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What is the key area of monetisation in which most F2P games underperform?

The Monetization Mavens debate low-hanging fruit
What is the key area of monetisation in which most F2P games underperform?

We've been running our Mobile Mavens panel for a number of years.

It's a group of industry experts who discuss the hot topics of the mobile games industry on a weekly basis.

But how about going really deep into one of the key and ongoing subjects faced by all free-to-play game designers and operators - monetisation?

It is about the money

So, with that thought in mind, I've added another string to our regular Monetizer column, with the formation of the Monetization Mavens.

We'll be regularly discussing the trends occuring at the interaction of delighting players and generating cash.

And we're also looking for new members, so if you'd like to be considered, please drop jon [at] [dot] uk an email explaining your credentials.

For this week's question, at Pocket Gamer Connects Helsinki, I attempted to come up with '18 Monetisation Tips to Supercharge your Business'.

Obviously such advice is highly dependent on game type/genre, but nevertheless this week's questions is:

What would be your 'low hanging fruit' advice for F2P mobile game developers?

Or, if you want to be more general, What is the key area of monetisation in which you think most F2P mobile games underperform?

Ethan Levy

Ethan Levy

Monetization design consultant, writer of

If I have one key mantra as a monetization design consultant, it is Make Purchasing Present.

A F2P game, regardless of genre, needs to design the interface and flow so that the player is regularly presented with the ability to spend currency (and therefore money).

“Poor UI design can make the player feel like you view them as a wallet”
Ethan Levy

This does not mean cluttering the game experience with blocking pop ups and constant pleas for money. Poor UI design can make the player feel like you view them as a wallet and not a person. Instead the game should be designed so that in the core activity loop the player experiences every few minutes of play, they are seeing the ability to spend their earned currency on in game items.

This usually means pairing useful game information with relevant purchases.

For example, in a tactical war game a player may be served an enemy preview dialog box before every battle which also includes a simple interface to spend in-game currency to upgrade their own army. Using this tactic, one game I advised saw an 80% increase in IAP revenue after taking a consumable purchase dialog buried three taps off the main path and surfacing it to the player before every round of play.

UI/UX design is the area where I find the most low hanging fruit in F2P games.

I even recommend that before building a gameplay prototype for a F2P game, a team build a functional UI prototype to test out their business model and see if purchasing is present and compelling in the core loop before finding the fun. By simply looking for opportunities to Make Purchasing Present, a F2P game can make some of its easiest monetization gains.

Ben Cousins

Ben Cousins

Vice President, Studios at FRVR

'Monetization' is really about generating the best Life Time Value possible.

Your LTV is your players telling you how much they think, on average, your game is worth.

It's composed of two elements.

  • How long they think the game is fun for (average player lifetime or retention) multiplied by
  • How much money they think the game is worth every day they play it (ARPU)

In my experience, moving the needle on retention is basically impossible.

“In my experience, moving the needle on retention is basically impossible.”
Ben Cousins

Aside from a few percentage points, your initial retention numbers are the ones you have to live with. You should know within a week of soft launch if your game is a dud or not. If it's a dud, move on - don't throw good money after bad.

ARPU on the other hand is highly variable and sensitive to changes in your design, pricing and merchandising. It's relatively easy (in my experience) to double or triple this if you work hard at it.

So my 'monetization' tip is to move your focus away from monetization and instead focus on making a fun game that people want to play for a long time. Without good player lifetime, your monetization efforts are pointless.

Michail Katkoff

Michail Katkoff

Founder of

In short: top of the class monetization is a result of strong retention and well-built core loop.

These days when someone asks for advice in monetization the number one (and often only) answer is retention. That's pretty half of the truth and doesn't really help the person asking.

“You simply can't add core loop or fun into a live game.”
Michail Katkoff

"Make a fun game that everyone wants to play and tell their friends about it" is what we all have always strived to do, yet only few of us succeeded business wise.

If someone asks me about monetization, my first question is what their core loop looks like.

Lets say you have a fun and share worthy game. That's a great start, but if there's no solid core loop that consumes majority of resources player produces in the game, the end result is a content treadmill for developer, as players blasts through the game.

Best way to monetize, despite the genre, is by charging players for speeded up progress. Well-built core loop is of the essence because without it there's little need for speeding up progress.

Once the game is live, concentrate your tuning on retention and game economy to achieve desired results.

If the results are not there, you've made a mistake in either game design (retention) or/and core loop (economy). Once the game is live there's really little you can do to turn the ship around. You simply can't add core loop or fun into a live game.

Mark Sorrell

Mark Sorrell


I worry that companies often focus on one part of the problem to the exclusion of the other. You need a fun game *and* a monetisable game.

Focussing on the fun first is a neat thing to say, but I'm not always sure it's the enough. It's exactly as possible to make a fun game with no exploitable economy as an exploitable economy with no fun in it.

Without a fun game *and* an economy that supports both endless free play (needs) and limitless huge spends (wants) you won't succeed.

So don't prioritise either. Understand that they are both vital and should be designed and developed hand-in-hand.

It's hard, sure it is, but it's also true. You'll make your life a lot easier if you accept it from the beginning.

Or to actually answer the question, make sure players can spend at least $10,000 on day one and $3,000 a month thereafter. Players should be able to spend a *lot* and it not break things for everyone.

Ok then.

Ben Cousins

Ben Cousins

Vice President, Studios at FRVR

FYI I'm (hopefully obviously) assuming said developer is choosing the correct genre and basic gameplay structure to make a F2P game from the outset, rather than just making a fun game irrespective of any other consideration.

Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas Lovell

Director at Gamesbrief

My low hanging fruit advice for game developers is more about production, rather than design.

It is “agree what you are trying to achieve, and then try to achieve it.”

“Agree what you are trying to achieve.”
Nicholas Lovell

I think the concrete advice I’ve read so far is excellent. But a team can only make a good product if it is pulling in the same direction.

As you decide what low hanging fruit to go after (and I fully agree it is retention at the core, with monetisation as the iterative tweaks post launch), make sure that the team understand what you are trying to achieve and why.

Most of the troubled projects I have seen involve teams implementing a feature without understanding what role it plays in the F2P structure, and how it interacts with the other parts.

And then it doesn’t do the job it was supposed to do. And then the recriminations start.

Tom Farrell

Tom Farrell

Marketing director at Swrve

I'd second a lot of the advice already given. As Mike noted, "make purchasing present" is a golden rule that is surprisingly often ignored or at least executed poorly.

To give one concrete example, research we've conducted suggests that a sizable percent of all revenues from the 'average' player (accepting that this term is a difficult one in F2P games) accrue within the first week.

“It's a cardinal sin to make it difficult to spend a lot of money.”
Tom Farrell

In fact, up to 50 percent of all revenue can be accrued within three calendar days of install.

With that in mind, it's almost certainly a mistake to think solely of retention and not give players the opportunity to spend early. Aside from anything else, there's no better way to drive retention than through buy-in.

Similarly (and this is old but still relevant advice), make sure that you have buy-ins at high price points.

It's a cardinal sin to make it difficult to spend a lot of money in a game - although to be fair this practice is less common than it used to be.

And change price points as your relationship with the player develops. Been playing for a week and no buy-in? That individual needs a helping hand over the conversion threshold by way of a one-off currency bonus or similar. A spending loyal customer, on the other hand, sees only the higher price points when entering the store.

Oh - and test everything!

Mark Robinson

Mark Robinson

CEO at DeltaDNA

Does this help the debate?

10 reasons why players don't spend money
10 reasons why players don't spend money

I suspect that the early spend patterns that Tom refers to are due to poor player management with many solo payers spending early and then disengaging.

The challenge for developers is to be less reliant on whales and encourage moderate spend from solo payers by giving them good reasons to spend again.

Eric Seufert

Eric Seufert

UA consultant

One thing I think a lot of developers perceive to be low-hanging fruit - and which can be, but requires more than superficial causal analysis - is the inclusion of ads.

I've seen independent developers try to cheat the retention / monetization optimization curve by simply showing ads to non-paying users, which I think probably leaves money on the table if the game has strong retention and a large user base.

Mikkel Celinder

Mikkel Celinder


“Studios 'forget' making the spending of currency fun.”
Mikkel Faurholm

I'm not sure how low this specific piece of fruit is hanging, but what I often times see with, smaller as well as larger studios 'forget', is making the spending of currency fun.

A lot of games underperform in creating interesting choices and intrinsic fun mechanics when it comes to currency, and thereby monetization.

Loads of games cram a wheel-of-fortune-like mechanic in there, and don't even bother to at least fake the user's impact on the spin.

If you want to engage players in your monetization, slam an arm on the side of that slot machine, and allow player's to pull it like crazy. Don't settle for a nicotine-colored plastic button that says 'Spend to have a mediocre time'