Below is an excerpted collection of game development tips from Daniel Doan, Co-Founder of Black Shell Media. Enjoy!
Breaking into the Freemium Market
Being the Co-Founder of a publishing firm that specializes in PC publishing, I’ve mostly stayed away from sparring in the mobile arena. However, I’ve recently began digging into the “freemium” market since it has thoroughly piqued my interest. When it comes down to it, freemium is all about acquisition, retention, and monetization.
Keeping your players coming back for more is the hardest thing for a game designer to do. While there are many guidelines and tidbits of advice out there, it’s still tricky. It ultimately boils down to one thing. The Freemium market is simply over saturated with free games in every genre you can think of: at least 5,000 new games (if not more) are added to the app store every month.
There is a demand now, more than ever, for game designers to get creative and solve a problem first, as opposed to just making a great game that players will want to play. Otherwise, how will your game stand out and make players want to play your game from all the other games just like it?
One interesting thing that separates the mobile market from PC is reach and paid acquisition. It may be surprising, but most new players for any freemium app are captured by paid acquisition, so releasing a “free” game actually costs you money. That means you’re already in the hole. This is especially true if you’re expecting to create a return on investment plan primarily based on in-app costs. Paid acquisition, however, is very expensive, and according to some sources can be as high as $2 USD per install. If you’re a solo indie developer with a shoestring budget, this can be pretty rough, so let’s talk about organic acquisition.
In order to do this, perhaps it would behoove us to study commonality between mobile apps that have gone viral. What makes these apps so popular and easy to consume by their audience? Do they create a fluid, yet varied gameplay, while also advocating a healthy sense of community? This sounds easy, but it’s not. Creating a viral mobile app is extraordinarily complex and involves a clear and defined player acquisition strategy.
Most designers are spending a tremendous amount of their budget on advertising. While acquiring new users is important, it’s more important that those same users want to play your game more than just once. An uninstall is the same as a termination letter: it signals the finality of a relationship and a bond between game designer and player.
Now for some stats. It is estimated, according to some sources, that only a teeny fraction of those newly acquired players will actually spend any money on your game. Think 1–2 percent as a healthy margin. It is also estimated that players will only spend about 5–10 bucks if they even spend at all. App stores also have their hands in your pockets, usually requiring a 20–30 percent maintenance fee of their own.
Long story short, the mobile freemium market isn’t as easy as slapping together a game, throwing in some in-app purchases, and calling it a day. It’s a maze of complications that deserves a much deeper look. I’ll continue the research and continue to provide more data in the future.
The Secret to Increasing Player Retention
The secret? A game that seemingly never ends. Bam.
Okay, let me elaborate: Having an endless game—or at least an endless game session—will mean that your players will always be able to return. In a traditional game with a clear end, players finish the game and move on to another game. In this instance, players usually don’t return to a game they have already completed. Having no clear ending will keep your game continually in the minds of your players, especially when paired with good retention loops.
Enter rewards, stage left. Players should always be rewarded for completing a level in less time or with better efficiency. That’s why it’s crucial that levels and missions be repeatable. Repeatable sessions never signal the finality of the game and allow your players to come back at any time for any reason. Repeatable levels and missions are easy to reward because they do not interfere with gameplay. Instead, the player can be rewarded with a new vanity item, unlocked locations or characters, or increased experience. When it comes to something like this, the possibilities are endless.
Consider making your reward system as varied and as evolved as possible. For example, having numerous characters to play as will entice your player to explore every possibility as long as the characters have different abilities or mechanics that fundamentally change the way that the game is played. This type of reward system is easy to captivate both new and returning players with on an equal level, as players are usually compelled to experiment with the playstyle or character that they like best.
If you’d like to add yet another layer, social and collaborative features can provide an even more immersive and rewarding experience. By allowing your player to continue to compete with their friends in terms of online leaderboards, it provides a new level of interaction. It also allows the player to experience the game again even after the game has officially ended. Having regular tournaments for competitive games is another great way to remind your player to visit regularly. With regular tournaments that offer significant rewards and leaderboards, your player will feel part of something bigger than just an ordinary game.
Additionally, your players should know well in advance if you plan to make any significant updates to your game, especially if it will enhance the gameplay. Something as simple as a push notification or in-app reminder for mobile can alert your player of any changes you plan to make. On the traditional PC side, consider building a social media fanbase so that you can always notify your players of updates far in advance.
Make games that don’t just end with the completion of the main storyline. Implement modes such as New Game+ with varied challenges, for example. Make sure the game allows for a multitude of different playstyles that correspond with different states of flow, and make sure that the player can always aspire to get better at the game by making the levels repeatable with different perks and rewards for doing so. In both mobile and PC platforms, you can’t really go wrong with the 5-star rating system. Find ways to iterate on that basic retention mechanic and combine it with teasing character unlocks to keep player hooked for ages. One example could be: If you 5-star all levels in world one, you can unlock another unique character to play as. The possibilities are endless!
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Thank you so much for reading my article! I’m Daniel Doan, the Co-Founder of Black Shell Media. We’re a publishing and marketing firm dedicated to helping indie developers succeed.