Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Value Is The Key to In-App Purchases

Many games are free-to-play these days -- the majority of mobile titles are F2P, some of the leading PC games are F2P, and now even some console games. Usually, that means the games monetize through in-app purchasing (the sale of virtual goods or services inside of the game, usually abbreviated IAP) or advertising. Surveys show that many gamers feel in-app purchases detract from their enjoyment of the game -- according to an Ipsos survey, 47% of UK gamers feel that way. Why? And is this a problem that game designers need to tackle, or game marketers?

It's useful to take a look at some examples of games with in-app purchases that are doing very well, like League of Legends, World of Tanks, Clash of Clans, and others. Those games don't have a problem with players; their players seem pretty happy to have the opportunity to purchase things for the game. (The image of DJ Sona above from League of Legends is an example of an extremely popular in-app purchase.) Those who don't buy in-app purchases enjoy playing the game, or at least don't seem put off by the fact that you can buy things in the game. At least, we can infer that from the tens of millions of people playing these games on a regular basis.

What is it about some games that makes IAP annoying, and tolerable or even appreciated in other games? There are two factors, I believe. One is the game design: Games that annoy you with purchase requests (intruding during the game play), games that require purchases to speed up play (time-gating), games that let you buy your way to victory (though this depends on the culture, as its a desirable thing in China), those types of game design make IAP into something annoying. The other factor is value: Games that offer a good value in IAP don't annoy the players.

The important part of this value determination is that what constitutes value comes from the player's point of view, not the designer or marketer's idea. The fact that you can buy 100 game tokens for only $7 instead of $20 doesn't mean it's a good value to the player. Sure, maybe it's a deal compared to is usually charged for game tokens, but that may not connect directly to value in the mind of the player. What can you get for those game tokens? Are they readily usable for things that players definitely find useful or enjoyable? The determination of value comes from using a player's point of view to look at things.

You may not really know what is valuable to players at the outset of the game design, but game testing should reveal that if you ask the right questions. You could even run some tests with different groups of players to see what they like, and what they think is a good deal for an in-app purchase. Sure, start with some assumptions, but test them out and verify them. You can also test the effectiveness of different price points, too.

The ideal F2P game lets you have fun with the free version, for as much time as you like. Then it allows you to pay something to increase your enjoyment, but in a way that doesn't leave you feeling annoyed if you don't buy it. Doing this well requires both good game design and good marketing input.

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