The lights are on
Mobile games are growing more sophisticated and engaging, but many developers need to alter their monetization approach if they want to appeal to dedicated gamers.
A few months back, my wife and I spent a weekend shopping for a new car. We’d already narrowed our selection down to a few choices, so it was time to go do some test driving and make a final decision. One of our top choices brought us into a local dealership, where we were greeted the moment we stepped through the big glass doors by Tom, the overly friendly salesman. For the next 20 minutes, Tom pulled out every sales trick in the book, up to and including the special deals that would be ending in the next 24 hours. He told us about all the nifty extras that could be ours for a limited time. We ended up leaving, frustrated, and confident that this car was not for us.
Mobile game developers have made great strides forward in design in recent years, crafting some of the most intriguing and addictive gaming experiences on any platform. A variation on the familiar adage has held; build great games, and gamers will come. Look around the Game Informer office in the last two years, and you’ll see a fundamental shift as players who once swore off mobile gaming are now embracing its many facets right alongside our love of big console and PC games. In this regard, I’m confident we’re a microcosm of the wider gaming community. However, even as this player base of dedicated gamers has begun to make the shift, one dilemma holds many of us back from truly falling in love with a lot of the available titles. Like my interactions with Tom at the car dealership, we’re tired of being sold to, manipulated, and disrupted so that we’ll spend money. My message to developers; if you want to attract longtime gamers like myself, then just let me buy your complete game, and let it speak for itself. When a game is good, I’m happy to pay money for it so I can experience it to its fullest extent. But pull me out of your game with constant appeals for money, and I’m going to play elsewhere.
I’m not railing against everything connected to free games or microtransactions; I love the way many free-to-play mobile games in recent years have drawn new players into the gaming fold, even if I have some significant problems about the way microtransactions are often implemented in games. Nor do I begrudge any hard working developer or publisher the choice to charge money for their game. Today, I’m speaking purely of my personal experience as a longtime gamer, and the frustration at the way many games try to manipulate me to spend more cash, only to ultimately alienate me and send me running back to my console.
For me to fully enjoy a game, I want to experience its full scope. I want to see the way the different systems interact with one another, and I want my game to be balanced and tailored for the best possible experience. I want access to the best weapons and upgrades that the game has to offer, and I want the developers to have taken the time to consider how long I should have to work to get those improvements. I want a natural arc of difficulty that keeps me engaged throughout the gaming experience, not an absurdly simple opening followed by a brutal difficulty spike a few hours in. These are all features I’m willing to pay for from the start. And yet, I can’t count the number of mobile games I’ve played in the last three years that throw all of those things out the window, instead demanding constant influxes of cash just so the game can remain fun – usually at the cost of good design structure.
Mobile gaming seminars have repeatedly articulated the way many games succeed financially with 95 percent of the audience never paying money, but high-spending “whales” purchasing hundreds of dollars of microtransactions, and thereby supporting the game. I believe the assertion that this is a model for short-term success. But I don’t think it’s a very good one, and I think other approaches engender greater trust and longer term commitment from players.
I’d like to see more developers give players the option to experience a full game at a reasonable price. Maybe some of those “whales” won’t spend hundreds in microtransactions, but you gain a whole new audience that appreciates your straightforward business model, and can fall in love with your game the way it was meant to be played. You can still get people in the door with a free-to-try model, but then present them with a clear choice – do you want to buy this game in full?
Balance, upgrades, experience point progression, cool cosmetic features – let us access these exciting features for a single flat, equitable price, and we’ll pay it. Are you worried about losing those users who are fine with occasional one and two dollar purchases? Fine! Keep the microtransactions for individual items and XP boosts. But give the rest of us the additional option to spend five or ten dollars to get the full package. Let us see how brilliant your game can be when it is experienced in full. Do that, and we’ll keep coming back for more.
Needless to say, plenty of mobile game developers are already implementing this exact strategy, and from every gamer like me out there, I’d like to thank them. I’m incredibly excited to see the coming generation of mobile titles, but nothing makes me shut down and delete an otherwise great app quite like constant interruptions to tell me how much more fun I’d be having if I just spent $1.99 more. Give me the option to skip all of that nonsense and just enjoy your game, and not only will I play this game – I’ll play your next one sight unseen.
Email the author Matt Miller, or follow on Game Informer.
I don't object to microtransactions per se, but rather the shameless and intrusive way in which they are often implemented in [esp.] mobile games (i.e. free to play, pay to win). This doesn't have to be the future, folks. Like Matt said, this model can't exist without these so-called "whales" -- if everybody stopped supporting the offending games and their developers, the model would yield no profit and therefore disappear. I suspect I'm preaching to the choir, though.
As for me, I usually quit the game in disgust, give it a negative rating/review, and move on to something worthy of my time and money (and such games abound).
sure gameinformer, i will sell you my games, but for how much? and why do you need mine?? get back to me
Sorry, but I keep all my games, even if they turn out bad. Thanks though.,
Even though I want to invest in my ipad, the sharing required among my family means that I have to make decisions to buy stuff FOR THEM. So when I do spot something that I might want, I won't be able to play it for long.
As opposed to my 3DS, where I am happily spending 5 to 10 dollars on downloadable games that I want. It is built for gaming, not the general public. That is why I love it.
just curious, but what car did you end up buying?
Awesome article. It seems you do get screwed on these games. I started playing Marvel Avengers Alliance and Playdom is horrible about conning you into buying something in-game and then nerfing your weapon, outfit, character, etc by taking away several benefits of your item. At least they are on this game.
good article is good
You know what gimmick I hate? Take a break or give us money to continue. I download a game and I need something to recharge or whatever and I can buy it or wait a few hours.
Excellent piece that exposes the biggest problem facing the mobile and social gaming industry. Unfortunately I think it's too late to avoid the inevitable collapse of this part of the industry. We're already seeing cracks in the juggernaut with EA pulling out of mobile gaming and Zynga, who just a year ago was the hip new kid of the gaming industry, falling deeper and deeper into a hole.
While I'm not optimistic about the mobile gaming industry's immediate future, it's not completely hopeless. The entire industry was nearly destroyed during the collapse of the 1983, yet managed to come back stronger than ever, so there's no reason to assume mobile gaming won't make a comeback, maybe even with upfront pricing and a focus on quality games rather than a quantity of games.
I don't know if you guys have seen this, but this is the worst example I have seen of mobile microtransactions:
That is a good point.
So, so, so true! This is what I want out of a game. Let me try it, and then present me with the option to buy it. No microtransactions, just a demo and the game.
I agree with this whole article. Thank you for the in-depth article, Matt! It was amazing! :)
Totally agree. I hate mobile games that don't give you the full experience unless you keep spending money to unlock new weapons or abilities. Just let me pay one flat rate to experience everything you have created. I don't know how many apps and games I have deleted because they are pretty much unplayable unless I pay $1.99 for a new weapon. It is extremely frustrating.
Great article. I'm going to think about this from now on with mobile games.
The one mobile game that has managed to pull me in is "The Simpsons: Tapped Out" and I'll admit, I've spent a few bucks on it here and there.
I think they did a good job of a free-2-play - "No Required Microtransaction" - mobile game.