In the business of analytics, it’s too easy to let numbers and acronyms do all the talking. With this feature series, we’re surfacing the people behind all the clever stuff that cranks out the ARPDAU, the benchmark reports and the Sankey charts.
This month’s conversation doubles up as a how-to guide for Free-to-Play (F2P) developers, so buckle up. Full disclosure: Franco was smashing people in PvP battles all the way through this interview, and he still gave us gold.
Last meal on earth: Party trick: Heroes or villains:
Franco Spina, Senior Game Designer, deltaDNA
Mac n’ Cheese from a box
Last meal on earth:
Heroes or villains:
What are the necessary qualities of a successful F2P game?
Here are my top 4 qualities that games need right off the bat:
- A killer First-Time User Experience (FTUE)
First and foremost, the game has to be fun. In F2P, the doors are always open for players to enter and leave because there’s no monetary investment there at the beginning. The first 60 seconds are absolutely critical.
- Accurate marketing
If your game’s player experience is different to how it appears on the app store or advertising, players will not be impressed. Match player expectations and give them exactly what they signed up for!
- Patient monetization
Instead of bombarding players with offer pop-ups on launch, it is far better to use intuitive signposting and gifting to encourage monetization in a less aggressive manner. Players that end up spending on things that they don’t really need or understand are much less likely to spend again, as opposed to slightly more experienced players who get great value from their purchases.
- Appointment settings and good live ops strategy
Make sure to add new content on a regular basis and make it obvious to players that there is huge value in habitually returning to the game – both regularly and at specific times.
What aspects of games are likely to put players off?
One of the most common spurs for player churn is game difficulty – too easy and players will get bored, too hard and they’ll abandon with frustration. Game balancing is crucial.
As I said earlier, monetization can be problematic. If you push players into spending before they’ve had the chance to enjoy or understand the game, they will quickly develop a very negative attitude towards your monetization mechanics. Another common mistake is putting lots of content behind paywalls, as it feels cynical and exploitative.
Finally, as odd as it sounds, failure should not be too punishing. Failing is a key part of the learning process in any walk of life, so don’t make it too traumatic for your players. Mitigate player suffering with ‘consolation’ rewards to stave off frustration and churn – it will pay off in the long run.
What current trends can you see really taking hold in mobile gaming?
The most obvious thing trending at the moment is how Augmented Reality (AR) location-based games are evolving. ‘Pokemon Go!’ launched to massive long-term success in 2016 and the last 3 years have seen a barrage of similar AR games coming through. They are often tied to massive existing franchises and this year marks the launch of AR games tied to two of the world’s most iconic IPs – Harry Potter and Minecraft.
One of the very interesting things about this AR boom is the way that the top grossing of this category are implementing popular mechanics from other genres. For example, both Jurassic World Alive and The Walking Dead: Our World employ mechanics usually associated with Collectable Card Games (CCGs). PvP battling elements are also proving a hit with AR players.
How do you prolong a game’s shelf life?
Live ops are really important to keeping players interested. To use a specific example, there’s a lot to be said for making use of real-world events and milestones. Tying rewards and offers to public holidays is a fun way of opening up different themes and incentivizing all players to come back at specific times. These events make the game feel far less repetitive and lets the player base know that the game is constantly evolving, with new content available.
How important are social mechanics in F2P?
Really important. Players are going to stick around if their friends are there too because competition is naturally more compelling when it’s against someone you know personally as opposed to a random anonymous avatar.
Giving players the ability to invite non-playing friends into a game, and incentivizing those invites, is a massive boost to both you and your players. Our data shows that players who arrived to a game via social invite are themselves 10x more likely to invite others. This viral mechanism is great for expanding the player base without having to spend more on acquisition.
Co-operative mechanics that encourage players to communicate and work together as part of a team also drives retention. As well as building relationships, cooperation makes abandonment a much graver decision. Your team needs you!
What is your opinion on ads within games?
Ads in games can be frustrating… if implemented badly. Interstitial ads or ‘pop-ups’ are the most obviously intrusive format, but even they won’t necessarily annoy players. If ads are properly baked into the core loop of the game – neither surfaced too early, too frequently nor at points that interrupt game flow – they work perfectly well.
You can also adjust your ad strategy for different players. There will be non-spenders who clearly enjoy using rewarded ads in particular as a way to profit and enhance their gaming experience without monetizing.
That said, there are still plenty of ways to get rewarded ads wrong. If players don’t feel that the rewards involved are worth their while, they won’t engage. If use of rewarded ads is uncapped and players are allowed to mine them for limitless rewards, it will cannibalize revenues.
Make watching ads easy, unintrusive and – in the case of rewarded ads – a total no-brainer for your players.
Is it essential to have customization options within a game?
That very much depends on what kind of game you’re making. That said, the success of Fortnite (and many other games before it) has shown that customization provides developers with a way of generating potentially massive revenues without affecting the balance of the game or annoying players by creating a Pay-to-Win model that gives spenders any competitive edge.
Without at all affecting the gameplay, giving players a sense of their own unique and customizable identity is a relatively simple way to make your game way more compelling and enjoyable.
What one piece of design advice would you give to developers early on in the process of game development?
Make sure that the economy design isn’t left until the eleventh hour. Building your monetization into and alongside the core gameplay elements will stop it from seeming “tacked-on”.
It is also extremely important to monitor economy balancing and gameplay pacing during soft launch to prevent exploitation or players burning through the game/content too quickly. Catching this early and making important tweaks to the game at this stage has less of an impact on the wider playerbase. Waiting until the game has been released worldwide can hurt your most valuable players and lead to defection or negative reviews if users feel that the game has been made more punishing.