Developers need to stop killing their players, says 4T2 Multimedia
F2P Summit: Show your game in full
According to Mike Hawkyard, a founding partner of kid entertainment specialist 4T2 Multimedia, arcade games were built on the premise that the longer a player survived in your game, the less money they spent.
If a game session lasted two and a half minutes, for instance, they'd spend more money than if they stayed alive for three or more.
"So what happened is, developers started making games designed to kill your player," added Hawkyard.
"All of the coders, all of the time, try to kill the players," he continued, "so you've got to try and help the players just as much. We want people to see as much of the game as humanly possible."
That, he suggested during his talk at the F2P Summit in London, is the trap many free-to-play developers fall into of trying to kill their players as soon as possible so they can monetise them by giving them a leg up.
In Hawkyard's view, however, the most successful free-to-play games balance hindrance with help, ensuring that players stay on board for as long as possible and, hopefully, spread the word by telling their friends.
Simply does it
"The simpler you make the game the simpler the core mechanic the less clutter around it, the more people will play it," Hawkyard.
"Bear in mind we make games for children, but in Lego Ninjago, the first ten kills you get are ridiculously easy, and that means players are more inclined to carry on."
The other issue free-to-play developers and, indeed, mobile developers in general face is the need to "keep the content coming."
"We all know with app games, you've got to keep the content coming, otherwise usage falls off," he added.
"With our games, fans were asking for new material, but we had no budget to build it. The only way we could afford it was to monetise the game."
Mo money, mo problems
That, he admitted, is a factor that puts 4T2 in a unique position.
Because of the IP attached to its titles, the in-app purchases aren't designed to deliver profit. They're simply their to fund the continued development of the game.
This isn't an approach many developers will have the luxury to entertain.
"Our pure objective was to make a better game not to make money," confirmed Hawkyard.
"Lego makes enough money from the product. They don't need to make money from the game."
As such, 4T2 is able to practice 'responsible monetisation', limiting the amount players can spend in game (namely because of the young nature of the audience), and making sure the objects monetised aren't consumables and can be used forever.
And responsible monetisation is an issue all developers need to be aware of, whether they're pitching their games at children or not.
"iPads are family devices they're there on the living room table and everyone picks them up and plays them," he added.
"If one member turns off in-app purchases, then it's a barrier for everyone a barrier for games even if they're not aimed at children."
"The easiest solution if you've got a kids category on your platform is to have a limit in terms of in-app purchases," he appealed.
Arguably the bigger issue for mobile studios, however, is the idea that F2P devs have "gone back to killing the player", and if developers want players to stay for the long haul, they need to keep them alive for as long as is reasonably possible.