What I Learned from Ben Cousins

When I’m looking back on what I have learned in the past year about free to play game design and virtual economies I’m realizing that Ben Cousins influenced my thinking about these topics quite a lot. Ben is the GM of DeNa studio in Sweden, a former EA executive and a pioneer of the free to play space.ben cousins

His speech about the optimization he and the team did with Battlefield Heroes is a great resource any free to play game designer should watch and learn from. I’m including it in this post for your convenience. The story there is that they started off with an ARPU of $0.25 and were in a risk of upper management cutting their funding. With their back to the wall, they managed to make changes that resulted in an increase of more than 100%.
I specifically liked the section about balancing the unfair advantage that purchased virtual goods can give some players. In this section Ben refers to the ‘chance for critical hit’. While the point he made was different, I took a valuable lesson about the importance of chance based mechanics. Chance based mechanics allows the game designer to tweak them globally or sell users virtual goods that tweak them. Unlike other changes to core game mechanics, changes to chances and odds are rarely detected by users.

Another big way in which Ben influenced me is the move from Console game design to mobile and tablet. Console games are often considered the peek of creativity and a producer would usually have more resources since the expected revenues are higher. Ben was quick to identify that users are no longer willing to pay $60 for a game they never played and that the world of consoles is tied up in a historic handshakes between the distribution channels and the publishers and is having hard time adapting to the change the market demands. Following this realization Ben focused his efforts on free 2 play games and publicly criticized the practice of selling games at a $60 price point in a controversial interview.

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