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Can FTP have pay-to-progress without pay walls?
by Josh Foreman on 03/27/14 01:43:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


As I’m starting to design my first mobile game I’m attempting to grapple with the concept of Free To Play for the first time in my career.  (I’m an artist/designer, so this is a new world for me.) If I’m going to do it, (and from my research it seems at this point like a bad idea not to) I want to do it well, do it ethically, and from a design perspective; do it aesthetically.  In other words, I don’t want to shoehorn a business model on top of an existing game.  From what I’ve read, that always ends in tears.  


I’ve read every article and book on this subject that I could get my hands on, and that has been very helpful.  Especially the debates that always appear in the comments.  (I hope to get a good one here.)  But I haven’t really seen a good exploration of this one topic I’m stuck on.  To make it clear, let me provide an overview of my current plan.  My first project is pretty much a practice run with a very small scope just to get a pipeline established and run myself through the ringer of getting a product to market.  Hopefully I’ll make all my BIG mistakes on this one.  So it’s just a simple tilt-a-marble-through-a-maze game.  There’s about a thousand of them out there.  One thing I wanted to do differently than those I’ve played is to add a bit of a sense of exploration to the metagame.  Most of these games either has a boring tap-a-number level select or a linear path with nodes to tap.  I want to take my metagame map in a more literal direction, actually having continents to explore.  Each content will have a different theme and you’ll be unlocking levels on the map by getting enough points in the previous level.  But since I don’t want it to be linear there will be multiple exits on many of the levels so that the points you earn will be directed toward the next level that is associated with that exit.  


So that’s my teeny tiny innovation, and I’m happy enough with that for this practice game.  So here’s where my dilemma crops up.  I don’t like the idea of a pay wall.  I feel like that’s a little sleazy.  Not a LOT sleazy, because after all, no one’s forcing you to continue playing the game.  It just essentially turns the game into a demo that can be upgraded to a full game.  But if I’m handing out demos I want to be forthcoming with that description.  And that’s not what I want to do.  I want to make a game that the majority of people can play to completion without paying a cent.  I want any In-App-Purchases that happen to be because the player feels like paying for the aesthetic modifications available, or saving time/energy to bypass a tricky part, is worth it to them.  Did you spot the problem yet?


There’s a part of me that loves the idea of players being able to buy progress if they enjoy the game but are not enjoying a particularly challenging (ie frustrating) part of it.  I can imagine myself playing a free game of Mega Man or Castlevania and getting to a part where I’m just frustrated and annoyed, and feeling like I’m going to be missing out on the content AFTER this part, so it’s worth a buck to pass it.  But that seems like Pandora’s Box.  It’s all too easy to design difficulty spikes (or create them accidentally!) that put players in that position artificially.  I think that’s a good basic definition of a pay wall.


Ideally, we designers want to keep the player in the Flow channel...



Where they are not feeling anxiety or boredom.  A FTP pay wall is a difficulty spike that purposely breaks flow, pushing the player into the Anxiety area.  Some percent of players will stop playing due to the unpleasant experience.  Some percent will persevere and struggle and struggle and eventually get by it. (IF there actually IS a way to do so.)  And some percent will pay to get a powerup or workaround that breaks through the difficulty spike allowing them to continue the game.  


Because I want my design to be aesthetically pleasing I don’t want to make difficulty spikes.  But the perennial problem of game design is that every player has different skills so that one player’s perfect flow is another’s too-easy, boring experience, is another’s rage-inducing trauma.  It’s that latter group that troubles me.  It seems to me that IF the pay wall is a difficulty spike, and IF there are some players who are so bad at the game that even the simple stuff is hard for them, then there necessarily will be pay walls in a FTP game that sells any kind of game progression.  


So one way to fix this dilemma is to offer no game progression in the store.  Keep it purely aesthetic.  That does solve the problem but that doesn’t solve MY dilemma completely because the game will still exclude bad players.  Unlike physical sports, we video game designers have the blessed power to bring enjoyment to those who lack the skills that our games demand.  We have difficulty modes, cheats, walkthroughs, and yes, pay-to-win and pay-to-progress.  I make games mostly because I like giving people interesting experiences.  And I don’t want to exclude a bunch if there’s a way not to.  That is my attraction to pay-to-progress.  If an easy mode and walkthroughs aren’t enough, a really abysmally bad player can STILL get to enjoy the experience I’ve designed by just paying to blast through a difficulty spike that I never intended to BE a spike.  


So why not just add the same game progression mechanic but for free?  Because I know that will destroy the Flow for people of average-to-high skill.  It will just be too tempting to reach for that mechanic the moment a little healthy tension is built up.  I’m of the philosophy that a good game experience is a series of tension and release moments, so destroying that process is destroying the design aesthetic I’m striving for.  


So IS there a way to accomplish what I want in an ethical and fun way within a Free to Play framework?  Basically I’m just thinking out loud here.  I didn’t ask for this Free to Play revolution, but I sure want to make sure it doesn’t make me compromise my moral or aesthetic sensibilities. Please let me know what you think!  

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Luis Blondet
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I think the most unethical game design practice has to be Selling Cheats (power, advantages, etc).

Instead of shunning the microtransaction model, i will try to design something within ethical boundaries. I think such thing can be done properly, but we need more game devs experimenting with it instead of boycotting it.

Andreas Ahlborn
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Very interesting article.

I get the feeling if more game designers would take their recherche as serious as you we would already have a better understanding how to design monetization models where the customer is treated as a human being and not a milkable money-machine.

My basic advice is: whatever Microtransactions you are experimenting with in your first game play with open cards from the start. Don`t try to decorate potential pay-walls with a multidude of useless ingame currencies, don`t give your players the feeling when they eventually purchase that they have been tricked into thinking they would get sth. else.

Delano Langras
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Hello, very interesting article indeed.

I myself am also new to game design and designing my own game.

This game will also be ftp. It exists out of several chapters and the first chapters will be free. But if the player wants to play the next chapter, he will need to pay a certain amount to continue to the next chapter.
So just like your idea, the first chapters will be a demo to the others. Try it out, if you like it, buy or keep playing.

This currency can be bought or earned by repeating a lot. But i designed it so that repeating a chapter isnt going to be the same thing over and over again.

In my design, after every chapter the player is introduced to a new character with different kind of gameplay, which he can use in previous chapters and possibly unlock different ways to finish the levels, some levels are so designed for one character to get the highest score with. But that is up to the player to find out which one it is and that character isnt necessarily available when you play the level for the first time. Ofcourse these characters are also unlocked with the currency, so the player has a choice to get a new chapter or character.

I hope the players want to pay for it, so for that i made a good storyline and am working on interesting and unique characters. They all have their own story and when you play with them, you will unlock extra's like a comic explaining their background. So i hope they will really get into one character, see they will get extra's and want to know about the extra's they get from other characters. So again, i hope good character design with their own style and a good storyline will convince the player to repeat levels. They want to get the extra's and now more about the story. You can also add lots of easter eggs in to the levels, so they keep discovering new things from time to time. I know gamers love references to movies, music and recent news. You could work that in your storyline, like the brilliant brains do from South park.

Ofcourse the player who doesn't pay, will advance slower than a player who does pay. And the advance for a non-paying player will be a lot slower, so he will need to repeat.

You still want to earn from the non-paying player, so for them you will use advertising to earn from them. Daily banners with incentives, the currency, for them to click on. But just one or two a day and some normal banners.

But i choose that the paying player will also see banners from the start. Why?

I see that in some games you have the option in an In-app store for a non-banner option or the option to earn the currency twice as fast. They mostly ask around 1-4 dollars for it.

What if.....we make an achievement where you are able to get these features.

So you decide at which point a non-paying player earned enough from you with banners and when he will deserve more from repeating.

So at 500 stones, he will get the ''you killed the advertiser character blablabla'' achievement and he will no longer receive banners.
At 1000 stones earned he will get the ''professional specialist, you now earn twice as fast'' achievement, so the grinder will now one day his grinding will be twice as effective.

The paying player will ofcourse receive these achievements faster. So if you pay, thanks bro, we will not bother you anymore with ads. If you pay even more, you will earn double the currency achievement right away and that will relief the player faster from grinding. Basicly, ''you have paid enough, you get the game.''

But experts teached me that you don't want to cap the paying players. If they want to pay and play a lot, they are basically fans. I don't want whales who are addicted to the gameplay, i want fans who like the storyline, the gameplay and the characters. For them you can perhaps keep making extra content about the storyline or create extra's like clothes or stuff.

So yeah, people will play more for more gameplay later on, good characters with a good storyline and extra's about these. Create the game so you get fans, not addicted people. I feel more comfortable creating content for fans, than giving crack to junkies.

But i am still exploring, just a newbie, so what do i know? :p

David Keen
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I have a general hatred of free to play, and the only options I find acceptable are charging for additional content (more levels) or visual changes (different skins). I hate the concept of paying to progress. Then again, I'm the type of guy who would rather pay a single up cost price for a game, and have unlimited access to it with no further charges. I'm probably not your audience.

Chip Sineni
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You could just sell "mighty eagles" like Angry Birds, which lets you bypass a hard challenge (one of their mini levels)

There never was a paywall, each area could still be bypassed by skill, but less dedicated players could just skip the challenge if they found it too tough so they could move to the next, rather than just put the game down and give up

David Keen
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But, like mentioned in the article, this can lead to implementing difficulty spikes to encourage the purchase of "mighty eagles", or at least the perception of such happening. Back in my day, games had multiple difficulty modes to allow people of varying skill levels to enjoy, rather than charging the noobs to proceed through tricky bits, and I find this practice very sketchy.

Josh Foreman
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"this can lead to implementing difficulty spikes to encourage the purchase of "mighty eagles", or at least the perception of such happening. "

Oh yeah. That last part about perception is really really important. I know from working on Guild Wars 2 that a player's perception of developer intent can be RADICALLY different that reality.

Chip Sineni
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The perception thing is crazy true. I've wondered if Infinity Blade, with the same balance as the premium game, if it came out as F2P, if people would perceive there are paywalls despite not being any.

The reason I do bring up the "mighty eagle" solution is, as a 'old gamer' without the same amount of time I used to be able to invest in games, I actually wish there were more ways to get past a difficult part you are stuck, as often that is the point I put game down. The solution does seem elegant as it is purely optional and not needed by a more skilled player. I do think how it was handled in angry birds, it was somewhat understood it wasn't a paywall. Also if there is a way to earn these "passes" w/o monetezation they may be less perceived as strictly P2W

Jesse Mikolayczyk
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Since you plan on multiple exits per level, your 'pay wall' hard level could be potentially by-passed with multiple mid-difficulty levels going around the continent instead of straight through the middle as it were. If you have limits on how many plays you allow per day/hour it would be a question for the player whether they want to try the hard level for shortcut, pay money for bonuses to use shortcut and make it easier, or spend multiple plays on easier levels that will cost them time. Or perhaps instead of a hard level, you could block paths with keys or something that can be purchased as well as rarely found by traveling a difficult section of paths in a particular level.

David Keen
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Isn't limiting the number of plays per day/hour in itself a paywall? I certainly wouldn't call it a good practice, and would keep me from playing the game.

Josh Foreman
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I'm trying to approach my monetization design with the lens of the Golden Rule. What do *I* find appealing in FTP games and what makes me feel like I'm being herded, disrespected or manipulated. Play time limits are one of those things that make me feel manipulated, so they are off the table for me.

Dave Hoskins
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I will pay for more fun, but I won't pay to progress.

Mainly because the extent of most progress payments are never shown upfront. It's all really horrible.
It's also like bribing an Olympic official to get in to a race - it's dirty and not in the spirit of the games.
I remember the days when we made GAMES, not toll bridges!

Josh Foreman
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Dave, I totally know where you're coming from! I used to feel exactly the same way until I started really researching FTP and playing a bunch of FTP games. The mindset is quite different. In one sense the simplicity of paying a flat fee up front for a game (the historical norm) is very appealing to me both as a consumer and game maker. But since I've gotten to know the framework and mindframe of FTP better I can now see the very appealing idea that if my work is actually compelling it should result in some people paying me for it. And as an artist, I feel like that money is more 'earned' than through the old system where people were mostly paying up front based on word of mouth, reviews or box art/concept. To me, that old model has just as much dishonesty built into it because it was counting on an illusion of what kind of experience a buyer imagined they would receive for their money. With FTP, a good experience is the groundwork for making money. IF it's done with an ethical approach.

Dave Hoskins
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I see no problem with letting people play a long demo of your game for free. They can unlock the WHOLE game if they like it, by a single purchase.
It's seems as this demo style model has died out a little in the last few years, the lack of which can be seen in the Steam demo sections.

Curtiss Murphy
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When I published my first Indie title, I was stunned how few people purchased it, even at $0.99. After a month spent scratching my head and screaming at the wall, I made my product free - as in beer - and sat there, stunned, at how fast my customer base grew. Years later, I did the reverse, taking a product that had 500 dwnlds/day when it was free, only to net 5, at $2.99.

In the past three years, I've read numerous articles & books (the best is Free by Anderesen) and released five products. I've tested every possible model: free-free, free with IAP's to unlock content, free-with-ads, up-front purchase, and even one app with a pay-at-the-end-if-you-feel-like-it model (2% conversion!).

I'm finally beginning to grok that there is no single solution to free. Each product, market, and device I target needs a unique model. It's on me to design for monetization (ads, IAP's, single-purchase), as carefully as I design for engagement. And also to develop as many products as I can (# products being linked closely with success).

However I monetize it, there is just one reality: my company only has a voice, if it survives.

PS - Give Battle Gems a try - they have a model you might like with 'X limited plays per time period' and a 'Founders-Pack' that removes provides bonuses, including the time limitation.

Gamal Mohamed
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I think this is a very interesting topic of discussion, especially as the free-to-play model grows. If you have an iPhone, check out My Mini Castle; it has an in-game currency that can be bought using real-world cash, but it is totally optional when it comes to beating/playing the game.

Good luck with your game!

Josh Charles
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One solution to your problem could be to design multiple difficulty modes. Like you said, every player has different skills so why design a one-size-fits-all difficulty system? Having multiple difficulty options that are properly balanced and that the player can switch between before or after any level should take away the need to insert pay-to-bypass systems, which is itself a flawed concept. If a player is having a particularly difficult time with one section of the game, there's a strong likelihood they'll have similar (if not increased) levels of difficulty with the sections that follow as games, generally speaking, become more difficult from start to finish. MegaMan is actually a perfect example of this.

Jake Forbes
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To avoid a shoehorn situation, it's crucial that you really play free-to-play titles that are succeeding with your target audience, not to crack some magic formula, but to understand why the players love it. If you find a particular game or tactic distasteful, try something else. Until you can really empathize with the players by finding fun in a free-to-play game, it's not likely you'll be able to design for success. Your business model shouldn't be something you have to apologize for.

You mention not wanting difficulty spikes that require buying a power-up, but what if power-ups are part of the normal flow, offered freely sometimes, and available via soft-currency earned from normal play, but purchasable more readily via hard currency?

Or allow players to freely play levels if they start over from the beginning, but allow players to restart from a chekpoint with a premium level account (works well with the recent release Smash Hit).

Josh Foreman
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"what if power-ups are part of the normal flow, offered freely sometimes, and available via soft-currency earned from normal play, but purchasable more readily via hard currency?"

Yes. This is my plan.

Daniel Gutierrez
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There are two examples I can think of in your situation, one involving microtransactions and one without.

Professor Layton
If you've played any of the Professor Layton games on the DS, they feature something called "puzzle coins" that you can trade in for a hint. What's interesting about them is that you get them by finding them in the environment. So if you get stuck on a puzzle, you can go do another task to earn them. In your case, adding some type of achievements that earn you the powerups (like complete a stage in less than 30 seconds earns you one powerup to use anywhere else in the game).

I think the nice thing here is that you're encouraging someone to play your game more, but in a different way. They're doing something to earn help at a challenge they can't get through, but they're also actually refining their play skills which means they may be able to beat a challenge they couldn't before (which is an amazing feeling to impart on someone playing a game)

Frozen (candy crush knockoff)
CC may do this too, but I don't have a phone that can play it (go go Windows Phone). But they added to it the powerup microtransaction system you described. But, they also added a roulette wheel where you every day you log on you get a random powerup. This basically adds a "if you are stuck, you get a get-out-of-jail-free card once a day" mechanic. If they want to power through the game, they can buy more. But the nice thing about this mechanic is it encourages people to play a little every day, since even if they're not stuck, they'll probably login to get their free power up and play "just a level" or two.

Val Reznitskaya
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It sounds to me like your real question has less to do with the free-to-play business model and more to do with making your game as accessible as possible. I understand the sentiment of wanting to appeal to players of various skill levels, but I also think it's important to understand that if someone is really terrible at your game, that person probably won't have fun with level 10 if they don't have fun with level 2. These types of players will either quit your game right away or waste their savings for a false feeling of accomplishment.

There's a lot of debate about the topic of letting players skip gameplay to enjoy some other aspect of the title (story, world...), but in a simple game like the one you're describing, gameplay is all you really have. The reason players pay to get past difficulty spikes is because the game is otherwise enjoyable for them. If the whole thing is too hard, there's nothing to look forward to past this hard level than another hard level.

In other words, it's probably not possible to appeal to everyone. And that's okay! You have to understand what the core appeal of your game is, use that to determine your target audience, and tune your game to that audience as much as you can. Once you know what your players love about your game, you can find ways of monetizing it by selling them MORE of what they enjoy instead of holding it hostage.

Josh Foreman
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Great thoughts, Val. You're right. If people don't like rolling a marble around a maze, or aren't good at it there's not much left to compel them to play. (I like to think my beautiful art and music is something, but it's really not.)

Daniel Balmert
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F2P really only works out over long engagement periods. If you're a marble and you've explored most of the world, why would you log in to play your game?

Once you tackle stickiness, an ethical way to monetize will come to light.

For example, instead of offering [points] for money (allowing players to buy their way to new progression), you might offer "2x rewards for Y number of maps" or something. It won't undercut the core gameplay loop, but it shortens it for people who would rather do other things in your game.

You could commit yourself to adding new regions / maps once per season so players still want to explore and gain points to save up for new content.

Bernard Badger
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I can't say I'm experienced in this arena, but here's my suggestion. In marble maze games, there are typically holes in the maze which force the player back to the start of the maze if the marble falls in, right? Since you're not working within physical limitations, you might have other types of hazards too, so we'll call them hazards rather than holes. A way to dynamically decrease the difficulty of a given course might be to remove a particular hazard from the stage after the player is caught by it a certain number of times. That way, a less skilled player can eventually clear each stage if only by eventually eliminating all hazards, whereas more skilled ones will clear it without so much effort. If you have a high score/best time tracking system, you can validate the more skilled players for clearing a stage with less/no usage of this hazard-removing mechanic, maybe even include an option to turn it off entirely.

Now, how can we bring transactions into this? Quite obviously, sell the ability to remove hazards without having to bump into them X number of times. If there's a hazard that the player knows is very likely to give them trouble (especially toward the end of a stage), they might be willing to pay a dime or two to wipe it off the map before they even get started. Better yet, sell the /permanent/ ability to do this. Offer reusable "stoppers" for a dollar each that can be plugged into holes on each stage. The more of these stoppers a player has, the easier they can make each given stage. Of course, the scoring system will still give greater accolades for doing without these extra helps, and each stage should be designed to be humanly beatable without them, but it allows more casual players to customize their own difficulty level.

Granted, this isn't a perfect solution. There would still be a temptation to design really frustratingly difficult-to-avoid traps to motivate the player to buy stoppers (especially since such frustration is already a hallmark of marble mazes). For those players determined to clear the game without paying but not interested in perfectly beating each stage, getting past a stage they don't care about becomes a matter of grinding (play until enough hazards are gone that they can get through). It's also fairly specific to the type of game you're working on, a single-player relatively-static (I assume) obstacle course experience. Still, I hope you find the idea helpful in some way.

Josh Foreman
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That is a very interesting idea, Bernard. Thanks! I'm not sure if it's in scope for this practice project, but I'll seriously consider it. I have something similar currently planed. Not eliminating the hazards themselves, but powerups that diminish their severity. I want to have a speed boost (for blasting through monsters) a slow (help navigating narrow ledges) Invincible (can't be knocked around by traps or monsters and will float over holes) and magic attack that lets you kill monsters easily. I plan to have these powerups randomly distributed in the levels, dropped (small %) from monsters, and daily play bonuses, as well as available for gems, or real money via gems.

Matthew Annal
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I think it's interesting that you think difficulty spikes must be a bad thing. IMO a game should not get harder with every level that passes or once a player does get stuck they will give in knowing there is only more pain at the other side of the level they can't beat. Ideally you do challenge the player a little more every few levels then bring the difficulty back down afterwards. Also another way to look at it is not to look at how hard something is but how satisfying it is once the player does pass it.

Matthew Annal
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I think it's interesting that you think difficulty spikes must be a bad thing. IMO a game should not get harder with every level that passes or once a player does get stuck they will give in knowing there is only more pain at the other side of the level they can't beat. Ideally you do challenge the player a little more every few levels then bring the difficulty back down afterwards. Also another way to look at it is not to look at how hard something is but how satisfying it is once the player does pass it.

Josh Foreman
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I believe what you are describing is illustrated in the Flow channel diagram by the wave-like line in the middle. Yes, difficulty should never be a completely flat, linear line. But it's also almost impossible to make that happen anyway! I guess our disagreement comes down to how we would define a 'spike'. For example, boss fights are usually designed to be difficulty spikes, but ideally they stay within the Flow channel.

Matthew Moore
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One of the best microtransaction items I've seen in a recent game is in Super Stickman Golf 2. It's a mark on your power meter that shows the power used on the last shot. If you're good, you can play without it; if you buy it, it doesn't make you any more powerful. It is simply an aid.

What sorts of aids could you sell in a labyrinth-style marble game? Maybe a tilt meter (power, direction), a ghost that leads through the best path (though you still need to execute), a level preview flyover, or anything else that gives you information/history without affecting the actual mechanical play.

If you want to skirt the line a little more tenuously, then you could give a power to everyone—brakes, time slowing, hoverball, whatever—and then sell the ability to use it more frequently. That way every player can take advantage of the ability when it is strategic to do so, but those who are having trouble can use it during the panicky moments as well.

Personally, I think you've already solved your difficulty/progress problem by virtue of your core design. If the player can guide the ball toward multiple different target holes in each level, and if target holes reward greater points for more difficult paths, the presumably players can make it to the end of the game by hitting the easiest hole on each level. If they then feel up for the challenge, they can replay the game trying for harder holes and greater points. That doesn't need microtransactions, just some smart level design.

Michael Metully
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What if you made it free, but only if the flow of the game was broken.

So a player is playing and they hit a wall. A good or average player might be able to grind through it. A bad player will quit the game.

What if they knew when they quit that there would be a way to skip that wall when they returned, but only on return?

So, back in the shoes of the player. They've been grinding and unable to progress. Now give them a message, 'If you're stuck, come back later and we will help you progress.'

As a serious player I might even take this offer, however I wouldn't want to. It would break my game flow.

Raul Aliaga
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Sounds like a metrics & balancing issue for me. The main problem is that you will have different audiences, and you're not sure how to adjust the game to all those audiences, right? Bernard Badger already gave great suggestions, and my additional two cents would be:
* Come up with lots of options/features for players to self adjust their difficulty (not thinking necessarily of monetization).
* Sort those options/features in order of "inclusiveness", as in "How can I introduce sequentially over time each one of these features"? This might reshape these features a little.
* Test the game with several people, hopefully people that fall under each of the groups of audience you expect to have.
* Tune these features according to said testing.
* Incorporate analytics into your game to large-scale measure the things you saw on the play testing sessions.

Ideally, you would be able to set an initial balancing for your game and then measure from your actual audience how to tune it later or even which options/features to introduce over time.

Something people tend to forget about free to play it's that is more than a business model, it's also a production framework in terms of games as a service. Therefore, all I'm saying here is to think how to set up your game as a service you can tune once you get an actual audience, and then with actual numbers on your hands you can see what particular features are more valuable or would be more reasonable to include as monetization features, through the voice of your actual players.

Erik Hu
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Flow Channel Wave (from “The Art of Game Design” book by Jesse Schell)
Previous line copy paste from:

Lars Kroll Kristensen
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Seems to me, the obvious solution for your game is to sell continues.
"Flow" in your game is interrupted when the player falls into a hole: Give the player 3 free respawns each day (non-cumulative). Let the payer buy packs of respawns at 5 for $1, offer these packs whenever the player dies.

Simple, and probably effective. All players can choose to ignore the replay option, and play the game through on their own power without "cheating". Players that get frustrated at a particular level, can pay their way through that level.

Whether or not you feel that this is an "ethical" mechanism, I'll guarantee you that some will agree, and some will disagree. In the end, what matters is that you make something you personally find ethical, and that you make some money on your game.

Huy Tran
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IMHO, there're some other kinds of "pay wall" and their locations we can choose to set up:
- "Time/life": block the player playing the game too long in a section. So if it's the players' bad-luck day or holiday, they may consider to PAY.
- "Be the Top": All players can finish the game. That's okey. But to become Top one, you have to buy Power-Up, PAY to unlock Torment mode, ...
- "Complete the game in other ways" : new char with new play style ...
Any many more I guess. The pay wall by a difficulty spike in gameplay flow should be our final solution, when the producer put a knife on our neck, or the bank will kick us out of the house tommorrow.

And because those situations happen very regularly, try to give the players as many ways to pass our spikes as possible:
- PAY (money, Ads, viral ...)
- Skill
- And grinding (... keep playing, you will save enough money to buy the holy sword ...)

"Dear players, I have protected you by all of my powers. Live well !!!"