop. Remember, there is always fine line between being mildly annoying and overly disruptive.

Crossy road is perfect example how to build fun experience without drawing strong line between PUs and NPUs, and treat them into part of one ecosystem. Ofcourse there are many in this league.

First & Foremost broad objective of any free-to-play games are to cater fun & engaging experience, and make everyone to be part of one ecosystem with fair game economy.

Agree or disagree. Feel free to add your thoughts!

Follow me on twitter @buchvani

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