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Building an In-Game Store for the First Time? Here are the 4 Keys to Success

Posted by Yaniv Nizan, 05 May 2013 · 2,016 views

IAP In-App Purchase Apple Android Mobile Games Game Design In-Game Store Virtual Economy
So you have a great concept for a mobile game and you've heard that free 2 play games with in app purchase is the way to go but you are not sure where to start. Guess what? You are not alone. Designing a good in-game store is very different than designing the core of the game and many game developers are unsure about how to do it right.

Let me take you through some of the keys to designing a store that users will enter frequently and hangout in for long periods:
  • Put the store where users can find it and make it a natural part of the game loop
  • Create items that players use in your game every day
  • Make the store experience an interesting one
  • Limit continuous game play
If you implement these elements in your game you are significantly increasing your chances to succeed. Adding a few of these is good but if you want 3 stars try to get them all. Here is more specific advice about each one of these:

Put the Store Entrance Where Users Are
Getting users to naturally enter the store as part of the game flow is very important. Let's check a few methods for achieving this. If your game has levels, it should be easy enough for you to add a button to the store from the screen that notifies the user about a successful level completion. Is your game is a 'survival mode' type game or an 'endless runner'? No problem. These games have limited sessions that usually end with a summary screen. This will be the right place to put your store button. Designing other types of games? If you implement the 4th tip you would actually break the game to sessions and would be able to use the session end screen. Alternatively, you can add the store button to screens that notify the user about achievements.

You can also use virtual goods that require users to activate or equip them and use the store as the interface for picking the active character/vehicle/weapon. This will help you get users to the store more frequently.

Add Items that Players Need Regularly
Ok, so the store is now accessible from every screen in the game but why would a user want to enter it? Let's think about the real world. The store that we enter the most is the one that sells the product we use and consume every day. Let's create some goods like that and make them easy to buy with game coins. How easy? The user should be able to collect enough coins in 1-3 levels or a few minutes of game play. The good itself should be regularly consumed and should make it easier for the user to collect more coins. If you do this correctly you end up with a consumption loop that brings the users to the store almost every time they user plays the game.

Here is how to make a effective regular use good:
  • Make it complement the game store (bananas for a monkey, fuel for a car, ...)
  • Price it so that users can earn enough to buy it within a few minutes of game play
  • Create an item that is fun to use and makes the game more engaging with it
  • Give the item powers that will make earning coins easier
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Design an Engaging Store
You should also give the user reasons to spend time in your In-App Purchase store. Think of ways to make the store engaging and interesting for a long time - extend the variety, add some mystery and try to keep it fresh. If you want to look at a good example of store variety - look at CSR racing. That store has over 2 million items you can buy. You can also add mystery by using silhouettes to hide an item until the right time has come. This helps in keeping the user engaged and curious about what the store has to offer. The last bit is to keep your store fresh by adding items, unlocking items and even featuring seasonal items and limited editions.

Add Limits and Breaks to The Gameplay
If you want to really play it like the pros, you need to limit the user ability to play endlessly. This is a bit tricky so you will need to approach this carefully and be careful not to annoy your users. The best way to do it is by experimenting with different levels of limitations and measuring the impact on users until you reach the sweet spot. If you do choose to explore this direction, you should design a resource that is consumed naturally in gameplay and automatically adds up as time goes by. Candy Crush Saga, has 'lifes' and in other games you can see fuel or energy. When the user runs out, she can choose to do one of three things: buy more, stop playing and come back later or wait inside the game. If you followed the rest of the advice, the option of staying inside the game and visiting the store should be a likely choice for a user who wants to kill some time.

Will be happy to discuss more about this or any other game economy design topic. You can reach me on twitter at @y_nizan.




Muahaha, the possibilities are endless with such a rich source of diabolatry!

Hi @GameGeazer, thanks for your comment. I'm not sure why you would think building a good store experience is diabolic. My experience shows that games with good in-game stores and economy are simply more engaging. My articles doesn't suggest dirty tricks for making users pay with cash - that is not what this post is about. The article is about methods for making the store an integral part of the game and improving the store experience. I would actually go on a wild guess here. Without knowing anything about you, I would bet that if you look at the 10 mobile games you like the most - you will see that many of them have some of these tips implemented. I spent a good chunck of time playing Clash of Clans, CSR Racing and Subway surfers. All of them have at lease some of these implemented and I doubt that these games would be half the fun without a great store experience.

Not the store bit. Having an in-game store is a perfectly legitimate way to subsidize a game. However, features such as: breaks, limits, and purchasing items to alleviate the grind lend themselves far to easily to skinner-box styled games. I've always had animosity towards games like endless runner that serve to be nothing more than a time and money sink. Cosmetics, new levels, and other such permeant items turn the original game into a sort of demo and allow the player to expand the game as he or she chooses. "5 gold coins to continue playing" is nothing more than thievery. In-game stores are awesome, however they can turn a decent game into something.... evil.... of not implemented properly.

I totally agree that "5 gold coins to continue playing" is a bad practice. My tips were about making the store an integral part of the game and creating an economy mechanics in the game that add to the user engagement. Yes, it's true that some of these games get the player so engaged that if you look from the side, it looks like the user is in a rat race but that's simply because the game simulates real life. I would go even further and say that if you are designing a store and a game economy in order to make money you are likely to get it wrong. The function of the game economy is to create engagement and that's what these tips are about.

So this is me... I may be atypical, and perhaps its true that this method is the best way to do it, but I would never spend money in that store.  I'm a regular gamer, I have a tablet and I play with it regularly.  I've spent money both as an up front charge and in in-app stores.

 

Things that I'm willing to pay for:

-Permanent bonuses that will be with me (or, perhaps, with my account) forever.

-Additional modes of play for a game that is completely fun to play without ever spending a dime.

-Cosmetic items for a game that I play regularly over a long period of time.

 

Things that I'll never pay for:

-Items that do nothing more than grant additional playtime.

-Items that do nothing more than make a game easier for some finite period.

-items that give me an advantage over players who don't spend money in a competitive environment.

 

Perhaps I should add that, personally, I rarely browse the "free" section in the andriod market these days.  I'd much prefer to pay for a game up front, even for a significant price, and get all available content without having to spend more later.

Hi @Plethora, you are indeed part of a minority group. I'm actually the same way and am looking for concrete value when I'm paying. It's possible that being also 'behind the scenes' of game design makes us see through the virtual economy. My experience is that I enjoy more when I'm struggling with the challenge without buying my way out but the majority of users are not like that. It is proven over and over again that items that make the game easier, give additional play time and help compete with other players sell better. In some countries it is even considered an honor to buy your way to a win. It is a proof of financial stability - like some people are buying fency cars. I'm not sure what that tells us about the human race. Probably not good things :-) Back to game design, even if your game will only sell items that you would buy (permanenet bonus, additional content, customization) users are more likely to buy it if they are already engaged with the store and the economy of the game. So you can actually have a closed system of in-game coins that you cannot even buy in the store just to make the store a part of your game and then sell bonuses and content in the same store for hard currency. In other words, the economy of the game and the real economy will have no connection. The in-game economy will just be used as an engagement tool and the real-economy will only be used to sell permanant bonuses, content, ...

The user should never be able to buy their way out of a problem. The problems are the game. If a problem isn't engaging to solve why incorporate it? There is no sense in creating a game that the user purchases his or her way through, why play the game at all? So they can pay their way to the credit screen and feel accomplished? Once the soul has been stripped away and replaced with greed whats left is no longer a game. I'm sure that there is a great deal of money in making such rubbish but the development community should look down upon them in utter disgust, not promote their creation in any way! A game embodies the soul of the developer, it is a piece of art. Games need to be subsidized, but pay to win is the lowest of the low.

 

heres an idea: include an easy difficulty but have the user pay for the HARDER difficulty. If your game is engaging hopefully the user will want to come back and experience everything it has to offer.

I'm not sure you are looking at the entire picture here. Problems indeed makes the game interesting and challenging but sometimes a user gets stuck on one problem and he still wants to access more advanced and harder levels. In this situation the user is paying to access harder dificulty while 'cheating' his way out of the current problem. In games that have advanced economies, the challange becomes how to utilize the coins you earned in game play to buy virtual goods that makes the game more complex and fun. This actually makes the challange more advanced and difficult as there are more options and more strategy involved. Yes, one can say that any game that has in-game coins or a store is evil and greedy and only games that are artistic by nature should be allowed. Let's ban reality TV while we are at it - that's not art for sure. The fact is that people need entertainment and are playing games with in-game economies longer. Maybe users like earning coins and buying things they can't afford in real life. Is that really so bad? My view is that games (even the ones that simulate economies) are much better form of entertainment than any other popular media. They are interactive and actually turn your mind on instead of turning it off.

"Store' (outside real money used to buy things in-game) can be slippery slopes.   (offering coins and such you can supposedly also get by 'just playing' never seems to get the player enough to actually get much - and runs contrary to making 'store' profits by selling the coins for real money).

 

Once the money people who own/run a game get their 'greed on'  they can force a game into crass ingame salesmanship that poisons the essence of the game. 

 

Suddenly there are endless gimmicks and 'sales'  in-game pushing the players to 'buy buy buy'.    Popup advertisements and notifications appear endlessly throughout the player's game experience.

 

Pay-to-Win becomes a temptation and can ruin any sense of achievement players have.  Its also warps game operation to facilitate sales of now 'special items'  (to generate profits) 

 

There can be stripping of important chunks of the game to be offered 'seperately' via the store thus cheating the base players of already limited content unless they pay yet more to get what before they normally got default.

 

Effort that should have gone to providing a better game now goes to making the 'store' work (all the programming and personnel, explanations, support)

I think at the end of the day it's a matter of free choice. For game developers - they can choose to turn the store into something evil that only aims to get money out of players. HOWEVER - they can also choose to implement a store in a way that adds a real-life simulation to the game and actually make the game more fun. For users - if the users gets more excited by buying things as opposed to blowing things up. Maybe that's a choice we need to leave to them. Yes, you can say that one could get carried away with in-game shopping. Frankly, I rather he would get carried away with that and not get carried away with blowing things up. At the end of the day, the key is to make the store part in a way that complements the game and doesn't turn it into a competition of who has more money. You can design it in a way that would still give the collected coins something that you can never buy with money and keep the game in balance that way.
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