Alberto Toledo, Monetization Manager at AxesInMotion: “Designing a balanced economy is key for the success of a free-to-play game”

October 4, 2018

Like many of his colleagues at AxesInMotion, Alberto Toledo belongs to the generation that went, overnight, from watching cartoons to controlling a virtual character on the living room telly. A radical change in which he ceased to be a mere spectator and became a kind of orchestra conductor who decides what happens and when. “Playing videogames stimulated my imagination in such a way that I spent much of my childhood doodling sketches which I later discovered were mechanics and game levels”, he says.

Maybe nowadays he still ‘doodles’ in his notebooks, but those drawings are now not just ink on paper. Some of them, like Extreme Car Driving Simulator, have become successful games with more than 200 million downloads. 

It’s not every day that you’re lucky enough to talk to the Monetization Manager at AxesInMotion; that’s why we couldn’t miss the opportunity to interview Alberto Toledo during his stay as a mentor at the F2P Campus in Vitoria-Gasteiz. 

F2P Campus (F): Why choose free-to-play as a business model?

Alberto Toledo (AT): If you want to make intimate, personal games and finite experiences, the premium model is fine. But if you’re looking to reach the general public, for the size of the market and also for the growth that it’s going through, there’s a great business opportunity in videogames as a service. What’s more, it’s a business model in constant evolution, relatively new and very open to experimentation. The game as a service is principally a trend on mobile, but it’s becoming stronger and stronger on PC and consoles. The best is yet to come. 

F: Why do the vast majority of F2P games use virtual currencies in their economy instead of real currencies?

AT: Virtual currency can be obtained as a reward – that is, without paying – and be accumulated during the progression of the game, to then be exchanged, voluntarily, for specific virtual items. Applying a purchase price – with real currency – to those virtual items would preclude that free element.  

F: How do you draw the line between what is given away in the game for free and what the player has to buy? If you fall short you could lose players, but if you go too far you might be leaving money on the table. 

AT: In our games everything can be obtained for free, despite some virtual items requiring more effort. We design a broad range of items in order to be able to give them different values within the game. That value consequently determines how easy or difficult each item is to get. 

F: What’s the most common problem that you come across in the economies of the games you publish?

AT: The main challenge as regards the economy design usually consists in offering the user a game with a balanced economy in which rewards and prices are consistent both short-term and long-term (which we call early, mid and end game). This economy is an element through which you give more or less value to virtual items, which requires constant iteration work on the basis of internal estimates, players’ suggestions and analytics. 

F: How has the arrival of stores like the App Store, the Play Store and Steam (which allows anyone to publish their game) affected publishers?

AT: Digital game stores, whether for PC or mobile, have helped to attract new players and have been key in the expansion of the videogame as an entertainment option at a global level. This has encouraged the emergence of new publishers dedicated exclusively to digital distribution. Similarly, we’re seeing that many traditional publishers have managed to adapt and add new games, designed for the digital market, to their product catalog. Meanwhile, the cost of development tools has gone down, which has resulted in a saturation of the market; it has ended up dominated mainly by large publishers who can afford to launch a multitude of products and only develop those that demonstrate, through metrics, good business performance.  

F: What advice would you give to someone taking their first steps in the industry?

AT: Development tools and distribution channels are now within reach of anyone who wants to make games and publish them. Therefore, the most widely given advice, which I’ll share, is to try to make very simple games, in a few days or weeks (or even MVPs – Minimal Viable Products – if the project is more ambitious), and publish them. In this way one can go through the production cycle several times and keep improving development and exploring mechanics and ways to optimize retention and monetization.