Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 31, 2014
arrowPress Releases
October 31, 2014
PR Newswire
View All

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Kongregate's 6 habits for keeping F2P players playing (and paying!)
Kongregate's 6 habits for keeping F2P players playing (and paying!)
March 26, 2013 | By Frank Cifaldi

"Like diamonds, games are forever."

That's Kongregate co-founder and COO Emily Greer, speaking to an audience at GDC Tuesday morning about what she considers the best practices for monetizing (and satisfying!) free-to-play game players.

Kongregate focuses on games with long-term potential that maintain steady profitability, rather than on games that drive in immediate spikes of revenue before trailing off. The result of this seems to be working well for the company: 90 percent of its revenue comes from the 4 percent of players who have had more than 100 game play sessions on the portal.

In a session at GDC's Free-To-Play Summit, Greer shared what she called her six habits of highly effective F2P -- or, in other words, the six things free-to-play developers should be doing in order to maintain longterm users like Kongregates.

1. Be fun (for at least six months)

Fun games can run out of steam quickly, but there are ways to fight it.

The biggest fundamental is keeping players busy...if there is more to do, they'll stay longer. Though Greer warns that developers shouldn't introduce too many gameplay concepts too quickly. Do it gradually, so players learn without getting overwhelmed.

Greer encourages developers to "get on the content treadmill." In other words, keep pumping out new content for your games. When Kongregate surveyed its lapsed big spenders, 64% of them said they left because there wasn't enough left to do (though, on the bright side, 70% of them said they'd be willing to come back if new content was added).

This might not make business sense if your game's not driving in enough money to justify the cost of making new content, though there are ways to fight this too: procedurally-generated or user-generated content, for example.

2. Be social

Every game on Kongregate is ultra-social. There is a real-time chat window to the right of the game's window, and a topic-based forum below it.

While this might not work for your game necessarily, it does serve as a good example of how you can keep your game going as an ongoing conversation with your players.

Guilds are huge for Kongregate. Greer says that revenue on average is 20 times higher from guild members than non-guild members for two reasons: there are social incentives to keep playing and see their friends, but there's also social pressure to make sure they're not letting the team down.

3. Be convenient

One of the biggest problems Greer sees is games punishing players for not playing for a while.

"The problem with punishing people is that the consequences aren't experienced when they're gone, they're experienced when they come back: the exact behavior that you want to reward," she says.

Make it convenient for your players to take a break once in a while, she says, and consider rewarding them for coming back after an extended leave.

4. Be fair

Avoid instant-win purchases. Not only is this a short-term win, it also makes your player less invested in the game...make it feel like actually playing the game is still a good investment of their time.

Perhaps more importantly, she says: don't manipulate your players into spending money they don't want to spend. It will backfire.

5. Be caring

The easiest way to build brand loyalty is to put a human face on it. If a player feels like you care, they'll be loyal to you. Good community management is a key.

"If may be your game, but it's their experience," says Greer.

She says keys to being caring are being visible (on forums, emails, chat etc.), listening to and acknowledging concerns, being transparent and honest ("Most players are rational and understand that this game they're playing can only exist if there's revenue to support it," she says), give advance notice of changes and downtimes and, finally, don't feed the trolls.

6. Be committed

There's always a temptation that if you have a successful game, launching another title might mean you have two successful games. But that's not usually the case.

"The bigger the hit you have, the lower percentage chance you have that the next game will do as well or better," says Greer.

Being committed means more than just focusing on one game, though: it also applies to the price of your content. Avoid devaluing purchases with frequent discounts: you'll train your players to wait for a sale, putting yourself in a "vicious cycle" that will continue driving revenues down.

"If you focus on short-term metrics, you're going to get short-term behavior," she says.

Related Jobs

Activision Publishing
Activision Publishing — Santa Monica, California, United States

Tools Programmer-Central Team
Vicarious Visions / Activision
Vicarious Visions / Activision — Albany, New York, United States

VFX Artist-Vicarious Visions
Magic Leap, Inc.
Magic Leap, Inc. — Wellington, New Zealand

Level Designer
Amazon — Seattle, Washington, United States

Sr. Software Development Engineer - Game Publishing


Jim Greer
profile image
Curses! I've been overthrown!

Carlo Delallana
profile image
There has to be some kind of in-app purchase that will allow you to be CEO again.

I found this session to be very informative. There's too much focus on short term gains that you risk churning your long-haul players. I hope Emily makes the slides available since some of the data collected is useful.

Frank Cifaldi
profile image
Sorry Jim. I wrote it, so it's true.

(thanks for the you might imagine, we're pretty rushed during GDC and sometimes mistakes slip through the cracks)

Michael Gribbin
profile image
Here here! Kongregate is always providing the most useful stats in the freemium world. If more folks shared, we could all be more successful. Sounds like it was a great talk, congrats Emily!

Thomas Engelbert
profile image
This "Treat your customers fair, and don't try to exploit for shortterm revenue" attitude is awesome. If I hadn't already be planning on publishing on Kongregate anyways, I would seriously consider it now.

Titi Naburu
profile image
In a word: make players happy. Great piece!

David Paris
profile image
I'm curious what portion of Kongregate's revenue comes from its F2P upsales as opposed to advertising. My impression was that it had had at least some measure of success from just advertising early on, and only added the F2P titles later.
rnI'm definitely happy to see Kongregate thrive, though I also feel like we're not getting the same amount of high end games these days, that Kongregate used to offer. I don't think this is by Kongregate's choice, but rather that the developers have gotten more knowledgable and come to realize that they don't actually generate more money from making a deep long-playable game than they do for making something short and flashy. You're much better off making two short games that you can sell individually, than one very deep one.
rnAh well, tangent!

Jim Greer
profile image
David - our ad revenue has continued to grow, but virtual goods make up about 75% of revenue in a typical month.

As for depth, I'd encourage you to play games like Wartune, Realm of the Mad God, Tyrant, Outernauts, etc, etc.

There are definitely lighter-weight games that do well, but there's plenty of meaty ones.

David Paris
profile image
Thanks for the info on your percentages. I'm not surprised, just a little sad to hear it since I really dislike the psuedo-F2P model that seems to prevelant in the industry right now. Clearly we all need to be paid for our work, but I hate being held hostage by games, with an unclear total cost for the full game experience buried after you have invested some significant amount of time learning it.
rnMost of the titles you mention offer a 'pretty good' truly free experience, but also yield a slightly incompletely, or clearly pay-for-power model within them. Tyrant is a decent game for example, but Warstorm has largely soiled paying for online card games forever ( good game, bought by Zynga, fell over and died, any money spent there is toast as you now have neither a standalone playable game, nor any virtual property ).
rnI contrast these sort of 'incomplete' gaming experiences with a Sonny, or earlier Epic War (not the current one, shiver), etc... type of games which were the kind of stand out titles that really made Kongregate shine. Kongai was pretty outstanding too for that matter, even though I suspect as a financial endeavour it may not have been as successful as desired.
rnAnyways, I digress. Long story short: I really like Kongregate, but I largely loathe the F2P sales model. Be that as it may, we all have to make money to live, so I wish you luck! Thanks for sharing!

Nathanael Barbey
profile image
This presentation really needed to be heard in the F2P summit. Emily Greer was one of the few voices advocating longer life cycle games with a real community focus.

Ramin Shokrizade
profile image
Everything in this article is good stuff, and mimics things I have been writing about for at least 3 years now. I can't really say that I am seeing this being applied in the way I think is effective yet. Perhaps there are products in the pipe attempting to meet these design goals but I just have not seen them. I'm at the con now, I'll see if I can hook up with the Kongregate folk and get more information.

Gil Salvado
profile image
Good attitude. Great information and thanks for sharing.