Making Money from Free Games, Part 3

GDC-150

This is the third in a series of articles on a hot topic for game animators and designers at the recent GDC: How to make money from free-to-play games with perception pricing, the psychology and art of disguising the true costs of in-game purchases.

F2Ps are now so popular that Activision Blizzard, which has been charging $60 for its flagship Call of Duty game in the United States, is giving it away free in China in 2015, totally funded by in-game revenues.

Here are some more F2P marketing tricks, all of which need clever graphics:

  1. Create artificial scarcity by number. This is similar to creating an artificial time limit on “discounted” items, but instead involves a limited number. This tactic is best used with a digital counter, which can show “Remaining Number Available is ONLY 98 … 96 … 91 … ” to heighten the sense of urgency of the gamer-customer. It is advisable to offer a lesser bargain as a consolation prize for players who missed out on the offer, to avoid too much disappointment.
  2. Odd pricing. No in-game purchase should ever be priced at $2 or $5 or $10, but at $1.99, $4.99, or $9.99. Strange as it seems, consumers ignore the least significant digits in a price, so that $4.99 sounds more like $4 than it does to $5, its true value. American gasoline stations take this to extremes, so that a gallon of gas is priced not at $4.00, but at $3.999.
  3. Group pricing. This is also called “framing effect” pricing. Buyers are less sensitive to the cost of an item if it’s part of a bundle. A design challenge for animators is to conceive groups of products that go well together, and make them connect in the gamer’s mind.
  4. Decoy pricing. This is a method where at least three products are offered, and the two most expensive have a similar price, but one is less attractive. An example: A) knife (a small power-up) for $4.99, B) sword for $9.99, and C) sword plus ring for $12.99. Option B’s price seems more attractive when compared to option C, which has a useless add-on (the ring). The highest priced option is the decoy.
  5. The four Cs. The four basic values that motivate purchases are: content, including levels and expansion packs; convenience, getting something or somewhere faster and easier; customization, personalizing a player’s avatar; and competition, taking advantage of the will to win.
  6. Use analytics. The 20-80 rule is marketing gospel: 20 percent of your customers provide at least 80 percent of your income. Testing firm Swrve found even more radical results: 1 percent of gamers provide 50 percent of income. Using analytic software will help identify the wants and behaviors of a game’s spending “whales.”
  7. Additional revenues. Motivational ads are used in games with points, game currency or other rewards for watching ads and responding to “free” third-party offers.

See how many of these tricks you can spot in your next game!

Call of Duty Online

Call of Duty Online

Call of Duty Advanced Supply Drops

Call of Duty Advanced Supply Drops

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