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What does it take to make a Free to Play Game?

What does it take to make a Free to Play Game?

December 5th, 2018

At PlayIgnite, we’re lucky to work with studios that make games for all platforms (which helps me impress my kids!). With mobile now an ever growing piece of the pie, we thought we’d look at what it takes to make a successful F2P (Free to Play) game. We spent time with one of the senior PMs, Aaron Ludlow, at our sister business PlayStack, who knows this world inside out.

We focus on the funding bit of the game-launch equation, but we know there’s a huge amount more that goes in to the success of a studio. From monetisation to analytics, from retention to data updates, to the final piece which is UA; we wanted to give you some important things to think about.

Monetisation is key to the success of your game, and even deciding whether to be a premium, freemium or F2P game, it’s a huge call. Whether it’s Clash of Clans, Candy Crush, Super Mario Run, or Angry Birds, there are ways to do things, and the more successful studios seem to have the secret sauce.

It goes without saying that 95% of mobile games are F2P these days, so there’s a consumer expectation that you download them for free, and then get playing. On the one hand, that’s good news as it gives you more ways to monetise, and gives you more room to experiment with what works. The negative is that its a crowded market, and barriers to launching a game are low – but if done well, it can be really powerful!

On the other hand, a premium mobile game gives you revenues straight away, and therefore its easier to climb the charts. But as mentioned above, less and less people pay up for premium games these days. So quite frankly, it’s hard to fight that mega trend, and it makes UA very difficult.

Revenues can come in many forms, from IAP, to ad revenues etc. Historically, games used to be IAP driven in terms of revenue, but most recently with the likes of Ketchapp or Kwalee, more ‘hyper causal’ ad driven games have been successful. A note on this though – to make significant money from ad revenue you require large numbers of DAU (tens of thousands).

Analytics is the next element which you must be on top of. How do you track the key metrics, and what’s moves the dial the most for your game? If you don’t invest time and money in to this, you’ll never make it big. Sadly, we meet too many studios who haven’t done their homework here. Please please please spend time looking at your options. You will absolutely, 100%, need an analytics AND attribution platform. There are lots of each, but for analytics, you might think about Delta DNA, Game Analytics and Fabric, and for attribution, Appsflyer, Adjust and Tenjin are very strong.

Whatever you go with, you’ll need to track the basic KPIs eg, DAU, ARPDAU, ARPPU, Conversion Rate, Retention etc. You’ll also want to have FTUE Tracking in place (First Time User Experience); why? Because you’ll need to track every moment after the initial game launch. You need to know what your players are doing during the first set of sessions to be able to adapt your game. Finally, don’t forget you’ll also want to monitor the individual tutorial steps too.

Your conversion rate is important to watch; this is the percentage of your players which generate you revenues. On average, you will only get around 2-3% spenders. Now, there are some games which buck the trend, some even have up to 10% spenders, but thats rare. This is why many consider ads as crucial, as it gives you the opportunity to make revenue from non paying users. Just be sure not to cannibalize your spenders, ie. if you have too many rewarded ads, it may mean you won’t get as many spenders in the game.

When launching a game, it’s alway advisable to build an “Analytics Manifest”. Analytics are hugely important for any mobile game but the thing with analytics is that it’s easy to get carried away (there are a LOT of data points!). So build a document which states why you want to track each event and what you want to get out of it. A good start is to track and set goals around LTV, DAU, WAU, ARPDAU, ARPPU, Conversion Rate and CPI. Retention is our personal favourite; so how often do players come back? The industry stated metrics are D1- 40%, D7- 20% & D30 – 10%.; what will your targets and hurdles be?

Launching a game isn’t the end of the development journey, it’s pretty much the start.  From here you need to understand your players and what they are doing, and optimizing the experience for every one of them.

The longer someone is retained in your game for, the more chance you have of monetising them – so what can cause retention drops? (Everyone, no matter who you are, will face this problem at some stage!). It could range from the wrong demographic playing the game, to the tutorial just isn’t good enough, to poor monetisation ‘pinch points’, to simply not enough content.

One secret tip that people rarely think about is that Live data updating is critical; and often overlooked. It gives you the ability to tweak and change gameplay variables almost instantly without additional app submission. Be careful though as, updating data live is powerful but dangerous. Make sure to encrypt your data, because if your game does well, people will try to exploit it. Also label each version and make it visible for players. There are companies who provide these services (of course at a cost); these vary from Chilli Connect to Gamesparks etc.

Lastly, and by no means least, user acquisition (UA) is the key to turning your game from a small indie game with 20-50k DAUs to a global viral success, with millions of downloads. In simple terms, UA is the process of acquiring users via various channels. There are numerous routes, the most common being Facebook, Google, SNAP, Twitter, Chartboost, Admob etc. Content and creative play a huge part here, and static ads, video ads or playable ads are the norm. Playables are new and becoming very popular; giving the player an idea of the type of game they will be playing. Google now even offer Google Play Instants in their store so you can try the game directly in the store page. Again, make sure you set up a UA plan with budgets otherwise the bill could be costly! When launching a new game, make sure to pace yourself; you don’t need to get everyone in at first. Get 500 players, then review and change, then 1000, then review and change etc…

In Summary, a few thoughts: 1) Soft-launch as early as possible – make an MVP and get testing! 2) Use your analytics, let them guide you 3) Don’t go Worldwide if your figures aren’t good enough! 4) Don’t be disheartened at low KPIs 5) Talk to platform holders! 6) Don’t worry about the millions of games on the app stores. Your game could be the next big thing.

Any game goes through ups and downs, but especially mobile games, as the feedback loop is so immediate. But remember don’t expect instant results, it really is a marathon and not a sprint! We know there’s a lot to think about, outside of creating a fun game, but it’s all achievable with the right planning.

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