This is a series of interviews of different player profiles (non-paying players, moderate spenders, and big spenders), and how and why they monetize in free-to-play games.
"Bobbi" (not her real name) is a game industry professional and what I would consider a moderate spender in free-to-play games, though as you'll read, she isn't always...
ELLEN: Bobbi, what were your initial impressions of "free to play" games?
BOBBI: I know when I started I was like "why would anyone ever pay?" But then I got hooked on a game, and considered what I was paying for in-app purchase vs. how many hours I played the game. And it ended up being incredibly cheap entertainment. Cheaper than going to a movie or buying a AAA game.
ELLEN: What is your current favorite free-to-play game?
BOBBI: "Be My Princess". It's very pink; which is funny because my favorite console game is "Bioshock". I enjoy games that are blue, purple, and pink. I'm all over the board.
ELLEN: How many free-to-play games have you paid money for?
BOBBI: About seventeen over the course of two years.
ELLEN: How would you describe yourself, in terms of your in-app purchasing behavior?
BOBBI: I am very budget conscious. In my every day life I coupon, shop sales and balance the family budget. I'm an educated consumer. When I spend money the item I'm purchasing must have a very clear value. I need to understand how the purchase will enhance my enjoyment of the game.
ELLEN: Do you usually purchase currency, bundles, or something else?
BOBBI: In "Be My Princess", I've purchased currency in order to buy limited event items, climb leaderboards or to reduce the grind (slow-paced progression through the game's levels). I love discounted starter packs. They allow me to take a chance that I'll enjoy the game without fully committing to it. I'll also buy additional content, or vanity items if the game contains a social element.
ELLEN: Is there anything else specific in a game that can influence your decision to purchase?
BOBBI: The benefit of (limited timeframe) events. I'm not going to walk in and drop $100 in a game in one sitting, but with engaging events I'll easily spend $15-20 a month over a long-term game. I'll give up my daily Starbucks run to play a game a little more.
ELLEN: Are there free-to-play games that you've played for more than a week that you haven't monetized on, and if yes, why?
BOBBI: I've been playing "Pixel People" for months and have yet to monetize. I want to spend, because I really enjoy the game. But I can't find anything of value to buy. It's like going to your favorite store, money in hand with the intent to purchase a new shirt and walking out because you can't find anything in your size. But you keep going back because you like the store and you're hopeful.
ELLEN: Any other reasons why you would choose not to monetize?
BOBBI: Some games also make the mistake of hiding their stores behind confusing user interface. I just want an easy transaction. I don't want to dig through menus to find the store.
ELLEN: What was the reason you decided to pay for something in a free-to-play game, for the very first time?
BOBBI: The first purchase I made was a sale on hard currency that allowed me to buy a high level item that I had been coveting. It made the game easier.
ELLEN: How does scarcity or urgency factor into your purchasing decisions? Can you explain in detail?
BOBBI: "Be My Princess" by Gree has delightfully complex limited events where the game layers different event types on top of each other. The story-based content is always unique and the player is rewarded for each story that they complete. Players also get extra rewards if they finish all the stories early, get on the leader boards, spin for prizes or go to parties. The unique story content and extra limited prizes really motivate me to spend. I feel like what ever I do, I'm guaranteed to get something cool and limited.
ELLEN: If you have done multiple purchases in a single game, what is the usual reason?
BOBBI: Additional content and limited timed events. I'm also committed to play the game over a long period of time. So I'm investing in something I know I'll still be playing in the following week.
ELLEN: What is the most compelling upsell you've ever encountered?
BOBBI: Simple $.99 cent starter packs that come with one or more rare spins. It's such a small value that I feel like I'm not risking a lot. A few of these are even timed or limited; so I feel a bit of pressure to buy.
ELLEN: Have you ever had "buyer's remorse" after making a free-to-play purchase, where you regretted making that purchase?
BOBBI: Those same $.99 cent starter packs. When I spin in a card battler game and I get an ugly card, I'll never spend in that game again. I don't want to buy ugly things.
ELLEN: What do you consider to be the best purchase you've ever made in a game? What do you think was the best "value proposition"? (The best value or outcome, when compared to the amount of money you spent)?
BOBBI: I love otome games (Japanese romance games). I can spend $4 to buy content that will take me 8 hours to complete. That's $.50 cents per hour of entertainment. Compared to other forms of entertainment, it's very affordable.
ELLEN: Do you participate in incentivized offers like Tapjoy?
BOBBI: If it's a game I like and the website has download and install offers, then I'll use it. When talking with other players, it surprises me how many of them don't know about the offers on the Tapjoy website. They see the high reward credit card offers in the game and get turned off, never realizing that there are other, easier to obtain offers on the site.
Also when I go to sign up for a new service, such as when my family switched over to Hulu... I try and remember to check out Tapjoy first to see if there's an offer available. This is a couponing habit. When I go to purchase something, I try and layer as many deals on it as possible. Offers, promo codes, anything that can stack together. It drives up the value of my purchase.
ELLEN: How much hard currency equivalent do you tend to acquire through incentivized offers?
BOBBI: I think I average $5 to $15 in hard currency per game that offers it, that I monetize on. I really like the download and install offers on Tapjoy.com.
ELLEN: Can you summarize how you think of free-to-play games, overall?
BOBBI: Free-to-play offers players and families variety and value. As a consumer there's very little risk; if I try a game and I don't like it I haven't really lost anything. And if I like it; I'll stay and invest. I'll become emotionally and financially invested into the longevity and success of the game.
And it's such a good value for families. For Christmas, I would rather give my kid a $30 iTunes card which she can spend into multiple (approved) kid-friendly games versus buying a $30 console game that she might finish in 2 hours. The platform is also a better value than traditional game systems. I can purchase a $150 iPod Touch with unlimited freemium games plus the additional features of messaging and websurfing; compared to $200-$400 gaming systems with games that are $20-$60 each. The savings are huge.
ELLEN: Do you wish to disclose how much money you've spent on a single free-to-play game, and on free-to-play games overall?
BOBBI: $150 in a single title. My best guess is $600 over two years. I've purchased 3 console games for myself in those 2 years as well.
ELLEN: Bobbi, thank you so much for your time and participation in this interview!