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The "M" Word - Building a Respectful Free-to-Play Model

Indie developers Butterscotch Shenanigans discuss the monetization strategy for their upcoming free-to-play mobile survival game, Crashlands.

Samuel Coster, Blogger

April 29, 2014

7 Min Read

This is the last Crashlands devlog post, and one we thought the larger industry might find interest in. We're aiming to create a profitable and respectful free-to-play model. If you want to read on the rest of this mobile epic we're crafting you should check out the rest of the butterscotch blog.

Today we're going to talk about that dirty word no one wants to talk about. You know the one... the "M" word.

Crashlands will be free-to-play. Now, before you rip your teeth out one-by-one or start mailing maimed effigies to the BS HQ why don't you TAKE A SEAT AND BREATHE DEEPLY. It's time we had a talk.

Hmm this seems different from the last time I saw this meme...


Far from being profit-maximizing suitbags, we use a pantheon of Butterscotch Principles to guide how we build our monetization strategies. THEY ARE:

  1. The game must be accessible to the largest number of players possible.

  2. The game loop must not be broken or stretched for the sake of monies.

  3. Players must be able to play for however long they please in one sitting, from 30 seconds to 24 hours.

  4. Free players must be able to complete the game.

  5. Paying players have a maximum amount they can pay.

But this isn't the only set of boundaries we use. We have a few business goals that also help shape the strategy:


  1. Make unique, one-of-a-kind games on mobile.

  2. Cultivate a large, loving and fanatic player base.

  3. Build a culture of mutual respect between our players and us as developers.

  4. Make enough money to make better games in the future.

We've now cycled through a few different strategies and, WE THINK, have created one that manages all of these goals and principles seamlessly.

Crashlands, at its core, is a game about gathering stuff and building stuff. We will have at least a few hundred unique recipes for players to create by the time the game launches. Some of these recipes we consider to be progression recipes, while others are enrichment recipes. LET'S BREAK THAT DISTINCTION DOWN.



Progression recipes are, in a nutshell, the essential recipes you will need in order to progress to the end of the game. These include:

  • Basic weapons and armor

  • Tools for harvesting materials

  • Workstations for building things

  • Basic housing items (standard walls/floors/doors)

  • Items for taming creatures

With the above items, you will be able to play through Crashlands from beginning to end and get a HINT of all that it has to offer. All players (paid and free) will have full access to all progression recipes.

But maybe you want to GORGE yourself on Crashlands. You don't want measly WOOD doors. You want CRYSTAL DOORS. And goggles that make you throw things further. And that legendary axe called THE BUTTERFLY that glows and sets enemies on fire. You don't just want the bare bones - you want a full 7 course meal of Butterscotchy goodness.

This is where Enrichment recipes come in. They aren't required to progress, but they deepen and expand the existing game systems to add utility, beauty, and outrageousness. If you get an enrichment recipe it doesn't quicken your journey to the end of the game (like that hare-brained Quadropus IAP); it adds extra paths to explore, and other modes to explore those paths.

A few items classified under "enrichment" are:

  • Additional floors, walls, doors, and furniture of cosmetic purpose

  • Beds which can be slept in to shift time forward 6 hours (not in real life, we're not that advanced...YET)

  • The Anger Omelet - a breakfast snack you can cook for your pets to buff them with Berserking

  • Bombs (including seedbombs and harvestbombs)

  • The Thro-Pipe - a blow pipe that, when swung, hurls a poisonous dart at enemies

  • And a crapton of other things!




Enrichment recipes are unlocked in three ways.

  1. Non-paying players can watch a video ad to unlock an enrichment recipe of their choosing. None of that slotmachinegrabbag crap.

  2. Paying players can buy bundled recipes (all those from the Savannah, for example).

  3. Paying players can buy the full game with a one-time IAP that unlocks every Enrichment recipe forever, including any we patch in later. This also unlocks HARDCORE MODE, which allows the game to be played with Player permadeath and Pet permadeath. This IAP will rise in cost to reflect the growing value of the game as systems expand and more content is added, so getting in early might not be a bad idea!

Paying for anything in the game will also turn off interstitial ads.

Aside from granting you a whole crapton of recipes at once, paying for stuff has another important upside. As a paying player, your transaction will be saved by Google or Apple, so you'll be able to restore the recipes you've unlocked if you, say, uninstall the game and reinstall it, or get a new phone. We won't be able to do that for recipes that you've unlocked by watching video ads, because as a tiny studio, we don't have the server infrastructure to store the save data of a bajillion players.

The Role of Ads
Let's take a quick detour and explain our rationale behind the whole, "video ad for a recipe" idea. We believe in the quality of our work. It's our opinion that, if someone is playing and enjoying something we've crafted, we should be compensated. WITH MONEY.


HOWEVER! We understand that 98% of people aren't willing  to (or simply can't) throw down a few of their own dollars to hold up their end of the deal. So, with our "watch an ad to unlock a recipe" setup, we're making it possible to use someone else's money to get ahold of everything Crashlands has to offer.

That someone-else being advertisers. If you don't or can't pay us to consume the work we've created, then advertisers will do it for you, and that's perfectly fine by us! We'll also be using interstitial ads to help support the game, but any purchase you make will turn them off forever.

Mad Respect
It's our hope that by being transparent about our goals and principles regarding monetization that we can build a culture of respect between ourselves and our player base. Too often questions of a game's monetization scheme turn to accusations of "greediness" on the part of developers or "entitlement" on the part of free players. The question that should be asked is whether or not paying players are getting value for what they're paying for and whether or not free players are able to reasonably compensate developers for what they're receiving. We think that the system we've described above will fare well on both accounts.

We win. You win. EVERYONE WINS!






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