GameDev Thoughts: How To Properly Implement Microtransactions In Mobile Game Development

I’ve been delving into my fair share of mobile gaming as of late, and have observed a ton of design patterns that I’ve found to be most effective. Remember that if microtransactions are implemented seamlessly in games, it can act as a bridge linking game developers to consumers and making the overall industry better for both players and the developers. Microtransactions allow players to test a game before paying fully for it. It also allows them to set their own payment levels according to their budget. Players who don’t want to pay for a game don’t have to. While all this stuff sounds great on paper, as a game developer you’ll need to implement them the right way.

Many developers see microtransactions simply as a way to gouge the customer in order to generate more and more revenue. If left unchecked, this strategy can be disastrous for games, as it would lead potentially successful games to tank. They would sink under the heavy weight of atrocious pricing and the inevitable player backlash, which would lead to wasted opportunity and leave the game with zero chance of any comeback. If the players, on the other hand, show their willingness to pay high rates for games, companies will keep trying the same formula, again and again, giving them a lot of financial gain in the process. But this is a much harder problem to fix due to the large variety of consumers in the market, and hence, we should take a hard look at the gaming industry in order to get rid of this manipulative strategy. A wide variety of steps are needed to ensure that microtransactions are implemented properly in games.

The first mantra of implementing proper microtransaction logic in games is to make sure that you, the developer, stop assuming that the player is your enemy and instead consider the player as an asset to your game which makes the overall experience of your game even better. This concept of players being an asset to the overall experience of a game can be easily noticed in multiplayer games. Microtransactions shouldn’t be implemented as a paywall. Instead, treat microtransactions as a way to reward loyal players. Hook them in with the paid content, and then give them a reason to spend money. Don’t choose the lazy (and ineffective) rout of purposefully make the game too difficult to progress without paying. This will only lead to frustration from players and negative reviews.

The second mantra of implementing proper microtransaction implementation is to allow players to earn in-game resources without too many restrictions. Although these resources can be purchased by paying too, the developer should allow the players to themselves pay for it using time (a bit of grinding never hurt anyone), or optional video ads (allowing players to voluntarily watch an ad in order to gain in-game currency has been a staple. While some may argue that giving away currency disenfranchises players to pay for the game at all, in reality, this approach has a variety of advantages. For starters, it makes the players feel that the game is fair to them. Many players have this notion that free to play games are made in order to extract more money from them, and this approach can blunt that mindset and make them receptive to the free to play concept.

Another advantage of giving away currency that it allows the barrier between the player and the in-app purchase store to crumble away. Once this barrier between the store and the player falls, they’re much more likely to use the store to buy stuff to enhance their gameplay. Tease your players by giving them a bunch of currency that you can only pay for, then stop for a while. If your in-game items are priced sensibly, a significant majority will pay to access that content instead of patiently waiting to generate it themselves due to the time it would normally take to generate that content. Remember to give as much as possible — if you’re not giving away stuff, you are excluding a large demographic of younger players who may not have access to ways to purchase in-game items at the current period of time. But if they are invested in the game, at some point in the future when they do get access to purchasing stuff, they are more than likely to invest money in the game.

The most important thing to know as a developer is to never sell stuff which heavily alters the balance of power in the hands of people who pay. While it may seem tempting to suck players dry to increase the bottom line of your company, it heavily damages its reputation among the majority of players who are generally not able to pay top dollar for the game. It also makes players feel like you’re taking advantage of them. Some people will pay to gain power but it would be a tiny minority. Essentially, the goal of microtransactions should be to sell conveniences which would improve the overall gameplay experience of the player.

One last aspect while developing a game with microtransactions is to keep the monetization framework in the game from the start, instead of shoehorning it in later. Developers should make sure to make the process palatable for the players so that they’ll eventually pay without having the feeling of being forced to pay for. The game should not segregate between paying and non paying players by offering paying players special access to content while keeping non paying players away from it. As with everything, make sure testing is a priority. With microtransactions, make sure to market test the prices to have a look at what the community wants to pay for the game.

Important Takeaways: Microtransactions are a great way to build an audience around your game. Lure them in with free gameplay, and then gradually introduce up-sells via optional content that they’d benefit from. For example if you were making a roguelike game, you could give them full access to the game’s first character, but then introduce an element where they’ll have to earn enough in-game currency to unlock other classes. Or if you were making a racing game, you design the game’s core campaign to be free, but charge for cosmetics, extra campaigns. Maybe even different modes that aren’t part of the core experience, but that more dedicated players would want to have.