Free-to-Play: making money from games you give away

Matthew Warneford

Will Luton is a free-to-play consultant and the author of Free-to-Play: Making Money From Games You Give Away. Covering economics, gameplay, monetization, analytics and marketing it’s a great guide to the business model that’s changing gaming.

We took some time to talk with Luton about his book and his advice on making the most of free-to-play.

Is there a game that isn’t free-to-play that you think should have been, and how would it have been changed?

I think Ridiculous Fishing by Vlambeer is an almost perfect F2P game, except that it’s paid and features no IAPs. It uses great goal system in collecting fish, a lot like Pokémon, to draw the player through the game, but that’s complimented by a brilliantly balanced virtual currency and items that create a good sense of progression.

The only changes I would have made are making it near endless by constantly adding new fish, locations and items, plus some infinite resource sink. Possibly some light social elements too using the in-game social network Byrdr and making it free and adding IAPs for virtual currency, of course.

With publishers of console games testing the free-to-play, do you think it will work or is it only for mobile gaming?

F2P will work on any platform as long as games can be delivered digitally to it and the platform owners allow the model to occur. Consoles will need to embrace the model, indeed on Ouya free is the only model.

What’s the best way to ensure your game stays free-to-play without just becoming pay-to-win?

By letting players gain anything paid that gives advantage through play. Most games that offer a competitive advantage IAP are really offering convenience: Keep on grinding or pay and get it now.

Have you come across a game that’s used free-to-play in a way that’s really surprised you?

I’m constantly surprised by F2P, there’s lots of people doing great things with the model.

How do you suggest children’s games include IAP without being exploitative?

The problem isn’t exclusive to F2P games, but applies to paid games, paymium games (paid games with IAPs), iTunes or anywhere a vulnerable person may end up and make purchases. Platform holders need to lock down loopholes that are allowing accidental or unintentional purchases, such as login windows. Plus there needs to be education for parents, guardians and carers as to the importance of keeping passwords safe.

Developers need to be a part of that education and provide instruction in their games and on their websites as to what IAPs are and how they can be turned off. This is something I’ve done in my own titles.

Why isn’t your book free-to-read?

Free to play book

Because it’s intended as a physical good, so has a production cost associated to each paperback my publisher prints. F2P works because it costs us nothing to give a game away via digital distribution, so growing a huge audience is cheap. Whilst the same is true of ebooks, nobody has worked out how to generate good revenue from that engagement. We’re very fortunate in games, as we’re well ahead of other mediums.

My publisher and I did talk about possible ways of getting the book out for free and one that may happen, but in the mean time we’re giving away a lot of the content. You can read a whole chapter on Peachpit for example and a large excerpt just appeared on GamesIndustry International, plus there’s the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon.

What’s your opinion on advertising over IAP as a means to pay for your game?

Advertising doesn’t generate the same level of revenue as IAP, so at best should be a secondary revenue stream.

What are people prepared to pay for in-game?

In the book I talk about the four Cs of IAP: Content, convenience, competitive advantage and customisation. What people buy in a F2P game, even if done so through the proxy of a virtual currency can fit into one of those categories.

What IAPs are the hardest to sell?

I think the hardest thing to sell is content (or DLC) i.e. more of the game as that’s what everyone else is giving away in F2P markets to keep players retained.

With the free-to-play market being so busy, both on app stores and online, do you have any advice for marketing the game?

Think about your proposition: What’s the story of the game? Why would someone want to play it? Also, make a good game and love what you build. That will shine through and become infectious.

Will’s book is available on Amazon in both digital and paperback formats. For more on Will’s work visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

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