论述免费模式游戏的创收方式及发展趋势

标签: 资讯频道 免费模式游戏 创收方式&未来发展趋势 广告 道具销售 | 发表时间:2012-01-31 09:23 | 作者:suyane
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出处:http://gamerboom.com

作者:Pascal Luban

在本系列第一部分内容中,我主要论述免费模式游戏的商业环境,谈论这类的设计要素。本文我将主要探讨这类游戏的创收方式,结尾处将阐述此领域的若干中短期发展趋势。

在当前市场环境中,免费模式游戏的创收既是门系统科学,也充满神秘色彩。开发者主要根据自己的直觉和想象执行游戏设计的基本原则。

首先先来谈谈若干促使5-10%玩家在游戏中消费的因素。

玩家的动机

一般说来,“免费”游戏中的消费主要受如下因素驱动:

* 加速升级或访问新功能。许多免费模式游戏会创造无限需求。游戏给予玩家充足资源开始游戏,探索升级后的内容。但随着玩家的深入,游戏开始呈现3种趋势:

—新建筑、单元或自定义道具变得日益昂贵。

—开始出现新挑战。

—开始出现机会选择。

玩家享有的道具或目标任务选择令人眼花缭乱,他们很难抵挡住诱惑,不在游戏资源(黄金、食物或能量积分等)或道具中投入现金(以游戏货币的形式)。当然,玩家购买首个道具的资金成本都非常低,所以他们通常会忍不住投入些许资金购买游戏道具。

Dofus from itunes.apple.com

Dofus from itunes.apple.com

* 访问完整游戏。《Club Penguin》或《Dofus》之类的优秀“免费”游戏都采用免费增值模式或访问限制模式。游戏的设计非常巧妙,玩家能够访问到充足的免费内容,体验到真正的游戏;这会促使玩家投入少量资金,解锁完整体验。

* 减轻玩家游戏体验的负担。许多免费模式游戏要求玩家时常登陆游戏,完成某些“琐碎任务”(游戏邦注:例如收割他们的庄稼)。Feerik的《Poney Vallée》在此表现得更淋漓尽致,若玩家的马匹没有受到很好照料,它们的表现就会受到影响。若要将这些重复任务的操作自动化,玩家就得通过现金购买道具。

* 满足玩家的自我意识。融入强烈社交意识的游戏是玩家展示自我、展示个性或给某人留下深刻印象的绝佳平台。这些免费模式游戏创造无数机会,让玩家能够呈现独特表现。在Playfish的《宠物社区》中,玩家可以购买独特的内部装饰品,在Zynga的《Empires & Allies》中,玩家能够购买强大军事道具,享有短暂的使用权限。此元素在此所起的作用尤其突出,因为玩家能够运用外形炫酷的强大武器进攻朋友!

基于头像的游戏也提供许多自定义机会。为促使玩家进行消费,许多免费模式游戏的玩家都无法自定义基本头像,这样新玩家很容易就会被其他玩家发现;没有人希望自己看起来像新手!自定义个人头像不是呈现“与众不同表现”的唯一方式;例如,有些免费模式游戏允许玩家改变自身名称的显示颜色,当然这需要付费。

* 赠送礼物。据Infinity Ventures的Akio Tanaka表示,29%的男性玩家和21%的女性玩家会购买道具作为礼物。其实,很多玩家体验免费模式游戏的目的就是互表好感。嬉戏性质的虚拟游戏空间减少其中的挑逗感觉,令此过程的实现变得比现实世界容易。

* 访问高级功能。某些免费模式的游戏让玩家能够自定义自己的界面,创建或管理公会。这些道具主要瞄准硬核玩家,将随着动作和策略免费模式游戏的兴起而获得发展。

当前有关付费道具定义的热议话题是,它们是否给予玩家竞争优势。首先,注意此问题主要出现在西方市场。在亚洲,许多免费模式游戏的道具都会公开给予所有者一定优势。在西方,情况就不是这样——但有些游戏,包括若干杰出作品,都会奖励掏钱的玩家。但,由于设计巧妙,这不会令游戏出现令人难以忍受的不平衡感。

Zynga's Empires & Allies from gamasutra.com

Zynga's Empires & Allies from gamasutra.com

在《Empires & Allies》中,提高能量的单元会随着玩家的晋级而逐步出现。例如,玩家会在较低关卡解锁轻型航空母舰,然后在更高等级解锁中型装置。各功能都配有独特数据,用于简要显示装置的力量。玩家可以通过自己在游戏中获得的资源升级道具。

但所有道具的最后一次升级只能够通过现金实现。此最后升级规模耗大;就轻型航空母舰而言,其呈现的力量和中型航空母舰(游戏邦注:玩家知晓此元素会在游戏后期出现)相同。因此,玩家可以通过掏钱轻松提高自己的战斗效果,获得其他对手玩家所没有的优势。

这巧妙给予付费玩家显著优势,同时又不会令其他玩家感到沮丧,这些玩家通过投入更多体验时间也能获得相同游戏结果。

允许玩家在竞争游戏中“购买”优势从创收角度而言作用显著,因为游戏的本质令玩家得以脱颖而出。设计师能够在没有疏远其他玩家的情况下实现此目标,但这要求内容的设计要非常准确。

创收技巧

用于创造营收的5大技巧:

* 道具购买

* 联属营销

* 广告

* 免费增值

* 访问限制

据eMarketer表示,美国社交游戏2012年的营收将包括如下几块:道具销售(60%)、广告(20%)和联属营销(20%)。注意此调查不包括免费增值和访问限制模式内容所创造的收益。

道具销售

这是免费模式游戏的主要收入来源——50%-90%。免费模式游戏采用两种货币:所谓的软货币和硬货币。前者通过在游戏中完成任务获得,而后者只能通过掏钱获得。

为什么要设置两种货币?主要原因是这让游戏发行商能够控制游戏的创收。若道具能够通过游戏货币购得,玩家最后就能够在不花费任何真实货币的情况下购买整款游戏的内容。此双重货币机制的另一优势是,它让玩家只能通过硬通货币购得的道具额外价值。

注意在很多情况下,两种货币能进行相应的转化,允许拥有不同资源(游戏邦注:时间和金钱)的玩家互换资源。

主要道具类型

开发者的想象力无穷无尽,这也体现在创收方面。行业将会出现有关道具的新构思。下面是目前在免费模式游戏中出售的道具类型列表:

* 游戏资源。这出现在许多免费模式游戏中。它们令玩家能够体验更久(《Treasure Madness》),获得创建单元或建筑的原材料(《Empires & Allies》),加快时间(《Edgeworld)》)。注意有些免费模式游戏(例如《Battlefield Heroes》)出售的道具让玩家能够短时间享有双倍收益,例如经验值。

* 自定义道具。许多免费模式游戏都会让玩家进行一定程度的自定义操作。管理类型的游戏会出售独特的抢眼道具,让玩家能够自定义自己的领土、家园或商店(《CityVille》和《宠物社区》)。策略游戏让玩家得以购买独特的武器(《Mobster》和《Empires & Allies》)。在基于虚拟形象的游戏中,非付费玩家的装扮通常平淡无奇,略显乏味。自定义内容很快就会变成需要付费的“必要元素”。《Battlefield Heroes》的商店主要由这些元素构成。

* 安慰道具。玩家无需每天喂养动物(《Poney Vallée》)或浇灌花园。它们令玩家得以摆脱特定虚拟形象的功能或回到角色创造界面(IMVU)。能够移除《Who Has The Biggest Brain?》中的广告。安慰道具也被运用至动作游戏中。《SAS Zombie Assault 2》提供了相关道具让玩家能够在丧命点附近重生。《战地英雄》存在另一能够呈现团队成员健康状态的道具。注意有些道具适用于硬核玩家,例如为游戏的特定回合命名(《War Rock》)。

* 游戏模组。玩家可以销售新地图或关卡,但这些不适用于免费模式游戏,因为它们无法小批量出售,并且制作这些内容所需的工程量巨大。折中解决方案出现在《英雄联盟》中,游戏玩家能够购买英雄。但在我看来,随着传统掌机游戏(游戏邦注:例如运动、第一人称射击和动作-探险游戏等)越来越多地在其设计中融入DLC(可下载内容)元素,这类道具将变得日益普遍。

* 可收集道具。它们未给游戏带来任何贡献,但让玩家能够收集物品,同其他玩家进行交换。免费模式游戏总是创造社交空间。《Treasure Madness》就有效地推动了这一机制的发展。

* 归属道具。这些元素令玩家能够突出自己的公会或民族会员身份。

若干指导方针

* 需牢记于心的一条重要原则是,设计师应确保游戏留有融入新道具的充足空间。你定希望玩家能够持续回访游戏,实现此目标的绝佳方式就是融入新元素。

* 所出售的元素不应是体验游戏的必需品。玩家应能够在不掏钱的情况下体验完整的游戏内容。

* 避免出售需要其他玩家购买的道具。这就是《Battlefield Heroes》所引入的新地图供玩家免费下载的原因所在。

* 不要出售在玩家看来本应融入游戏中的道具。否则他们会觉得自己受到了欺骗。

广告

玩家会很容易接受免费模式游戏中的广告,因为他们清楚开发者需要通过某种方式谋生。但广告只占免费模式游戏收益的一小部分:0%-20%。

广告的创建方式很简单,而且能够轻松给发行商创造收益,但只有游戏流量显著,才会吸引广告商。不要依赖于游戏发行头几个月的创收模式。

核心设计原则就是确保广告不会妨碍游戏体验。

联属营销

此方式存在于:在玩家拜访或登陆伙伴网站时给予他们硬通货币。例如,Ngmoco的iPhone免费模式游戏《We Rule》会在玩家访问合作伙伴的主页时给予其金币奖励。此机制占免费模式游戏10%-40%的收入。

免费增值模式

游戏内容免费,玩家可以通过微交易购买道具,但他们也可以选择采用能够让他们获得奖励的订阅模式。这就像是机场中针对商务或头等舱旅客特别设立的专属休息室。所有玩家都体验相同的游戏,但某些玩家是VIP。

SOE's Free Realms from gamasutra.com

SOE's Free Realms from gamasutra.com

这是SOE的《Free Realms》所采用的机制。另一例子是《Dungeons & Dragons Online:Eberron Unlimited》,这款游戏起初是款付费订阅游戏。玩家可以逐一购买关卡,或订阅免费增值包,从而得以访问所有关卡,享受其他益处。

免费增值模式游戏锁定3%-5%的重度消费者,这最适合丰富且富有沉浸性的游戏。游戏需要设定足够道具供玩家进行微交易,同时留有额外功能,服务那些愿意支付月订阅费的玩家。当然,那些额外功能要有价值。这就是为什么此创收模式鲜少运用于MMO类型之外的游戏中——但这种情况会发生改变。

访问限制

游戏内容免费呈现但和多数免费模式游戏相反,玩家无法访问完整游戏。若玩家想要进行关卡任务或发展自己的角色,他需要付费。法国MMO游戏发行商Ankama特别将此模式运用至作品《Dofus》中。

游戏内容免费。玩家可以创建自己的角色,发起关卡任务,访问所有社交功能。但若他们想要访问所有副本,特别是同其他玩家交换道具,他/她就需要购买整款游戏几个月的访问权限。

此创收模式的主要挑战在于把握将什么功能应排除在免费游戏之外。我记得有款基于热门IP的MMO游戏最终以失败告终,原因是游戏未在其免费版本中提供足够内容。

玩家无法体验到完整游戏内容,有些玩家觉得这是由于发行商过于贪婪,对此他们颇为生气。

下面是若干既能够让玩家好好体验游戏内容,又不会丧失出售订阅内容机会的解决方案:

* 限制核心功能的规模。在策略游戏中,此限制可以体现在玩家在既定时间内所能享有的单元或建筑数量。

* 限制高级功能的访问权限。这是《Dofus》所采取的策略。注意诸如同其他玩家聊天之类的社交功能是免费内容包的一部分。由于这些游戏的模块性质,此策略最适合MMO游戏;关卡可以被视作访问受限的子游戏。

* 在有限时间内提供完整游戏。此策略操作简单,便于调节;免费期限可以轻易延长或缩短。存在的主要问题是一旦免费期限结束,游戏就会封锁所有社交互动。要注意访问受限的游戏和其他免费模式游戏一样——玩家的体验活动由其社交圈推动。

未来发展趋势

文章最后,我将谈及若干行业的短中期发展趋势。

* 饱和的市场。未来游戏行业将涌现越来越多的免费模式游戏。这些游戏很多将以失败告终,因为它们只是既有内容的翻版。但那些真正富有创意或基于新主题的游戏将备受玩家青睐。这就是免费或社交游戏成功的关键:富有创意,瞄准细分市场。

咨询公司Fuzbi LLC负责人David Edery 2011年初表示,“瞄准特定市场的小型游戏的发展步伐越来越快,胜过那些锁定大众市场的大型作品(游戏邦注:例如《CityVille》和《FrontierVille》)。若你相信统计数据,排名前5的游戏似乎开始流失用户,而那些排名51-175的游戏去年则蓬勃发展高。若游戏设计模式正确,创收方式得当,其平均每年能够收获20-30万美元,甚至是50万美元。”

* 家庭掌机的免费模式游戏。这种情况已经出现。SOE的《Free Realms》是首款出现于PlayStation 3的免费模式游戏。关于Xbox 360,据Develop去年6月报道,即将问世的新系统很快就会支持微交易内容。微软也秘密同开发者讨论,打算在Xbox Live Arcade中引入免费模式游戏。

* 在传统掌机游戏中植入免费营收策略。我并没有谈及掌机免费模式游戏的有效性。我相信目前我们以全价购买的AAA游戏未来将在其核心设计中添加免费功能。这些方法令发行商得以获得较高的投资回报,让玩家能够辨别自己的体验,持续创造游戏话题。创收技巧还让开发者得以继续通过推出销售内容创收:地图、游戏模式、角色和配件等。

但两种商业模式融为一体的情况还未出现。玩家若是觉得某额外内容应包含于他们高价购买的游戏中,他们就不会掏钱购买。融入此新型经济模式的传统游戏需要全方位重新审视软件架构、玩法、社区管理和营销策略。这就是动视在其作品《Call of Duty:Elite》中所尝试采取的策略。《Elite》订阅者将享受到《使命召唤》的可下载内容和附属内容,而非订阅者依然能够通过单独交易购买这些内容。

* 新市场的涌现。扩充免费模式游戏的简单方式就是将游戏本土化,适应新兴市场:巴西、俄罗斯和土耳其等。这些国家被视作掌机游戏领域的“次要”市场,但在在线社交游戏领域,它们的地位同主要西方市场相当(游戏邦注:Bigpoint已于180个国家发行60款不同作品)。

* 游戏变成服务,而非独立产品。这已经出现在MMO游戏领域,但其创新性在于,将此商业模式植入其他游戏类型。EA Sports负责人Peter Moore已规划出宏伟蓝图,计划将采用年收益模式的《FIFA》作品改造成持续性的在线游戏。多数MMO游戏都是由订阅模式转变成免费商业模式,因此免费机制和设计原则也适用这些内容。

* 更进一步:用户生成内容。这是免费商业模式的巧妙演变:玩家向其他玩家出售自己创造的内容,从中获得真实货币。听起来有些疯狂?有些游戏已提供可兑换游戏货币的用户生成道具选项。

《哈宝旅馆》已设立这样的功能:允许玩家自己创建迷你游戏,然后向其他社区成员出售。不要忘记《赛道狂飙》,这是用户生成内容的先驱。玩家可以设计轨道,然后在游戏商店中发行,通过出售这些内容获得游戏积分。暴雪也涉足此理念,在《Battle.net》中融入销售模式。(本文为游戏邦/gamerboom.com编译,拒绝任何不保留版权的转载,如需转载请联系:游戏邦)

The Design of Free-to-Play Games, Part 2

by Pascal Luban

In the previous part of my feature, I described the business environment of free-to-play (F2P) games and I covered their design essentials. In this part, I will describe how they are monetized, and I will conclude with a few short-to-medium term trends I have spotted.

In the present state of the market, making money out of F2P game is both science and alchemy. Should basic rules be applied, they are largely implemented according to the developer’s intuition and imagination.

Let’s start by understanding what motivates 5 to 10 percent of players to make purchases in a free game.

Buyers’ Motivations

Generally speaking, purchases in a “free” game are motivated by the following desires:

* To speed up leveling or get access to new features. Many free-to-play games are designed to create never-ending needs. The game gives you enough resources to get started and to discover what it has to offer if you level up. But as you go further in the game, three trends kick in:

—The new buildings, units, or customization items become
increasingly expensive.

—New challenges appear.

—The opportunity tree opens up.

The player faces a dizzying choice of items he wants or tasks he wants to get done. It becomes difficult to resist NOT using hard cash (in the form of in-game currency) to buy either in-game resources (gold, food, energy points, etc.) or the much-wanted items themselves. And of course, the real money cost of the first items you can buy is always very low, so it becomes very tempting to spend a few dollars or euros.

* To access the full game. Several very successful “free” games like Club Penguin or Dofus use freemium or limited access business models. They are so well-designed that you have access to enough free stuff to give you a real taste of the game; this will lead you to pay a small amount to unlock the full experience.

* To ease one’s game experience. Many free-to-play games require players to connect regularly in order to do their “chores” like harvesting their crops. Feerik’s Poney Vallée makes it more compelling to do your daily chores by decreasing your horses’ performance if they don’t get taken care of. The automation of such repetitive tasks is one of the items that can only be purchased with real money.

* To feed one’s ego. Games with a strong social dimension are showcases that players use to display themselves at their best, to show their personality, or to impress others. Those free-to-play games offer numerous possibilities to appear unique. In Playfish’s Pet Society, players can purchase unique interior decorations and in Zynga’s Empires & Allies, one can buy powerful military units available for a brief period of time. This is especially effective since a player can use those cool-looking and mighty units to attack his friends!

Avatar-based games also offer numerous opportunities for customization. To push players to do that, some free-to-play games make it impossible to customize basic avatars, so newcomers are easily spotted; nobody wants to look like a newbie! And customizing one’s avatar is not the only way to appear “different”; for instance, some free-to-play games let you change the display color of the player’s name… for a price, of course.

* To make gifts. According to Akio Tanaka from Infinity Ventures, 29 percent of males and 21 percent of female players buy items to make presents. In fact, many users play F2P games to flirt. The playful and virtual game dimension plays down the flirtation and makes it easier than in the real life.

* To access advanced features. Certain free-to-play games offer the players the opportunity to customize their interface, to create or manage a guild, etc. These items mainly address hardcore players and should develop with the rise of action and strategy free-to-play games.

A current issue regarding the definition of items bought with hard money is whether they should give a competitive advantage to players or not. To begin with, note that this issue is essentially debated in the West. In Asia, many free-to-play games feature items that will openly give an edge to their owners. In the West, this is not necessarily the case — but some games, including major ones, reward players that open up their wallet. However, thanks to smart design, this does not create unbearable imbalances in the games.

In Empires & Allies, units of increasing power are made available as you level up. For instance, the player unlocks the light aircraft carrier at a low level and the medium one at a higher level. Each unit features a unique figure that summarizes its strength. The player can upgrade his units with resources obtained in-game.

However, the last upgrade for each unit can only be purchased with hard money. And this last upgrade is a big one; for the light aircraft carrier, it will give it the same strength as the medium aircraft carrier, which the player knows is further away in the game. Thus, a player can easily boost its combat effectiveness by spending real money, and get an edge against the other players he decides to attack.

This is a very smart way to give a sizable advantage to a player that spends real money without upsetting other players who can obtain the same result by playing the game longer.

Allowing a player to “buy” an edge in a competitive game is very effective from the monetization point of view because the essence of the game pushes players to out-perform others. It is possible to do it without alienating the majority of the players but it requires a very precise game design.

Monetization Techniques

Five techniques are used to generate revenues:

* Item-purchasing

* Affiliate marketing

* Advertising

* Freemium

* Restricted access

According to eMarketer, revenues for social games in 2012 for the U.S. should break up in the following way: Item selling (60 percent), advertising (20 percent) and affiliate marketing (20 percent). Note that this study does not include revenues generated by freemium and restricted access business models.

Item-Purchasing

The Principle

This is the main revenue source of free-to-play games — between 50 and 90 percent. A F2P game uses two types of currency: a so-called soft currency, and a hard one. The former is earned in-game by completing tasks, but the latter can only be obtained by spending real money — dollars, euros, whatever.

Why two currencies? The main reason is that it allows the game publisher to control the monetization of the game. If any item could be bought with money earned in-game, players could eventually buy the whole game without spending a dime. Another advantage of this dual-money system is that it gives a premium value to whatever can only be bought with hard money.

Note that in many games, there is some gateway to convert between the two currencies, allowing players with different resources (time and cash) to exchange them.

The Major Families of Items

The imagination of developers is unlimited, and monetization is no exception. New item ideas will emerge. Meanwhile, here is a list of item families that are currently sold in free-to-play games:

* Game resources. Found in many free-to-play games. They allow a player to play longer (Treasure Madness), to get raw materials to build units or buildings (Empires & Allies), to speed up time (Edgeworld). Note that there are free-to-play games (such as Battlefield Heroes) which sell items that allow the player to double his gains, such as experience points, for a short period of time.

* Customization items. Most free-to-play games offer some degree of customization. Management games sell unique and cool-looking items to customize your territory, home or store (CityVille, Pet Society). Strategy games let you buy unique weapons (Mobster, Empires & Allies). In avatar-based games, the avatars of non-paying players are designed to look bland and boring. Their customization quickly becomes a “must” that has to be paid for. Battlefield Heroes’ shop is largely made up of that stuff.

* Comfort items. They make it unnecessary to feed an animal (Poney Vallée) or water a garden every day. They can enable the player to delete certain avatar features or to go back to the character creation interface (IMVU). Advertising can be removed in Who Has The Biggest Brain? Comfort items also apply to action games. In SAS – Zombie Assault 2, an item allows the player to respawn near the point where he has been killed. In Battlefield Heroes, another item makes it possible to display the health of teammates. Note that some items can be specifically targeted at hardcore players, like the ability to name a game session (War Rock).

* Game modules. You can sell new maps or quests, but they are not well adapted to the F2P model because these cannot be sold for a small amount, because of the amount of work needed to develop them. An intermediary solution is implemented in League of Legends, where players buy heroes. However, I expect such items to grow in popularity as traditional console games (sports, FPS, action-adventure, etc.) increasingly embed DLC in their design.

* Collectible items. They contribute nothing to the game, but give the players the opportunity to make collections and exchange items with other players. The social dimension of free-to-play games is never far away. Treasure Madness pushed this system very far.

* Affiliation items. These allow players to highlight their being a member of a guild, a nationality etc.

A Few Guidelines

* A good rule to keep in mind is that you should design your game in such a way that you have a lot of room for new items. You want players to keep coming back, and a good way to achieve that objective is to introduce new stuff.

* Don’t sell items that are indispensable to play the game. A player must be able to play the full game without spending real money.

* Avoid selling items that require other players to buy them. That’s why the new maps introduced in Battlefield Heroes were free to download.

* Don’t sell items that players think should be integrated in the game by default. They will feel cheated.

Advertising

Players easily accept advertising in a F2P game because they are aware that the developer has to earn his living in some way. However, advertising only has a marginal share in F2P revenues: between 0 and 20 percent.

Advertising is very easy to set up, and will generate revenue effortlessly for the publisher, but it will only attract advertisers if the game generates a lot of traffic. Don’t count on that revenue model in the few first months after launch.

A key design rule is to make sure the ads will not interfere with the gaming experience.

Affiliate Marketing

This method consists in providing a player with hard money if he visits or registers on a partner site. For instance, We Rule, Ngmoco’s iPhone F2P game, allows the player to win gold coins if he accesses a partner’s homepage while in-game. This mechanism represents approximately 10 to 40 percent of F2P revenues.

Freemium

The game is free, and players can carry out microtransactions to purchase items, but they can also opt for a subscription that gives them access to bonuses. It’s the same principle as the exclusive lounges in airports which are reserved for business or first class travelers. All players play the same game, but certain players are VIPs.

It’s the system adopted by SOE’s Free Realms. Another example is Dungeons & Dragons Online – Eberron Unlimited, which started life as a premium subscription game. The player can buy quests one by one, as items, or subscribe to the freemium pack that grants access to all the quests, along with other benefits.

Freemium targets the three to five percent of players who are heavy consumers of a given game. It works best for very rich and involving games. There must be enough items to sell through microtransactions and room for an extra layer of features reserved to those who are willing to pay a monthly subscription. Needless to say, that those extra features must be really worthy! That’s why we rarely seen this monetization model applied outside the MMO genre — but this might change.

Restricted Access

The game is free but, contrary to the preponderance of F2P games, the player does not have access to the full game. If she wants to take on quests or develop her character, the player will have to pay for the access. Ankama, a leading French MMO publisher, uses this model exclusively for his hit, Dofus.

The game is free. A player can build his avatar, initiate quests, and access all social features. However, if she wants access to all dungeons and especially to be able to exchange items with other players, she needs to buy access to the full game for several months.

The main challenge with this monetization model is understanding which features to exclude from the free game. I have in mind a MMO game based on a widely popular IP, which utterly failed because it did not deliver enough in its free version.

Players could not get a taste of the full game, and some became angry at what they perceived as excessive greed from the publisher.

There are several ways to let a player get a good taste at a game without jeopardizing your chances to sell her a subscription:

* To limit the scope of key features. In a strategy game, this limitation could apply to the number of units or buildings a player can own at a given time.

* To limit the access to advanced features. This is the path followed by Dofus. Note that social features, like the ability to chat with other players, is part of the free package. This technique works best with MMOs, because of the modular nature of these games; quests can be seen as sub-games whose access can be controlled.

* To offer the full game but for a limited amount of time. This technique is simply to implement and easy to tune; the free period can be easily extended or shortened. Its main problem is that it blocks all social interactions once the free period is over. Restricted access games are like all other F2P games: It is the social network of the player that drives the incentive to play.

A Glimpse at What’s Coming Next

I will conclude this series by describing a few short-to-medium term trends I have identified.

* A saturated market. There are just too many F2P games coming over the horizon. A lot of them will fail because they’ll be mere copies of existing ones. However, we have already seen that there is a premium in the market for games offering a genuine novelty, or which are built around a new theme. That’s the key to success in the F2P or social game market: be creative, and don’t be afraid to go for a niche audience.

David Edery, principal of consulting firm Fuzbi LLC, stated in early 2011 that “we’re seeing that the smaller, more targeted games growing considerably faster than the ‘big mommas’ that appeal to the large, general audiences, like CityVille and FrontierVille. If you believe the statistics, the top five games seem to be losing users while the games ranked 51 to 175 are growing substantially over last year. If that game is designed correctly, if it is monetized correctly, it can make $200,000, $300,000, even $500,000 a year.”

* F2P on home consoles. It is already happening. SOE’s Free Realms is the first F2P available on the PlayStation 3 — via PSN. For the Xbox 360, Develop has reported last June that upcoming OS will soon support microtransactions. Microsoft is also, behind the scenes, discussing with developers on the introduction of F2P games on Xbox Live Arcade.

* The embedding of F2P monetization techniques in traditional console games. I am not talking of the availability of F2P games on game consoles. I believe triple-A games we are currently buying at full price will add F2P features to their core design. Such techniques would allow a publisher to enjoy higher returns on investment, to allow a player to differentiate his experience and to create a continuous buzz around the game. Monetization techniques would also allow developers to continue to generate revenues by developing content to sell: maps, game modes, characters, accessories etc. – the list is unlimited.

But the merging of two business models is yet to come. Gamers will refuse to pay for extras if they think these should be integrated in a game they purchased at a premium price. Traditional games that integrate this new economic model will have to be reconsidered from almost all angles: software architecture, gameplay, community management, marketing. This is what Activision is probably attempting to do with its Call of Duty Elite service. Elite subscribers are expected to receive downloadable content and add-ons to Call of Duty games. Non-subscribers can still purchase them via individual transactions.

* The emergence of new markets. An easy way to expand the reach of a F2P game is to localize a game in order to adapt it to emerging markets: Brazil, Russia, Turkey, etc. Those countries are seen as “low-priority” markets for the console game industry but they are reaching parity with major Western markets when it comes to online social gaming. Bigpoint already operates 60 different games across 180 countries.

* Games as services rather than stand-alone products. This is already happening with MMOs, but the novelty could be the adaptation of this business model to other genres. EA Sports boss Peter Moore has outlined an ambitious plan to transform FIFA from a franchise that relies on annual disc-based releases to a persistent online game that evolves on a continuing basis. Since most MMOs switched from subscription to F2P business model, we can see that F2P mechanisms and design principles could apply as well.

* One step beyond: user-generated content. This could become an amazing evolution of the F2P business model: Players selling their own creations to other players… for real money. Sound crazy? Some games already offer the option to sell user-generated game items against in-game money.

Habbo Hotel has set up a feature that allows players to develop their own mini-games and sell them to other members of the community. And let’s not forget the example of Trackmania, the pioneer in user-generated content. Players can design tracks, publish them in the in-game store, and sell them for in-game credits. Blizzard is putting feelers into this concept with discussions of sales of mods on Battle.net.(Source: gamasutra

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