Why it’s so important to innovate when creating a successful free-to-play videogame

July 31, 2019

Everyone wants their game to be the next Candy Crush, Clash of Clans or Fortnite. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish, but it’s almost impossible if you simply copy what’s in fashion. The key, as Sven Liebich taught us in his public talk, is in the very numbers that the whole free-to-play business model is based on.

For those who don’t know him, Sven Liebich is an expert in Game Art and Game Production with more than 20 years’ experience. During this time he has worked as a key artist, creative director and senior producer for games known worldwide, such as The Settlers (Ubisoft) and Lord of Ultima (EA). He is currently VP of Art at Social Point.

Experience enough to know that nowadays, making a good game is not enough; you have to go one step further.

The most important factor for your game to be successful

Until now the success or failure of a videogame was marked by factors such as having good gameplay, clean code, and attractive graphics. However, the most important thing today is the Cost Per Install (CPI).

The key is in the numbers that underpin free-to-play games: 1,000,000 ad impressions get you 100,000 clicks, which get you 10,000 installs, which get you 1,000 active users, which get you 100 paying users, of which only 10 spend a large amount of money.

If your game is a copy of a successful puzzle or battle royale game, the CPI is going to be so high that you won’t be able to compete. You need to be creative and do something innovative.

What is innovation?

Now, what is innovation? For Sven Liebich it’s “giving a new solution to an existing desire”. You need to make less but better.

What’s more, no matter how much mass appeal you want your game to have, you can’t get it if you don’t work on your own identity and culture first. That’s the only way to get loyal followers to recommend you to their friends.

To do this, it’s key to go for the early adopters first: those people who are capable of camping out for a week when something excites them so much that they want it before anyone else. They’re the ones who are going to spread the word. “If you go straight for the vast majority, you’re not going to get anywhere; they’re not going to care”.

Unique Selling Proposition vs. Unique Perceived Benefit

Another key factor for Sven Liebich in getting your game to be a success is to stop talking about a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and start talking about a Unique Perceived Benefit (UPB). “USPs are boring, easy to forget, whereas the UPB is an emotion that leaves an impression”.

Leo Burnett said that “in every product, there exists some inherent drama“. In the advertising world, this drama, that which comes from the UPB, is used to sell products. For example, Clash of Clans, instead of focusing their advertising on talking about epic battles, fighting millions of players or playing for free, talked about how stupid your army is. A consequence of giving control of the troops to an AI.

The same is true of demographic targeting. Don’t worry about it; worry about the emotions you want to generate. “Pixar don’t care about demographics, they care about emotions, and that’s why when their films are screened there are people of all ages, and why they’re so successful,” Liebich says.

First steps when you start making a game

Last but not least, Sven Liebich shared some of the first steps you should take when starting to make a game:

  • Understand who you are working for:
    • Know their desires, beliefs, biases and how to get them excited.
    • Create like/dislike boards.
  • Segmentation, from niche to mass market. What are you aiming at?
    • Mass market requires understanding human needs and desires, e.g. “I can’t draw”, “I suck at chess”, “I can’t afford to play golf”, “Pool billiards is a profession, hard to learn and hard to master”, “I don’t have time to play games”.
    • Niche requires in-depth knowledge of the subject matter and audience profiling, e.g. “The raid is too time consuming”, “Aiming with a controller is too challenging”, “Strategy games on mobile suck”, “Permadeath is the only reason I play this”.

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