This year at UX Scotland 2014 I had the pleasure of collaborating on two tutorials with the fabulous Claudio Pires Franco, Senior Research Manager – Games and Media for Dubit. The first of our tutorials was based on a subject close to Claudio’s heart: UX for Gamer Acquisition, Retention and Conversion.
The Freemium Empire
When looking at how to utilise UX techniques and strategies to increase acquisition, retention and conversion, perhaps the most interesting model to look at is the Freemium model. As how do games that are generally labelled as “free” make so much money?
So to start off, it was important to define what we mean by Freemium:
So essentially you can break down Freemium as:
Freemium = Free + Premium
Since 2007 the Freemium Business Model has been the ‘go-to’ model for apps and games with some serious success stories such as:
Not to mention the ubiquitous Candy Crush – who when asked even 98% of the audience had heard of! It’s crazy to think that since its launch:
- 150 BILLION games played to date
- 500 Million people around the world have installed the game
- An estimated £550,000 is earned every day in the US alone
- 60% of UK Gamers play on their way to or from work
- 285 of gamers play at work or during the working day
- Game Developer, King, has now reached revenue of over $1Bn
And they achieved all of this through developing an engaging, clever UX and monetisation strategy.
But it is not just the gaming industry that are using the freemium model. There have been clear successes in other sectors such as newspapers, productivity tools and even social media:
So there are a vast number of different games and platforms using UX techniques to achieve their business goals.
The 3 Core Rules of having a UX approach to game development
Designing a good UX for different types of games and platforms is always different. That said there are 3 core rules for a successful approach to UX design in game development:
- Follow the established principles of good practice in UX design.
- Never take things for granted: you must engage in research with your players and test and iterate throughout the process.
- You need a really good creative team: without creativity and energy to make good games you won’t get far!
Due to the different ways in which these rules are applied for the purpose of the tutorials we had to define our main focus to look at examples from Children’s MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games) which are also known as children’s virtual worlds such as Moshi Monsters.
Acquisition: Attracting players and lowering barriers
Whilst marketing and promotion are key to generating awareness and interest in a game or app, it is actually what happens when a player arrives on a games landing page that is key to successful acquisition of players.
The easiest way to think about how to represent the acquisition model in gaming is think of your users going through a funnel. Claudio shared many representations of the funnel and my favourite by far was this A4 poster produced by GAMESbrief:
So essentially once you have spent your marketing budget on getting people to your website you need to get them to sign-up and play. In order to get the most users to actually play your game you need to ensure that the registration process is as easy as possible.
By providing a a UX that lowers the barrier to entry and engages the players for some time you will increase your acquisition rate and reduce the number of drop-outs at each stage. Claudio’s top tips for creating a great compelling UX for freemium registration were:
- Create an exciting and engaging home page to reduce the bounce rate of first-time visitors.
- Create a simple and frictionless registration by only taking the key data required to get them into the game to increase the number of sign-ups.
- Provide simple and playable tutorials to get people into playing the game.
- Remember not all players are equal as they have different needs. So it is important to think about multiple strategies and tactics aimed at different targets.
- Set realistic, accomplishable expectations by ensuring that your marketing activities don’t over hype your gaming experience, if people see an amazing battle sequence in an advert: they expect to play it in the game.
- Give your players hints and tips in early levels and between stages to increase retention and reduce frustration with the game.
And if you are still not convinced you have to get your first impression right, check out some of these stats:
So once you have got a player to engage with your game, how do you get them to come back?
Well the main point of a game is for people to have fun – but fun is subjective and hard to develop without working out who it should be fun for! However there are some basic guidelines for making a game fun:
- Create a balance of difficulty: challenging but not too hard!
- Provide help for “not so good” players for when they fail a few times.
- Provide social features such as sharing scores, challenging friends, leaderboards etc to tap into the natural competitiveness of gamers.
- Use collectible items as a way to engage players, children love to collect things even if they add little value to the game play.
- Give them achievements and rewards to make them feel good about their gaming time which should result in the ultimate reward: Leveling-up!
For more information on fun game theory check out “A Theory of Fun for Game Design” by Raph Koster.
So now you have a the basics of a fun game how do you ensure that players remain engaged continuously using your game or app over the newest craze?
People are fickle and love new things and so to keep them in your game you need to continuously provide them with new things to do. In fact the most successful strategy to retention in gaming is to develop:
The Eternal Beta: an ever evolving game where designers use game metrics and real life usage and player research to fine-tune the player experience.
This strategy allows games makers to use the insights from real players to develop and improve their games and allows them to design for a wide range of playing styles by tapping into their players’ creativity.
Conversion and monetisation tactics
So now you have got your players to use your game and come back multiple times which is brilliant. But how do you actually make money?
Well there are many tactics used by the freemium model that are 6 extremely successful for monetisation:
1. Walled Areas
Games introduce special areas that you can only access if you are a paying member such as Club Penguin:
Here you can access special in-game events or even new mini-games that are only available for paying members. These areas are particularly useful as they tap into our motivations to feel like we are part of a special group or VIP area.
2. Added functionality and vanity items
This is where are game allows you to upgrade or purchase an item that may or may not improve your game play such as a better car or weapon.
The majority of these types of item are purely decorative and have no game functionality but allow a player to personalise their gaming experience. This is especially effective with children who as they grow and define their identity they invest emotionally in games and get attached to their characters and avatars so want to make them as unique and distinguishable as they are becoming.
3. Try your luck
Some games give players the opportunity to spin a wheel of fortune to win prizes that can be used in play such as extra lives, desirable items, games currency.
This encourages some player types to come back every day and engage with the game. But there is a word of warning with this tactic: some hardcore player types react badly to this tactic as they see it as going against the ‘grinding’ and hard work spirit of the game. Y0u should have to earn a magic sword as opposed to just win it!
4. Slowing Progress/time gates
This is where a game introduces the idea of time or energy resources that run out, for example in Cityville where each task makes you loose energy. Once all your energy, resource or lives have run out you want to play more but the game asks you to either wait, ask a friend for energy or to pay for more!!!
By tapping into the player’s impatience to continue with the game and offering a mix of free and paid for solutions it is a very clever way of getting players to at least engage in socialising the game and hopefully to part with their money.
Remember that obsession you had as a child, be it trolls, marbles, stickers or pogs [please insert relevant childhood memory here]?
We all had one and we loved to collect things. Well children (and adults) are still the same today and so offering collectibles that are paid for is a great way to generate revenue from games. These can be either delivered as stand alone collectibles that make a player feel special or sets of collectibles that can be traded in for additional gaming powers or features.
6. Make it social
Some games are social by nature (e.g. MMOs) but now even single player games, such as Candy Crush, as becoming more and more socialable by introducing leader boards, progress reports and challenges.
Social features are hugely important to revenue generation in play, especially on mobile:
Source: Glu Mobile
This doesn’t mean that good single player experiences don’t work, just that we currently live in a socially dominated world and therefore it is a highly effective tactic!
To end up the session we felt it was important to highlight one of the biggest issues with monetising games, especially in the freemium world: Ethics.
It is hard to strike the balance between ethics and revenue generation in game development. Is it more important to make money or provide a fun experience? This is especially clear when it comes to in-app purchases.
This issue has been highlighted and covered extensively in the press where children are using their parents devices to buy expensive, and often vanity, items which results in large bills at the end of the month.
It is the responsibility of the game developer to ensure that reasonable steps are put in place to prevent children making unauthorised purchases but also the responsibility of the parent to make sure that their devices and payment methods are secure!
Key Take Aways
After the whistle stop tour of gamer acquisition, retention and conversion we left the group with the following takeaways: