Question 1: How do different monetisation techniques (eg consumables, cosmetics, loot boxes etc) influence the longevity of a game?
Monetisation is a complex topic, so no single answer can ever really cover every scenario. Keeping that caveat in mind, let’s look at these monetisation techniques in the question.
Firstly I’d like to say using these techniques won’t necessarily create fundamental differences in your game; they’re more like icing on the cake. Your primary goal as a game developer is to create the urge to purchase by giving players an enjoyable game, after which you can show them how much better the experience would be after making a purchase. Without that fundamental appeal, no monetisation technique will save the day – put simply, a player won’t spend anything on a game they don’t like. So there is your first job: make sure your customers are happy with the game and open to making a purchase.
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[Riot’s League of Legends effectively uses cosmetics in the monetisation strategy to increase longevity. Source]
Once a player has arrived at a point where they’re happy to make a purchase, consider the different categories of items that are available: consumables, cosmetics, loot boxes, and so on. As a general rule, your customers will be in danger of leaving your game if the items are limiting their game experience rather than enhancing it. You may create a temporary lift because they have to purchase, but if not designed well it’s more likely they’ll be turned away rather than purchasing the item.
Here’s an example: Perhaps your character’s sword breaks after a certain amount of usage, requiring the player to purchase an item to repair it, allowing them to carry on playing with the sword. If you don’t design this breaking-and-fixing mechanism well and make it obvious how it fits into the game loop, then you are in danger of annoying your players, making them more likely to drop off. Contrast this with an item such as a cool new sword that has a great special ability, which enhances the play experience instead of limiting it. Rather than inconveniencing your player to push them toward making a purchase they don’t really want, you can entice them to purchase an item that will make your good gameplay even better. Whether you’re selling loot boxes or cosmetic items, the key question remains for every item you offer in a game: “Is this enhancing gameplay or limiting it?”
[Blizzard’s Overwatch uses IAP-style loot crates for monetisation in addition to premium up-front pricing. Source]
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In order to ensure the longevity of your game and its monetisation model, you also need to weigh up selling permanent items that confer an ongoing effect versus single-use consumables that give only a temporary benefit. Single-use consumables may be a better option for your project simply because they require less development work. While players might enjoy the ongoing benefits of a permanent paid item upgrade, in order to give them something else they are tempted to purchase in the future, you and your team will have to keep creating new items with novel effects. Consumables can be purchased again and again, and as such the designs for your consumables should last for a long time. I recommended making sure that at least part of your purchasable item inventory is consumables, or else you risk bogging down your development team with the need to constantly add new items.
Another layer to consider is regulation; not every game mechanic or monetisation model is legal in every market. For example, the ‘gacha’ mechanic (i.e. paying for a chance to draw a random item) was reviewed by the Japanese government, and in 2012 Kompu Gacha was completely banned. (For a good summary of this, read this article here.) It could be risky for you to incorporate a mechanic into your game that might be considered gambling.
Another example is the Japanese Online Association looking into new regulations to set a maximum payment per user from the gacha mechanic in response to news that a player paid $6,000 to get a single card in Granblue Fantasy. Gacha is used in a lot of modern games, and I personally don’t see a big regulation push for non-Kompu Gacha, however any kind of potentially addictive behaviour, such as paying thousands for one in-game item, may be cause to worry about the player’s well being and invite government regulation.
Thank you for reading! If you have more questions about monetisation, or if you’d like a free Health Check for your game’s player experience and monetisation, check out our Early Access and keep in touch with us at @playsecondsight.