We now have at least a decade of design experience building free-to-play game. Mobile F2P is maturing rapidly and Mobile Premium is shrinking. Both PC and console have adopted IAP within their top selling games. It isn’t hyperbole to say the majority of financially successful games would not be so if it weren’t for their IAP monetization designs.
Sometimes these systems do bad things to players. Gambling is a popular topic in the press. At the very least many of the practices can be deeply dehumanizing to players.
For me, I spend about 80% of my time designing and balancing the F2P systems outside (and inside) the core game loop. This is independent of The Man breathing down my neck. It is simply the world we live in.
Given this reality, how do we:
1. Make games that are profitable. Especially given maturing markets and intense competition.
2. AND Make games that are a positive addition to the lives of our players.
3. AND Find the joy in monetization design. It seems like there are some wonderful system design and multiplayer design challenges.
Huge, important questions. Directionally, I think we need to look to St. Walt for this — Disney as a company has consistently been able to happily separate people from their dollars (me included) for decades. The heart of this is something I think we haven’t really dug into yet in games: the result, feeling, experience, and fantasy all have to be focused on edifying people; on making them feel better about themselves and their world — and in only the sincerest possible ways; and on making them feel closer to the ones they love and the values they hold.
Needless to say, such starry-eyed idealism is hardly fashionable in our society, much less in game development. We’re a hard-bitten crew and that comes through in the fantasies and motivations we serve up to our players most of the time. *If* we can bring ourselves to plumb the depths of what it means to engender these kinds of emotions and fantasies in people in an interactive rather than passive TV/movie setting, then I think people will gladly hand over their money. Part of the trick, I think, is that you need to simultaneously not be doing it for the money at all, and yet of course doing it for the money. Unwind that koan, and you’ll likely be very successful.