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6 rules for writing F2P messaging your players will actually read
6 rules for writing F2P messaging your players will actually read
November 1, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi

November 1, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi
More: Social/Online, Smartphone/Tablet, Design

Edinburgh's Games Analytics provides, appropriately enough, analytics for games, promising to identify a game's audience so that it can be messaged appropriately. The group just released a new whitepaper about its thoughts on player relationship management, and we found the section on messaging tips for free-to-play games to be particularly useful.

We've reproduced that section of the whitepaper here, with permission.

Once analytics have determined the different player experiences in-game, it is then possible to build personalized experiences with players through targeted messaging.

For example, if a player is finding a mission too difficult and becoming frustrated, messaging can be used to offer appropriate hints and tips, or if they are bored
they could be given incentives or tougher challenges so they remain engaged and don't leave the game.

Social players should be rewarded even if they don't pay to play, as we know their influence far surpasses their direct income generated and high value players are, of course, rewarded for their loyalty and commitment. Games that are able to respond to real-time player behavior will become the norm in the next few years and players will come to expect a level of support and interaction with the games they play, allowing them to progress further and take greater enjoyment from the experience.

1. Less is More

Don't over-message, especially while players work through tutorials in early sessions. I was offered a discount on coins in a casino game the other day even before I had reached the lobby for the first time.

In mobile games, the combination of push notifications, in-game messages, prompts to update the version, offers, daily bonuses etc. can be overwhelming. As you build generic messages into the game design, take a minute to think of the experience from the poor player's point of view.

2. Be Patient

Asking for money before the player has engaged with the game creates retention issues. The first few levels should be about showcasing the game's features and
encouraging desired behaviors e.g. visiting the store or learning to customize your avatar.

Players who do actually spend in the first session tend to want 'instant gratification' but will not necessarily continue to spend and quickly fall out of the
game. Others will fast-track to high value. Once players have passed through the first few levels and 'earned their spurs', they are engaged and so much more
likely to monetize and turn into high value players.

3. Suggest, Donít Instruct

Players do not like to be told; they prefer to discover things themselves. Consequently in-game messaging should hint and suggest rather than instruct and command. Appropriate message tone is vital to create an engaging environment and good copywriting skills are an under-valued asset.

4. Donít Let the Horse Bolt

Don't wait for players to return before you award them with a bonus; if they don't return they'll never know! Clearly sign-post which behaviors will generate rewards.

Being coy is not a good thing in marketing.

5. Triggers Are Good

Similarly, if a player's resources are depleted, make them an offer, or if at an early stage in the gameplay, even gift them some more. If a player repeatedly fails a
mission, you need to take action before it is too late. Implement triggers to enable timely communications.

6. Be Appropriate

Ultimately the most effective messaging is when the player feels it is directly relevant to them. Segment players based on their playing styles to enable you to make relevant offers e.g. weapons and ammo to aggressive players; shields and boosters to passive players; decorative inventory to players who like to customize their character.

There are a variety of reasons why players take the plunge towards first payment. Making an offer that is appropriate is far more likely to succeed than uniform or blunt targeting.

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TC Weidner
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ick... are you designing games or creating squirrel traps. If its all about the money, there are much easier ways to make money in this world.

How did games come to this.

Frank Cifaldi
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Yeah let's all go back to the old days when making video games had nothing to do with money.

TC Weidner
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you are 100% correct.

Gil Salvado
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It's about free-to-play games and not retail games. They don't earn money through purchase. I think, what you and other people don't like about those kind of games is that you can spent unlimited amounts of money for them.

And yes, I work at a studio that does F2P games. And we're paying our bills with the money we earn and no, we don't force people to pay to play. We offer them an option and they can make that decision on their own. Until today, their hasn't been a single user, that went bankrupt because of us.

There's more to this article than improving your f2p games. It's actually about community management. Useful for MMO's and other online games with a strong community which don't use the f2p model.

To be honest. Yes, I'd like to have a payment cap in f2p games. Simply because a user with enough money can tip the whole balance of a server for months. And it would stop people from spending their all of their money for virtual goods.
But as long they spent a reasonable amount per month, I'm the last one to blame them. Because I'm not spending their money for hookers, drugs and my evil empire.

Richard Vaught
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The problem is twofold for me. First, the prices for the digital goods being sold on F2P games is not commensurate with their value. For example, their is a game on Facebook that constantly bombards with requests for me to purchase between $10-$20 dollars worth of their online currency, which having looked through their goods would last perhaps a week. Now, the vast majority of these things that they are selling are not things that are permanent to my account. Instead, they are most often one time use items that are only worth anything because they reduce or eliminate some ungodly long timer so that I can continue playing the game. In short, they are expecting me to PAY THEM FOR MY TIME instead of PAYING THEM FOR THEIR PRODUCT. To my mind, this is the number one problem with most F2P models. If I am giving you my money, I expect something of VALUE in return.

The second issue is that the game is designed in such a way that you can not actively play for more than perhaps 10 minutes at a time before you are forced to wait hours before you you can do anything else. For that same $20 dollars, I could get 1 month of unlimited play on a premium account for practically any AAA MMO on the market, and I wouldn't be spammed by the company begging for more money. So, even compared with other F2P games on the market(many AAA MMO's at this point), they are not offering a commiserate value, not even close.

Bart Stewart
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Not sure about #3. Although the authors appear to distinguish between different styles of play, they then lump them all together to say that "players do not like to be told." The experience of MMORPG designers, I suspect, is that a large percentage of players *demand* to be told exactly what they are supposed to do next, and will quit playing if that direction is not constant and unambiguous. The population of social game players is probably somewhat different (for now), but I'd still be hesitant to claim that all social game players prefer suggested direction rather than flat-out being told what to do next.

Maybe more interesting was this statement: "Games that are able to respond to real-time player behavior will become the norm in the next few years ..." I agree, and it's sort of fascinating to track how the relationship between publisher and gamer has been changing.

With the rise of PC gaming in the 1990s, games were mass-produced and sold to retailers; publishers had no contact with the people actually playing their games. Digital distribution changed that, creating a one-to-one, per-customer relationship for multiple purposes: DRM, system information, and play metrics. Social gaming (as this white paper points out) makes this 1-to-1 relationship with individual customers even closer, watching the player's in-game actions and providing targeted messaging.

DLC promises to take this even further. Although most DLC is still big, developer-created content for the mass audience, not every gamer buys the same DLC. This makes each player's experience of that game a little more personalized. And if player mods are supported (Bethesda games, Steamworks), suddenly every player's experience can be highly customized.

It's not too hard to look down the road a bit and see games being designed to support this apparent trend toward real-time, customer-specific personalization. Imagine being able to pick and choose among hundreds of optional modes of play and content snippets -- each with just a tiny price tag -- or collected into convenient packages grouped by playstyle interests. "Try the Combat Bundle, just $39.99! Bart, we've noticed you tend to enjoy sniping -- you'll love our new Stealth Pack for just $24.99!" It might even be possible to load in such options on the fly during gameplay based on the player's moment-to-moment choices.

I make no judgments at this time as to whether that will be a good thing or not. And of course straight-line projections are always perilous where human behavior is involved. But is there any evidence that this is not the future of game content delivery?

Carlo Delallana
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Dynamically tuned play based on individual tastes and how the game is evolving. Hey, didn't the Dungeon Master serve this purpose?

All roads lead back to D&D :)

Bart Stewart
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They really do, don't they?

Or as I've started thinking of it, every feature that developers of computer roleplaying games have implemented is an attempt to do one thing: replicate a good DM. That is the central problem of all computer roleplaying game design.

Interesting that no one has taken a serious run at cracking that nut yet....

Joshua Darlington
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Building a good AI GM anywhere near human capacity is years off. Better to plug a human into that role.

Per Micael Nyberg
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Different strokes for different folks. There is no business model that appeals to all gamers nor does one have to. It all depends on what your game is, which audience you are aiming for and ultimately what your long-term ambitions are. If you are in the old boxed copy business where fire, forget and on to the next is the tradition you'll know your audience (or at least a majority of it) have an attention span that resonates with your product. The high development and the marketing cost for such game in this day and age and the hit and miss nature of this business model makes investors skittish.

F2P games with their low upfront production and marketing cost, launch early/iterate often nature are built for long term engagement. They are run more like a service. The complete opposite of the classic AAA fire and forget model. Because of this they are less risky/much more attractive to investors, hence we are seeing so many F2P games and reading articles like this on Gamasutra these days. TC do have a fair point though, sometimes these type of games feels like 'squirrel traps'. Some use morally questionable practices that takes advantage of human nature and psychology. It might make a whole lot of sense business-wise but no matter how you slice it, if you are building your game or company on 'dirty' practices it is fundamentally a bad thing. Bad for gamers. Bad for the industry. Heck, its bad for the human race. Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying F2P is bad nor that companies which are using it are morally corrupted. On the contrary. There are great companies that have concocted good F2P formulas that suit their games. Companies like EA/Easy Studios - Battlefield Heroes, Riot Games - League of Legends, Valve - TF2.

Its good seeing articles like these on Gamasutra. Whether it is a showing how to build 'squirrel traps' or a sustainable business model, sharing knowledge is key! What you make with it though that is whole other topic.

Emppu Nurminen
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Unfortunately there seems to be bit too many people, who don't either get or want to understand people playing and finding these kind of games worth of spending time.