Let nature take over

When your monetization improves, you will see more players spend, customers spend more – or if things go your way, both. But when you think about it, what does it mean to make monetization go up? Take the example of conversion. Is increasing conversion a way to make someone who didn’t want to spend pay in your game? Or is it something else?

You can think that making a user spend is making a behavior appear out of the blue. Alternatively – and that’s what I’m arguing here – you can think that monetizing (or achieving any other change in user behavior) is something else. It’s not making someone do what they didn’t want to do. Rather, a much more modest (and effective) approach to monetization is to consider it’s all about capitalizing on an existing level of engagement, enthusiasm and passion – and finding a way to provide something appealing in that context. Monetizing well is capitalizing on (and reinforcing) existing predispositions to spend – and ensuring those predispositions are actualized in a spending action.

What that means is that you don’t make players spend per se. You find a way to reach players of different levels of engagement and enthusiasm – and provide enthusiastic players with a value proposition they find compelling enough to act upon. Adopting that perspective in turn changes the way you approach monetization, and the strategies you put in place to make it increase.

Think about it this way. If your goal is to increase the monetization performance of your game, your goal is not to turn a non-payer into a customer. It’s to maximize the value you give and get from all your fans – whether or not they have spent in your game. This change in perspective might seem abstract and theoretical, but it has highly practical consequences. It radically changes the way you approach monetization and KPI improvement in your game.

 

Monetizing is not creating behaviors – it’s capitalizing on existing emotions

There are different ways to approach monetization in free-to-play games. The fact that data is so pervasive – and that we can immediately associate a change in game to a change in behavior – means it’s tempting to think we are creating new behaviors. By that I mean it can be tempting to think we are making someone who didn’t want to spend actually spend in the game.

If we think in terms of behavior, that means we are only considering outputs. The player did or did not spend. The player spent $4.99 or $9.99. And of course, if we are only considering outputs, monetization becomes a binary task: players spent (or not), players spent more (or not), players purchased the offer (or not), etc. By this logic, succeeding at monetizing better means we succeed in creating behaviors that were not there before.

I don’t think that’s the right way to approach monetization. Monetizing a game is not the binary act of making something happen (or not). It’s a matter of degrees. Monetizing a game is a matter of capitalizing on players’ preexisting predispositions to spend – and being able to provide value to players with different levels of enthusiasm. And successful monetization formats and strategies succeed in capitalizing on lower levels of enthusiasm. Your biggest fans, those who love your game the most, are looking for many opportunities to engage with your game. Including opportunities to engage with your game on a monetary level. The challenge in turn becomes being able to capitalize on lower levels of engagement and passion.

Ultimately, monetizing is not creating a spending behavior. It’s not making someone who doesn’t want to pay spend in your game. It’s making your fans and engaged users wanting to spend. It’s always about capitalizing on an existing level of enthusiasm and engagement your game generates. It’s about capturing something that’s already there. It’s about finding the way to make strong emotions about the game surface and capitalize on that passion.

I feel a lot of data gives legitimacy to this alternative way of seeing things. For example, the earlier players convert the higher their LTV. In the same vein, the more engaged players are the highest spenders. Alternatively, conversion (especially early conversions) don’t result from frictions or challenges to overcome. The common reason for all these examples is that spending is the manifestation of a high level of passion for the game. Players spend when they are emotionally engaged with a game. And the more emotionally engaged they are, the more they spend. Monetization is about identifying those players emotionally engaged, putting them in the situations that are the most conducive to spending, and providing them with something that is of value to them.

So, don’t think as monetization as creating a behavior. You are not creating something, you are capitalizing on something that is already there. A good analogy for this is thinking about monetization efforts as using a net (not shaping something from clay or training for a specific behavior/outcome). A net is a tool to capture something that already exists. And nets come in different sizes – a smaller net will be able to capture smaller things than a larger net. In games that means capitalizing on different levels of enthusiasm. And better monetization techniques are able to capitalize on lower levels of enthusiasm (your biggest fans don’t need much convincing to engage with and spend in your game).

You are not making players spend – you are finding ways to offer value to fans of different levels of enthusiasm. And you are providing them with a value proposition they find compelling enough to spend on. Think about it as better surfacing value for players who enjoy your game – not so much making players who don’t enjoy your game enjoy it.

That in turn also involves embracing the fact that there is a segment of players who will never spend. It means accepting the fact that there are some users that are not worth trying to monetize. Think about the ROI of your monetization efforts: for a large segment of your users, the minimum level of engagement and enthusiasm to monetize simply isn’t there.

 

Don’t focus on making things happen – focus on recreating situations conducive to spending

You are not making players do something; you are capitalizing on a level of enthusiasm that is there. If you start thinking that in order to monetize you must capitalize on a preexisting level of engagement and enthusiasm, then your monetization efforts will center around serving a desire and an audience that is already there. In turn that means making the effort to discover what is driving your fans and the situations that are most associated to the desired behavior.

Once you think about things that way it all becomes about reinforcing natural tendencies (the ones that lead to the behavior you are trying to encourage on a larger scale). It’s not about creating a behavior, it’s about better capitalizing on the dormant engagement and enthusiasm of your fans. It’s all about capitalizing on existing patterns. Identifying (and recreating) the situations that are the most conducive to the desired behavior. This is what I mean by letting nature take over. Put players in the situations that are the most conducive to the desired outcome – and see if the desired outcome follows. Embrace the black box.

The whole monetization endeavor becomes data-driven. It’s not about making a whole bunch of abstract and imaginary scenarios concerning the way players will react to the introduction of something new. It’s all about identifying existing monetization patterns: who is spending, on what, in what circumstances, in what conditions? Once you’ve identified the patterns most associated to monetization, you try to put as many users as you can in a similar situation. You put players in the situation that is the most conducive to the desired outcome, and let a natural tendency follow its course.

It’s very Darwinian. Simply stated, the “fittest situation”, the one the most conducive to monetizing, is usually the one that sees the most monetization. You need to bet on a winner – not the underdog. And looking at existing patterns, at the best situations, will provide you with a clear indication of the situations you want to replicate and reinforce. The challenge then becomes about knowing what data to look at, from what angle you should look at things. It’s about knowing where to look and the questions to ask to identify the relevant trends on which you can build your monetization strategy.

For example, if players convert mostly on the first session and not so much after the 50th session, that means you need to focus on the first session. You need to first focus on reinforcing existing strong tendencies – not on improving weak and under-performing ones. That’s what will provide you with the biggest ROI on your monetization effort.

hours_to_convert

 

The same logic applies to monetization, but really to any aspect of the game. For example, players regularly play at 24-hour intervals. If you want to succeed at getting the most users to come back, you should create the incentive at the moment players are returning that most. That’s the moment players are returning the most precisely because it’s the moment that is the most conducive to returning.

24_hour_interval

 

When you make things easy for your players and match their natural patterns, then are providing a real service. Something your players want and that is easy for them.

 

In conclusion: what about the game in all that?

There are really 2 dimensions at play here: making a game and optimizing user behavior. Ultimately, every game – even a terrible one – will generate a certain number of fans. Better games (or more effective UA strategies) will simply succeed in generating more fans and higher levels of enthusiasm.

What makes a game fun or appealing is a very unquantifiable mix of art style, thematic, game systems and meta. There are of course best practices to follow. But in the entertainment business, there is no clear-cut value proposition or functionality of the product. The goal of the “game” is to generate the most fans possible. And that’s the hard part – where data and looking at the competition can only help you so much. It is possible to make a non-fun game into a fun game. But that involves radically changing what that game is. That’s hard, very uncertain, and there are no formulas for that. That’s why when making the game part you can’t go wrong if you trust your gut. You can’t go wrong because there is no safe path (not because you can’t fail). At least when you trust yourself and believe in something you can create a coherent and consistent experience with a clear vision.

On the other hand, improving monetization involves better providing value to your fans. The goal of every “peripheral system” is to intensify something latent which is already there. The goal of monetization systems – think Piggy Bank, Battle Pass, offers – is to maximize the value you get from (and give to) your biggest fans. You don’t make a game the same way you optimize player behavior. The approach to monetization suggested here doesn’t replace the need to have a good game in the first place. But when you do have a game to work with, then this approach to monetization will put you in a better position to optimize your value proposition and increase your revenues.

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