As an industry, gaming is ever-growing and increasingly popular. There are many reasons why games are becoming more important and more universal. General escapist tendencies that became more prominent in the Millennials and younger generations lure people to join the imaginary worlds. The pandemic lockdowns have also contributed to a massive migration of people of all ages from the offline world into the digital one. In the meantime, the game developers push the boundaries by introducing AR and VR games, roll out more and more mobile and online games compatible with almost any device. As a result — games are highly desirable and easily accessible. And this makes them very monetizable.
Historically, game monetization implied a series of one-off payments to simply access the game, an arcade machine at that time. With the rise of home gaming consoles, developers started selling games on physical media (cartridges or cassettes), but it still was not ideal in terms of the player lifetime value. The Internet with its online games, massively multiplayer platforms, fan forums, DLC (downloadable content), add-ons, updates, etc. has made game monetization possible on an unprecedented level. Almost anything can be bought, sold, and traded in modern games.
There are several umbrella approaches to what elements of a game can be monetized.
- Pay-to-play: takes us back to those arcade machines and Nintendo cartridges with payment for access to a game. Today, it’s basically a purchase of a digital product (for downloadable desktop and mobile games) or just access to a cloud-based platform (online games).
- Subscriptions: game subscription differs from pay-to-play only in the number of payments and their regularity. Usually, the subscription model is applied to game packages and libraries.
- In-game purchases: this is the game monetization Goliath in terms of spread and popularity among the gaming companies. It applies both to mobile, desktop, and online games and covers items, special events/levels/maps, stats boosts, loot boxes, etc. These are usually micro-transactions, meaning players spend small sums but quite regularly. In this article, we will mostly talk about the approaches that are useful for encouraging in-game purchases.
- In-game ads: this plane of existence is relatively new for game monetization and is usually linked with VR and AR technologies. For now, these ads are similar to product placement in cinema, but we will see more ad formats in the future.
Table of Contents
Psychological tricks that turn a player into a buyer
This approach is well-known to marketers in all niches: people are likely to do a small step because it seems easy, and then it feels okay for them to do a bigger one, because it seems familiar.
In practice, it looks like a small purchase followed by a bigger one, and then — by regular ones. The idea is overcoming the mental barrier of the first step to make the rest follow naturally.
Foot-in-the-door is a trick from compliance psychology, you can dive deeper on this to pick up more curious practices.
Fear of missing out (FOMO)
FOMO seems to be everywhere nowadays, but what is to be done if it’s so relevant to our lives. The pace of change and development of the world and the society make people anxious about being tardy in joining the breakthroughs or late in accepting a vital bit of technology (talk about peer pressure!). By saying this, we mean that the fear of missing out is deeply ingrained in our lives at many levels, so it’s no wonder that it has become a persuasion tool.
In games, FOMO usually takes the shape of limited promotions and time-specific events when players can get exclusive items, access some special location, etc. It is more compelling to buy a key or access to a special event if you see a timer ticking, and you know that the offer is ridiculously limited.
Scarcity is another installment of FOMO, but instead of time, it uses quantity as a leverage to lure the players. In our minds, we value things that a harder to get more, than things that just fall into our hands (no pain — no gain, remember?). So, scarcity motivates players to go that extra mile for a rare skin or item. Another thing that adds to FOMO and scarcity is, once again, peer pressure and competition: if players are notified that one of them has gained a rarity or they can monitor a leader board — they are more likely to pay extra just to get the same rare thing for themselves.
Basically, there are two types of thinking: slow — when you take time to process the information, and fast — when your brain just eats a ready-made info-jelly. In gaming, it translates into “perks” and “discounts” that already have their value calculated for the player’s convenience. But actually, we present the players’ brains with a choice: make an effort and calculate the real value of things (that is not a bargain) or go easy and swallow the ready-made dish (buy the good-looking thing without a second thought).
To activate fast thinking, you need to have all the convincing details be presented on screen to make it look like it’s obviously a great bargain.
Decoys and anchoring
Decoy prices, price anchors or ice-breakers are there to make other items look more attractive and profitable.
It’s like in a coffee shop: you have S, M, and L-sized cups priced $2, $6.50, and $7 respectively. So, you see that there it no much difference between the M and L options, but L is obviously bigger — why not take it, it seems like a bargain. And in reality, most people usually start off with a thought I’ll just get a small one. The M-price is an ice-breaker that makes L-cup look like a better option. The same thing happens with in-game purchases.
Decoys and anchors are similar, they are represented by an extremely pricey item that is shown alongside a modest one, which makes the latter look more attractive in comparison.
Let’s take a look at an example:
Here, you can see that the last and most expensive option is a decoy because it’s just too much for an average player. The first looks like a viable option until you start comparing it with the options 2–4 and see their ascending value for money. Sooner or later, players will see that the 4th one is the best in this regard. This is the only real option, others are decoys.
Virtual currencies like coins, gems, and other tokens makes players forget about the real money they spend in a game (just like casino chips). Who cares if a new sword costs 5,000? It’s only a bunch of made-up shiny gems!
At this point, they tend to forget that the gems have been purchased for real dollars a mere week ago. And so the bill grows.
This is also facilitated by a habit of making micro-transactions. They seem insignificant, but tend to accrue into small fortunes over time. But seeing that players actually buy the tokens for real money at one point and then spend them for in-game purchases at some other point — they don’t feel like they are paying real money for those items.
Optimal price range
According to DeltaDNA, using prices below $2 for in-app purchases lowers the value of the game. However, most popular games have price ranges from $0.99 to $99.99. Having a range is the most important idea, because users need to have a choice. But not too many options, mind you. Statistically, up to 6 price tiers are enough to give some freedom of choice but avoid that decision paralysis. And as we have mentioned above, the value for money needs to go up with every tier to make it look like a bargain.
Another essential idea is to create a such a pricing grid that will encourage the player to buy more in-game tokens.
For example, here you have a fairly big disparity between tiers and uneven amount of crystals in each tier. This means that if you want to buy an item that costs 100 crystals, you will have to purchase 135 crystals. This will leave you with 35 extra, that, once again, will not be enough to buy another item.
So, the idea is to create such an economy when players always need a couple more tokens and end up purchasing more than they planned.
This list of approaches is just a taster for those of you who really wants to incorporate psychological tricks into your marketing strategy. You can use one or combine several of them, it’s up to your creative choice.
And even though we call this approaches tricks, it’s not about misleading the audience. These techniques simply allow marketers and game developers to come up with such a game design that will use specific patterns and inclinations of the human brain to make game monetization easier. Also, these tricks will only work like they should if the game itself is any good. So, always focus on the quality of product and content before you turn to tricks and lifehacks.