Industry Insider Roundtable: Creating Free-to-Play Games That Go the Distance

Insights & Best Practices

September 29, 2016


min read

Welcome to Chartboost's monthly Industry Insider Roundtable. Each month we invite some of the mobile gaming industry's best and brightest to weigh in on the latest trends and hottest topics?everything from the ins-and-outs of mobile game marketing to the dos-and-don'ts of user acquisition.Hardly a startling revelation, free-to-play games aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Most of the mobile game market's experienced heavy-hitters have made profitable use of the F2P model?looking at you, Clash of Clans. But for devs, creating a game that rakes in the big bucks when the game itself is free is no easy feat. And it's even harder to make a F2P hit that lasts.This month, we asked our insiders to share their knowledge on designing free-to-play games with a focus on long-term viability. Here's what they had to say, from design to ad placement to everything in between.


Steve Stopps?Co-founder, Team Lumo

Once you commit to free-to-play, then you need to consider the business model during every facet of development. For example, if you are anchoring monetization on customization, do you have the resources to create the volume of assets needed to sustain the game? Players will consume content much faster than you ever expect.The same goes for gameplay. Does it lend itself to a viable monetization strategy? Answer this question honestly. Our first free-to-play title (Kumo Lumo) relied on players wanting to spend rather than needing to spend. Unsurprisingly, the game didn't monetize.Every creative decision needs to be checked to ensure it supports and enhances the business model.

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For example, if your game is ad-funded, where can you place the ads to offer the best experience for your players?

Will Luton

Will Luton?Product Lead,?F2P Design Expert

Free-to-play games that have the LTVs for big UA and brand marketing pushes have two commonalities: social mechanics and deep content.People are driven to action more frequently by people rather than software. So mechanics around cooperation and conflict?such as clans, gifting, group PvE and PvP?provide strong engagement because they are rooted in inherent psychological needs of players. Humans crave competing with and helping each other. And to really profit from that drive, content systems need to be in place that allow for really deep monetization

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, where players can spend in the tens and hundreds of thousands with ease (such as research, fusion gacha, energy and timer mechanics).

Tomas Rawloings

Tomas Rawlings?Design & Production Director, Auroch Digital

Free-to-play affects everything. The approach is to see the game as a service?and services aim to be part of their user's everyday life. Unlike other services that are more about necessity, a game has the bonus of being a fun part of the day. As such, designers need to be thinking about not just what the experience is, but how people play it and how it fits into a user's daily cycle. It's not great if the game demands so much time that eventually it has to be dropped as life moves on.

Dan Walters

Dan Walters?Co-creator, Calvino Noir

The big thought change going from traditional, premium games to free-to-play is that your focus moves from gameplay to metagame. It's the sense of progress, inventory building, social commitment and resource management that forms the long-term retention component.The process is a lot more analytical now than it ever has been, and studios need to forget everything they think they know about games on a regular basis and approach game decisions with an open and unbiased mind.