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The new rules of monetization
The new rules of monetization
September 6, 2012 | By Staff

September 6, 2012 | By Staff
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    15 comments
More: Social/Online, Design, Business/Marketing



As part of Gamasutra's latest feature, consultant Ramin Shokrizade pens some rules of monetization design -- based on his observations about the way players really act in games.

Microtransactions and the "pay to win" problem have caused headaches for game designers and players alike. The former have misstepped in how they introduce monetization elements in their games; the latter can feel alienated by the business model.

Shokrizade, a game industry consultant, writes that there are simple rules for applying monetization -- ones that make sense when you realize that "supremacy goods," or items which confer unassailable advantages on certain players, simply ruin the game and cause a downward spiral for monetization. He details this concept in his feature, but here, we've extracted his simple rules:

Don't allow microtransactions to be stacked an unlimited number of times. If you let someone buy a 50 percent boost an unlimited number of times, and they buy 40 of them, it will be like Godzilla stomping on Tokyo...

Make your price menu so simple that a novice will understand it the first time they read it. If reading the Encyclopedia Britannica is fun for you, you are so self-entertained that there is no game we can provide you that will make your life even better.

Allow multiple price points, but keep the number of choices a single digit at all times. If my eyes start bleeding and it takes me two days to read all the items in your premium store, I'm gonna make Santa put coal in your stockings. Remember, it's a game, not a Sears catalog.

Make them earn it (I also call this "play to pay"). No one wants to see a new player walking around with something it took you six months to earn. By the same token, a person will feel more prestige having something earned and paid for, rather than just paid for. Make them earn the item before you let them buy it.

Most virtual goods change in value over time. Most goods drop in value over time; some don't. How this works is a bit complex, and analytics apps don't know how this works any better than you do. I will give an example in the next section.

Experts only - Gamify your microtransaction model. Make a microtransaction purchase a strategic decision. You can do this by limiting how often or when players can purchase one, or better yet give every boost some disadvantage along with it. This is more difficult. Make sure you are comfortable with the first five rules before trying this one.

The full feature, in which Shokrizade explains precisely how supremacy goods warp game designs -- and analyzes three free-to-play games, including League of Legends, to illustrate good and bad monetization models -- is live now on Gamasutra.


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Comments


GameViewPoint Developer
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Lots of good points which I'm sure are very important but at the end of the day however you monetize, making a great game comes first.

Ramin Shokrizade
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As a designer I am intuitively inclined to agree with you, but I think the days of when you could separate game design and monetization successfully are over. Trying to make the game first and then monetize it afterwards will yield poor results.

GameViewPoint Developer
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@Ramin totally agree, monetization has to be integral to the planning and execution of the game design but if your game is not that great, it won't make any money regardless of how thought out the monetization is.

It's a big change of course, in the old days, you had to think about price point and that was that, and coding, gameplay mechanics, sound, art, presentation were the "real" components of the project that needed time, thought and talent put into them, nowadays however monetization needs to be added to that list as a core component of the process.

But I still think that's all about how to exploit your (hopefully) successful gameplay mechanic to it's maximum potential, rather than something which can salvage the situation if your game isn't up to much.

Maria Jayne
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"play to pay" - make them earn it.

That's a tricky one, personaly if I decide to spend money on something, I want it. The money I'm spending I have already "earned" in the real world. If you devalue that, I'm not sure if I would want to give you my money.

I think a better system is having both options as a seperate means to earn something, and then distinguishing the two via a skin. For example I can buy a gold plate helmet for my knight or I can quest for a Black plate helmet by playing the game. Statisticly they are the same item, what you are buying is the time and effort it takes to earn it in game vs in the real world.

This still provides the paying customer the option for going for the black helmet if they want and it still gives the questing player something worth buying if they want that particular colour. Now you create an entire set of this armour in black and gold and you have a means to earn it via paying or playing. As long as the money you pay isn't a lot, you may well find players earning both sets, which adds human content to your game and money to your revenue.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Maria,

I'm reluctant to allow players to purchase game objectives in any form, for the reasons I detail in the full paper. If you have to earn something before I let you buy it, then you get it as soon as you pay for it, not later, so I don't understand your first comment.

Maria Jayne
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If I have to earn something before I can buy it, what am I earning and why do i still need to spend money?

Do you see the people wanting to spend money in-game spending hours of their time to unlock that opportunity? It would seem a barrier to those customers.

If you spend 6 months earning something you can buy on day one, isn't that your choice? how could you be angry if you decided to do that and somebody else doesn't. I think I would be more angry if I spent 6 months earning something and then the game told me I had to spend money anyway.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Maria,

There are ways to make this work that players will accept and perhaps even prefer, but I do not want to give specific solutions here in this medium since this is what I do for a living. Suffice it to say that it is possible, but you have to think outside of current boxes.

Jacob Germany
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Every time I see an argument for modern casual games and microtransactions, I see people inevitably and in the majority claim that they have less and less time for traditional games. It's easier to simply pay a little to skip what might otherwise take a lot of work.

So... like Maria asks, who is going to invest time, and then invest money after? I'm not sure I want to see the future of gaming as requiring more and more investment from my life. Seems like it would be easier to simply not play such a game.

Maria Jayne
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@Ramin,

Fair enough, hopefully one day we'll see this concept in a game, because I honestly don't see how it's attactive to a player.

Alex Satrapa
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Examples from games you probably already play include faction armour for raiders in World of Warcraft. You have to grind rep with a particular faction in order to gain access (or "earn") the particular armour or weapon or ring or trinket. Then you have to buy it from the vendor.

E Zachary Knight
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Maria,

To me, when I read "play to pay" I thought more along the lines of level requirements. Say your armor has a certain minimum level required before wearing it. In the pay store, you would still need to be at that minimum level before buying the gold plate helmet. So you still have to earn the right to not just buy, but also wear the helmet.

I am sure that there could be other ways to achieve the same goal, but that was the first thing that popped into my head.

Maria Jayne
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@ E Zachary

hmm, I suppose it all hinges on how much fun the game is to play normally, and how easily you can progress. I just think having a barrier to paying gamers is a contradiction, because the guys that like to grind out levels in games without paying, aren't typicaly your bread and butter income.

For those guys it's almost a badge of honor to have gone so far without paying and suddenly you need them to spend money to get your initial income, because nobody else has "earned" it yet.

Lex Allen
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I thought this was interesting. I'm more curious about what the future of monetization is outside of ads and microtransactions.

WILLIAM TAYLOR
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"or better yet give every boost some disadvantage along with it."

But wouldn't this create a situation where the most neutral and non-stat damaging way to play would be to NOT purchase in game items?

David Fried
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@Maria - You're exactly right, it's a badge of honor for them to get so far without having paid anything. So much so, that if you were to sell a badge of honor that displayed over their character, which they must purchase, and it has no other benefit than to say - Hey, I got to Level X in Y amount of time... They just might buy in.

Ramin's main points are something I've been pushing towards for the last 3 years. The basic concept is that we want to monetize more than 0.3% of the player base (as traditional Zynga games do). If you look at models like League of Legends and Hero Academy, which monetize around 15% or higher, you can see how pay to play and pay to win models begin to look pretty fail in the long term.


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