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TylerYork

Gameplay vs. Monetization

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[color=#000000][font=Arial][size=4]Hey all,[/size][/font][/color]

[color=#000000][font=Arial][size=4]As you guys may already know, I work for a game monetization platform. I've heard from a number of people here that one of their biggest complaints with freemium monetization is that it ruins gameplay. [/size][/font][/color]

[color=#000000][font=Arial][size=4]With advertising, there's really no good place to put it in the game that doesn't disrupt the user in some way, whether it's an annoying ad in Angry Birds or a full page interstitial popup between turns. [/size][/font][/color]

[color=#000000][font=Arial][size=4]This is what leads lots of people to do virtual currency-based models. But even those models can mess with gameplay, especially when the game is selling the most useful items: stat bonuses, equipment, consumable items, and energy refills. These items can change gameplay balance and make non-paying players frustrated.[/size][/font][/color]

[color=#000000][font=Arial][size=4]But on the flip side, you've got to make money. I mean, not just "oh I have to keep the lights on", but if you make a great game you should be rewarded. [/size][/font][/color]

[color=#000000][font=Arial][size=4]On the one side is making beloved free apps and not getting a penny for it, while on the other side is using predatory monetization practices that net you money but little love (and may leave you with a general sadness inside [img]http://public.gamedev.net//public/style_emoticons/default/tongue.png[/img]).[/size][/font][/color]

[color=#000000][font=Arial][size=4]So my question to you guys is where do you draw the line between monetization and gameplay? Do you think there are acceptable sacrifices to gameplay if they yield significant revenue? If not, what do you do to still make your games business possible?[/size][/font][/color]
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I have to prelude this with saying that I'm a Producer on CastleVille, one of the most popular games on Facebook right now, so take that as you will.

Free to play games are great. I mean, they are [i]free[/i] to play. Revenue via ads and revenue via in-app purchases are different models, and I really only have developer experience with the later.

I think if done right then in-app purchases are a fantastic way of making money. In order for it to be "done right" there are a few guidelines you have to follow. The end user needs to not feel like they are receiving a gimped experience by not paying money. Making it so that a user can only get that kick ass stats affecting sword with money is bullshit and will piss off users. We only charge cash for some of our cool decos (that are non-game affecting) and time saving items such as energy and crafting materials. A player's progress is never blocked by not spending money, they can always craft or use virals to move forwards, just at a slower pace.

Ads, well, are just a matter of finding the right balance between making money vs. annoying the player into not wanting to play your game! Using experiments and tracking statistics with your end users really helps with figuring this out, though. Sampling the user base into experiment groups for ad placement, types of ads, and length of ads display vs. revenue per user vs. average length of play sessions vs. in-game game/friend requests to other users gives a ton of incredibly useful feedback. You don't need massive sample sizes for simple experiments.
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Hey zer0wolf,

You actually nailed many of the points that we covered in our blog post summary of responses. The key is to provide a solid game experience for free, but offer a better one for money. Check out the post here: http://blog.betable.com/the-principles-of-game-monetization/
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