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Building an In-Game Store for the First Time? Here are the 4 Keys to Success
by Yaniv Nizan on 05/03/13 02:42:00 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.


So you have a great concept for a mobile game and you have heard that free 2 play games with in app purchase is the way to go but you are not sure where to start. Guess what? You are not alone. Designing a good in-game store is very different than designing the core of the game and many game developers are unsure about how to do it right.

Let me take you through some of the keys to designing a store that users will enter frequently and hangout in for long periods:
  • Put the store where user can find it and make it a natural part of the game loop
  • Create items that players use in your game every day
  • Make the store experience an interesting one
  • Limit continuous game play
If you implement these elements in your game you are significantly increasing your chances to succeed. Adding a few of these is good but if you want 3 stars try to get them all. Here is more specific advice about each one of these:

Put the Store Entrance Where Users Are
Getting users to naturally enter the store as part of the game flow is very important. Let's check a few methods for achieving this. If your game has levels, it should be easy enough for you to add a button to the store from the screen that notifies the user about a successful level completion. What if your game is a 'survival mode' type game or 'endless runner'? No problem. These games have limited sessions that usually end with a summary screen. This will be the right place to put your store button. Designing other types of games? If you implement the 4th tip you would actually break the game to sessions and would be able to use the session end screen. Alternatively, you can add the store button to screens that notify the user about achievements.
You can also use virtual goods that requires users to activate or equip them and use the store as the interface for picking the active character/vehicle/weapon. This will help you get users to the store more frequently.

Add Items that Players Need Regularly
Ok, so the store is now accessible from every screen in the game but why would user want to enter it? Let's think about the real world. The store that we enter the most is the one that sells the product we use and consume every day. Let's create some goods like that and make them easy to buy with game coins. How easy? The user should be able to collect enough coins in 1-3 levels or a few minutes of game play. The good itself should be regularly consumed and should make it easier for the user to collect more coins. If you do this correctly you end up with a consumption loop that brings the users to the store almost every time the user plays the game.

Here is how to make a good regular use good:
  • Make it complement the game store (banans for a monkey, fuel for a car, ...)
  • Price it so that user can earn enough to buy it within a few minutes of game play
  • Create an item that is fun to use and makes the game more engaging with it
  • Give the item powers that will make earning coins easier
Design an Engaging Store
You should also give the user reasons to spend time in your In-App Purchase store. Think of ways to make the store engaging and interesting for a long time - extend the variety, add some mystery and try to keep it fresh. If you want to look at a good example of store variety - look at CSR racing. That store has over 2 million items you can buy. You can also add mystery by using silhouettes to hide an item until the right time has come. This helps in keeping the user engaged and curious about what the store has to offer. The last bit is to keep your store fresh by adding items, unlocking items and even featuring seasonal items and limited editions.

Add Limits and Breaks to The Gameplay
If you want to really play it like the pros, you need to limit the user ability to play endlessly. This is a bit tricky so you will need to approach this carefully and be careful not to annoy your users. The best way to do it is by experimenting with different levels of limitations and measuring the impact on users until you reach the sweet spot. If you do choose to explore this direction, you should design a resource that is consumed naturaly in gameplay and automatically adds up as time goes by. Candy Crush Saga, has 'lifes' and in other games you can see fuel or energy. When the user runs out, she can choose to do one of three things: buy more, stop playing and come back later or wait inside the game. If you followed the rest of the advice, the option of staying inside the game and visiting the store should be a likely choice for a user who wants to kill some time.
I already wrote about the risks in the last tip but if you look at the top games, most of them have some version of it. You just have to make sure you are balancing it correctly. I will discuss how to do it in one of my next posts.

Will be happy to discuss more about this or any other game economy design topic. You can find me at Google Plus , the SOOMLA blog or on Twitter. 

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John Keyser
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"Add Limits and Breaks to The Gameplay."

Don't ever do this with any product that you're charging someone for. Gamers don't want preset breaks, they want to take breaks when they feel like they need them. Shadiness of this entire article notwithstanding, the more you artificially limit a game for the purposes of making more money (not, say, limiting a level to provide challenge) the less likely you're going to be taken seriously by gamers. Developers absolutely should be allowed to profit from their work, just don't pull the rug out from under your customers when (and if) they're hitting a stride.
What if you bought a c.d. that stopped halfway through or a shirt that you could only wear once a week?

Rindel Ryan Ibanez
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That's also the thing I felt was wrong while reading this topic. Don't you want your players to be able to play as long as they want and with that comes addiction that would make them wanna be better. Have better gear, items, and etc. and they would choose to buy items that gives them this satisfaction. I think that's better than forcing them to buy something by limiting their gameplay.

Yaniv Nizan
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Hi @John Keyser, thanks for your comment. The article is indeed intended for free 2 play games. I completely agree that trying charge for the game and then selling something in it is a bad practice. In other words, no double dipping is allowed here :-).
As I mentioned in the last tip. Adding breaks and limits should be applied with great caution. If you are adding limits and breaks to make more money you are likely to fail. The focus should be on creating a game that has an engaging economy mechanics in it. Games that have successfully implemented that, tend to generate better player engagement compared to games that are only about shooting and running.
BTW, regarding the shirt analogy. You buy a shirt but you can't wear it continuously, so in the game of life the shirt virtual good has built in limits as well...

Yaniv Nizan
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@Rindel Ryan Ibanez, great comment as well. Getting players addicted to buying better gear with in-game currency is exactly what this article is about. I never recommended forcing users to pay with cash in the store. The limits I was referring to were about getting users to the store to help them spend their in-game coins.

xavier nicolas
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I would suggest to introduce the store's exp in the FTE. But it has to be done wisely and smartly. This will encourage players to check out the store's items also. Furthermore, a good pricing and welcome's box might help to let them experience a "Paying Player Experience". Of course if the game is well designed and fun enough, players will uncover the store by themselves...

Yaniv Nizan
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Great comment. Many games are starting the users with a few in-game coins and using a tutorial to guide them to the store where they buy their first weapon,car, ...