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. “Carl” (not his real name) is a game industry professional and frequently spends in free-to-play games. He shares some great insights into why he makes these purchases…
Ellen: Carl, thank you so much for participating in this interview. My first question... about how many F2P games have you paid money for?
Carl: Too many to easily count. Probably in the vicinity of fifty or so.
Ellen: What is the most you will you spend on a F2P game?
Carl: For a single game, probably $100. That amount is similar for my wife, who also plays these type of games.
Ellen: What is your favorite F2P game?
Carl: I still play "Blood Brothers" and "Puzzle and Dragons" every now and again. Both play on my collector personality. Runner-up would be "Happy Street" for its "Animal Crossing" vibe and crafting.
Ellen: What prompted you to first pay for a F2P game?
Carl: DLC on console games got me first, an expansion pack for "Borderlands". A coin-doubler in "Jetpack Joyride" was my first in-app purchase on mobile, as the basic game was fun but very grindy. I bought premium currency for a Funzio game called "Modern War" because I thought I was going to game the system based on my experiences with their previous game! I thought that with a five dollar purchase and by avoiding the social crewing component of the game, I was going to be untouchable because of the way the PvP matchmaking worked. Unfortunately for me, they figured out that loophole and closed it in the sequel!
Ellen: Do you usually purchase currency, bundles, or something else?
Carl: If there's a coin doubler, that's my first no-brainer purchase as I know that the designers likely tuned the economy to the doubled income. Next priorities are durable goods as opposed to consumables, and premium currencies over grindable ones.
Ellen: How does scarcity or urgency factor into your purchasing decisions?
Carl: Scarcity generally doesn't factor into my decisions, as I don't believe in real scarcity with virtual goods. Urgency, time-limited offers with a clear value proposition, now that's something else. Card Battlers revolve around this by regularly offering limited time booster packs and even more enticing, "tiered" booster packs where the value proposition gets better and better the more you buy. For example, a game called "Hellfire" does tiered card summons starting at 200 hard currency. The deal is a little better than an equivalent normal summon in that you get some bonus consumables. With each purchase, the price goes up but so does the number of guaranteed rare cards and bonuses. It gets scarily addicting and expensive quickly, but the value proposition for players is still solid. If you're willing to spend in the first place, it's one of the best deals. However, if you lack impulse control, you can find yourself spending far out of your comfort zone quickly.
Ellen: If you have done multiple purchases in a single game, what is the usual reason?
Carl: Most often it's related to a limited-time event. Something to help me keep accumulating points and rewards. However, as long as I feel that there's a clear value proposition, I'll buy. A good example is "Fairway Solitaire". While not a F2P game, it has many IAPs, several of which I purchased because they were too damn helpful to ignore.
Ellen: What is the most compelling upsell you've ever encountered?
Carl: That's a tie between the tiered summons in "Hellfire" and the extreme discounts on premium versions of whatever car you're driving in "CSR Racing". In the latter, they hide the normal price and if you back out of the upsell to try to check, the deal expires. Clever.
Ellen: Have you ever had "buyer's remorse" after making a F2P purchase, where you regretted making that purchase?
Carl: Almost all the buyer's remorse I've experienced has been with durable upgrades in action games, guns and armor notably. There's little worse than spending money on a weapon that's powerful "on paper" but is either very slow, difficult to aim, etc. in practice.
Ellen: Have you ever done an incentivized advertising activity?
Carl: I'll do incentivized videos. In the earlier days of freemium, I did regularly do incentivized app downloads, now banned by Apple. These days I'll watch videos, or more specifically, I'll start the video, put the phone down and do something else while it plays. Rinse and repeat. :)
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)?
Carl: Coin doublers are, as I've said, a no-brainer. In fact, I believe they're good for the player and not great for the developer. There's a fallacy that getting one dollar out of someone is better than nothing, but coin doublers are often the only purchase I'll make. If they weren't available, I might have made multiple purchases on other things.
Ellen: Any other great value propositions?
Carl: A lot of developers are starting to include "non-monetizer" carts, that is, if the player doesn't spend for X number of days, they'll start offering things at a steep discount to pop the cork, so to speak. If you can be patient, there are some great deals there.
Ellen: What do you think of F2P games, overall?
Carl: I have absolutely no issue with F2P as a business model. Like anything there are positive examples and negative ones. There's also something to be said for just paying an upfront price for a game and knowing that I'm getting the full experience. Brenda Romero's talk at GDC (http://www.gamezebo.com/news/2013/04/03/brenda-romero-pros-and-cons-free-play-gdc) captured my mixed-feelings quite well. Specifically, some developers concoct an idea for a game that has potential to be enjoyable, and then they proceed to focus more on profit than honoring that potential of fun.
Ellen: Carl, thank you so much for participating in this interview!