More tips on Free-to-play!

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My Dos and don'ts of Free-to-play game development article turned out to be pretty popular. It sparked some great conversations with fellow game designers about their own experiences.

Based on those conversations I came up with a few additional tips for Free-to-play games.

Know your target audience from the start!

I know many of us like to develop a game for ourselves. We want to make what we like to play. I think you should do that, but if you want your game to be a financial success you need to know your audience from the beginning.

Its possible to make a very successful f2p game for any type of audience. You can go with a very simple game that is fun and has mass appeal, such as a simple puzzle game. You can make a game about Jet fighters, or fuzzy pets. All routes are valid and have their own mix of players. Just keep in mind what appeals to who.

A game's theme, art style, and mechanics all have large impact on it's player-base.  Would you make a game about 1920's gangsters while trying to attract a wide audience? It may not be the right choice.

If you are want to make a game that you would enjoy, you need to constantly be asking yourself questions like: "Would I buy this?" or "Do I think this is fun?". Try to put yourself in the player's shoes.

 

Be careful with those updates, Roll out in a controlled way.

If you can roll out your update to 50% of users, do that. This way not only can you see the effects of your update, but you can avoid introducing a game breaking bug to everyone.

Leave it up for a period of time and check your metrics. Make sure your update is doing what you want it to. If its not, revise it. If it makes things worse you may want to roll it back. Look at why it went wrong, then regroup, redesign, then try again.

 

Listen to players, but not all the time!

In my original article I spoke about listening to players. Some people took this as you should listen to whatever the players say but that's not what I was getting at.

Contrary to popular wisdom, the customer isn't always right. The customer isn't always being honest. The customer is often approaching it as what's best for them instead of what is best for the game or community. This makes total sense and its fine, but you need to learn how to deal with it.

If you give them the opportunity to, players will submit ideas. Sometimes that will be incredible and sometimes they will be terrible, but either way it makes the player feel good.

Players do not always know what they want, but they know what they like, and they know what they hate. You need to look at everything the players are saying as a whole (instead of individual comments) and you will see a narrative emerging.

If most of the complaints are about frequent crashes and bugs, you need to take that seriously. If most of your complaints are about prices, you need to look at it with some skepticism, but do not ignore it.

If you take on player ideas make sure they are in-line with your vision of the game. You don't want a game about farming to suddenly become a game about pimping out your tractor. A game that I think handled user suggestions really well was Minecraft. Notch did a great job of filtering out the suggestions that weren't good for the game.

 

Figure out what makes a player stick around.

Many early free-to-play games were designed to be revolving doors. They expected players to stay a few weeks at most and attempted to squeeze that player for as much as possible during that short time. Betting that they can acquire new players faster than they can shed them.

This leads to viewing the player as very expendable. This is not the outlook I take. When it comes developing a multi-player or social game, community matters! It really matters! You will not have a strong community if your game isn't designed to support players over a long period of time.

If you want a game that can keep players entertained for months or years, design it with content (free and purchasable) to be consumed over time. Regularly release new content and keep your community active. Allow your players to make friends within your game and encourage them to interact.

As a player spends time and money in your game they will become more invested and even less likely to leave. This often happens in paid MMOs. I've talked to many people who have stopped playing some MMORPG years ago, but they can not let go of their account because they are so invested.

 

Ok I think that's it for now. Thanks to everyone who read the original article! Follow me on twitter.

-Chris


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