5 Mistakes to Avoid with Virtual Good Upgrades

I was researching for my next speaking session when I came to realize how many mobile in-app purchases misuse upgrades in their virtual economy. There are some obvious mistakes that we should all learn to avoid.

How upgrades increase user engagement

Before I go into talking about the mistakes I want to explain a bit about how offering upgrades increases the user investment.
When done right, upgrades allow your users to:Outlaw jacket level 7 is a good example of how virtual good upgrades can be a great source of engagement and monetization
  • Personalize their experience
  • Get a sense of progress
  • Compete with their friends in more ways (who has the better ____ )
  • Enjoy the challenge of making the right purchase choice
All of these translate into increased user engagement, retention and monetization so read on.

Mistake 1 – Upgrading the game but not the virtual goods

One of the common mistakes is to offer upgrades. This is a legacy from games like Temple Run and Jetpack Joyride, none of them were great monetizers but somehow they left us with a series of side scrollers and endless runners that all offer game upgrades. This is a missed opportunity. The real power of upgrades is when you are upgrading virtual goods, characters, tanks, cars, planes and buildings. Don’t upgrade the game, upgrade the goods.


Mistake 2 – Not giving the user a way to compare

Rusty gun virtual good can be compared to other virtual goods based on 5 parameters: damage, range, fire rate, reload and ammo

You want to give users a way to plan their upgrades and create strategies and philosophies around them. That’s how you get engagement. In order to do that, users need to be able to compare between different options. Give them some information about the value they are getting and try to create 3-5 parameters that are common to all the upgrades: range, charge speed, damage, accuracy, etc.

Mistake 3 – Selling upgrade points

Another mistake you can sometimes see is to simply sell the points in the parameters themselves rather than virtual goods that will improve these parameters. Let’s look at an example, the virtual good will be a tank with parameters of speed, damage and defense:
  • Bad practice – selling speed points, damage points and defense points
  • Good practice – selling an engine that impacts speed, a cannon that impacts damage and armor that impacts defense points


Mistake 4 – Offering the same upgrades for different virtual goods

Let’s use an example here. You have 10 different tanks to choose from but the upgrades for them impact them in the same way. In this situation, the decision between tank #1 and tank #2 makes less difference and becomes less strategic. This is the opposite of what you want. You want users to think about their options and evaluate the merits of each one. That’s how you get them to invest time and become engaged.

Mistake 5 – No learning curve

When you buy a new phone in real life, you need to get used to it. When you buy a new car, it takes a while to get to know it. Not sure how many of you had a chance to fire more than one weapon in real life – I can tell you, there is a learning curve. The same concept should be implemented in your development as well. This means that every time users buy an upgrade they need to practice and get used to it. You are leveraging the buying excitement to generate time commitment and the time commitment leads to increased retention and engagement.
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