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Game Monetization Tips, Retention Tricks and Lightly Salted advice
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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
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 [twitter]y_nizan[/twitter].
My company SOOMLA is investigating a rather interesting concept today. We all know that Free 2 Play is the way to go with mobile games and every game these days either have an in-game store or is looking to add one.
The SOOMLA platform is about saving time on the development side, reducing the programming work and code maintenance work associated with the store by over a month during the game creation and completely eliminating work related to keeping the store fresh and up to date with the game.
Today we are exploring a different concept. We are allowing game developers to save not just the programming work but also the design work. Our designers will create a store design in our platform to match the look and feel of the game and the store will function with just minutes of work.
You can learn more here
We are interested to see the market reaction to something like this. If we see that this is indeed required by mobile game devs we will invest more effort into offering a marketplace of design services along with our platform. Otherwise, we will focus more effort on the self-serve product and enhance functionality.
Either way , the current promotion is a great opportunity for anyone who has a free game and is looking to add a store. Just sit back and relax while everything is done for you.
I'm very proud to announce this a initiative - The SOOMLA List [/font][/color][color=rgb(0,0,0)][font=arial, sans-serif]. It's a very simple Idea - Every week or so I hand pick some great articles, news I found and other very useful links about free to play game design, virtual economies and more. This way I can be in touch more directly and engage in conversations about the topics. [/font][/color][font=arial, sans-serif]
If you like reading my blog here so far you will love these emails. You can subscribe to this list or shoot me an email to and I'll add you manually.
Here is a sample email:
Posts from SOOMLA Blog:
What do you think about Amazon's Coin in light of Facebook failure [color=rgb(0,0,0)][font=arial, sans-serif]with their own credit system? - [/font][/color]blog.soom.la/post/43389016027/amazons-global-coin-smart-move-or-doomed-to-fail
Interview with Primadawn, creator of Lazy Snakes game for Android - http://blog.soom.la/post/42377455109/interview-with-primadawn-creator-of-lazy-snakes
Analysis of why Clash of Clans economy is so effective - http://blog.soom.la/post/41891152613/clash-of-coins
5 Tips if you are looking to Add In-App Purchase - soom.la/add-in-app-purchase
Interesting Conversations from our Facebook page and other Social tools:
Example for games who went from premium to freemium - https://www.facebook.com/389643294427376/posts/488226191235752
Announcement of SOOMLA supporting Unity 3.5 - https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=491533657571672&set=a.414228805302158.94631.389643294427376&type=1&relevant_count=1
Lecture I gave at the Shenkar Game Design School -[color=rgb(0,0,0)][font=arial, sans-serif] [/font][/color]https://speakerdeck.com/yanivnizan/from-virtual-economy-to-actual-revenue
Links we liked:
Many useful numbers about mobile game development by Dean Takahashi - http://venturebeat.com/2013/02/15/the-deanbeat-the-state-of-free-to-play-mobile-gaming-by-the-numbers/
30 publishers for your Mobile game by Guy Bendov - http://guybendov.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/mobile-game-publishers/
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[color=#000000]Lazy Snakes is a puzzle game for Android that is releasing a new version these days. The game was created by Primadwan and has been featured in the Google Play App Store and had millions of installs around the world. It was also one of the first Android games to use the In-App Purchase in them. We thought the new release will be a great opportunity to ask them a few questions about it. ?[/color][/font][font='Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]
[font='Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]
[color=#000000]What inspired you to make this game? How did you develop the idea?[/color][/quote][font='Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]
[color=#000000]Google made it easy for indie developers with Android and I thought it would be fun to develop a game together with my brother (who's an animator). I always liked both puzzle and action games and I wanted to develop a game that combines both.[/color][/quote][font='Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]
[color=#000000]What was the biggest surprise or amusing thing that happened since you started doing this?[/color][/quote][font='Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]
[color=#000000]I'd have to say that the biggest surprise was getting featured in Google Play, although totally justified ;-)[/color][/quote][font='Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]
[color=#000000]Which technologies have you tried to boost game development. What was the biggest good surprise? which one disappointed you?[/color][/quote][font='Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]
[color=#000000]Not really disappointed but a bit frustrated at how hard it is to monetize.[/color][/quote][font='Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]
[color=#000000]How did you decide to use an In-App Purchase store in your game? Have you tried other monetization methods?[/color][/quote][font='Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]
[color=#000000]I've tried all sorts of ad networks but wasn't really impressed with their performance and it looks like In-App Purchase is the way to go, especially if it's integrated well into the gameplay.[/color][/quote][font='Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]
[color=#000000]Being a puzzle game, how did you make sure lazy snakes was hard enough but not too hard?[/color][/quote][font='Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]
[color=#000000]That's really the million dollar question, I gave it to friends to test and adjusted it, but I still think we've made the levels a bit too hard. (to be rectify in the next game)[/color][/quote][font='Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]
[color=#000000]What other games can we expect to see coming Primadawn?[/color][/quote][font='Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif]
[color=#000000]We are currently working on a new member of the Lazy Snakes family that I hope will be released in 2-3 months.[/color][/quote]
Unless you have been living on another plant in the past 18 months, you must have heard that In-App Purchase is a great monetization model. Publications like Business Insider and others have provided a lot of data to support this claim but the reality is that the picture they painted is a bit misleading.
Let's take a deep look into the market of mobile games. The reality is that there are many kinds of in-app purchase methods but, believe it or not, only one of them is really effective.
There are games that allow you to upgrade to the premium version from within the app, others allow you to buy extra levels of features while some games are based on virtual economies and allow you to buy in-game currencies. All of these are considered in-app purchases - can you guess which one is making the most revenue?
Here is the punch line - out of the top 50 (grossing) games that use in-app purchases, 46 are selling virtual currencies and if we look at the top 100 the trend continues with 91 that are based on virtual economies.
So saying that virtual economies are powering 85% of the revenue in mobile games is much more accurate than saying that it's driven by in-app purchases.
This distinction seems subtle but it's actually critical for mobile game developers looking to turn their premium game to a freemium game or ones that are just designing their game. If you don't pay attention closely you might end up with a game that yields only poor revenue and might not even cover your investment.
Just to be clear - a virtual economy means that the game has at least one type of 'soft currency' that the user can earn by regular game play. It is not really about monetization. It's about engaging your users and giving them ways to advance in game play, measure their progress and add an extra layer of fun into the game. So the games are not successful because their monetization is better but actually because these games are more fun and engaging that way.
While some might think that virtual economies are only used in MMO games or resource management games the reality of mobile gaming is different. There are ways to add virtual economies to just about any game genre and the top games of all genres are games that have created complex virtual economies successfully.
Unfortunately virtual economies are complex to build and take experience and time to balance but they are well worth it. So next time you hear the myth about in-app purchases being a magic solution to monetizing mobile games remember that the real answer is virtual economies.
Our mission here at the SOOMLA Project is to help mobile game developers make better economies. As part of that we try to make sure that our off the shelf presets or turn key virtual economies are already as good as they can be. We investigate and research the market all the time and try to analyze why games fail or succeed. Why some games monetize better than others and why some stores engages users to spend more and more time in them.
We have collected some of the key lessons into this short presentation and presented them in 2 conferences. The responses we received were very positive and so we decided to share it with you as well.
Mistake 0 - Not Having a Virtual Economy in Your Game
In game coins or Virtual Economies are powering 90% of the revenue in mobile games and about 85% of the revenue in mobile apps. We are taking about selling coins and in-game currencies to users via in-app purchasing. A virtual economy is defined by the ability of a user to collect coins inside the game. In other words, selling levels or features really doesn't count as in-game economies.
Furthermore, in successful games users spend more time in the in-game stores compared than in any other part of the game.
Mistake 1 - Focusing on Selling
The first thought a game developer has about in-game economies is "what do I sell in my game". This is important but not as important as the question of how does the user earn coins. How do we make the experience of earning more diverse, challenging and fun. The earning part of the coin system is what makes the game more fun for the user. There are two reasons why a user buys virtual goods:
He already has coins that he needs to spend
He is looking for ways ore tools to get more coins
Both of these are focused on earnings and this is where you should focus as well.
Mistake 2 - Balance = 0
Most people think about 0 as the ultimate starting point. In school we were taught to believe that 0 is the beginning of all numbers and in programming classes it's often recommended to initiate a variable to a value of 0. In game design however, the rules are different. Many successful games are staring with a positive balance for the user. Some games do it with a loyalty plan while other use a welcome bonus. It's also common to see games with a tutorial that gives the user some coins and then forces him to spend them.
The reason for this is clear. If we want the users to spend more than half the time in the store, we need to show him the way to the store and get him used to entering it frequently.
Mistake 3 - Using Goods that Last Forever
Goods that last forever is another common mistake and is a default for many in-game economies. In the real world, almost nothing lasts forever but in a digital environment, the default for any object is to stay the same until told otherwise.
Well, guess what. If a user bought something that lasts forever there is no reason for him to buy it again. More over, there is no tweaking with virtual goods that lasts forever, It's either there or it's not but it can't be half way. In comparison, goods that are naturally consumed, rented or regularly used inside the game, you can tweak quantity and time parameters.
Mistake 4 - Having a Single Currency
Having a single currency seems like a natural choice but most top grossing mobile games have more than one currency. Having just one type of coins in your game means that the user can earn coins and buy the same things that are available to users who paid with real money. This creates a very big problem to games that wish to monetize their virtual economies.
If you want to truly harness the power of virtual economies as a monetization tool, one type of coins is simply not enough. Two or three currencies will give the game designer more flexibility and control and can make the game more interesting for users as well.
Mistake 5 - Making a Boring Store
Static stores are boring. How fan can a store be if it has the same things all the time and everything is accessible to everyone.
Let's hope that your virtual economy succeeded in getting users frequently and consistently to the store and they are spending a big chunk of time in it. Shouldn't you invest just as much time into making the store a more interesting place for them to be? It starts with a flow of new items that becomes more and more advanced as the game play progresses. Virtual goods that depend on other virtual goods can make it even more interesting. Examples could be: an engine that will fit only one type of car and a pouch that will fit up to 2 swords while a big pouch can fit 3 swords and a dagger.
I hope you found this useful. Be sure to check for more advice at our Blog and on our Fan Page. If you want to brainstorm about the virtual economy for your game, feel free to reach out - firstname.lastname@example.org.