Comment & Opinion

Best practices for implementing IAP starter packs in free-to-play games

How to break the psychological barrier

Best practices for implementing IAP starter packs in free-to-play games

Analytics firm AppsFlyer reckons that only 3.5% of mobile gamers spend on in-app purchases.

That's a potentially dispiriting figure for mobile game developers, but it's not all doom and gloom.

As part of the same study, AppsFlyer also found that the average paying player spends an average of $9.39 per month on IAPs.

This means that once a player overcomes the psychological barrier of that first spend - providing that the purchase yields something of value in return - there's a good chance that they will become a returning customer.

Over the hill

Therefore, a player's first spend is the hardest to come by, but also by far the most valuable.

One way developers have increasingly attempted to encourage players to break the spending barrier early is with starter bundles, a retailing gambit in which prices are slashed in a limited-time offer for new players.

I've encountered (and purchased) a number of them for our IAP Inspector series, and observed that some are far more effective than others in terms of their implementation.

As such, purely from my own perspective as a player, here are some key points that any developers looking to integrate a starter bundle should consider.

Click through below to view the list.


Click here to view the list »
  • 1 When it's gone, it's gone

    When it's gone, it's gone logo

    For all starter bundles, there needs to be some degree of urgency.

    The player needs to be made very acutely aware that this offer won't be available forever, and that they'll be missing out if they don't strike while the iron's hot.

    Indeed, Scarcity is one of Oscar Clark's seven rules of monetisation design, with players motivated by what he calls "the fear of missing out".

    However, a balance needs to be struck here. 

    Not exclusive enough

    As a consumer, many games are transparent in their attempts to create a feeling of exclusivity. 

    A splash screen proclaiming "LIMITED TIME OFFER!!!" means little when said offer remains available for a long time afterwards, somewhat pathetically clinging to the side of the main menu screen in case the player should take pity on it and decide to tap buy.

    A one-time offer from Nordeus' Top Eleven

    Simply, hanging around too long kills any sense of urgency and dulls the potency of a good offer.

    Too exclusive

    On the other hand, while a true ultimatium is a bold move that will certainly give the player pause for thought, they might not appreciate being so bluntly tapped up for money.

    Indeed, the only game I remember offering the binary options of "Buy Now!" or "Miss Out Forever" was the 2015 action-RPG KingsRoad.

    Nobody wants to miss out forever

    And while it's an approach that can work if the offer is good enough - I actually bought the 90%-off IAP in question - you run the risk of appearing a little brusque with your players.


    The sweet spot, then, is anywhere between three and seven days.

    That's enough for an offer to feel exclusive and apply some urgency, but also long enough that a player doesn't feel railroaded into a purchase.

    Ultimately, you don't want your player to miss out on a great deal - not just for your own sake as developers, but for theirs as players.

    A player who's missed out on a 90% discount - either because the window of opportunity was too narrow or because they were lulled into complacency with a seemingly never-ending offer - is not a happy one.

    Nor one who's likely to then spend at the standard rate.

  • 2 You'd be stupid not to

    You'd be stupid not to logo

    When designing a starter bundle, you're gearing it towards everyone who is playing your game.

    That's an audience that is statistically unlikely to be in the habit of spending on free-to-play games, and probably has no intention of bucking that trend for yours.

    What you need, then, is something to shock them out of this. An offer so good, that any right-minded player would kick themselves for missing it.

    Town crier

    I'm talking 70% to 90% discounts - and most importantly, offers that make it absolutely clear just how good value they are.

    This is no time for subtlety. Put "90% off" in massive lettering. Strike through the regular cost to show how vigorously you've slashed prices.

    NaturalMotion's CSR Racing 2

    Don't just leave it at hard currency, either. Chuck in other in-game items that players would otherwise have to graft hard for, or even specific items exclusive to this bundle.

    An early spender is a repeated spender

    There may be an argument here about devaluing your own currency for the rest of the game. That's something about which I can't personally comment.

    What I can say, however, is that I've often spent money in free-to-play games purely because of the generosity of their starter bundles - and then spent more money subsequently.

    These are games that would not have seen a penny from me otherwise, and I'm sure there are many other players whose experiences echo my own here.

  • 3 Revenue and retention - two birds with one stone

    Revenue and retention - two birds with one stone logo

    A lesser-implemented use of the starter bundle that I've always admired is one that integrates it with a daily release of rewards.

    A recent example is Warlords by the sadly now-defunct Wooga spin-off Black Anvil Games. In it, there was a starter bundle offering 3,000 Diamonds at a 90% discount.

    Excellent value. The only catch is that those 3,000 Diamonds are distributed in batches of 100 every day for 30 days - and only if the player logs in.

    This tempts the player in with a heavy discount, as well as essentially signing them up to return every day for a month - a double win for the developers.

    Black Anvil Games' Warlords

    And for the player too, the idea of a small investment that's still paying off in-game 30 days later is a compelling one. 

  • 4 Strike early - but not too early

    Strike early - but not too early logo

    If nothing so far has convinced you of the importance of starter packs, maybe this will.

    In 2015, an Amazon Appstore study revealed that seven days after installing a game, 80% of players will never launch it again.

    Statistics like this are why so much emphasis is placed on retention, perhaps even over and above monetisation in those early stages.

    However, this 80% of churned players is still a group of potential spenders that shouldn't be discounted.

    Don't leave it on the table

    Amazon's study showed that the majority of IAPs were actually purchased within the first 24 hours of the user installing the game. This accounted for 18% of all revenue.

    And while it's the ones who stick around for much, much longer that you really need to keep your game afloat, that's a lot of money to lose by being too timid.

    Amazon data shows that it's all to play for in the first 24 hours

    Statistics would suggest, then, that sometime within the first 24 hours is a good rule of thumb for when to deploy your IAP starter pack.

    However, from a player's perspective, it seems advisable to at least wait for the user to get to grips with the game - and give a hint of its underlying complexities - before going cap in hand.

    Then again, aggressive retailing is something I criticised in Mobile Strikeand that certainly doesn't seem to have done MZ's profits any harm.

Features Editor

Matt is really bad at playing games, but hopefully a little better at writing about them. He's Features Editor for, and has also written for lesser publications such as IGN, VICE, and Paste Magazine.