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Recognizing when free-to-play isn't right for your game Exclusive

Recognizing when free-to-play isn't right for your game
October 25, 2012 | By Staff

Ars Thanea Games prototyped iOS puzzler Puzzle Craft under its own steam, hoping to launch at a premium price. When publisher Chillingo came on the scene, it suggested the team turn the game into a free-to-play game.

The game is described as a "cross-genre puzzle/town building game" -- players must solve matching puzzles to gain resources to build a town.

After experimenting, the team realized that "to develop a money-making F2P game, we would have to add waiting for new buildings to be constructed (skippable with coins) and a second currency (available only in IAPs). Frankly speaking, that idea sucked," writes lead designer Artur Ganszyniec.

In the end, the game launched as a 99 cent game with in-app purchases, but the free-to-play experiment taught the team important lessons that improved the game, Ganszyniec writes. Here are some lessons the team learned about the game's design while experimenting:

- In the prototype every building increased your "population score," and to unlock more powerful buildings you had to reach a high enough population. This has nothing to do with the workers you employed, and so was confusing for some players.

We changed that mechanism into a wide recognized experience points/level system. That added more depth to the game, as you are awarded EXP not only for the new buildings, but also for using tools, gathering resources, and making long chains. Suddenly, your skill started to matter.

- We added a time barrier to the visits on the farm. You had a number of "bags of seeds" that you used to enter the farm, and after you used them the only option was to wait, or pay for more bags.

- We increased the number of resources needed for buildings and tools, and decided that the prices of hiring workers go up with every worker of a given type. The changes were business-driven at first, but then we noticed that our fun from the game significantly increased. There was a challenge at last, and we could spend much more time with the game.

- Time bonuses were added: tools and resources from buildings, and money from the taxes.

- We come up with some ways to bend the game rules that you could buy for in-game coins, such as: additional moves in the mine, saving the farm, buying buildings for coins, etc.

"Looking back, that was a good move," Ganszyniec writes. "The game improved from our short affair with F2P, and in the end we made the game we wanted to -- relaxing and focused not on waiting but on the actual gameplay."

You can learn more about the process of refining Puzzle Craft in Ganszyniec's new feature on its development, live now on Gamasutra.

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