Monetisation in free-to-play games is inseparable from the player’s experience, says Player Research’s Graham McAllister.
Speaking at the F2P Summit, McAllister said monetisation was just one part of the bigger picture in any title’s design, and on its own is not enough to engage users.
"Monetisation strategies alone will not make your game succeed – They need to be in conjunction with something else," he said.
"You can’t separate monetisation from player experience – When you’re talking about monetisation, you’re talking about player experinece."
He said that too many developers look to get feedback from players on their games, and research how it monetises, too late in the development cycle. He explained that developers getting feedback for the first time during the soft-launch statge were "far too late", and argued that the production phase was also too late a stage to start getting feedback.
The most successul games, said McAllister, started getting feedback during the concept stage, having also identified their target audience.
"Console used to be player experience testing in production. If anything, free-to-play is worse, and this got pushed back to soft launch," he said.
For developers to monetise successfully, McAllister presented a four layer model, which you can see below, to show the steps game creators should take before they can get their users to pay money on in-game purchases.
The bottom layer, undertsanding, covers tutorials and feedback, ensuring a player is being provided with enough support to understand how the game works.
"If a player doesn’t understand your game, they may not understand how to use your payment system, and we see this everyday," explained McAllister, pointing out a developer’s most basic failure was stopping users from giving them money.
The next layer, usability, revolves around the menu and UI design and architecture, and whether it allows players to successfully navigate a game and complete tasks through their understanding of how the title works.
McAllister suggested the human mind only has limited bandwidth when playing a game, and bad usability could lead to frustration and an increase in errors from the player, in turn creating a negative impact on monetisation and the user’s experience.
The player experience relies in part on the previous layers, and how they are reacting to the game. McAllister said if a player has a bad experience, they won’t pay for it, while a positive experience can lead to increased engagement.
"All the things you want as a free-to-play game designer all hinge on these very princples," he said.
McAlliser added that failure to monetise may not then be an issue at the top layer of how you monetise, but it could be tracked back to poor understanding.
"If you don’t know where things wwent wrong – you may end up changing your business model, so you must know where your issues are," he said, adding: "If you’re lucky, the issues will be exposed at the bottom, but if you’re not, they’ll be exposed at the top"