As a parent, Free To Play (F2P) games are the joy and bane of my life in equal measure. Kids these days seem to be near impossible to entertain for any length of time. This being the case, video games are like comics were in my day – plentiful and cheap, especially on mobile platforms. Unlike comics, many games now present themselves as free.
Free is a tough term, though, like anyone games developers need to make money. So games that seem to be free on the App Store, tend to be Free to Play. The concept of F2P is that the game can be played for free, but you can pay for certain features.
This is where the problem lies, how F2P is actually implemented is very different depending on the game or the publisher.
There seem to be three main strategies employed. Pay to progress faster, pay to get extra cool stuff or pay to actually get anywhere past the first few levels.
Pay to Progress Faster
For me, this can be a decent strategy. The game is playable without paying for anything. Persistance is rewarded. Sometimes this is handled with a coin system, where success gives you coins and coins let you purchase items in the game. If you are impatient, you can buy coins with real money to get there faster. You can see this in games like Candy Crush or Flip Diver.
Flip Diving has a few nice ideas, similar to Crossy Road. New items and characters can be bought with earned coins, bought coins or with roulette style randomness. You can buy new spins as well. You can also watch videos to earn more coins. There are lots of ways to earn coins without dipping into your wallet. The developers can make some money with the advertising revenue from video watches.
Candy Crush employs a couple tactics to make money from impatience. First, you can buy powerups, that help you in the game. The second is to offer the purchase of extra goes. So rather than waiting for your goes to recharge, you can buy your way back into the game.
Another track this can take, which can be annoying, is two types of in-game currency. One you earn through achievements, the other you buy. The issue here is that you can pay to get weapons that can’t be bought through achievement. In a multiplayer game, this can create a massive imbalance between paying and non-paying players.
Pay to Get Cool Stuff
This is a great strategy from a player perspective. Rather than paying for items that can give you advantages over other players, here you are paying to get aesthetic extras. Hats, clothes, cooler looking decals for cars. This way players can express themselves if they wish, leading potentially to status boosts, but they are not paying to get extras that will help them win. A game like Crossy Road lets you pay to unlock cool new characters if you are desperate!
Pay to Continue
This is the strategy that I find the most heinous and the one that many parents will have fallen foul of.
Recently my daughter was playing a Strawberry Shortcake game from Budge Games. She came to me in hysterics because she could not get the five stars she needed to progress in the game.
I looked into it and to get five stars you had to create a milkshake to the exact specifications of a customer. The issue was, she didn’t have the orange straw. To get the orange straw, she had to buy an add-on pack – for about £3. There was no other way to earn the straw. I refused. Not just on principle, but because there would be other packs needed to progress in other parts of the game.
It was the worst kind of scam, using children to emotionally blackmail children into buying extras on games.
I saw another example of this in the Talking Cat game (Tom or the other one). In this one, it actually showed the child an animation of how they should hand the phone to their parent to purchase the extra they wanted.
Make a Living, but Don’t Forget Your Morality!
- The best strategies blend a little of everything. Achievement, perseverance, loyalty and persistence should be rewarded. Let players make steady progress, like you can see in Candy Crush. It is possible to complete the game without ever paying, it just takes some time!
- Make money from those players who are impatient or want to customise their game in unique ways.
- Also, make money from advertising. As mentioned before, many games are using video adverts as a way to generate revenue for the developers as well as virtual currency for the players.
- Don’t ever use children to try and make money. This is a nasty, unethical and downright shitty tactic!
- Actually make a game that people have to pay up front for – old fashioned I know!