At SOOMLA, we constantly look at how users interact with virtual economies, what makes them buy virtual goods and what gets them engaged with ingame shopping experiences. Later on, we try to compile it into actionable advice we can give the developers in our community. One of the things we realized is that games that have no characters are much harder to monetize through In-App Purchases.
Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I’m using the word ‘character’ in a broader sense here. A car, a tank, a spaceship can also be a character for this purpose. Basically, any type of embodiment.
Games with characters increase emotional connection
The first reason why having unique characters is a good practice is pretty basic. Good characters allows the user to develop attachments and emotions for the little guy. Assuming that your studio can create compelling artwork, your users will learn to like the avatar and develop a feeling towards it. This is a very good starting point for your virtual economy.
Getting users invested in customizations and upgrades
Once you gave your users an opportunity to experience the core gameplay, the next step
is retention. You want to get your users invested in customizations and upgrades. That’s obviously, much easier to do if you have something for the user to customize and upgrade. An avatar of some sort can come in handy. Monsters, heroes, cars, tanks, animals, zombies, anything goes here. The idea is to give users an opportunity to select the character that best fits their identity and style rather than just choosing the best one. Upgrading is a different story, the strategy here is to maximize the diversity of options. Try to allow upgrading in multiple ways: stamina, strength, dexterity, range, etc. You are making users plan their upgrades more carefully and think about their option. Their engagement will increase as a result and they will play longer.
Waiting mechanics done right
Those of you who have tested some of the top grossing games already realized that they all utilize waiting mechanics. Many users and reporters criticized games that have implemented this tool for the sole purpose of milking cash from the users. The reality however, is that when implemented right, waiting mechanics are not as frustrating for the users and at the same time can greatly increase the user investment. Let’s say your development has a character and you want to implement short waits of 2-3 minutes for things to get shipped, lives to replenish, etc. If you give the user something to do while they wait, they can pass their time by petting their character, thinking about cool names for it, combing it’s hair, taking pictures of it, etc. This is one of the keys for succeeding with time based engagement methods.
If you are not convinced about the effectiveness of this mechanic, you should see this talk I gave at Casual Connect Europe
or simply download some top grossing games.
Retention leads to monetization
Not sure if you noticed but instead of talking about monetization I actually explained how characters in games increase engagement, investment and retention. Well, it’s kind of the same. Games with no retention can’t monetize and there is no way to monetize non engaged users. Focus on engagement and retention and money will follow. Focus on monetization and you will end up with a design loaded with banner ads.
At scale – characters create intellectual property
Let’s assume your design does become the next hit. Fun thought ha? Let’s play with it for a second. Having a cute creature, animal, monster or something else the users can identify with can be a very good base for merchandising, licensing rights or for creating sequels. Most likely, your first game will not be optimal in terms of monetization but at least you created an asset you can work with for your next.
Feel free to share your game characters with us on the comments, or tweet them to @soomla.