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Playing with money = playing with emotions
by Patrick Miller on 05/14/13 02:51:00 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.


"Playing with my money, is like playing with my emotions."
-Big Worm

Who knew that a quote from Friday would turn out to be a great starting point for a post on microtransactions in game design? (For that matter, do people who like video games even watch Friday?)

First off: if you are reading this and you genuinely think that you will never ever have fun playing a free to play game, go away. There are many ways to sell games and many ways to build them, and there is no One Right Way to do either one. So stuff it.

Now: It’s true that lots of f2p feels soulless and exploitative. Some of this is due to mismanaged expectations, and some of this is due to designers that, at least from my perspective, seem to have a poor understanding of a person’s emotional reaction to buying stuff. They may have mastered an impressive set of psychological tools designed to extract money out of people, but that won’t necessarily make said people feel good about spending that money.

This is, I think, why so many mobile and social games are about monetizing the “whales” (and encouraging high virality in order to better find those whales) and f2p PC games like Planetside 2and MechWarrior Online have to be a little more “honest” because they’re dealing with an audience that is slightly more savvy to psychological manipulation within games (and have plenty of other games to go to if they find the f2p aspects distasteful).

A quick note: By “mismanaged expectations,” I mean that some people are simply appalled by the idea of having a game that explicitly includes money in the design. These people are either very, very naive, or they are ideologically opposed to f2p, and shareware, and subscriptions, and arcade games—and bowling, mini golf, etc. Don’t expect to win these people over with words. (Instead, design a game they want to pay for.)

The fact is, spending money is an emotionally nuanced activity. Yes, everyone hates seeing their account numbers go down and their bill numbers go up, but that is possibly the most superficial emotion we could possible evoke from a transaction, and really, it gets us no closer to learning how to make people feel good for spending money on our games. So I thought I’d discuss some of the things I enjoy spending money on, and the things I don’t enjoy spending money on, in order to perhaps discern potential design hooks that would enable us to design microtransaction-based games that don’t constantly make us feel like we’re getting fucked. (Avid readers may recall that I touched upon this earlier in a column for Game Developer, but I didn’t really get to go in detail.) 

I like spending money on: Upgrades. I like buying new stuff for my car, or my computer; new parts to improve performance, accessories to make them more useful or convenient, and so forth. I like the feeling of testing my upgraded machine to see how much better it performed, or the novelty of using a new toy with an older tool for the first few times. I like having an older, inferior part left over to use in something else, if I want to, like lend it to a friend in need or use it on a spare rig. Part of the fun of buying a new thing is being freed up to reuse the old thing.

MechWarrior Online was particularly good with this because you maintain a hangar full of ‘Mechs, and there were plenty of good reasons to own and maintain a full stable—different variants of a chassis to grind masteries, different combat roles, and so on. So when you replaced a default part with a better part, you could choose to use that default part in a different ‘Mech. Considering most f2p games won’t let you trade items directly with another player (because, presumably, any time a player gets a part from someone other that you, you potentially lost money), this is a pretty good way to still maintain an illusion of “ownership” with virtual goods.

This can apply to consumables, within reason; I like buying healthy food because it’s good for me and is basically an “upgrade” for myself (one which is, like a good upgrade, actually reflected in my body’s quality-of-user-experience) and once it’s gone, its advantage still lasts, which makes me feel good about buying it.

I don’t like spending money on: Paid advantages. One of the reasons MechWarrior Online did it well was because the more-expensive parts often offered higher performance but at higher costs; an upgraded laser might do the same damage and weigh less, but take up more physical space than its default counterpart and cost more to repair if damaged. It strikes the right balance between upgrade and side-grade that makes it a compelling, but balanced purchase instead of pay-to-win.

Also, it’s totally viable to buy these expensive parts without using real money currency, even though some of them cost as much as an entirely new ‘Mech. I didn’t crunch the numbers, but I never felt like any single piece equipment was out of reach with just in-game earned currency alone—just that everything that I wanted, in total, would be too much work to earn without spending a few bucks or spending more time playing the game than I’d like. This really makes it feel like I am electing to spend money instead of grinding, that I’m choosing to expedite my progress instead of do work.

This is, I suppose, is also true if I spend money for a thing that would take 90 years to grind, but knowing that no one would realistically grind for that makes not work so well. Make it so that the things I can only buy with real money simply say to other people, “I liked this game enough to spend money on something,” not “I want to win enough to spend money to win.” Evoking the former feeling builds my sense of investment in a game; the latter cheapens my sense of accomplishment from doing well at a game.

I like spending money on: A good deal. Everyone loves a sale, because it makes us feel like just by virtue of the fact that we are in this store or on this website at a particular time, we have performed a magic trick that makes our hard-earned dollars stretch further. Of course, the flip side of this magic trick is that we end up spending more of those hard-earned dollars than we otherwise would have. This is nothing new to monetization designers; plenty of f2p games use rotating sales and discounts as a way of convincing us to buy stuff.

I imagine that some monetization designers get a bit wary at the thought of discounting too often, for fear that it’ll cause players to wait to purchase a particular virtual good until it’s on sale. This seems silly to me! With real-world goods, we exact a certain tax on people who want the convenience of having exactly what they want, when they want it, and reward people who are willing to wait with a discount. We do this because vendors that have a lot of inventory basically have their money tied up in products that aren’t making them money until their sold, which is no good for them, so they’ll discount the old stock in order to make space and free up budget for the new stuff—even if it means lower profits (or even a loss) on the old stuff.

Likewise, there are some players who are willing to buy your stuff at its normal price in order to have it when they want it, and some who will only buy when they get a deal—because they like the feeling of getting a deal, or because it’s now in their price range, or perhaps a little bit of both. Sales basically give you a chance to engage people who value your in-game stuff at different price points without affecting the long-term perceived value of the product, netting you buyers you might not have otherwise attracted (especially thanks to the impulse buy appeal of a time-limited sale, like a daily deal). And since you’re selling virtual goods that cost you nothing to reproduce and don’t decrease in value over time, I really don’t see any reason not to regularly put things on sale.

I don’t like spending money on: Manufactured inconveniences. I am inclined to point out is that putting something on sale will help persuade me to buy something only if I already want to buy it but cannot (for whatever reason). That is to say, if you try to sell me something that I already don’t want, you won’t have any more luck by cutting the price. And if I think your microtransactions are exploitative or manipulative, I won’t bite. (Even if it’s on sale.) I’ll probably play as a free rider until I run into a squeeze that’s just too painful, and then I’ll quit.

I like spending money on: Bundles.From Extra Value Meals to Humble Indie Bundles, I like buying me a group of things that are each cheaper because my total spend overall is higher than it would have otherwise been. I think the Humble Bundles are a particularly good example because they typically feature a few flagship items that are, for most people, the reason to buy the bundle, and then extra stuff which could be nice to have but that you wouldn’t necessarily go out of your way to buy.

Essentially, the trick to getting me to buy a bundle is to include one or two things that I really want, a few other things which would be nice to have, and a price that basically convinces me to spend a few extra bucks on something I don’t want enough to buy on its own. And it makes me feel good because it’s a sale, plus I get to feel both indulgent and thrifty, because I’m buying stuff I don’t feel like I need enough to purchase at full price (indulgence) and getting a good deal (thrifty).

I don’t like spending money on: Stuff I want in inconvenient amounts. Don’t make me spend more money than I want to simply because what I want is not priced in some arbitrary quantity. Subtract even more points if I will always end up with an annoying amount of leftover money after any given transaction, or if the dollars-to-game-currency isn’t 1:1 (if I have to do math to figure out how much real money I’m spending, then fuck you). Don't sell me hot dogs in packs of six and buns in packs of eight.

I like spending money on: Side bets. I like betting on the outcome of games, whether it’s a game I’m playing on or a game I’m watching. Even putting a dollar on the line makes things disproportionately more entertaining and engaging. Heck, playing fighting games in the arcade has a minor amount of money at stake—the 50c required to continue vs. not having to pay money to play your next game—and that was enough to make people get All Kinds Of Real over it.

Of course, you want people to put money into your game, not pull it out—so don’t let them take it out. People can bet with your real-money in-game currency, and then use that currency to buy other things in-game (or make more bets). They may not be paying with their money, but they’re paying with someone’s, and that’s what matters to you, right?

I don’t like spending money on: Lotteries, raffles, or any kind of luck-based gambling, really. If I wanted to bet real money on a game of chance, I’d play online poker. I hate things that require me to pay money for a chance to win big money big prizes. This applies to luck-of-the-draw card packs (I’m looking at you, Tekken Card Tournament); I hate that I can buy a more favorable random number generator for packs of cards by spending more money.  

I like spending money on: People (or animals) that are important to me. Whenever it’s financially feasible, I like to do nice things for people—paying for a meal or a drink for a friend, buying toys for my cats, whatever my girlfriend wants, etc. 

It’s worth pointing out that when someone does something nice for me, I am inclined to pay that back or forward (say, someone senior buys me lunch, so I buy lunch for someone junior to me), so I end up personally spending more money than I otherwise would, due solely to the feeling of being a Nice Person Who Does Nice Things For People. In other words, I suspect this might let you increase each player’s overall spend just by letting them be nice to each other.

This is a problem, I think, with online games that don’t allow players to trade items with each other. On one hand, yes, it means every transaction should be one that made you money. On the other hand, one of the nice things of owning something is being able to still extract value when you don’t want it any more—by giving it or selling it to someone else, for example. What’s more, I’ll be more engaged with the community if I am buying/selling/trading/donating stuff to people in that community—in other words, if I see it as something I can extract value from.

I don’t like spending money on: Taxes, fees, tolls, parking. (In other words, people/animals/things that are not directly important to me.) I hate having to pay for parking, because I pay for a car, and insurance for the car, and gas to make that car go—I don’t want to pay for the privilege of putting it in a certain place for some time because the entire damn point of a car is that it puts me in a certain place for some time

Likewise, I don’t want to pay for game time, access, stamina, or any other stupid gating systems. I am playing your game because I want to play your game; if you’re going to charge me for the privilege of playing your game whenever I want and for as long as I want, might as well just make it a one-time-payment game and call it a day.

The one exception to this is arcade games, and that is specifically because I am rewarded for being good at your game by being allowed to play the game at a cheaper dollars-per-minute rate than people who suck at your game. This gives me a financial incentive to get good at your game, which can be pretty powerful.

Of course, the hard part is that the set of “people who care about getting good at video games enough to spend significant amounts of money on them” is much smaller than the set of “people who like playing video games enough to spend money on them in general,” so skill incentives end up shrinking your overall viable market. So you end up with stupid time gates that penalize players who like playing your game. In a weird sense, it’s almost a disincentive to get good at the game, since that would require me to play more often (and thus spend more money).

I like spending money on: Admission to events/entertainment. I like spending money that leads to good experiences which build memories—traveling to new places, admission to zoos and parks, concerts, films, etc. Basically, if I like your game enough, I’ll be willing to pay to play it, so you might not have to make it free to play to begin with!

I don’t like spending money on: Admission to events that then demand I spend money. I don’t like spending money on things that simply get me into the building to buy more things—like bougie food events, for example. It might be worth it if whatever I can buy is then priced at a significant discount (see Costco memberships), but then this becomes part of an overall cost-benefit analysis with little additional emotional content to further sell your game.

Which is (at long last!) the point of this post, I suppose. Designing monetization into games can be simply an exercise in psychological manipulation (banking on people with addictive tendencies who are easily manipulated and compelled to over-spend), or it can be a chance to take advantage of people’s real-world emotional connection to money as, essentially, bonus game content—albeit “emotional content” instead of designed game content.

Putting our money where our hearts are

Asking people to spend money is a shortcut to all kinds of potential real-world emotional reactions—reactions that can be challenging to evoke simply with game design or narrative alone. (Bet a dollar with a friend on something competitive and see for yourself.) The thing is that if you don’t design your monetization hooks with a little bit of empathy and human understanding in mind, you’re going to end up creating a weirdly crass, almost psychopathic game which evokes mostly negative emotions (“No, I don’t want to give you money, stop asking”) when you could be taking advantage of certain positive emotional associations people have with money, instead. Microtransactions could actually be something which makes your game more fun, not less, which is good for everyone involved.

--patrick miller 

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Mark Johnson
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Good way of thinking about f2p. One bad flaw however - are you confusing the market with yourself? 'I' 'I' 'I'. Your customers are different, and different from you. eg some people love pay to win.

Patrick Miller
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This post isn't meant to analyze The Market except by way of analogy; I wrote about things that I like and do not like spending money on, in ways that I think other people can generally relate to.

I haven't met that many free-to-play game devs that gladly buy the kinds of things they're selling to other people, and I think that indicates a pretty awful lack of confidence. My hope is that if more people started making free-to-play games they'd actually pay for themselves, we'd see fewer f2p games out there that make the player feel harangued and manipulated.

Aaron San Filippo
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Patrick: Really good point.

Lance Trahan
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"My hope is that if more people started making free-to-play games they'd actually pay for themselves, we'd see fewer f2p games out there that make the player feel harangued and manipulated."

I fully agree with this. It stands to reason that if I'm making a game that I would enjoy playing, as I believe there are others out there much like myself, then I would want a monetization setup that does the same.

Bruce Baria
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I think another thing that belongs in this category, is that if an item is $4.99 just charge me the $5 so I don't have a penny lying about that won't amount to anything unless I cultivate ninety-nine more.

John Flush
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Sorry, I wasn't able to read the article - you told me to go away in the second paragraph.

Patrick Miller
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Glad that didn't stop you from commenting. :P

John Flush
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Me too. I wanted to make sure the writer realized the easiest way to turn people off is be a jerk to them. It is a good soft skill to learn.

Peter Eisenmann
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...or if the dollars-to-game-currency isn’t 1:1 (if I have to do math to figure out how much real money I’m spending, then fuck you).

So you mean if you spend 5 dollars you'd like to receive 5 coins/smurf berries/donuts/whatever?
I don't like that too much. Many in-game items will be worth less than a dollar, so that means you'd have prices of 0.25 coins or something. Also, I prefer to have a layer between real money and in-game currency. Gettings 1000 coins for a buck does look better, even if those coins will only last for four purchases.
But I'd agree that is should be easy to convert (e.g. 1:1000). Bargains are ok though (10:15000)

Patrick Miller
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Nah, it can be 1 cent to 1 unit, or whatever. I just don't want to be mentally converting to dollars each time I think of buying something.

Michael van Drempt
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I think the issue is that it's a deliberate tactic to ensure that there is no simple conversion from money to in-game items so that people have a harder time viewing the in-game purchases as costing real money.

For many of these transactions, there's no good reason why you can't just list the price in actual money; no conversion required at all. Many games don't do that because they're deliberately obfuscating the real money cost. The harder it is to make the conversion, the more people are likely to just ignore it, which in theory leads to people spending more money.

That's the theory, anyway. I think a lot of people who operate like this THINK that they're getting some advantage with their clever little manipulation tactics, when in reality they're just being dicks and losing customers because of it.

Ramin Shokrizade
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I'm ideologically opposed to "pay to win". I am also ideologically opposed to buying gameplay objectives. So I guess here is where we differ. I think an "upgrade" should be something I have to "earn" in-game. Buying something like that takes the fun out of the game for me, to the point where I don't even call it a game anymore. I call these "entertainment products". Now I am not opposed to selling *access* to upgrades or game content, but the player still has to play the game and earn these things.

Torben Jorba
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As we see with Diablo III, a simple ingame "action house" can overlay the gameplay to a point that the main hook of the game is completely gone. People don't play for the fun of it, many play to get certain rare high value objects to sell in the store. To achieve that, they rather buy powerful gear (instead of playing for it) only to get more powerful gear to sell later. This completely perverts the gameplay to some sort of "stock trading" game.

Sure, if you look at it at a monetary level, this might be a full success. But gameplay wise?

Patrick Miller
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I think it depends on the context of the game. I return to MechWarrior Online as an excellent example because it's perfectly feasible to buy upgraded components with earned currency instead of real-money currency (depending on the part, you might be spending a week's worth of earned currency for a high-tier chassis or engine, which is reasonable, I think), and the upgraded components are really more like pricey sidegrades that enable more options but cost more to repair and are easier to damage.

Ramin Shokrizade
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@Torben: Even if D3 was a commercial success (I'm sure it was), these kinds of antics on the part of Blizzard do severe harm to their brand image, which in the past assured everything they made would sell spectacularly. Those days seem to be over now thanks to this one product. Continued attempts like this will have Blizzard chasing EA.

@Patrick: If you can't also buy those same items with cash, then that seems like a great model. But this is, of course, not the case. You can buy these upgrades with real money and thus the game becomes "pay to win easier", which is still pay to win. If the game can be perceived as "fair enough" it can still sell, but your example is not a good way to go about this.

Patrick Miller
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Ramin: Play MWO and tell me what you think. F2P devs that I've talked to characterize P2W as gating off certain items to *only* cash purchases, not offering cash purchases as a way to minimize the grind. I personally prefer this to forcing everyone to grind and paying to avoid access gates.

Lance Trahan
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"F2P devs that I've talked to characterize P2W as gating off certain items to *only* cash purchases, not offering cash purchases as a way to minimize the grind."

This has always been the way I've seen it. People are paying to save them some time in acquiring certain things that everyone can already access through normal play.

Ramin Shokrizade
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I understand this is the prevailing philosophy. I'm just saying that it is poor design, both from a monetization and a retention view. My first large budget AAA game that bypasses this mechanism will show at E3. I wish I could say more now, but you know how it goes with all those NDAs.

Kristoffer Johansson
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I haven't played WMO but from the description it seems a lot like League of Legends.

In league of Legends you can both buy new champions with in game currency or real world currency. This seems to be the case with upgrades in WMO as well.

In LoL, if you buy a champion with real world currency you won't get any advantage over the other players because there is no best champions only different ones. For example one champion is good at taking a lot of damage while others are good at dealing loads of damage.

I think that is the case with WMO (from what I heard in the post), Expensive gear which you can buy from real world currency are not better than the cheap ones they are just different. And if that is so, then it is not P2W. Paying money will give you more gear but not make you a better player or give you advantages,

I have not played WMO thought so it might not be like this in the game

Paolo Gambardella
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Really nice article! By the way I think that in the FTP are entering kind of games with a different type of player than you (and me). For example, gambling games. I am not a gambler in life, so if I were a gambler what kind of things I would like to pay? :)

Thibaud de Souza
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Gamblers pay to win. So, displaying the average return of the game is good practice (all decent online operators do this, don't think I've ever seen anything under 85%).

Gamblers pay to win more. Bigger jackpot = more players.

Varying degrees of frustration are associated with bugs in gambling games so gamblers would also rather NOT pay again for a slot machine that displays an incorrect win amount, or just freezes in the middle of a spin.

In some respects gambling games are very much casual games so polish is also essential here.

Anyway that will be my 2 cents, not from being a gambler myself (did related work for ~ a year).

Thibaud de Souza
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"These people are either very, very naive, or they are ideologically opposed to f2p, and shareware, and subscriptions, and arcade games—and bowling, mini golf".

Running parallels between F2P and arcade games is somewhat interesting.
But, conflating F2P with... shareware?

(Or even, for sake, subscriptions?)

Aside, I don't think there is an ideological opposition to F2P - or at least there wasn't, until F2P advocates felt so ill at ease with the mix of negative response and calm indifference that welcomed emerging F2P models, that they felt the need to qualify these responses as 'ideological' so that they could sophistically reason with the so called ideological reactions.

Truth of the matter being, for a lot of us out there F2P games aren't fun. Not even as fun as a game of dart in a bar.
That a monetization model so consistently drives the production of ignorable, un-fun games is what needs looking into, not the 'ideology' of loyal consumers who agreed to pay hefty sums for well produced (if somewhat convened) boxed products for the past 25 years.

In contrast, 'shareware' is by far one of the most innocuous, least invasive approaches to monetization that's ever been conceived of.

Patrick Miller
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Hey Thibaud, I think we agree more than we disagree.

Whenever I write about F2P anything, I am bombarded by responses from people who are convinced that mixing monetization within game design is automatically a terrible thing for video games. My inclination is to say that bad monetization design = bad game design, and you're right--I see a lot of not-fun F2P games, so we need to step our game up.

Thibaud de Souza
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As a case in point, if a plan to box a product and put a $90 tag on it didn't generate massive design constraints, we'd be living in another world.
So you're having me somewhat on-board here
(short of being entertained, that is!)
Still, pointing out ill-designed monetization techniques is helpful.

Casey Dockendorf
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I think your statement is over-generalizing F2P games and might be lumping them in with the likes of Farmville and Angry birds when in reality several game genres are using the F2P model in a fun and successful way. League of Legends is a prime example of an F2P game that millions of people are enjoying and have surged a trend of developers releasing MOBA games and similar genre's. Saying you don't enjoy playing F2P games as a blanket statement is sort of non-conducive to the overall conversation.

MMO's, FPS games, Puzzle games, MOBA's, Strategy games, and many other genre's all have their F2P counter-parts in the industry. If you enjoy any one of those genre's or the various genre's I failed to mention here than that is contradictory to what you are saying about not enjoying F2P games.

If You have ever purchased an expansion pack or DLC for a PC game you have shown that you persoanlly are willing to pay for extra content attached to games you enjoy. If you have ever bought a key chain or a t-shirt or even the soundtrack with your favorite game/movie/bands logo on it you are showing that your are perfectly willing to participate in a type of micro-transaction purchasing model.

Granted if you haven't done any of those things I mentioned above, than the reality is that the business model just doesn't apply to your game-play type and that is completely okay. Indie devs will keep making inide games for Steam/Ouya/Gamestick and big pubs will keep making AAA games. All of that isn't going to go away just because F2P is a successful business model.

Casey Dockendorf
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Sorry my comment was for Thibaud

Casey Dockendorf
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This is a great article Patrick! In regards to the subject of "I like spending money on: Admission to events/entertainment."

I was having a conversation with a colleague recently about his trip to Disneyland and about how the entire Theme Park is designed in a way to make you spend more money. Of course Disneyland is not "Free-2-play" or "Free-2-ride the rides" or anything like that but it does present you with several different pay options from the very beginning: How many days do you want on your park pass? One? Two? Three? Do you want to buy a fast pass and increase your experience? Do you want to bundle in California Adventure? It even has promotional tie-ins with hotels and certain airlines. These are all similar to things that we see in F2P games like "Pro-Player Packs" or "Legacy Packs" 'Free Coins/Energey/Diamonds". These are all things specifically designed to give the customer the most out of their purchasing experience. You don't own Disneyland, you can't keep it on your shelf, it's not a collector's item, you can't take it with you (unless you spend more money on t-shirts, souvenirs, etc, somewhat of an equivalent to Micro-transactions).

This business model has only become more robust (and expensive) throughout the years. yet millions of people still make Disneyland a part of their life experience. It is a matter of fact that People who want to spend money on entertaining experiences will and do spend money all the time on the things they enjoy. And if that form of entertainment ever went away they would just go find a new theme park (or game in this case) to take it's place.

Kris Graft
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You may have watched Jesse Schell's DICE 2013 talk (sounds like you have!) but just in case:

Casey Dockendorf
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I have watched it and I loved it! Thanks for the link.

Lars Kroll Kristensen
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@Casey: Good observation about Disneyland, but if you want to study the *real* pro's, go to Vegas. Those guys know how to design an entire CITY to suck money out of people.
Vegas is obviously not "Free to play", but it is very interesting to see how they turn things around. It starts when you're shopping for hotel deals: You find out that the list price for hotel rooms in Vegas is ridiculously low. When you get to the hotel, you find out there are a number of extra charges you pretty much have to pay, like "resort fee" etc.
When you get to the casinos, the drinks are free, as long as you gamble. This serves the triple purpose of 1) Luring people to sit at the table, 2) Wait at the table for the free drink you ordered (and play), wait at the table while drinking your free drink (and playing). 3) Getting the customers drunk, so they play worse, and loose money faster.
The rooms are dark-ish. You can never tell, from the interior of a Vegas casino, what time it is out side. Specifically, you can not tell that it is time to quit, so you don't.
If you win, your winnings are paid out in chips. If you're winning a lot, and feeling lucky, there is always a higher stakes table you can move to, to "up your game" (i.e. loose your money faster).
If you *really* win a lot, there are plenty of ways in Vegas to blow silly amounts of cash: Rent a Limo, go to an overpriced show, Eat a 1000$ burger (Yes, it exists), buy an iPhone from a ridiculously overpriced vending machine.
If your win so much, that your resort notices (and they are very good at that), you get offered comped rooms, free tickets to the show tonight, whatever to keep you at the resort, gambling. Because Vegas KNOWS, that in the long run, the house wins.
I could go on. Seriously, Vegas is the PERFECT example of sucking money out of people.

And perhaps the most important thing about Vegas, where it most of all resembles (some) free to play games: It has an emphasis on *turnover*: You sit down at a table with 500$, you play blackjack for 30 minutes, getting lucky. Your 500$ becomes 450$, then 800$, then 200$ then 1200$ then you run into a bad streak, bottoming out at 150$, then a lucky streak and you're at 300$ and you decide to call it a day, and feel good about yourself, even though youve just blown 200$ in a couple of hours, and all you got for your money, was a couple of lukewarm "free" Coronas. The point is, that the bad streak where you lost 1000$ doesn't FEEL like you lost a 1000$. The rapid turnover of money makes you feel rich and empowered.
It also makes that 100$ steak dinner afterwards feel less expensive.

Anyway. Vegas is worth a study.

Casey Dockendorf
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It's funny that you mention Vegas Lars, I actually live din Vegas for 25 years, only recently moved for work. Plus I worked in Slot Gaming for 4 years prior to entering the Video Game industry so I know all about the underlying mechanics and player addiction that is the world of Video Slot Gaming.

Living in Vegas is unlike living anywgere else in the US, I use the Disneyland example because it's more relatable but your comments hit it right on the money.

Dave Long
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It would have been good to break the immersion-breaking issue of having real-world transactions poke their way into the game world - that's one thing about F2P that really irks me, and I'm yet to hear a reasonable counter to it (plenty of "it's no big deal", but they're obviously self-centered responses ignorant that it is actually an issue for many gamers). Yes, some paid up-front games have them as well (Mass Effect 3 is an example), and I find them equally distasteful there, but they're by necessity a much larger factor in the F2P landscape.

Bruce Baria
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In what regards do you mean Mass Effect 3?

Bruce Baria
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I didn't read ALL of the comments, so forgive me if this has already been mentioned.

Another "emotional" impact missing from the article is that many companies are offering f2p but are, in essence, lying. Using Blizzard and WoW (World of Warcraft) as my main example: They're f2p is no more than a demo version of the game. You can only attain a fraction of the max level in game, there is only two ways to communicate with other players (if you're on their friendlist or using default emotes... You cannot even use the basic /say channel) and pretty much no other features. 10 years ago, we would have called that a demo. Maybe it seems OK to call a demo 'f2p' because it's online?

I'm now becoming wary of any game that says 'f2p' because companies are trying to call some short-sighted version of their game that to simply pull in more people. Many of these games also take hours at a time to download (the entire game, mind you) to let you play for a couple more hours and then ask you to buy this 'f2p' game.

Randen Dunlap
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"Don't sell me hot dogs in packs of six and buns in packs of eight."

Couldn't have said it better...........*cough* Microsoft *cough*..... oh wait they are finally fixing that, grats!

Nice article though.

Proxy V
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I found this a very interesting read. Having worked community side before for the F2P model, I can tell you that a lot of the players will say the same thing.

F2P Has evolved in definition from what it was before. It's no longer just a game with an Item Mall for cosmetic upgrades, but for convenience items as well. While I understand when you say, "I do not want to spend money on paid advantages." I don't think this would ever change in a F2P market. Especially for F2P games that have been on the market for several years. At least in my experience, users wanted to spend money on paid advantages (mostly convenience like bonus experience for a month, etc.) to catch up with players who have been playing the game for 5+ years.

Even if in those 5+ years the game has been balanced so it doesn't take years to reach end-game content, there are those who simply do not feel like grinding to get to max or higher end levels to experience the most recent content.

I'd like to see how freemium turns out in the future. I still feel like most freemium should be called demos... but I suppose a new term was needed to gather interest.

Samuel Verner
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i hate this article.

mechwarrior is btw an extremely good example whats wrong with the f2p model. if it would be a fullprice title, then i would be able to buy the same game with everything included for 60 dollar and i would get a singleplayer on top. the same content as f2p version costs you hundreds of dollars and the gamers know that. also the game experience is completely corrupted by the monetization.

here is where i like to spend money on: a complete and for quality optimized - and not monetization optimized - game experience. that's where my positive emotions are.

Richard Carpenter
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You were dead on with the comment, "design a game they want to pay for". However, if the devs could accomplish that, they wouldn't need a F2P model. Including a F2P model in a game that doesn't need it would only be perceived as greed, and rightly so.

I have no problem with a subscription model (my favorite games have mostly been subscription-based), yet I avoid most F2P games, not because I am morally opposed to the practice, but because of everything else it often brings to or indicates about the game. I'm not saying it's not a viable model, just that I view some 8 out of 10 F2P games as worth neither my time nor money. It's often the go-to tactic when the game that's been developed falls short of expectations.

Randy Angle
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A few years back a study was done on game developers on the expo floor at GDC - it was secretly testing the EEG response to various stimuli in video games and the report was comparing what engaged developers and what engaged players - I'm sorry I don't recall the report name, but I do recall that game developers react much differently than game players - game developers minds engage in cut-scenes, while the game player's mind goes into a restful state during cutscenes preparing for the next action segment. Basically we, as game developers are not wired the same as our players. I'm not a woman or a child - but I can make games for both of those audiences by having them participate in the development of those games when I design them. What we as game developers bring is a unique set of skills that allows us to step outside of what we want - and adopt the desires of the people we develop games for - our players.

F2P is a perfectly good business model and with some healthy insight into behavioral economics, social engagement, and appealing to a broad range of player types we can make truly fun games that players are happy to engage with, and be very successful.

I also agree that demo games, episodic games, premium DLC, shareware and various forms of in-game purchase are not F2P - but there is nothing wrong with those business models. Make good games + figure out the right business model + make your players happy = success.