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Winning F2P Mechanics
Posted by Duxter 28 January 2013 - 09:21 PM 0  comments


I’ve tried a few free to play or free trial games recently. These games have ranged from SWTOR (MMORPG), to Angry Birds, to some Wild Tangent games. I was impressed with some of the mechanics, but I also felt there were some missed opportunities. I will bifurcate this post into what worked/what didn’t.

I have never created a game which means I’ve never created a F2P game. I have however worked in the industry for 15 years so I’ve seen the evolution of thinking around the F2P model. Free to play isn’t exactly a new concept, especially F2P games with a “premium” or subscription based model. The logic behind creating a F2P game is:

  • The game delivers some value, a value people are willing to pay for
  • By giving a “sample” of the game to gamers for free, some % of them will be willing to upgrade to a paid account
  • More gamers will upgrade to paid accounts if they try the game for free, than if the game were purely paid
  • There are appropriate incentives/reasons to upgrade

Upgrade moments

In order to get someone to take out there wallet there need to be built in upgrade moments. Moments where you say:


“shit…because I’m F2P I miss out on this.”

“This is so awesome, I think I want commit to this game and upgrade”


Option 1 tends to be far more powerful. The fear of missing out can be a powerful driver. I often see this go wrong when games make the

If these moments are compelling enough people will upgrade. If you say to yourself “eh I don’t really care that I am missing out on this” the moments fail. The upgrade screen should be used only when one of these moments hits. Rather than popping the upgrade screen up every hour on the hour, or at every login, save the screen for a true upgrade moment. This is the same logic behind Kiip.

Earned but unclaimed goods

This is a great mechanic I discovered in SWTOR which will not be applicable to many F2P games. SWTOR has in game currency that you earn by doing all sorts of activities. F2P players are “capped” out at 350K credits. Rather than telling you “any credits you earn over 350K are lost. Upgrade today” all credits over 350K are put “in escrow” and redeemable after you upgrade. I love this mechanic for 2 reasons


1. This mechanic doesn’t punish F2P players and instead lets them build up an ever-increasing incentive to turn into a paid player.

2. It helps make converting to paid feel like an eventuality rather than an oddity. The game continues to deliver value but meteres that value out to you over time. The logic dictates that after the game has delivered enough value, you will upgrade.


Incentivize paid players for converting F2P players to paid

I have not seen this mechanic well executed anywhere. If anyone has a great example please let me know in the comment section.

One of the most powerful tools in a F2P game arsenal is the power of the paid/premium players. Those gamers obviously enjoy the game enough to shell out some cash. On the margin they are more active, more engaged, and more passionate about the game. Give the premium players additional incentive to get F2P players to upgrade. This is similar to how many games do incentivized referrals but rather than incentivizing players to get folks to sign up, incentivize them to convert F2P to paid. Paid gamers are your best advocates. Building in game mechanics to facilitate this should be even easier than building a solid incentivized referral program.

Use F2P players to the advantage of paid players

Rather than segregating F2P/paid players for activities why not create special activities that require F2P players to play with paid players? This will help feed into the mechanic I described above. it also keeps the F2P players from being out on an island. If paid players are incentivized (whether directly or indirectly through gameplay) to bring F2P players into the mainstream game activity it is much more likely a F2P gamer will convert to paid. By tweaking the gameplay to allow paid players some advantages, F2P players see the perks of paid first hand.

I love good game mechanics and I’m infatuated with business models. When the two work together in harmony it creates incredibly powerful effects that can drive games for years (See League of Legends). We will see more F2P games in the coming years, I hope we see evolving mechanics as well.

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