So you’ve designed a killer video game. You’ve assembled a bunch of super fun gameplay objectives, figured out in-game action, and conjured a bunch of awesome and engaging characters. You’re ready to go, right? Well, not quite. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to figure out what your business model is, and how you are going to monetize your hit game.
We asked our numbers guru and Chief Monetization Officer, Pepe Cantos, to talk us through the basics of F2P game monetization, from strategy to analytics via payment friction to game mechanics and back. Here’s what he told us…
Pepe, when is the ideal moment to start thinking about whether/how to monetize your game?
It only makes sense to start thinking of the monetization once you have a rock solid retention, which means that your players are fully engaged. You can always trigger early adopters by the means of really appealing features or offers, but before starting with an aggressive monetization campaign you should make sure that you have a solid and loyal player base. In the end only the players who really enjoy your game are the ones who are going to make a purchase, and the only way to reach that point that triggers those players to buy is to make them have endless fun when playing your game.
Is there an ideal demographic to target for monetization? How do you find them/reach them?
People tend to think that the hardcore players are the best monetizing players, but I disagree. There are a bunch of things to be taken into account before stating that “this” or “that” segment is the best in terms of monetization.
When designing a game it’s crucial to have clear in your mind which segments you want to target. For instance, King knows perfectly which type of audience they are targeting with their games, and I’m pretty much sure that they’re monetizing really well. This same approach works for Supercell with Clash of Clans and Hay Day, and of course for us with Dragon City.
How to find them? There are different alternatives you can work with. Of course AdNetworks offer a really powerful tool to reach the players that fit best with your game, but they are expensive and you must count on a really solid buffer of cash to grow. There are other options, like ASO (AppStore optimization), and publishers.
The strategy you choose will depend a lot on how big you are, your budget and the ROI that you get from the users. For example, if your game monetizes really well, which means that either a lot of players buy or some players spend a lot or both things, you can afford to pay more for the players. Moreover, those players are supposed to be better than others who have been acquired “organically”, therefore they should contribute even more to the wheel of the monetization. Of course there’s a way more complex system behind this simple explanation.
Should your strategy be retention? Or reaching and converting new players?
The right approach should focus first on acquiring the right users, then on retaining and finally on encouraging them to make purchases.
Of course, the sooner a player makes a purchase the better, because in a certain way that player is an early investor in your game, which means that he/she will be more willing to keep playing to take advantage of his or her investment.
Having said that, a game with high conversion doesn’t necessarily guarantee long-term success. You may have found the right way to trigger players to make their first purchase at a very early stage in the game, but if you are not able to make them enjoy the game from that point onwards, players are not going to make a second purchase and your system will fall apart quickly.
Ideally players should be able to keep buying endlessly and the game should keep offering endless fun.
Could you describe the “perfect” process of monetization from payment friction to game mechanics?
Wow! This a tricky question! It usually takes us several weeks of work to take the next step in this regard. What I can tell you is that everything starts with the numbers. If you do not feel comfortable dealing with numbers, metrics and so on, then this may not be your business. It may sound cold and not what a game should be, but in reality it’s really interesting, rewarding and worthwhile.
I always say that in this industry, the real adventure starts once the game is live. Once you can start collecting data you can also start figuring out things; you can formulate a hypothesis and run AB tests or iterations to prove that you were right.This process is about patience and trial and error.
What I usually do is to take a look at the main metrics, find out which of them should and can be improved, and then I discuss the situation with the Analysts and Game Designers. Then I start running in depth analysis and formulating some hypotheses and tests that may potentially generate the improvement I’m looking for.
Once this is decided, I get together with the game designers to try to make this fit with one of the main mechanisms of the game (core-loop mechanics) and come up with an idea for a feature, offer or whatever.
I think friction is unavoidable if you want to make money with your games. Being extremely aggressive doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem either. You just need to be mindful of potential consequences, which are going to be negative or positive. Collateral effects are part of the game and you have to live with them, the key is to balance things like friction and churn endless free content and engagement.
“In this industry, the real adventure starts when your game is live.” Pepe Cantos, CMO Social Point.
Any examples of great game mechanics that deliver enjoyable gameplay whilst optimizing conversion?
There are tons of different ways and things that can work really well depending on your game. So for example, if you ask what I should focus on most if I’m developing a RTS game (i.e. Kabam’s titles), I’d suggest you to pay special attention to the social interaction, to the world map, and to the balancing.
Whereas, if you ask what to do if you’re going for a skill based game, I’d say to you that a proper balancing of the progression plus a smart way of setting up the Gate-system may work.
What I can tell you for sure, is that there is no single way of succeeding in this industry. One of the most appealing things of working in the F2P industry is that you can build your own way.
Can going cross-platform enhance your monetization prospects?
By means of engagement. Cross platform players are usually more engaged than other players. Being cross platform means that you want more convenient gameplay – in the sense that it can be accessible on different platforms (iOS, Android, Facebook).
The more engaged your players are, the longer they play; which means that they are more often exposed to monetizing triggers
Can you talk us through the importance of analytics in monetizing your game?
Analytics is monetizing, as I’ve said before if you do not have data that can be transformed into digestible information, you will not be able to monetize your game. From the basic KPIs to more complex analysis you must count the numbers when defining the next step to take.
“The more engaged your players are, the longer they’ll play; and the longer they’ll be exposed to monetizing triggers.”
What about the growth of mobile – how do you see that influencing game monetization?
SuperData has recently announced that the CPI is higher than ever, which means that if you’re not able to make your games make money you’ll soon be out of the business.
With the raise of acquisition costs and with the current atomization of the industry, developers who really want to grow must make a big bet on solid designs that support strong monetization systems that either generate good conversion or a high ARPPU or both, without endangering engagement.