With F2P and freemium models so prominent today, it’s more important than ever for game developers to focus on quality in-game store checkout design. But, most game developers aren’t e-commerce experts. I’ve met a number of developers that don’t fully realize that they could actually be losing money when there is friction in the purchase process, a lack of promotions or an overall poor shopping experience. Players can get frustrated with the process of purchasing virtual items and either walk away all together or keep playing for free, without scooping up that special $.99 weapon or level upgrade.
Therefore, it’s worth it for game companies to consider taking a cue from other more “traditional” online businesses while applying some basic e-commerce best practices to improve the in-game shopping experience and ultimately boost player conversion.
Before I get to some of those best practices, I’d like to point out a study by the Baymard Institute. They found that on average, 67% of online shoppers abandon their shopping cart leading to lost revenue for many online businesses. However, among the top 100 performing e-commerce websites, some of which included Crate & Barrel, Symantec, Cabela’s, American Eagle Outfitters, Sears, Microsoft and GameStop (full list here: http://baymard.com/checkout-usability/benchmark/top-100):
Does your store integrate these traits? These merely scratch the surface in terms of design components that successful online businesses utilize. So, how can you increase sales and player conversion? Enter the 4 E’s of E-Commerce, which I’ve seen prove successful with traditional online businesses and which can also be applied to games:
Ease of Use & Design Simplicity
This is a big one! The checkout experience should be seamless, yet customized. Branding should be consistent, even during checkout. In fact, branded checkouts have a 30% higher conversion rate than a generic checkout. Ensure that players still feel like they are “in” the game vs. pulling them out to another website for their purchase. A fully integrated store that feels natural for the player to access, but is also easy to find, is super important.
In addition, players should have the option for one-click purchasing, so that game immersion remains intact and that the purchase process is simplified. Your returning players who have purchased an item before and are willing to purchase again are your best customers, so make it easy for them to purchase again (without having to re-enter their information unnecessarily). The fewer steps you have in checkout, the better.
Visual simplicity is also key. Keep unnecessary elements off the checkout page – like sidebars, extra navigation, etc. These often confuse the customer. And try to think about how you want to lead players through checkout with visual cues – like arrows, etc. Having a linear structure to checkout usually also leads to greater conversions.
Engage in a Familiar Way
Every great checkout experience should cater to the player in terms of language, currency, and payment options. Localizing checkout can improve conversion rates by more than 25%! I like to use the example of a lemonade stand - the transaction that happens here is one of the simplest. $.50 for a cup. Done. But, if that Lemonade stand did not accept cash that would be an issue, right? An in-game store is no exception. Provide the player with as many ways to purchase and provide them with options that they are comfortable with.
According to a 2012 study from the Gates Foundation, the World Bank and Gallup World Poll, 50% of people in the Western world do not own a credit card. Some people either don’t own one because it does not make financial sense and others just choose not to have one. So, offering multiple payment options is important to monetization.
It is also important to provide players with a secure payment environment, so that they feel comfortable. Communicate with players that your store is secure with the appropriate security logos and certificates. Providing real-time support during the checkout process can also help players feel right-at-home in your store.
Entice them to Purchase More
…through promotions and compelling products.
Beyond the checkout experience itself, it is important to think strategically about what coupons, special offers, cross-sell and other promotions might help boost sales, but also benefit player’s gameplay and allow them to have more fun. 80% of e-commerce shoppers are more likely to buy, if they have options in terms of what to buy and promotions, according to Javelin Strategy & Research. Offer your players exclusive items with an expiration date, one-time sales, or holiday promotions.
This “E” also has a lot to do with the product itself. In your case, that means virtual items, which should always enhance the player experience and ensure maximum fun. In other words, don’t put crappy stuff in your store. Items should be described in detail, so the benefit is clear and people understand why they should buy that particular item. It is also important to keep your store fresh with new items added frequently, giving people a reason to come back.
One last note regarding virtual items and promotions…variety is a good thing. But, there is a marketing phenomenon known as “choice paralysis.” When a buyer is given too many options, they may be confused and then opt out of a purchase. Keep this in mind, as you expand your store over time. Sometimes it may make sense to “retire” items from the store.
Expand Revenue Opportunities
…with hybrid models, analytics and testing.
The debate of whether to adopt a subscription model or a free-to-play / microtransaction model or some hybrid mix of the two has been discussed in the game industry for some time. From my perspective, it is always smart to explore subscription models on top of virtual items sales. It may not work for everyone, but at least consider it. In the e-commerce space, we see that subscriptions can lead to a steady stream of revenue and people still are willing to buy even beyond their subscription.
In addition, real time tracking of sales data is integral for the success of any online business. The adjustments that happen to your store and virtual item offerings as a result can help maximize conversions – do more of what is performing well and less of what isn’t.
And finally, A/B or multivariate testing can also come in handy to determine the best look-and-feel, checkout process, and items for sale. Just like every great game requires great testing, your store itself should see just as many tests.
From outside the industry, I hope this information is helpful for online game developers and sparks a re-evaluation of their in-game stores. But, for some additional resources, I also suggest checking out SmashingMagazine.com, which features many articles about e-commerce store optimization. BlueSnap, my company, also recently released a brief white paper that summarizes some of the above points, which you can download here.