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Under The Hood: Discovering the secrets of successful free to play games

Vikram Khatri shares his system for deconstructing successful free to play games with a view to finding similar success
Under The Hood: Discovering the secrets of successful free to play games
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What makes a successful free to play game? This is a question every F2P developer, be it from a big studio or indie developer, needs to ask themselves when beginning a new project, and with successful titles all around us what can be learnt from them and how can your title obtain an edge and rise to the top?

In this guest post, Vikram Khatri, a results-driven product manager with over 10 years of experience in building and growing mobile gaming products, shares a comprehensive step by step framework for deconstructing a F2P game. Using his methods we can highlight what successful games have done in the past, why these methods work and how these learnings can be applied to new projects.

I'm passionate about creating fun, compelling, and addictive experiences that delight players. My objective with this article is to share my knowledge with gaming enthusiasts. With that view, here's my step-by-step F2P deconstruction framework, starting with:

Understanding A Game's Architecture of Economics

“Time-based mechanics create anticipation and incentivise spending to accelerate progress.”
Vikram Khatri

  • Objective: Deconstruct the game's economy, understanding the interactions between resources, time, and progression mechanics.
  • Analysis: Study the interplay of soft and hard currencies, how scarcity is managed, and the dynamics of time-based mechanics (e.g., building construction times). Explore how economic balance influences player engagement and monetisation.
  • Example: Clash of Clans employs a dual-currency system with Gold and Elixir, where strategic resource allocation affects base development and troop training times. Time-based mechanics create anticipation and incentivise spending to accelerate progress.

Dynamic Engagement Loop:

  • Objective: Analyse the dynamic player engagement loop, encompassing resource acquisition, base management, and competitive interactions.
  • Analysis: Break down the cyclical nature of base upgrades, troop training, raiding, and defensive enhancements. Evaluate how the loop provides diverse short-term and long-term goals, fostering retention and strategic decision-making.
  • Example: Clash of Clans orchestrates a loop where players alternate between base improvement, resource collection, and strategic raids, resulting in sustained engagement and incremental progression.

Retention through Social Dynamics:

  • Objective: Deconstruct the social mechanics that enhance player retention and social interaction.
  • Analysis: Examine features like clans, alliances, and cooperative gameplay. Explore how multiplayer interactions foster a sense of community and competition, leading to increased player longevity.
  • Example: Clash of Clans leverages clans for shared objectives, donations, and wars, where collaboration drives long-term retention as players rely on each other for mutual progress and defence.

Monetisation Synergy: Incentive Structure:

  • Objective: Dissect the alignment between gameplay and monetisation, identifying how spending enhances the player experience.
  • Analysis: Explore how premium currency (Gems) interacts with various game aspects, such as boosting resource production, accelerating construction, and purchasing exclusive items. Evaluate how monetisation choices intertwine with gameplay progression.
  • Example: Clash of Clans allows players to spend Gems for immediate resource acquisition or time reduction while offering unique aesthetic upgrades. Spending enhances convenience and accelerates goals, creating a sense of value.

“Analyse the role of time-limited events in maintaining excitement and player engagement.”
Vikram Khatri

Event-Driven Excitement:

  • Objective: Analyse the role of time-limited events in maintaining excitement and player engagement.
  • Analysis: Examine how special events, challenges, and seasonal content introduce novelty and foster urgency. Understand how event design leverages FOMO (fear of missing out) to drive participation and spending.
  • Example: Clash of Clans introduces events like Clan Games or Season Challenges, offering exclusive rewards and fostering a sense of achievement within a limited timeframe.

Live Operations: Iterative Design and Adaptation:

  • Objective: Deconstruct the continuous improvement process through live operations and frequent updates.
  • Analysis: Explore how the game adapts to player behaviour, balances, and emerging trends through regular content updates, balance changes, and new features. Understand the strategic deployment of patches to sustain player interest and maintain a healthy meta.
  • Example: Clash of Clans consistently introduces new troops, defences, and gameplay features, ensuring that the game evolves and strategies diversify over time.

Progression Unlocks: Strategic Depth and Reward Scheduling:

  • Objective: Examine the intricacies of player progression, strategically unlocking content and rewards over time.
  • Analysis: Study the progression curve, the pacing of content unlocks, and the design of achievements. Evaluate how the game manages the release of advanced gameplay features, creating a sense of achievement and anticipation.
  • Example: Clash of Clans progressively unlocks advanced troops, defences, and spells as players level up their Town Hall, maintaining a sense of strategic depth and continuously providing new gameplay possibilities.

“Delve into how player data is leveraged to anticipate player actions, preferences, and spending patterns.”
Vikram Khatri

Predictive Modeling and Player Behavior Analysis:

  • Objective: Explore using predictive analytics and player behaviour analysis to shape game design and monetisation strategies.
  • Analysis: Delve into how player data is leveraged to anticipate player actions, preferences, and spending patterns. Understand how AI-driven recommendations and targeted offers optimise the player experience and monetisation.
  • Example: Clash of Clans employs player behaviour data to tailor offers and events, predicting which resources or boosts are most likely to engage specific player segments and drive spending.


The world of F2P mobile game design is a galaxy of creativity, psychology, and strategy. By dissecting games using this framework, we gain insights into the delicate balance that keeps players engaged, excited and invested. You can contact me for any help on LinkedIn here.

Edited by Paige Cook