Grand Cru: Console devs are 'utterly failing' at in-app purchases

They're 5 years behind the mobile scene, says Aki Järvinen

Grand Cru: Console devs are 'utterly failing' at in-app purchases

"We shouldn't give free-to-play a bad name," opened Aki Järvinen, product lead at Finland's 'next big thing' Grand Cru, during his talk at Casual Connect in Amsterdam.

Järvinen's next step, however, was to launch into a series of dodgy design decisions made by free-to-play games over the last couple of years that have given ammunition aplenty to F2P's detractors.

Top of the list were games that push in-app purchases down your throat without explaining their value proposition, titles where progress can only be unlocked if you spam your email or social contacts with links to the game, or games predominantly built around pay to win.

Mobile and social games developers are, on the whole, coming to terms with the rights and wrongs of building in-app purchases into game design. Console, however, still has a way to go in Järvinen's eyes.

Back of the grid

Citing recent examples – Forza Motorsport 5 the most prominent – Järvinen claimed that console devs are "utterly failing" at getting to grips with in-app purchases.

"They're trying to increase their games' lifetime value, but they already have $60 from you," he added. "They are at the point we – the social and mobile games market – were at five or so years ago."

Not that all the problems have been solved in the world of mobile. Citing a Mavens article from the start of 2014, Järvinen heralded John Griffin of Game Sparks' assertion that "we have to get better" at free-to-play in general: "we need to make players feel like they are getting a bargain in not paying up front for a game and then not mind so much when we do try and get compensated for our hard work," said Griffin at the time.

"We try to facilitate creativity," said Järvinen of Grand Cru and its 'Minecraft-inspired' game Supernauts. "If people do pay, yes they do get stuff more quickly, but it should come down to the fact that the more one spends, the more they get the feel for what the game is about."

The worry with whales

Järvinen also tackled the subject of 'whales'. Yes, you can accommodate them, he said, but they shouldn't be what defines your game design.

"We should be designing games that rise organically for the player needs, rather than excessively accommodating whales," he added.

"It's all about building a sense of progression in the game that, even if a player spends excessively, they don't completely outrank everyone else. Definitely there is a corporate social responsibility about all this, and too few developers aren't aware that people can spend too much in when they get in those situations."

So when should you try and get money from players? Järvinen made reference to another regular – this time Monetizer – and it's 'time to shop' feature, which times how long a game takes before it drops you in its in-app marketplace.

"Unless your game is about shopping, I don't think you should take the player to the shop under one minute," added Järvinen.

Going home

Instead, developers need to focus on forming a connection with the player in those early moments so they're more inclined to part with their cash off their own back.

"As a lot of people a lot cleverer than me have said, the biggest enemy of your game – at least on iPhone - is that home button," he concluded.

"If you download a game for free and you don't make a connection emotionally or intellectually, it's very easy for you to abandon it because you haven't made an investment. Free-to-play games can be very fleeting in that gamers can play 10 or 20 of them in a row.

"That's very difficult for us as developers because you know that some players will never play more than 10 seconds of your game.

"Essentially, the more time or money you spend with the game, the more interesting it should become. The challenge remains the same – we just need to make better games."

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.