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Thoughts on Elevating "A Link to the Past" gameplay to F2P Model?


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#1 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6837

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Posted 14 November 2013 - 02:16 PM

Hi,

 

I'm currently tinkering with a project that is based on the gameplay of Zelda: A Link to the Past (an adventure game where character upgrade is made through the acquisition of new powers which have tangible effects on your surroundings).

 

The problem is that I'm to make this into a Free-To-Play game, and I'm not exactly sure what mechanics to introduce to make it happen.

 

I mean, sure, I could just say: Let's make the "bomb/arrows" scarce and let the user pay for more, so that lazy players will pay us money.

But I don't think this would work much, nor would it be an interesting mechanic to work with as a developer. It's not satisfying for the players either.

 

I want something that players can grind for free, if they so choose, but that can be monetized by impatient players.

 

Customization came in mind, but given that this is 2-4% of gross sales in F2P market, I doubt the game would make significant sales with that.

 

Thoughts?



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#2 mippy   Members   -  Reputation: 1002

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Posted 14 November 2013 - 03:22 PM

  • Golden Keys - unlocks special dungeons and more adventure with potential to earn larger amounts of experience. This will result in easier levelling. 
  • Home - a house which you can decorate with things you find during adventures
  • Levelable weapons, self & gear - you earn some form of magical/experience "ether" which you can add spend as you wish, on yourself or on your gear. Impatient players can unlock cooler upgrade levels... or grind!


#3 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6837

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Posted 14 November 2013 - 03:53 PM


Golden Keys - unlocks special dungeons and more adventure with potential to earn larger amounts of experience. This will result in easier levelling.

I felt disappointed when I read that because this was my "big idea". Now I realize its not as unique as I thought ;)

 


Home - a house which you can decorate with things you find during adventures

Wouldn't that feel like customization?

 


Levelable weapons, self & gear - you earn some form of magical/experience "ether" which you can add spend as you wish, on yourself or on your gear. Impatient players can unlock cooler upgrade levels... or grind!

I'm affraid to make monetization some form of pay2win to be honest. Gear would have to feel like a trading card game for this to work efficiently.

 

I also thought about allowing players to purchase a (random?) item from their progression as a means to skip over a dungeon and still get the item, but that would feel like paying to skip content which sounds a bit dull...



#4 mippy   Members   -  Reputation: 1002

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Posted 14 November 2013 - 04:22 PM

  • Companions: some RPGs have companions (Zelda has that flying thing) which could be possible to purchase. If you let them have some ability which is balanced it could be a possibility. 

 

You are right about the pay2win thing, it's never good and always feels like cheating. Also it will only lure people with poor cognitive skills or people with depression into paying... Unlocking chunks of gameplay is much better. 



#5 Ravyne   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6883

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Posted 14 November 2013 - 05:23 PM


Home - a house which you can decorate with things you find during adventures

Wouldn't that feel like customization?

 

 

 


Levelable weapons, self & gear - you earn some form of magical/experience "ether" which you can add spend as you wish, on yourself or on your gear. Impatient players can unlock cooler upgrade levels... or grind!

I'm affraid to make monetization some form of pay2win to be honest. Gear would have to feel like a trading card game for this to work efficiently.

 

I also thought about allowing players to purchase a (random?) item from their progression as a means to skip over a dungeon and still get the item, but that would feel like paying to skip content which sounds a bit dull...

 

 

Don't knock customization -- It might seem pointless, and like no one would ever spend the time or money, but it appeals to a certain kind of player. And don't forget that things like real-world cell-phone bling (ringtones, cases, backgrounds) make (or used to, perhaps) a good deal of money for relatively little effort. Think about how Valve sells all kinds of cosmetic customizations in the steam store, or all the skins that League of Legends sells. People want to stand out and will spend money to do so, and it has no real affect on gameplay if you don't want it to, side-stepping pay-to-win entirely. If you're otherwise giving the game away for free or very low cost, why should you feel bad that somone want's to give you a dollar so that they can wear a funny hat and show their friends.

 

This will be boosted the easier it is for people to share with their friends. I suggest making it so that people can easily share their purchases on facebook or twitter, and for them to be able to share their hero's profile in some way (think character sheet, notable feats, time played, etc) -- maybe with facebook integration. I'm not big on those sorts of activities myself, but tons of facebook users play games on the site, and enjoy the friendly competition with their friends.

 

When it comes to things that approach "pay to win" type scenarios, I tend to prefer things that make it easier to progress, but not so much more-so that you can simply buy your way to victory. The advantage on offer should be enough to let them overcome their current challenge, not to obliterate it. Say there's a dungeon in which the baddies are all fire-themed, and use fire-based attacks to deal heavy damage to the player -- You might offer an amulet for sale that lessens, but doesn't entirely negate the heavy effects of the fire attack -- the dungeon remains dangerous, its just less-so with the amulet.

 

Also, as a general rule, think long and hard about your financial relationship with your players. You don't want to milk them (unless you're goal is to be a soul-less corporation), but at the same time its not your job to decide for them how they should enjoy your game, or what value-propositions they should find acceptable. Players are the ones who decide whether the value gained for money offered is worthwhile to them as individuals -- as one person dictating value for everyone, you simply can't make any decision that's good for everyone, so don't try. Your job is to invest your time working on things that return *you* good value -- to attain more players, to retain players longer, to build your reputation as a game maker -- usually these things align to player interest in some way by strengthening your product or your relationship with players or the relationship between players. If some player gives you money because they like to collect funny hats in-game, let them; if another player buys all the power-up amulets because they want to see the end of the game and don't have the time or skill to grind through, let them; if another player wants to buy a mount to fast-travel to points of interest rather than slogging through the overworld, let them. The *individual players* will decide whether what they get in return provides them with good value for their money -- you just need to make possible the thing they want, you don't need to mother them about how they should be spending their money. Provide the value that they seek for a fair cost -- that's all you need to do to be ethical about it.

 

If you're into TED Talks, I suggest watching Amanda Palmer's talk The art of asking, in which she shares her experience of having made her living as a street performer and musician. Artists, musicians, and other creative folks through the ages have always made their living by "passing the hat" to let people return the value they offer. In a lot of ways, its much more pure than how the elite art world, or publisher-support model of music, film, and games try to extract a living from people today.



#6 jbadams   Senior Staff   -  Reputation: 17664

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Posted 14 November 2013 - 05:30 PM

I really like the idea of paid add-ons that add a new "mode" of play; in a run-and-jump platformer users may be able to pay for a ninja rope or gravity boots for example. The game should be satisfying and completable without this add-on but might be easier or allow access to some additional content if it's purchased.

I've only played older versions of Zelda, and I'm not sure what might work for that type of gameplay.


You could also consider additional inventory slots, which I believe were quite successful for Realm of The Mad God.

Incremental upgrades to existing items might work too - 10% additional damage, larger splash range from bombs, etc.



The general concensus amongst F2P developers seems to be that you need to have at least some consumable content, so maybe additional bombs or arrows (perhaps with a daily or per-level cap on the number purchased) is still worth considering.

#7 sunandshadow   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4656

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Posted 14 November 2013 - 05:32 PM

Is this intended to be a single player game or an MMO?  Because monetization works differently in the two.  Single-player games are often explicitly pay-to-win, and that's not a problem in that context, whereas MMOs can't have paid items give some players a huge advantage over others.  Tool/weapons would probably work differently in the two types of games as well.


Phone game idea available free to someone who will develop it (Alphadoku game - the only existing phone game of this type is both for windows phone only and awful. PM for details.)


I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me. I also love pet-breeding games.


#8 kseh   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1932

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Posted 14 November 2013 - 06:47 PM

The one MMO that I played, I saw some characters walking around with custom items and there was a little nagging voice in the back of my head saying "I want one too". I didn't succumb to that voice (I might have if I played longer) but I'm pretty sure that voice wouldn't be there at all if it was a single player game.

 


When it comes to things that approach "pay to win" type scenarios, I tend to prefer things that make it easier to progress, but not so much more-so that you can simply buy your way to victory. The advantage on offer should be enough to let them overcome their current challenge, not to obliterate it

 

I think Ravyne was on the right track. Instead of pay2win or pay2cheat you think of it more as just pay4easy. You start playing the game starting in a standard 'winnable by most' difficulty and have the option to purchase items that effectively bring you into a 'winnable by more' difficulty realm. Enchantments on swords that do more damage or on armor so that it protects you more. Maybe items that negate elements of a boss' attack. Maybe some sort of teleport item that allows you to fast travel.



#9 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6837

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Posted 14 November 2013 - 09:17 PM


Don't knock customization -- It might seem pointless, and like no one would ever spend the time or money, but it appeals to a certain kind of player. And don't forget that things like real-world cell-phone bling (ringtones, cases, backgrounds) make (or used to, perhaps) a good deal of money for relatively little effort.

I'm not convinced this is a 'low effort' feature to be honest. I think it can be quite an investment and rarely pays back.

Plus it's a single player experience only. There won't be much 'showcasing' what you've earned per se.

 


can easily share their purchases on facebook

Unless you mean a screenshot, things like Facebook Connect actually take a little too much time for the breadth of this project.

 


really like the idea of paid add-ons that add a new "mode" of play; in a run-and-jump platformer users may be able to pay for a ninja rope or gravity boots for example. The game should be satisfying and completable without this add-on but might be easier or allow access to some additional content if it's purchased.

I can see how this could translate to acquiring certain abilities. For example, the 'grappling hook' may not be necessary to complete the game, but it helps you reach some areas faster, and some areas you can't otherwise reach (which would have hearts, etc). Neat/simple.

Might even be better if the player is forced to have only a few items in his inventory, as these 'advanced gear items' could fill two roles, leaving you with one more slot for potions what/not.

 


You could also consider additional inventory slots, which I believe were quite successful for Realm of The Mad God.

That makes sense. Many games do so. Thanks for pointing it out!

 


Incremental upgrades to existing items might work too - 10% additional damage, larger splash range from bombs, etc.

Increased damage could be detrimental to game balance, but larger splash range, shorter fuses and the likes would make some sense.

 


The general concensus amongst F2P developers seems to be that you need to have at least some consumable content, so maybe additional bombs or arrows (perhaps with a daily or per-level cap on the number purchased) is still worth considering.

'daily' makes me shiver in fear of an energy system. I'd like to avoid gating players from being able to play based on 'time'.

While I think its acceptable to monetize player's impatience, I don't like to artificially cause that impatience with a system as arbitrary as energy.

 

Focusing on ammunitions may be too 'optional'. Potions might make more sense?

 


Single-player games are often explicitly pay-to-win, and that's not a problem in that context

I disagree. Pay2Win in single player experiences removes player pride and involvement. I'm ok with player having the feeling they've invested into the game, but no one's happy about feeling like they've cheated. It's important to keep a certain level of challenge and avoid making the rest of the game mundane after they've paid.

Once a player has monetized, the developer should unfold a red carpet to their feet, not make everything less fun afterwards because its suddenly too easy.

 


I think Ravyne was on the right track. Instead of pay2win or pay2cheat you think of it more as just pay4easy. You start playing the game starting in a standard 'winnable by most' difficulty and have the option to purchase items that effectively bring you into a 'winnable by more' difficulty realm. Enchantments on swords that do more damage or on armor so that it protects you more. Maybe items that negate elements of a boss' attack. Maybe some sort of teleport item that allows you to fast travel.

I'd like to think that the concept of side-grades would be more appealing though. This is what I like most about jbadams' post: tools would change the game plays, but wouldn't necessarily make it factually easier. What's fun about tools is that, each player can define what their playstyle is, and stick to it, without it ever being a dominant strategy.

If you are used to speed-run, then 'fast boots' may be the thing for you, but some 'explore-it-all' type of guy might go for a very different gear set.

 

 

Thanks!



#10 jbadams   Senior Staff   -  Reputation: 17664

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Posted 14 November 2013 - 11:16 PM

To clarify my earlier suggestion with capping the number of items, I wasn't suggesting an artificial limit on the number of bombs/arrows/whatever that might impede progress - that would be horrible! I was suggesting that the player could gain an unlimited (or whatever number suits the game if you go with the classic 99 limit) number of items, but could only purchase a limited number of additional items via micro-transaction per play session.


In Triple Town for example, you place a random item onto the play-field each turn. The cash shop allows you to make one-off purchases of specific items, but only provides a limited number of each per game, therefore limiting the difference paid items can have on the game. You're not limited via normal gameplay, but can only sway the game so far with purchases.


Absolutely stick to potions or other items instead if you feel they're more suitable though.

(Posted from mobile. )



#11 jbadams   Senior Staff   -  Reputation: 17664

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Posted 15 November 2013 - 06:28 AM

One more follow-up on that idea of limiting the number of premium items purchased -- I actually remembered this lecture ("Your First F2P Game: Where You Will Go Wrong") from David Edery of Spry Fox, who coincidentally developed the games I chose as an example; Triple Town and Realm of The Mad God -- it seems like they don't think it was worth having the limit, as such a limit is mostly to keep people happy, and it seems at least in the short term there isn't much credit given for doing so.

 

Some of the other tips from the lecture should be relevant to you as well!


Edited by jbadams, 15 November 2013 - 06:30 AM.


#12 Orymus3   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6837

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Posted 15 November 2013 - 08:35 AM

Thanks for the link!



#13 Khaiy   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1342

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Posted 15 November 2013 - 06:35 PM

I have two ideas:

 

1. Items or abilities that the player can get which can be preserved through skillful play, but which can be damaged and rendered unusable or much less effective through less skillful play. These can be repaired by some in-game mechanic for free (in real money) but take time to do so. Players can pay real money for an instant fix. They can play the game either way, but may not be able to access certain areas or will just have a harder time without the items or abilities.

 

For this I'm inspired by the Master Sword from Link to the Past, where if you keep your life meter full it shoots beams. But if you make a mistake and take a hit, the sword is still good but suddenly less effective than you know it can be. I like mechanics like this because you can have everything without spending any money but in exchange you have to become good at the game. I get double satisfaction-- I'm good at the game, and my skill lets me enjoy "deluxe" features for free!

 

2. Minions! I always love having commandable minions in a single player game. A minion might be able to do dull tasks for the player (like rounding up arrows or other disposable items, with some exposure to danger while getting them) or maybe accompany the player in dungeons. Minions can be developed by grinding, just like the player character, but the player might also be able to just buy a better minion right from the start.

 

I never like the idea of having features locked away because I haven't paid, such as dungeons and equipment, even in a F2P game where that sort of attitude doesn't make sense. I feel a greater sense of investment from my time than from a few dollars, and if I've played every part of a game that's available for free it always rankles a bit to have to go through the formality of spending a couple bucks for what feels like such a small expansion of the experiences I've already had. If I get almost the whole game for free, it's odd to pay $2 just for a grappling hook.



#14 Ravyne   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6883

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Posted 15 November 2013 - 07:30 PM


For this I'm inspired by the Master Sword from Link to the Past, where if you keep your life meter full it shoots beams. But if you make a mistake and take a hit, the sword is still good but suddenly less effective than you know it can be. I like mechanics like this because you can have everything without spending any money but in exchange you have to become good at the game. I get double satisfaction-- I'm good at the game, and my skill lets me enjoy "deluxe" features for free!

 

That's all well and good, but the thing is that it doesn't help Orymus3 pay the bills. Ultimately, a free-to-play game hopes to make the dev some money, and if that's the case the goal is to somehow entice players to buy something. Once you've gone down that path, your design -- which ought to include 'monetization design' pretty-much necessarily *shouldn't* reward players just for being good or persistent -- all that really does is say "I give my game away to people who are good or have more time than you. You're terrible or have better things to do, so you have to pay." If your goal is to make money, there's no reason to preferentially incentive good/persistent players in this way over any other type of player; if your goal is to have a large, happy user base, you ought to just make the thing free, period. Outside of mobile/app stores one can hope to make some money on the initial sale, but its an impossibility in today's overcrowded ecosystems unless you're a big name AAA title. The game design must be built to facilitate monetization strategies (even if they're entirely optional for the player to partake in) from its base, it affects gameplay and design decisions, and if you pretend they're independent its likely you'll not make any money. For example, purely cosmetic purchases are far less viable when those purchases are not visible to other players. Likewise, people won't pay big money for items that don't persist with long-term play.

 

From what I've read around various places, an app that is able to monetize well makes about 50+ percent of its revenue from consumable items, ~30 percent from premium purchases (persistent items), and ~20 percent from cosmetic purchases -- those are games who's play integrates all of the driving factors well (a social aspect, persistence, etc).

 

Now, from the sound of it, what Orymus3 has is a single-player, non-social, (probably) largely non-persistent adventure game, and to be frank that seems to be kind of a perfect storm for the free-to-play model -- "successful" games in this vein might be popular but make very low return-per-player (the big boys call it ARPU, Average Revenue Per User) so they subsist on the shear size of their user base. If you cannot achieve such a large user base, low ARPU won't be paying your bills. With a lower user base, you need to maximize ARPU if money is a goal, and that means creating monetization potential in the game -- integrating social aspects, multi-player, persistence, and designing to encourage steady purchase of consumables (which includes, of course, pricing them fairly).



#15 Khaiy   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 1342

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Posted 15 November 2013 - 08:46 PM



 

 

That's all well and good, but the thing is that it doesn't help Orymus3 pay the bills. Ultimately, a free-to-play game hopes to make the dev some money, and if that's the case the goal is to somehow entice players to buy something. Once you've gone down that path, your design -- which ought to include 'monetization design' pretty-much necessarily *shouldn't* reward players just for being good or persistent -- all that really does is say "I give my game away to people who are good or have more time than you. You're terrible or have better things to do, so you have to pay." If your goal is to make money, there's no reason to preferentially incentive good/persistent players in this way over any other type of player; if your goal is to have a large, happy user base, you ought to just make the thing free, period.

 

... [other good points and information] ...

 

Now, from the sound of it, what Orymus3 has is a single-player, non-social, (probably) largely non-persistent adventure game, and to be frank that seems to be kind of a perfect storm for the free-to-play model -- "successful" games in this vein might be popular but make very low return-per-player (the big boys call it ARPU, Average Revenue Per User) so they subsist on the shear size of their user base. If you cannot achieve such a large user base, low ARPU won't be paying your bills. With a lower user base, you need to maximize ARPU if money is a goal, and that means creating monetization potential in the game -- integrating social aspects, multi-player, persistence, and designing to encourage steady purchase of consumables (which includes, of course, pricing them fairly).

 

 

I fail to see how my suggestion about speed-repairing items is materially different from yours regarding "Easy mode" amulets and spare ammo. If a player is interested in speeding things up, they can pay real money. If not, they can grind doing something else while their equipment is repaired or they can just wait. If they're grubbing through monster corpses for stray arrows because arrows are necessary to the game but you have the binary choice of "grind for ages and hope" vs. "spend $3" the same good-players-play-cheaper is still in force: good players will need fewer arrows and therefore not have to grind as much. Good players will be able to avoid fire traps in dungeons and therefore not need to pay for an amulet as much. Or they'll have less need for extra inventory slots. Or they'll need to buy fewer healing potions. Or whatever else. Purchases that make the game easier inherently favor the less skilled or less patient players, and have less appeal for the best players.

 

And there are exactly zero elements in my suggestion that would conflict with any other mode of real money content purchases. If the approach is similar (in practical terms) to other difficulty-reducing sales schemes, the ARPU value of the feature and game overall should be the same in either case.

 

Would you be willing to elaborate a bit more on the differences between the approaches we've outlined? It may be just because I'm not too plugged into the business end of things or paying much for F2P games, but I'm not seeing the divergence.



#16 Ravyne   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 6883

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Posted 16 November 2013 - 01:00 PM

I don't think there's a big fundamental difference either, and I agree that better players will always be less inclined towards certain kinds of items -- really what I meant to get across was that this common notion that a skilled or persistent player should be rewarded for that by not having to buy anything. There's this weird notion that this model is the only "fair" way to do f2p, but there's just no good reason for it to be this way--there's no evidence these people will suddenly start buying things, no evidence that they'll promote your game to other players who will buy things at a higher rate than other players--these people just enjoy a smorgasbord of f2p games and don't really support any of the content the consume in any tangible way.

From a business standpoint I know it might sound bitter, but really you design considerations should not be constrained around these players. Yes its worth trying to engage those at the margins of this group, but 90% of the group will never even consider buying anything. There's a good argument to be made for those people to just fall by the wayside. While the stick around not only might they incur you an ongoing support cost, but will give you feedback on how to appeal to their non-paying selves, and complain and defame you when your design decisions don't favor them. I say rather than bending over backwards to allow these players full progression of the game, give them what amounts to a demo whose scale is limited not by hard limits like time, but by the impracticality of progressing without ever having bought something.

Edited by Ravyne, 16 November 2013 - 01:07 PM.





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