Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Monetizing a Freemium Game

In this article, indie developer Dave Calabrese discusses how Cerulean Games will seek to monetize a freemium mobile game via three different revenue streams.

Our reasons to make Tumblecaps Retro freemium were strongly based around what we discovered our potential customers wanted. We discussed how we are adding lots of new content for players to enjoy, and touched lightly on some of our bigger plans. Now, we want to take a moment to talk in detail about how we intend to make a profit from the game. After all, this is a business, and without an income the games can’t be made.

There is no question that when working with the mobile space, you generally tend to have a different type of gamer - or at least a traditional gamer looking for a “quick, on the go fix". We can’t easily sell a game to mobile gamers the same way we would a console or PC / Mac title - not unless we were a huge AAA developer. In many ways, indie mobile developers have spent a lot of time digging through the box of monetization - sell in-app currency, allow players to upgrade their content and experience, time based limitations, etc. Overall, these have proven to be a rather successful set of methods. However, it seems like it is just one of the methods. This is selling content to the consumer - and it is what we will call Monetization Method One.

Placing banner ads in a product has been around forever. Think back to the glory days of when the Internet was nothing more than Prodigy and you might remember seeing banner ads on pages while you surfed what their service had to offer. And overall, players are fine with banner ads. They look at and sometimes click on ones they are interested in, and can easily ignore the ads which don’t intrigue them.  And you will want to tweak those ads to their tastes. These ads earn the developer a decent profit, and in some cases developers have earned significantly more from free applications using banner ads than a paid version of the same application without the ads. Banner ads are Monetization Method Two.

This is when we start peeking outside of the box and feeling around its edges. The safe, comfortable zone of traditional monetization does not exist here. I’m talking about the theory of “making money because of your player, instead of from your player". The concept is simple - the player performs an action within the game which costs them nothing, nets them a reward, and as a developer you make a profit from it. This concept has been around in various flavors for a while now - including technically the banner ad, however our integration options are becoming much better. We have been fortunate enough to speak with multiple companies who have ventured outside of the box to introduce these more creative forms of monetization - which we will call Monetization Method Three. After careful consideration, we have decided to use the Paedae service.

According to PaeDae’s SVP of Business Development, PaeDae focuses on two things:
  1. Delivering industry leading monetization rates, and 
  2. Maintaining the integrity of the original game design / user experience.
He says: 
We achieve these previously conflicting objectives by presenting players with relevant, targeted rewards at a moment of success and through our white label solution. PaeDae partners with major brands to deliver prizes that match the context of the game. You have a pet game, we have pet related prizes. And we make sure the prize is relevant by targeting the individual. These brands are giving away gift cards, free headphones and even a chance to enter a million dollar sweepstakes. That’s right, a chance to win $1 million.

Next, our white label solution allows game developers to customize the prize presentation to make it feel native to the app. Developers can add textures from the game, add icons or other creatives, so that it feels like a part of the intended experience. We also recently released BARTR, a free user acquisition platform, to help independent developers get past that increasingly more difficult process of game discovery. All in the spirit of helping the indie community.
PaeDae has been working closely with us to help make Tumblecaps Retro a success. As with any knowledgable vendor, we find their experience to be invaluable to our success.

To recap, through these three methods, we believe that a game can be made a financial success.
  • Method One: IAP. Allow players to upgrade their experience - however be sure to keep content in there as well, as traditional players would rather purchase content than spend on quick upgrades.
  • Method Two: Banner ads. Be smart, don’t overdo them, and be creative in your integration.
  • Method Three: Make money because of the player, not from the player. Let their actions trigger payouts to your company, and give them a reward for doing the action.
What monetization methods have your tried? What kinds of success (or failure) have you had? Tell your stories in the comments!

[This article was adapted from Cerulean Games' blog on Tumblr. ]

Dave Calabrese is an award winning author, designer, developer, manager, and producer with over ten years’ experience in the independent games industry. He specializes in development and production of cross-platform titles for iOS, Android, PC, and Mac using the Unity 3D game engine.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

True Intelligence: Player-Led Narrative Design

In this article, writer and indie games developer C.Y. Reid describes a recent experiment with player-led branching narrative on Twitter and invites you all to explore the richness of impromptu branching narrative.

When considering how to lay out a branching narrative structure, it can sometimes become difficult to choose just how many parallel universes one wants to appear in the finished, playable world. However, one of the easiest ways to circumvent this, and indeed to establish which areas of each scene are the most interesting points of focus, is to allow players themselves to branch your narrative for you.

Last week, I tweeted the following:
“You are in a dark room. There are two doors. One is red, and one is blue. Which door will you open?”
I had almost ten responses within a minute or so. Out of those, five led the story through to its conclusion, but what was interesting was the variety of responses. One chose blue, one red, one turned the lights on, one opened an orange door, and so on. I responded to each by giving them a new room, a new set of objects to explore and people to talk to.

As the tweets continued, I began to interweave their stories. One player was trapped in a large iron room, and another had the key to a safe. Eventually, player two’s curiosity was peaked and they opened the safe revealing player one. Allowing their stories to mesh caused them to worry. Many of the players did not follow each other, and as a result, they were usually completely ignorant of the coming interweaving of their respective narratives.

It was exciting, both for me as a writer and for them as players. In giving them complete freedom of choice and acting as dungeon master for what became an interactive text adventure. Their story ended and all of them were happy, sated. “That was awesome,” said one, not long after they had been cast as a murderer and had the other four players turned against them. It was exciting to watch: Would they judge them, or would they check each other’s timelines and discover my manipulation of them into interesitng situations?

What I did afterwards was ran all their tweets through Storify, and I’ll soon be inputting their choices and the resultant scenarios I gave them into Twine, a text adventure engine available for Windows, Mac and Linux. Its visually straightforward flowchart and Wikipedia simple code allow even the most inexperienced game designer to output deep, complex adventures full of branching narratives, each easy to follow.

In a sense, I cheated the Twine writing process. Rather than coming up with which areas of the story to offer to the player as new roads to walk down, I gave players the option to point out which areas of each created scene they wanted to explore. It’s a lot faster than endlessly putting yourself in their shoes, and you’ll find it’s no different to level design.  You’ll only truly learn what innocent minds will want to see in your created universes once you watch them explore. Your omniscient knowledge of your own built narratives are the fatal flaw in learning where to take people next, if you’re aiming to reward someone’s curiosity.

Branching narratives are intricate, fickle things that can sometimes be the genesis of many a headache. At the same time, they’re also exciting ways to explore the mind of the player. So give it a shot, jump onto Twitter, throw out a starting scene and see where your followers take you. Perhaps follow your own path first and see how theirs diverges from yours. Don’t forget to invite me into the tale @failnaut - I wouldn’t mind doing a little less storycrafting on a social media platform, this time around.  

C.Y. Reid is a writer and indie games developer living and working in London. He has written games journalism for IGN UK and The Escapist, and has made games such as Hug Marine and Grindstar. You can find him at @failnaut or at

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Life XP: Why Gaming Makes Us Better

In this article, writer Lily Francis expounds on the benefits reaped from playing games and not just educational games.

Almost all gamers can share a variation on the same story: someone - often a parent or a teacher when they were younger, but sometimes a colleague or a partner - has told them that they’re dulling their mind by playing so many games. Game designers in particular often get it in spades; if the person they’re talking to isn’t a gamer themselves, they often have to steel themselves for “harmless” asides. Games are fun, after all, but aren’t they a little - you know - silly? Aren’t games just a brain-draining time-waster? Luckily, exciting research suggests that the answer to that question is a resounding no. Playing video games appears to sharpen critical thinking, teach skills like collaboration, and otherwise prep gamers to succeed in life. It’s not just educational games which confer these benefits either; no matter your chosen genre, your favorite games are likely to give you a boost in life.  

Problem-Solving & Critical Thinking

One of the reasons children play make-believe is to learn about their world. By imagining themselves in different situations, they learn how to react to situations they probably haven’t encountered in their real lives. Consider it a test drive for their brains, emotions, and problem-solving skills. We never lose the capacity to learn from these kind of games, and this is exactly the well that video games draw from when they increase our critical thinking. For all that the mind is a complex instrument, it also has the ability to process immersive media, such as video games, as lived experiences. New experiences promote new perspectives, which in turn encourage creative solutions in everyday life.

Games also help to fine-tune your ability to think quickly under stressful circumstances: even if you logically know that you’re safe in the middle of a particularly tense mission, your pounding heart and adrenaline rush probably have your body fooled. Next time you have a stressful, fast-paced day at work, think about how you’d react to it if you were playing - it’s a surprising hack might help you regain control of the situation by looking at it from a new angle.

Community & Teamwork

Whether sharing real space with your friends or family, or collaborating with someone you’ll never meet in a city you’ll never visit, gaming can be a team sport. Just like any other team sport, these games can foster social skills which are applicable to every other part of your life. Even businesses have realized the potential games have to spur social development, with Forbes running a story which highlighted the ways in which collaborative gaming trains players in alliance-building, resource allocation, and teamwork. Even after players leave the game itself, the benefits continue. Stories on healthygame-playing often note that “[online] gaming tends to spawn lively and active Internet communities, with gamers frequenting fan sites, forums, and shared databases to discuss developments, tactics and gameplay”. Although social media has made this sort of interaction commonplace, these communities can be highly close-knit, encouraging social skills in a way Facebook can’t compete with.

Relaxation & Creativity

Given the pace society runs at, many people feel like relaxation is a slightly taboo act, something they have to find legitimate excuses for. Forget all of that; anything which relaxes you is beneficial by its very nature, since it’s those moments of happiness which allow for greater productivity, a healthier body, and a less manic mind. Like other hobbies, gaming has the potential to be a relaxing break from “real life”, but it’s also a way to recharge while staying engaged. The stress of work might fade away, but your mind is still active and focused, the hallmark of a healthy hobby. Games - particularly immersive ones - also promote creativity and increased imagination. In this, they come full circle back to the make-believe games of children, with the power to ignite an interest in storytelling and the world around us.

Once upon a time, gamers were seen as unsuccessful weirdos with poor people skills. Games have changed, and people have changed, but more than anything it’s this perception which has changed - or is, at least, in the process of changing. With research to back up these shifts in understanding, it’s possible to be proud of what gaming offers both players and society in general.

Lily Francis writes for a number of ethical healthcare providers. She's always been a keen gamer since she fell in love with Civ in her school days and loved taking the opportunity to prove that all that time plotting world domination had some mental health benefits (as well as being great fun).

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

June 2013: Designing for Mobile

Hello and welcome to a new topic for June 2013! 

When I first started in mobile development, cell phones were these clunky devices that didn't have a lot of memory.  Games were rarely in color and featured stick figures or no graphics at all.  Every cell phone manufacturer had its own development kit.  It was like the Wild Wild West.  No standardized rules.  I was in charge of porting Scrabble the board game to mobile phones and as you can imagine, there were ample challenges in that project.

Some of the lessons I learned in designing for the small screen can still be applied today, even though the processing power of these devices seems to have expanded exponentially.  We are now capable of running MMOs on cell phones, but they're still small(er) devices with a small(er) screen sizes.  Tablets make it better, especially for inputs, but unfortunately, some games don't translate well from other platforms to mobile devices. 

What lessons have you learned while designing for mobile?  What are some pitfalls? 

I invite readers to submit an article on this topic.  Please read the submission guidelines first.  Thanks!