Unlike traditional pay-to-play games where the experience was very similar to watching a movie, free-to-play games are more similar to series: the videogame has to entertain the user for a long period of time to generate revenue (either through micropayments or advertisements).

A small design fault can make a big difference. That’s why checking if your free-to-play game is healthy is so important. But how can you know?

That’s the question Julian Serravi wanted to answer in his public talk at the F2P Campus. With over eight years’ experience as Game Designer, he has worked on such successful games as Dragon City and Monster Legends at Social Point. “Acquisition, Retention and Monetization. Those are the three areas you have to check to see if your game is healthy.

Acquisition

  • Do the strengths of your team cover the marketing/acquisition area?
  • Have you started to work on/think about the acquisition area?
  • Do you have a clear action plan about how to promote your game once it’s done?

These are some of the questions you need to ask yourself to find out if your acquisition strategy is right. And the sooner you ask them the better. According to Serravi, “You have to start thinking about the acquisition of users from the beginning; don’t wait to have the game finished.

To do this, it is essential to know key data such as your Cost Per Acquisition/Install (CPA/CPI), what you need to invest in marketing to get a player, and the Lifetime Value (LTV), the income that each player generates until they stop playing. And above all, the CPA/CPI must always be less than the LTV.

Retention

Given that in free-to-play games few players pay in the first session, retaining them and keeping them playing for a long period is key to making a videogame healthy. In fact, it’s better if they play more often rather than for longer.

To achieve this, it is key that you are able to offer all the benefits and unique features of your game to the player in the first session as well as offering a good First-time User Experience (FTUE).

One of the games I was working on was generating quite a lot of money, and it looked like everything was going well, but the FTUE was very bad. The jump from the tutorial to the proper game was quite confusing and few players understood what they had to do next. With a simple change in the interface we managed to increase retention considerably,” Serravi explained.

From the second game session onwards, the important thing is to create the habit of playing among your players. For this you have to create the following loop: 

  1. Cue: You receive a notification.
  2. Craving: This reminds you of the need.
  3. Response: You enter the game and do the core-loop.
  4. Reward: You achieve a goal, complete the core-loop or reach a new level.

To do this, techniques such as the Appointment Mechanic can be used, establishing short-, medium- and long-term appointments. You can also use time-limited events which are integrated into the core-loop of the game and offer exclusive rewards. 

Monetization

Finally, in order to know if your game is healthy you need to check the monetization. “In free-to-play games it’s essential to have a ‘chameleon approach’ and focus on offering a great experience to the player while making them want to spend money,” Serravi said.

The two most important moments for a game are when the player decides to play again, and when he decides to make his first purchase. That’s why you have to think very hard about when you’re going to ask them to pay; from that moment onwards:

  • the barrier for future purchases is reduced.
  • you have opportunities to up-sell.
  • the relationship between the game and the player changes.

But how do you get a player to make a first purchase? Offer something:

  • very valuable and rare.
  • at the right time and place.
  • that is a no-brainer decision.

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