Game monetization is a real bone of contention, with the free-to-play model changing the way we pay for games. According to this article on essential steps to monetization, the quality of a game can be judged on the following criteria:
- Understanding - what are the rules and objectives of the game?
- Usability - how can the player achieve these?
- User experience - what is the 'fun' element of the game?
So, should your monetization method also be judged against these criteria? After all, if monetization is nothing but an afterthought when you've realised you're not making any money, people may enjoy your game but it's highly unlikely they will 'enjoy' your monetization strategy.
Monetization should be at the forefront of a developer's mind from the very beginning, not just a bolted-on solution, which can impact the quality of a perfectly good game. There is a leap of faith for all developers looking to monetize their game, but that needn't be the case. By applying a monetization method to the criteria outlined above from the start of the creation of a new game, developers can find a strategy that they can trust, but also one that adds to the gaming experience.
Okay, so we aren’t trying to tell game developers how to make good games – they don’t need us to do that.. Obviously, for gamers to persevere with a game the rules and objectives need to be as clear as crystal. That means the game interface needs to convey to new users what the controls are and what the aim of the game is within the first couple of minutes. Otherwise, it’s all too easy for a user to just choose a different game.
With the growth of online gaming, many users expect a facility to play against their friends using a multiplayer platform. As multiplayer tournaments become more commonplace, they may become a swing factor for new users playing your game, so it needs to be clear and easy to users how they invite their friends or join tournaments.
That leads us onto monetization, as tournaments introduce a new level of competition and an opportunity for developers to make money by introducing a cash element to multiplayer platforms. In this sense, cash-gaming can essentially become a part of the game, a bonus element to a multiplayer mode. Gamers must be clear on what they have to do to win a cash tournament and what the potential rewards are when they’re playing a particular game. To do this, the user interface must integrate the cash-gaming element almost seamlessly within the game, at the same time as making it clear to the user that they are playing for cash rewards. There is a fine line between making life easy for a user and making it so easy it feels as if they are being scammed.
One big advantage of cash-gaming is that it helps a game hit its first ‘understanding’ objective by the very fact that it provides an objective, a tangible incentive for the gamer from the very offset. Winning a cash reward is a clear and desirable objective in itself – beat your opponent and you win cash! The next step is for the game to help the new user understand what he must do to achieve this by providing clear instructions.
Monetization models currently being used by developers are unpopular with the user, and have proven ineffective in most cases. In-game advertising, particularly on mobile when popups can be tapped accidentally driving a user to a landing page they never wanted to visit, are a real turn off for some users. Most importantly, it doesn’t add anything other than a distraction to the game itself.
Cash-gaming can be integrated into any type of game – mobile and online are particularly ripe platforms but we are seeing console gaming turning towards cash tournaments as a means of driving engagement. The obvious example that springs to mind is Xbox’s partnership with Virgin Money. But for new users, the more complicated a game is, the less likely they are to willingly compete for cash as there is a natural desire to practice first.
We’ve said repeatedly that monetization shouldn’t be an afterthought when developing a game and this is a great example. For developers looking to make a complex, hardcore adventure game that lacks direct player-versus-player scenarios, monetization is going to be difficult to integrate and less likely to succeed. However, the growth of mobile and online gaming provides more opportunities for simple, addictive games that the average user, rather than a regular gamer, can pick up and play.
These kinds of games should be developed with monetization in mind. Focusing less on the notional concept of how to play and how to win the game, this criterion is concerned with how easy a game is to physically play. Lots of complicated controls that users find fiddly and difficult to get used to may put them off competing for cash. Whereas a game that is easy to get good at after just a few tries is far more tempting.
Usability applies to the cash tournament element as well. A developer is likely to be extremely frustrated if he has an interactive, simple and addictive game that is making no money because his gamers find it difficult to open accounts, enter cash tournaments or collect rewards. A user should be able to do each of these in just a few clicks. Likewise, a user will be turned off if he/she wins cash and has to jump through hoops to receive it. Cash tournament integrators must ensure deposits and withdrawals are simple to initiate and user requests are responded to quickly.
If you’ve got the first two right, user experience should be a given. However, it would be frankly dismissive to suggest that if a game has an objective and is easy to play that people will buy it in droves. Games have to be enjoyable for users to play them, return to them and recommend them.
The notable word there is ‘recommend’ and I believe that the user experience increasingly relies on a game’s ability to allow users to compete with their friends. Again, different features are more or less relevant depending on the nature of your game and the platform it is on. For an experimental console game with a compelling story that is designed as a piece of pure entertainment as well as a game, the user experience comes in the sheer quality of the game, the story and the special effects.
For a game of multiplayer pool or tennis designed for smartphones and tablets, the user experience depends a lot more on how a player can interact socially as well as play the game. For example, is it easy for the user to locate their private contacts and friends on a network rather than just playing random opponents? Is it easy to share results on social networks so they can shout about what they’ve won? Is there a leaderboard that private groups of friends can be strive to be on top of?
The cash-gaming element adds to the level of social interaction within a game by providing an additional layer of competition. Users are likely to compete more vigorously with their friends than opponents they do not know, as there is a greater sense of achievement and also some banter to be had out of beating a mate at your favourite game. Similarly, groups of friends often enjoy competing for cash with each other rather than against random people or in online casinos.
It’s important for cash tournament integrators to consider skill-matching for those users that will play online against users they do not know. It’s counter-productive for a gamer to lose out to an opponent he/she was never going to beat and also distracts from the competitive element as a beginner versus an expert is usually no contest!
Adding to the competitive element by adding a more tangible reward is likely to increase engagement and improve the stickiness of a game as players feel they have more to gain from practicing and improving.
The holistic approach to monetization
‘Holistic’ is a terribly overused word but in this case it accurately describes the process a developer must go through to monetize a game well. There is nothing holistic at all about designing, developing and launching a game only to subject it to in-game advertising or lock certain facilities behind a pay wall because the game is attracting users but not making money.
It’s time for monetization methods to be subjected to the same kind of scrutiny as the game itself. A truly holistic approach is that the monetization method used actually adds something to the game. As we see with cash-gaming, developers have to make a call as to whether a particular game complements the use of cash tournament gaming or not. Furthermore, it’s important that the cash-gaming functionality is easy-to-use, transparent and stimulates competition between friends and groups.