GameDev Protips: A Few Pitalls To Avoid When Creating Free-to-Play Games

Free-to-Play games seem to be everywhere these days, and many of them have a poor reputation in the eyes of many. After all, the sentiment is that these games are made just to get you to spend as much as possible, right? Well, that’s certainly one of the ways to go about monetizing F2P games. However, this is shortsighted, and will just sabotage what could’ve been a much better game game. Here are some tips to avoid making poor monetization systems for your F2P games if you choose to go down that path at some point.

The most important thing to understand is that you need to consider how spending money will feel for the player. It sounds simple enough, but many developers blindly monetize their game and hope that it takes off. Developers should come up with an overarching design philosophy for their pay model and stick to it. Most commonly, this is pretty simple: make it enjoyable to spend money. This sounds obvious, but many F2P games are monetized with greed in mind rather than the players’ enjoyment in mind. When it comes to designing for player enjoyment, the most important part is to make sure that spending money is perceived to be an optional way to enjoy the game.

There are two outcomes that usually arise as a result of developers’ ignorance to how spending feels. The first is that spending money turns out to actually ruin the experience, so players are actively discouraged from spending anything. This is usually the result when a game relies heavily on progression; if you just skip to the end using real money, there’s nothing left and the game will slowly decline and players will quit. Secondly, and most commonly, developers monetize their game in such a way as to make players feel forced to spend money. These are commonly known as Pay-to-Win games. You shouldn’t use freemium systems as a paywall to prevent players from progressing. These games, while making large amounts of revenue off whales, will eventually dry up and die due to players quitting in frustration. Unfortunately, these games appear to be incredibly successful early on in their life cycle so this type of F2P model has propagated and became the standard for many games. They’re simply shortsighted cash-grabs that kill off their playerbase because of greedy monetization.

A successful F2P game will make that spending process something you actively want to engage in, rather than either a detriment to your enjoyment or a toll you have to pay to progress. The process should feel something like buying a new game or a toy; it’s something you’re very happy to pay for, even if you would’ve prefered it to be free, and you enjoy seeing your purchased item every day. These often come up in the forms of expansion packs, cosmetics, or social items that are fun to use for all involved. These purchases don’t result in feelings of regret, and have lasting value that legitimately enhances your play experience.

If your monetization system is fair and enjoyable, word of mouth will ensure that you are successful. As a result of the fair monetization system, you’re likely to have an expanding player base too, as players will want to stick around to see what you can do instead of quitting prematurely. Always keep the players’ enjoyment of the system in the forefront when you’re designing your monetization system, and you’ll be on the right track to making fair, successful F2P games.

Important Takeaways: F2P games are becoming extremely common, but many developers don’t understand how to design their monetization systems. You need to have an overarching design philosophy, and usually this boils down to ensuring that your players enjoy spending money. While that sounds simple, many F2P games today make you feel forced to pay, as in P2W games where you vastly underperform unless you spend money for boosters. Make sure your monetization system feels good to go through, as with buying a new game or a toy; it shouldn’t induce feelings of regret or frustration, but rather feelings of happiness from getting something you will enjoy for a while, or something to enhance an already great experience.