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Opinion: The principles of game monetization

Opinion: The principles of game monetization

February 16, 2012 | By David Tyler York

February 16, 2012 | By David Tyler York
More: Social/Online, Smartphone/Tablet, Design, Business/Marketing

[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday opinion piece, Betable's David Tyler York shares several common principles for managing game monetization without tarnishing your game's creative vision.

As a part of Betable's community outreach, we decided to ask indie developers on the IndieGamer and TIGSource forums to weigh in on how they balance gameplay with monetization. The response was overwhelming, and led to some interesting insights into what game developers find to be appropriate versus abusive monetization.

While opinions differed, I think we can agree that all game developers want to put food on their tables. The problem and opportunity raised by monetization in modern social and mobile games, especially freemium games, is that making money must be integrated into the game itself.

For game designers, this means that their decisions will impact not only the user experience, but also how much money the game makes. Instead of getting paid $50 upfront for a game, your game's monetization hooks translate directly into revenue.

Often times, this means game designers have to make trade-offs between gameplay and monetization. So how do you monetize your game effectively without tarnishing your game's creative vision? When it came to discussing this question, opinions were strong but largely reflected the same principles.

Content is key

If you're creating a game, the majority of what makes that game worthwhile is content. If you are making a freemium game, there should be enough free content to make the game worth downloading. Asking users to pay for new content is perfectly acceptable.

Be honest

One respondent wisely stated that "each payment should purchase a system that was designed with the best intentions to provide the experience promised." Simply put, if you make your customers pay for something and it doesn't deliver what you promised, they won't give you a second chance.

Sell experiences, not upgrades

You can charge to unlock Knights or Clerics, but it's a terrible idea to charge for "Knights that do more damage" or "Clerics that can heal more". Not only does this break gameplay balance in multiplayer games, but it will give you major headaches when balancing single-player games too.

Make it unique

When creating new content to be sold, you should be selling something interesting rather than a rehash of something old. Notice how each group of new levels in Where's My Water features new gameplay challenges and environments.

Limit the treadmill

Your game shouldn't make paying the only alternative to a miserable, boring grind. To this end, one method of managing grinding was highlighted by Roger Dickey on our blog. It's called Grind vs. Spam vs. Pay: to obtain pieces of a special item, players can grind, ask their friends, or pay.

This gives the players more options for obtaining an item, and they can buy the item at a discount if they get tired of grinding part-way through.

Avoid obnoxious ads

Like low-rent industrial zones in Sim City, quick and dirty advertising tactics are both the easiest way to make money and the quickest way you can pollute your game's environment. This includes immersion-killing full-page ads, distracting banners in gameplay screens, and even promotion of in-game paid content.

Instead, regulate ads to non-gameplay screens, like the inventory screen, and only include full-page ads if it fits with a natural disruption in gameplay, such as between turns in Hero Academy.

The Golden Rule: "Don't be a dick"

Put on your player hat and ask yourself, "What is reasonable?" If you make these games, you probably play them too. When playing, make a note of when a monetization hook frustrates you and (more importantly) when it doesn't.

The struggle here is that everyone wants to make money, but opinions differ greatly on how much you should have allow monetization to encroach on gameplay. While monetization will always be a bitter pill for some game developers to swallow, the above principles should help you make money from your game while preserving gameplay.

[This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]

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