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Bottomless IAPs -- Balancing Profit with Consumer Value

by Ulyana Chernyak on 11/24/14 03:52:00 pm   Featured Blogs

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There are plenty of types of IAPs or microtransactions that can be used in F2P titles. But one that may be the most cost effective is also the best at driving away customers.


For today's post we're going to talk about bottomless IAPs and why there are only a few examples of them being used that can actually bring in customers instead of repel them.

Bottomless IAPs:

A bottomless IAP is any microtransaction that must be purchased consistently and don't have a lasting impact on the player's experience. The first example of bottomless IAPs were the old standard of having to constantly insert quarters into arcade machines in order to keep playing.

While the design has changed over the years, the purpose hasn't -- to pressure the consumer to keep spending money. Some examples of bottomless IAPs would be pay or wait mechanics, short term benefit purchases like more ammo or any other purchase that requires the player to consistently spend money.

Buying premium currency is the basic bottomless IAP in most F2P titles.


Premium currency purchases are also an example but their implementation affects how they are perceived by the customer. If the game mechanics are all about dealing with pay or wait mechanics or grinding content, then the premium currency is viewed as exploitative. However if the premium currency can be used to buy permanent content, then it's viewed more favorably.

Regardless of the type of purchase, bottomless IAPs are implemented in similar ways regardless of the genre or game mechanics.

Bottomless IAP Usage:

Bottomless IAPs are designed to be impulse buys meant to cut down on something annoying. Their costs are always very small, even down to one cent as they are not meant for the player to think long and hard about. This is why they are paired with mobile games which are inherently designed around quick interactions and short play-times. The consumer wants a quick thrill and doesn't mind spending a few cents while playing a mobile game

Most designers will set up bottomless IAPs as a message or ad in game to convince the player to skip an annoying step or get right back into the actual content. The allure of getting back into playing the game is what makes bottomless IAPs so popular among whales that are hooked on the game and because they are so small, it's hard to actually count how much you're spending.

All of Hearthstone's IAPs are built around giving the player more cards which gives the player more value for spending money.


Despite their popularity and easy implementation, educated consumers hate them because they are the most exploitative.

Consumer Reaction:

A bottomless IAP in most F2P titles is something that is designed to stop progress unless the person pays money or waits an indeterminate amount of time. What makes them so frustrating is that the player doesn't gain anything by spending money on them. It's akin to the old days of having to constantly insert quarters into arcade machines to keep playing.

Because of this, bottomless IAPs have no value to the player and educated gamers know this. Many F2P titles increase the cost of IAPs as the player gets further into the game, either by making them more frequent or gradually raising the base cost. When people complain how F2P games cost more money to play through than retail titles, it's the bottomless IAPs that are normally the cause.

Spending $100 for more energy or to speed up a timer doesn't give the player any true progression and that money in essence becomes lost the second the player gets to the next pay wall and once again faces the choice of having to spend more money or wait. These constant micro charges for IAPs can quickly add up to big money lost by the consumer and can sour someone on F2P titles forever.

Now the big question -- Is it possible to design a bottomless IAP that's fair to the consumer? And the answer is yes and we've seen some examples of this already.

Guaranteed Value:

Two examples of titles that feature bottomless IAPs that people are fine with are Team Fortress 2 and Hearthstone. The reason is that while the player is required to keep buying them, they are still getting something of value with every transaction.

Team Fortress 2's Mann Up Mode may require constant purchases but always rewards the player.


In Team Fortress 2, players can spend 1.00 to access "Mann Up Mode" via an in game ticket in the PvE game mode. They can play this mode without spending any money; however the only way for them to acquire unique items and rewards is to buy the ticket.

How it works is that the ticket is only used up if the player actually beats a round, if they lose they still keep the ticket and can try as many times as they want. Once they win, they'll receive something special and the map they won gets mark on their record while the ticket is consumed. If they win every map on Mann Up Mode they'll receive a unique reward and then they can repeat the cycle again.

With Hearthstone, the player can spend real money or in game gold to play arena mode. Arena mode is a sealed deck tournament where the player creates a custom deck and then plays until they decide to quit or they lose three times. Once they end their arena run, their wins are tallied and they will receive rewards in the form of more gold or booster packs with more rewards based on their number of wins.

Digital items earned through play or bought through IAP, could still be used by the consumer to make some money and give them value.


As you can see, the similarity between the two titles is that spending money on the bottomless IAP gives the player something of value in return. So that no matter how much money the player spends, they will still have something to show for it.

"Value" for other F2P titles can be anything -- something permanent, ways to recoup premium currency, cosmetic item, etc. The point is that spending money on a bottomless IAP should give the player more than just getting around the pay wall.

What's in it for the Player?

The negative stigma from bottomless IAPs is the fact that most of them don't provide value to the player but take time and money away from them . By giving something to the player it makes the bottomless IAP have value and softens the blow of having to constantly spend money. Bottomless IAPs make up one of the main profit makers for a lot of F2P titles and figuring out the right balance of give and take with the consumer is important for developers trying to stand out in the market today.

(Reprinted from the Blog)

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