Microtransactions? Are they worth it?

Posted by arnaud on January 8, 2014 in Uncategorized |

We all hear about mtx (microtransactions) since a few years. Many claim they are incredibly better monetization options and refer to giants like Zynga, candy crush and other mammoths in the gaming industry. …but what about the small indie devs?

Let’s take a closer look at microtransactions.

The gaming implications…

You need a login

If you pay inside a game, it usually also means a user account, and therefore the login/register screen. And as some of you know, this may be enough to send away many gamers. Especially for small casual games, players don’t want to enter all their creditentials. They’ll simply close it and check out the next little game.

What should always be done to avoid that are guest accounts, so that you can register later in-game …but this is also a source of complexity since you have to save the player data on the server, but keep temporary copies for the guest. It also implies complexity.

The technical implications…

Implementing microtransactions is complicated

Ads are easier to integrate. There are lots of widespread APIs which let you do this. Just do it once and it’s done. On the other hand, microtransactions is like opening a can of worms.

Some portals/stores allow them, others do not and most of them will require to implement their own payment API. The latter applies to almost any big portal (app stores, facebook, kongregate…). So in the end, you end up making N versions of your game, one for each portal/store.

You also have to design your game so that you can “buy” stuff. You’ hae to define “items” on the backend / service API, sometimes a virtual currency …and have I mentionned that you have to do it N times? …and what about apple’s “refund” button you should incorporate?

The monetary implications…

Is it better to rely on mtx? or on ads? or combine both?

One mtx is probably worth as much as thousand ad views. However, it’s without a doubt that most players don’t spend a dime and only a tiny tiny fraction of them does. Most players want to play everything for free, always better games, and are annoyed by adds. That’s the reality and the web delivers. Getting a player to open its precious wallet is a tough challenge. If I would summarize it, I’d say the following:

  • mtx: needs a really good game. The player needs to be hooked, addicted enough to be willing to pay something for “more”. Usually, this is not suited for “small” games that you “consume” in a few hours. No, it needs to be a game that the player plays for a longer time.
  • ads: you need to have lots of views. Actually, the game doesn’t even need to be very good, it just needs to be popular in some way. It doesn’t matter if the game provides 10 hours of gameplay or 10 minutes, the ad time will be the same.

Now, I would also say that ads and mtx work against each other. For a game that you play over a long time span, ads can be a turn down, and make you loose interest quicker. Perhaps you just lost a mtx client because of the ads? Is it better to turn them off? Or let the user pay to turn them off?

Is it all worth it?

Microtransactions have a lot of overhead and implications (logins, custom verison per portal, etc). For a small game it’s likely you will spend more time implementing them rather the game. However, for great games that keep the player hooked for a longer time, it may definitely be worth it. Considering all the efforts and implications involved, take care which path you choose!

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