Simple keys to unlock the IAP puzzle for games

April 29, 2014
mechadmin
You can be an indie game developer, a developer at a gargantuan game-design studio, or an “monetization expert” (That’s a sexy title to have, ain’t it?), but no matter who you are, you’re concerned about the best way to monetize your game. A lot of people have developed theories and analyzed ‘strategies’ using graphs that freshly minted MBAs usually love to delve upon. While those are actually the basic requirements and you shouldn’t be ignoring them, they do lose out on many aspects of the process that a player goes through while interacting with the aspects of the game that provoke a purchase.
Here are some simple ideas that came up when, one evening, we brainstormed over a casual discussion on iAP at our studio. We hope to provoke some kind of thinking in your mind with these pointers:

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Initiate with a social payment method
The key is to make players comfortable with the buying experience. Asking them to buy with “real money” at the first instance might be a turn off. Yes, people are purchasing from your game, but there are many others who haven’t made a single purchase yet. The ones that are not used to paying. There are tools like “pay with a tweet” that can at least help to drop the initial barrier that people have towards making an IAP.

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Entice, don’t pull
In Glu’s Frontline Commando 2, at every stage, you are asked to pay for something or the other. The game keeps on prompting repeatedly for upgrading the weapon and the squad members. While it’s understood that such a complex game needs to have multiple levels wherein the player can opt for purchases, you can’t just force the player for a purchase this frequently. Find the necessary balance for your game!
Rather, a good way is to entice and not pull. For example, a good experience the game (Frontline Commando 2) has created is that of allowing the players to play a level that requires upgraded weapons but prompting them that the upgraded ones shall help clear the level.
Now that’s something that entices the player, even before the level is about to begin, and at the same time does not stop the player from checking out whether that’s actually true or not.

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Make your UI sell
We have seen that developers are comfortable with creating great gameplays, designing good characters and thus improving the overall gaming experience. The user delight generated in making the user interface should be leveraged in making the entire buying process a good experience.
Prompts that do not disturb the experience of the player and at the same time remind of a key or a cheat that can help ease some level or get a power-up are great. For example, the tornado power-up in Mini Ninjas by Square Enix stays at the center-bottom of the screen, and the prompt to purchase potions is only between two runs, that too not intruding either the screen or the game-play. Also, the fact that they’ve not surreptitiously inserted a purchase prompt between ‘deaths’ gives a feel-good factor of the game (there’s a clear prompt for using your collected coins, further leading to a purchase if you don’t have enough).

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Make the purchase meaningful
A lot of games have resorted to IAP-bundling and offer multiple utilities inside a package, and some utilities that have little or no difference on the game-play. For example, upgrading your bike’s parts in RedLynx’s Trials Frontier makes almost negligible difference, and you have to churn a decent virtual amount (or if you have finished that up then you need buy the coins).
If there are minor upgrades or changes that are a part of the storyline, ask the player to go through the story and upgrade the, as in Trial Frontier’s example, bike engine, but don’t make the player pay for something that’s not going to appear meaningful. After about three upgrades on the bike I could see no significant change. This is understood from the game-play perspective that the bike cannot fly after just 3 upgrades, and the change is going to minor, but then don’t charge a zillion bucks for such things!
Balance sources and sinks
Where is the player getting the currency (both premium and coins)? Where is he spending?
These sinks and sources should balance well. It’s a tad difficult to detail the math here as it depends on the game, but keeping this balance while designing the game-economy is crucial.
And in between these points there are a lot many other ideas such as combining merchandise with in-game purchases, time/recharge mechanics, spin wheel, magic box, et al.
Are you thinking of an awesome yet fair way of designing iAP in your game?
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