The free-to-play market has grown to epic proportions and the game industry is taking notice. How did games like RuneScape (over 100 million active accounts), MapleStory (over 50 million players worldwide) and Perfect World International (over 50 million players worldwide) do so well Here are 10 keys you should pay close attention to when building your free-to-play strategy compiled by Perfect World Entertainment Director of Operation, Yoon Im, and Product Manager, Jonathan Belliss, reprinted with permission from IndustryGamers.
In the early days of the North American Free to Play Market, several companies released titles that were not of high quality. These companies made a lot of money, and as a result, several other players jumped into the space with the same mentality. Low development cost, low quality, high returns.
Back then the number of Free to Play games in the US could be counted on one hand, but the early days are long past gone. Now with more and more competitors jumping into the pool, quality level is becoming a significant success factor. In fact, a lot of lower quality games that are being published today are not seeing nearly the same return they could have expected to see back in 2005 and 2006.
We all know that Free to Play games have a low barrier to entry, but what people need to realize is that they also have a low barrier to exit. High game quality will help you retain users as well as reduce your churn rate.
A lot of publishers and even developers think that once their product is out the door, they re done. This is definitely not the case in the online gaming industry. Most developers are now on the ball in terms of adopting the service driven mindset, but a lot of publishers are still behind in terms of being service oriented.
Being service oriented means constantly thinking of new and innovative ways for you to provide better service to your users. Create an achievement system to encourage users to complete content and compete against their friends. Introduce a VIP system that rewards veteran players for sticking around and playing your game. Improve and build upon your existing Customer Support System.
Try to adopt the mindset of your users and envision what would make you happier as a customer.
Support Your Publishing Platform
Customer Support is your soldiers on the front line. They interact with your players day in and day out, and will know what issues are bothering players the most.
A lot of people look for a golden rule in terms of how many support team members you should have for every X number of players in your game. The truth of the matter is that it s different from game to game, there is no golden rule.
It’s important to have enough resources to handle sudden influxes of support, while at the same time, not be so stacked that a majority of your staff is twiddling their thumbs when tickets/requests are low in volume.
Managing these resources properly involves a lot of structure, processes, and tools. Make sure that you have all three in place in order to save budget, maintain efficiency, but still be ready to meet the needs of your user base.
What most publishers don t realize is that billing for micro-transactions is infinitely more complex than that of subscription based games. It’s even more vital to understand that these complexities create hundreds of loopholes that malicious users will exploit.
What do you do when a player charges back and refuses to pay you for items you ve already delivered to them What happens if a player buys an item trades it to someone else, and then charges back These are the kinds of scenarios that your Fraud Team should have already run through logistically and have planned out in terms of processes on your end.
Having a high chargeback rate or fraud rate can, in extreme cases, result in your company being blacklisted from specific credit card companies. I don’t think we need to emphasize how detrimental that can be to your business.
What are you selling Are you selling content, expansions, accessories, customization items, functional items
What 10 items are going to be driving your sales on a daily basis This needs to be decided while your game is in the production cycle. Trying to determine this late in development or changing the direction of your game to accommodate this will often ruin the consistency of your game design. Plan from the start and know the role virtual goods are going to be playing in your game.
How are you going to convince players that they need to purchase your virtual goods/content Will it be via your website or game launcher What messaging will you use Will you offer them sample cash shop items via a quest in-game
There are many potential avenues for monetizing your player base both on the development side and publishing side. The bottom line is that no one is going to buy anything unless they’re convinced of its value, and it’s your job to convince them.
This at times is thought to go hand in hand with Monetization Strategy, and in some examples is accurate. Item Pricing, however, is a very significant factor in terms of success for a Free to Play game. The pricing of your items is going to determine everything from your ARPU (Average Revenue per User) to your bottom line.
Do you want to price items high and take the higher ARPPU (Average Revenue per Paying User) route Or do you price your items lower and aim for a higher paying user ratio Are your items mostly convenience items that should be priced cheaply, or are they luxury items that you want to price high These are questions you should ask yourself when coming up with your pricing strategy.
When most people hear the word localization , they think about language. When importing a game from overseas to the Western Market, naturally you should pay very close attention to language localization.
What is often overlooked is gameplay localization. There are aspects of gameplay that can be tweaked according to the intrinsic needs of the market you re targeting. For example, many MMORPGs in the Asian Market focus on grinding , killing similar monsters over and over until your character levels up and progresses. The Western Market hates grinding, and is more objective/quest oriented. So adding more quests to ensure there are no gaps in gameplay where a user is forced to grind in order to progress is probably a good move if you re publishing your game in the West.
This is one subtle example that should be replicated across your entire game. Find out who your target is and what they want, then make sure your game can deliver according to what those needs and desires are. That is true localization.
Properly Positioning Your Title
So let’s say you re a manager for an up and coming NBA superstar. He s 7 feet tall, can rebound like nobody s business, but doesn’t have that much speed and can’t shoot. Positioning him as a 3 point guard would be a huge waste of talent. Positioning him as a defensive center is guaranteed to net him more traction and increase the chance that he’ll be picked up by a team.
The same rules apply for your Free to Play game. You need to take the time to fully understand your product from top to bottom. You need to know what games in the market are similar to your title, and what makes your game stand out from the pack. Positioning your title improperly will make media outlets distrust you when you pitch future products to them. More importantly, your audience will feel that their perception of gameplay is not in line with yours, and take their business elsewhere.
Once you’ve figured out how to position your title, you re then ready to market it. It doesn’t matter if you have a mom and pop budget, or a huge corporate wallet, marketing efficiently will both save you money, as well as make you money.
When you set out to initially plan your marketing campaign, you need to identify your core targets. Based on the position of the game, who are you going to broadcast it to What s the target demographic, where does this demographic congregate both online and offline
After your initial campaigns are complete, some will have performed well and some will be flops. It s ok to have campaigns that were complete and utter wastes of money, it s just important that you learn from those mistakes and never make them again.
Business Intelligence consists of two primary components: The ability to record, pool, and track data related to your business, and the ability to comprehend that data and produce an action plan from it.
Some basic ways that Business Intelligence can affect other core components of your game include Monetization Strategy (when is your game selling and how can you boost sales at times when it is not), Item Pricing (what type of impact have sales promotions had and how can pricing being adjusted accordingly), and Player Behavior (what quests and activities do players gravitate towards most and how can you maximize these), etc.
Business Intelligence will either confirm or deny your hypothesis about your title and allow you to make more informed decisions about the development of both your game and your publishing platform.