Value Propositions in Free-to-Play Games

We often take for granted the player’s ability to intuitively understand transactional moments in free-to-play games. For a player, these transactional moments occur whenever they are evaluating the exchange between their time, real money, and access to gameplay or content.

This is important for building and tuning both monetization through microtransactions, as well as through ad revenue.

If the player is asked to spend money for something they can earn in the game, they will evaluate whether the amount asked for is fair, given the amount of time it would take to otherwise acquire that content. They will also evaluate whether the content is worth it to them for the amount being asked.

If the player is asked to spend money on content that can’t otherwise be earned in the game, they will determine the value of the content, and the value of the game itself (“is this game worth spending x amount on?”).

Transactional moments are not limited to real money transactions. Anytime an exchange is proposed (be it time for content, real money for time, or real money for content), it is a transaction, even when money is not directly involved. So if a player is asked to watch a video ad for access to content or gameplay, they will evaluate whether the reward for watching the video is worth the 15 or 30 seconds it will take to “earn” by viewing. The player will also consider the value of content earned through video watching, versus content earned through microtransactions — being overly generous with video rewards can negatively impact monetization, while not giving fair value for the player’s time will reduce their engagement with video ads, negatively impacting ad revenue.

If the game has forced video ads (unskippable videos embedded within the game flow), the player will also evaluate whether continued engagement with the game is worth the amount of time lost to advertisements. If a player has to watch a 30-second ad every time before engaging in gameplay that lasts roughly two minutes, they will determine for themselves whether that ratio constitutes fair value, and justifies further engagement with the game itself.

Just as “fun” is a subjective assessment specific to every player, “fair value” will also vary depending on the degree of value placed on the game itself. User testing both gameplay and transactional moments can play a big role in determining the proper tuning for the greatest success; you can’t win by spreadsheets alone.

Even in pre-production, it’s worth considering transactional moments when building the game’s systems. Crossy Road (which monetizes incredibly well across both MTX and ad revenue), provides generous value for ad impressions, but can afford to do so by having no overlap with the game’s MTX content — video ads reward the player with coins, which they can only earn through gameplay and not MTX. For more on Crossy Road’s history and successful experiments in value propositions, check out the developer’s 2015 GDC talk.

Social Value

One final note on fair value: I believe there is a significant difference in the value proposition for content that will only benefit the player, and content that will benefit multiple players, particularly in a social context.

Consider this example: A player is asked to spend $2.99 on content in a single-player game. Later that day, the player has friends over playing a multiplayer party game, and presented with an opportunity to unlock more content for $2.99.

Are these two value propositions the same? The one grants additional content exclusively to the player, while the other will add content to a game being enjoyed by a group of friends, providing further entertainment and social experience. Which $2.99 transaction is easier to make?

How to Have a Good Meeting

dreamtofflightI’ve been in a lot of bad meetings over my years in the game industry. You can tell a meeting’s bad when it seems unnecessary, runs long, and people leave feeling cynical and exhausted. Meetings like that are the reason people hate meetings.

As a game designer, I began to come up with rules for good meetings, thinking of the meeting itself as a game that can be played well. After all, game design is about imposing structure on boundless play, and structureless meetings are often the ones that go off the rails the quickest.

A successful meeting is well-run and easy to follow, and it ends on time with everybody knowing what to do. Here are my 7 rules for well-played meetings:

1. Every meeting needs an owner.
The meeting owner is in charge of keeping the meeting structured and productive, and keeping track of time.

2. Keep meetings as small as possible.
Smaller meetings go more smoothly and more quickly than bigger meetings. Someone attending a meeting also means they’re being pulled away from the work they’re doing. The less people in a meeting, the less people being pulled off task.

Only invite the people you need. Let people know if they’re optional. Let people know if they’re not.

3. Set an agenda and a goal for each meeting.
An agenda and goal should be defined prior to the meeting, and reviewed briefly at the start of the meeting.

Everyone should be clear on what the purpose and structure of the meeting is.

If there’s a meeting invite, include the agenda and goal(s) in the invite, and include any documentation you expect people to have reviewed prior to the meeting.

4. One conversation at a time.
A meeting is only effective if it’s a single conversation that everyone is involved in. If side conversations start during a meeting, the meeting owner has the right to ask that they stop.

5. Don’t interrupt your peers.
If someone is speaking, don’t cut them off.

If you accidentally cut someone off, apologize and allow them to continue talking.

Along the same lines, be conscious of how frequently you’re talking in the meeting, and make sure to give space so everyone can be heard. The meeting owner can also work to include everyone’s voice, and not let any one person dominate the time.

6. Don’t let meetings run long.
The meeting owner’s job is to make sure the meeting stays on schedule, and doesn’t run over. When meetings run long, it makes people late for other meetings, and also makes them grumpy.

Let people know when there are five or ten minutes left in the meeting, so there’s time to wrap up discussion, confirm the goals were reached, and establish the next steps.

If the meeting satisfies its goals ahead of schedule, celebrate that fact. Short meetings are the best meetings.

7. Confirm conclusions and actionable items before ending the meeting.
At the end of a meeting, the meeting owner should go over what the conclusions were, to ensure everyone is on the same page. Don’t let folks leave before reviewing what happened in the meeting.

If there are any actionable items coming out of the meeting, these should be confirmed as well.

If the goal of the meeting was not reached, one of the actionable items should address that problem, most likely with another meeting.

To ensure future meetings are successful, the meeting owner should also send an email to all attendees after the meeting, reviewing the conclusions and actionable items. That email becomes a record of the decisions you made, and next related tasks.

If the meeting was successful, everybody wins.

Why casual games are addictive: an unordered list.

  • No instruction necessary: learn as you play; the game won’t eat you alive if you don’t know what you’re doing.
  • You only need one hand: you can play casual games while riding the subway, or eating a sandwich. Simple controls also make them less intimidating to newcomers.
  • You’re not gonna die if the phone rings: a lot of the action is dependent upon the player, so if you need to walk away for a minute you’re not jeopardizing hours of gameplay. Plus…
  • If you lose, it’s not the end of the world: casual games don’t penalize you too hard for failure; there’s little to no chastising for making a mistake, and innumerable opportunities to retry a level. No ominous ‘game over’ screens here.
  • The simplest actions become significant: Match two diamonds and fireworks go off. Spell a word and it makes a fireball. Nothing keeps a player going like the satisfaction of accomplishment; they’re playing for the bells and whistles.
  • You can play for five minutes: …but you never do; “Just one more round…”