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Forcing the Hard Currency in F2P Games
by Mikkel Faurholm on 04/22/14 05:10:00 am   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.


Depending on the game, a very closely calculated time in the gameplay comes, when the give-aways stop. No more free Diamonds for you Sir! The cost of objectives are getting too high to allow the player to keep spending hard currency without having to purchase any through IAP. 

Letting a player dodge the time gate in the first few instances of the game are very deliberate, trying to engage the player to a level where they feel a combination of ownership and a good portion time invested, for that specific game. But when it ends, players are forced to invest in hard currency to keep avoiding the time gate, keep playing (...and 'have fun') 



The recipe is fairly clear. Over the last few years, games have 'perfected' the way the get the player engaged/addicted, which is why, independent of theme, you'll sometime feel like you've played the game before. But there are those who swing and miss.


Lets look at some examples where games, in their attempt to get the player used to spending the hard currency, forces it too much. In some of the games it is just entertaining to call their bluff and sometimes, the game potentially looses players and revenue instead.


An example could be what i'd like to call 'plot-driven encouragement', to use hard currency like you see in Clash of Clans.


"Quickly, the bad guys are approaching. We need some type of defensive structure to hold them back"



You build a cannon to protect yourself, and you see that the structure will be about a minute under way. But the 'helper' pops up and tells you to stop being so stingy, with the 500 free Gems the game provide you with, a few minutes ago. For the small price of one gem, that minute of building time will go away, and you'll be ready for the attack in time. I would bet close to 100% of players listen to the generous and helpful lady and spend the one gem.




What happens if I refuse? What if I just wait the full minute and save the gem for later? Yep, you guessed it, absolutely nothing happens. The choice to decline the speed-up has no consequences, except waiting the minute. I'm tempted to say, of course nothing happens. why? Because the game would never risk introducing consequences this early in the game. 

Say the cannon did not complete in time, the women and children were stolen, and the town was burned to the ground - and the player was asked to start over? naaah, right? Their bluff was called, and I don't feel cheated, because the cost was so low. So this actually ends up being something that the player can faintly laugh about and move on - waiting the minute or not.

Lesser games unfortunately didn't succeed in doing so. Lets have a look at Social Point's 'Monster Legends Mobile'.


The creators of Dragon City, have made what feels like a sequel, and why not? Dragon City had huge success. But in Monster Legends Mobile, they took a few things for granted. An example of this is the first time the player is asked, during the tutorial, to hatch a Dragon Egg. The screen below appears. 


Finishing the hatching process can be instantly completed for the small fee of one gem (hard currency) - but it will be completed in 4 sec if the player decides to wait. or will it? My thought process was this; (based on the prior experience from games like Clash of Clan) 

The hard currency can often times strategically be used more efficient than what the game suggest. This is some hardcore casual gaming, i know. But looking at my provided gem stash in Monsters Legends at this point is only 5 gems.


Spending 20% of my hard currency or waiting 4 seconds. Not the hardest choice I have had to make, so I'll just wait the 4 seconds and claim my reward. After a few seconds of waiting, the player will notice that the 4 seconds countdown is not a countdown. It does not change. Then it hits you. I have to use the hard currency. 

Honestly? This is just terrible game design, user interface design and user experience. I have no problem with the game trying to force the spending of hard currency on me, and paying a single gem for the hatching of a fire-breathing dragon sounds pretty damn cheap, but this game is simulating a choice that I don't have. 


Let me quickly fix 

your game design Social Point.



The way Monsters Legends Mobile expect user behavior, end up having a very negative effect for players that realize this, myself included.  This is of course a very simple example where, again, most players won't even realize is there, because they just follow the orders of the orange arrow. Sloppy game design that just rides the wave of 'what everyone else did', but not balancing the cost vs. the waiting time. 

Implementing this type of affordance of the use of hard currency can quickly backfire, and players will much rather be forced to spend hard currency than being fool into thinking they are making a choice. Stop lying to the players, and just be honest about your agenda and be careful with the choices, or non-choices, you present to your players. You might end up robbing yourself.


There are loads of examples of this type of game design, where the hard currency was too much in focus. Making it big in the world of F2P games requires the game design and the monetization to co-exist and help each other - you can't focus too much on one or the other. Do you have examples of games trying to trick you into spending? Let me know.


Jump over to for more or reach me @appcrimes

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Oscar Clark
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Nice piece! Only though is that there is the assumption that we 'must' force players to use hard currency and whilst you are right a lot of games take this view I believe its a false premise.

The benefits of engaged free players,where they are harnessed to deliver social context, loyalty and hopefully virality is often underestimated and without these players we are unlikely to create the conditions needed for commercial success overall.

My biggest problem is this approach is monetisation for its own sake and not good game design. It doesn't entertain, it doesn't demonstrate real expected future value (although arguably it fakes it), it doesn't make the game better. But it does give me a reason to buy which is why it (currently works).

I still think we can do better.

Monetisation needs to be (like data) a design tool and not the other way round.

Good stuff!

Mikkel Faurholm
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Thank you Oscar. Really appreciate the feedback.

You're right about it being a false premise. I think there are examples of games moving in the right direction, instead of squeezing that lemon even further.

Some games just seem forget that it is a very small portion of the players that actually pays and focus on the monetisation, neglecting to nurture or even build a community. Some games seem to solely depend on a modified version of successful ways to monetize. They forget that the reason for e.g. Candy Crush's overall success, is because of a huge community that do not feel obligated to buy to have fun. Some 90 million DAU will naturally be a strong mating call to the whales of the world, especially in the more social/competitive games.

We can do better, especially in regards to the, going out on a limb here, the arrogance of the publishers that bring strong IPs to the appstore e.g. Dungeon Keeper and Rollercoaster Tycoon 4 Mobile. These games do not bring great or good or even mediocre experiences. Why not try to bring what worked as means of engagement in the original games, over to the mobile version of their games, building that community and exactly, create the conditions needed for commercial success.

Alessandro Ituarte
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Hah! This is something I am always looking out for!
I find it really ironic that managing and maximising the few free gems a game throws your way has become a game in itself for some.

I think the issue is that spending limited hard currency on actions that can be accomplished by waiting or playing will inevitably feel inefficient by players avoiding to spend money. They will hoard those gems to spend on more permanent benefits, like hiring an extra worker or getting an extra production slot. And since those one-time premium purchases are not the real money makers anyway, maybe having them doesn't make much sense in the first place.

I presume that's why games like Boom Beach removed those premium permanent benefits altogether (there are no extra workers) so players have no reason to hoard the gems, they are only there to spend on short-cuts, so people won't be as judicious with their free gems.

Mikkel Faurholm
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Thank you for your comment, hope you liked the piece and I think you're right Alessandro. It will feel inefficient, and I've seen players restricting themselves from using hard currency, discarding it as part of the game.

An interesting thing about 'aggressively affording' the spending of hard currency is that, even in games like boom beach, players will find their optimal/comfortable strategy to spend the hard currency when what it is spend on is still optional. Whether it be on troops or time-costly upgrades, the time of conversion will kick in at some point.

In boom beach's example I figure it is around level 7-10, and it is so interesting to see how the hard currency no longer holding the same value, end up looking a lot like what soft currency have been for the last 6 months.

Curtiss Murphy
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The new standard will be Boom Beach - there is so much solid science in how they have monetized. I predict we'll all be talking about it in a few months.

PS - Boom Beach is already #7 and it's going to take #1 once the ad spending really kicks into over drive.

Mikkel Faurholm
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I agree that Boom Beach did so many things right and i'll too bet that we'll see the standard shift towards how Boom Beach is doing it.

What is really interesting to me, in relation to Boom Beach future position on the charts, is whether or not the solid monetization can make up for the fact that Boom Beach hasn't got as strong social features as their two other games, Hay Day and Clash of Clans.

Don't get me wrong i'm not saying that Boom Beach won't surpass the others because of it, but it will be interesting to see how it evolves. Do you think it'll be a hindrance for them?

Julian Cram
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Hi Mikkel,

What do you think of the monetisation on Trials Frontier?

Mikkel Faurholm
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Hi Julian

Well this is an interesting one, with loads of aspects to consider. In relations to my post above here are my 2 cents for Ubisoft and Trials Frontier.

The introduction to currencies, both coins and gems, is way too late. only after the second (or third) mission you are proper told what coins are and how to get them. about 30-45 min and 8-10 missions into the gameplay, gems are introduced. Don't get me wrong I know they've been there all the time, but the first few upgrades that you make on your bike are paid with coins, and the waiting time is much too short for anyone to realize that you can speed it up.

Its a balance that all too many games get wrong. Why enable me to speed up a 5 sec upgrade with a currency that you haven't introduced me too yet?

Like with the Social Point example above, some designs play too much on what they expect the player to know from previous games. The game should really let the player make informed choices to use the hard currency.

In Trials Frontier the actually manage to hide the hard currency form the player until level 4-5, which is a huge mistake. The trick is to introduce the player the hard currency as early as the gameplay allows, affording players to spend these, so when the time of conversion comes, player are so used to spending hard currency, the player feel it naturally to spend a few pocket change (or more) to keep that flow going.

I think i'll do a write up on some of these games that continuously get it wrong.

Mikkel Faurholm
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reviewing my last statement, it can be interpreted as rather arrogant-bastard-ish, so I wanted to elaborate.

"...continuously get it wrong" is a dumb expression. I have no way of determining if the introduction to the currencies in Trials Frontier is thought of as the best way to monetize, again, focusing on the monetization here.

In my opinion, the game could have generated a lot more revenue, than it is right now. A fun/familiar gameplay and a decent storyline to back it up, but I don't think it'll make a significant profit.