The freemium model has had a mixed effect on the mobile game market. On the one hand, it’s led to an explosion of grassroots games that players can try out by the dozen for no cost at all. On the other hand, that saturation has made for more competitive monetization, leaving freemium games with their drawbacks, all too familiar to both developers and players. For instance, they often come loaded with poor quality ads, wait times, locked content, and a pay-to-win mentality.
After all, developers have to make a living, right?
One genre in which this phenomenon is widespread is the thriving ‘build and battle’ genre, where you build a large city and a large army and then send your army to attack someone else’s city. While perhaps inspired by classic PC real-time strategy (RTS) games, they have significantly altered the gameplay, often to accommodate the freemium monetization model.
When we set out to create Gods of Olympus, our goal was simple: maximize fun. We felt we could greatly improve the build and battle game experience for both the casual players and the most dedicated and passionate gamers, like ourselves.
So, in a dramatic move, we’ve created a game that has wholly eliminated our most hated the pain points we’ve identified in mobile freemium RTS.
The first thing to go was build times. Conduct any focus group and the only people you’d find who are pro build times are those who pay to get an edge over other players by paying to skip them. Which brings us to the second thing we avoided wholeheartedly: the pay-to-win mentality. We wanted to give everyone a fair shot to fully experience this game, because the 80 percent of players who won’t spend money on the game have the power to be our greatest evangelists.
Third, no shields that players grudgingly pay for to protect resources from attack. Shields and the threat of stolen resources create what I call a negative battle economy – which can be frustrating and disheartening. What we’ve done is create a positive battle economy, wherein both attacker and defender can gain resources for a job well done.
Finally, we decided to make all of our content available for free, without ads. If you’re denying core gaming content to the free players, or ruining their experience with bad advertising, then you’re not really giving them the full experience you envisioned. The “premium” audience can’t be the only group of players you had in mind when you first designed your game.
But how did we accomplish all of this within a freemium model? My colleagues and I freely admit that we prioritized a fun gaming experience that we’ll see our kids’ friends playing over making a buck off those same players. Still, we think there’s money to be made outside of intentionally inflicting pain and annoyance upon free players.
Our hope is that by removing these pains, we will have a very active player community that will be much more engaged, and more likely to refer us to friends. We’d very much prefer to have lower spend per capita, but a very large community that absolutely loves our game and grows organically. That’s why our in-app purchases speed up progress in our game – without being detrimental to other players – and nothing else.
We’ve designed our game to appeal to a wide demographic. So, you have the kids with a lot of time but no money to invest in the game, and then there are the busy adults whose natural inclination is to invest some money to progress more quickly (and catch up to their kids). We want all of them to enjoy their experience together.
Throughout this process, the most important step for us was to constantly put ourselves in the players’ shoes. It was easy for us; after all, we made the game in the first place because we are the players. And it should be easy for almost all game developers who got there by being passionate players themselves. However, it’s even easier to forget when monetization is in the forefront.
Instead of focusing on every monetization tactic we could build into the gameplay, we focused on every element of fun we could build in. The result has been a more classic feeling RTS game that embraces the mobile platform’s capabilities and still incorporates elements of our own favorite games. And so far for us, it’s been a blast.