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Mobile F2P games are not evil

It’s very common to hear from developers how evil, hurtful or abusive mobile games are. But there isn’t so much discussion about it. So I hope this post will give more insights to what really works and ultimately open a healthy discussion.

It’s very common to hear from developers how evil, hurtful or abusive mobile games are. As a mobile game developer, I feel kind of sad to hear that so much. First of all because it’s the only voice you can hear, there isn’t so much discussion about it. And second of all because I don’t think most of the comments reflect the reality.

So I hope this post will give more insights to what really works, what doesn’t, and ultimately open a healthy discussion between developers.

Let’s start with some basic arguments one can hear:

It’s not real games

To answer this argument, I will simply quote one of the greatest game developer, Sid Meier : “A game is a series of meaningful choices”.

I am not a big fan of puzzle games like Candy Crush Saga but, I have to say even this very casual game fits this requirement: you are shown a grid, and you have a bunch of possibilities. some are better than others depending on the context and on your objective. For a hardcore gamer, that might not seem to be a very interesting choice.

Lack of strategy, lack of depth. But for a person who barely played a game before and/or doesn’t want to spend so much time on a game, it is a meaningful choice. Some moves are better than others, and it will change depending on your objective. It is a relevant choice. It has the perfect dose of complexity for the audience and the effort they can put right now on the game. So it becomes meaningful.

Free to play are pay to win

It’s probably one of the most common things I will hear against free to play, and I definitely understand people jumping to that conclusion when playing some games. At first sight, a lot of games can seem to be pay to win.

But from my experience: pay to win just doesn’t work. In my previous company, another team was working on a competitive arcade game. At some point, they came up with a pretty badass booster. Very cool FX, and it felt pretty nice to play the boost. Cool experience. What they didn’t realize before launching it was that the booster was over powerful. In a nutshell, it made the game Pay To Win. So if you think that “F2P are Pay to Win”, you would probably think that was a good booster. People would pay for it, win, and be happy.

It’s not that simple, for one very reason: players are not blind. It was a casual game, players were not very sensible to games the way hardcore players were. Yet everyone hated this booster. Non-payers were screaming because they had no chance to compete without buying the booster, and payers didn’t enjoy it because there was absolutely no challenge. Nobody likes to win without a legitimate reason. The positive feeling of winning comes from the fact that you deserve it. Yes people were spending money on it, so there was a pretty good spike in revenue. BUT, they were also leaving, which quickly led to making less money. So in a nutshell, a Pay to Win feature was hurting the game.

This was an arcade game, where skill matters a lot. Let’s take another example. Clash of Clans allows you to speed up most of the things you can do. If I put 100 bucks in the game, I will definitely be faster than you. No doubt about this. Is this making me win? Not really. I will progress faster. I will be level 30 and you will be level 20.Does that make me win? Progressing faster is not the goal. You have to attack people to climb the ladder, I won’t fight against you. The matchmaking algorithm will make me attack players of my level, and the fact that I paid will not influence anything in the battle. If my city layout is terrible, $1000 won’t make a difference, you will destroy my base like nothing. I can’t pay anything to counter that. If you have a very well done defense, and I deploy my troops in a bad way, I will have no chance! So here again, does paying make me win? Not really. I will progress faster, for sure, but progressing is not winning.

It’s all about monetizing the players

Monetization is a part of a mobile game design. Emphasize on “part”. Just like the user experience, balancing, and many other things. Yet, if you want to make a successful game, your goal shouldn’t be to monetize. Your goal is to make a good game. Monetizing is the result. If the game sucks, nobody will play it, and nobody will pay for it. So I can put all the efforts in the game monetization, the impact will be very low, especially before launching the game. Improving your monetization is way easier than improving your retention. therefore, during the production, the focus should be on making a quality game.

You might know that in F2P games we closely look at KPIs, such as retention or monetization as mentioned earlier. In Pearl’s Peril, the game I was working on at Wooga, we ran a lot of test features.We were launching them to a limited amount of players, so we could clearly see the impact on KPIs.

Some features were improving monetization a lot, but retention was going down a bit. Players were paying for it, but then it hurt their experience. We ran more than 50 of these tests in a year ( thanks to an awesome team ;) ). I saw it myself, we did the maths, many many times: if the retention goes down, even slightly, it will not improve your monetization on the long term. If you are still not convinced, I would recommend you to take a look at the way the biggest mobile game developer makes games:

A Clash Of Clans Post Mortem

Don't Make monetization your number 1 priority

Gambling and tricking the player

A lot of games will do that. I can’t deny it, and I stand by you against it for two reasons: first of all, I don’t want to become a Casino designer. These are bad practices that use the human weaknesses to take money out of players. Second of all, it will hurt on the long term. I like mobile games, and I want to do that for a long time. But if we do this kind of thing, players will stop to play mobile games, one by one, because they will see mobile game as an activity for addicts. It’s a short term strategy that I can’t agree with. But I am an optimistic person, and I think these kind of features will be less and less efficient. Players are not stupid. Maybe they will fall in the trick the first time, but they will eventually realize that this is a scam, and stop accepting it. The mobile market is getting mature, players understand more and more when you try to fool them.

Forcing players to pay

Do we turn people into payers? Do we use tricks to make them pay? It’s not that simple. There is no way you can force players to pay. There is nothing we trigger in the brain to force people to pay in our game. Players will not pay if they don’t want to.

There is something I can’t agree more with Teut Weidemann: a player is a payer BEFORE entering the game. The question for him will be: does this game deserve my money? We are not tricking them, most of the them will spend money on a game because: a) they want to reward the developers for a great game and b) they want to progress or play more. They wouldn’t spend money if they didn’t like the game or if they didn’t think that the developers deserved a reward for their work.

Humble Bundles work in a similar way. I’ve paid a lot for Humble Bundles. But that was not really for the game, I didn’t play most of them, I have dozens of games in my Steam library, that I never opened, like a lot of players. I paid because I wanted to support developers, the Humble Bundle team, and for charity. Monetizing in a F2P game is working the same way. Mobile players are not different. The player will be willing to monetize in the game when he thinks that the game deserves it.

The bright side of the moon

I rarely hear the pros of working on mobile games. But I really think it’s a brilliant model, and a great platform, which can provide unique experiences. But I will keep that for a post in the future ;)

The last words

I emphasized a lot on making quality games, and focus on retention in this post. If you are a mobile game developer and always worry about your monetization strategy, I think you are doing it wrong. Especially for the couple of years to come. If you want to make it, focus on your game quality. That’s what players will be sensitive to, and that’s what will make a difference.

In the other hand, if you are a hardcore player, AAA or indie developer, I hope this post from an insider, will help you understand mobile game design better and eventually see this platform as a great opportunity for new, quality experiences.

As I said in the beginning, this post is meant to offer another voice that the typical “mobile is evil”. So now it’s your turn to speak up. Please discuss.

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