In the thrill-a-minute first installment of this article, we revealed the strategy for the FREE half of our upcoming Flash game Interrupting Cow Trivia. Short attention span? Here it is in a nutshell: we’ve built our own membership system and some hooky features to pull players from free-to-play portals back to our site, where we can cultivate them as customers.
HeeeeeeEEERE FISHY FISHY FISHY!!
But man cannot live by site traffic alone. With the advent of numerous microtransaction systems for Flash games, including MochiCoins, GamerSafe, HeyZap, and Nonoba, there now exists a simple framework that will allow us to take money from our players.
There are three levels of players in Interrupting Cow Trivia: Hobos, Members, and Owners. Let’s take a look at each in turn:
These are the players who hop off the nearest freight train, bindle in tow, looking for a free entertainment hand-out. They’ve chalk-marked various areas of the Internatz where people are most likely to help them out with a hot entertainment meal and a warm barn to sleep in for an hour – namely free-to-play portals like Addicting Games, Newgrounds, and Kongregate. Hobos are not loyal to us. They’ll take their entertainment any way they can get it. Our primary concern is to convert these shiftless Hobos to productive Members of our game’s society.
Beggin’ yer pardon ma’am. Where are the free games at?
There are two important points that i want to make here on the care and handling of Hobos. The first is that you should always relentlessly tease a Hobo. You should constantly remind a Hobo of all the fun he could be having if he became a Member. The benefits of Membership should be obvious, and compelling. The process of becoming a Member must be simple.
The second is that you should never make Members’ options invisible to Hobos. Members and Hobos should always see the same buttons, the same interface. If ever a Hobo clicks on a button to access a Members-only feature, that’s where you hit him with the “Sorry! This feature is for Members only!” This pop-up is a great opportunity to list a few other benefits of Membership, and to provide a fast link to the Membership sign-up page.
The boys in the stats lab spent weeks on this
Hobos are our frontline – the bottom of the pyramid. There will always be far more Hobos hitting Interrupting Cow Trivia than Members. One big difference between a Hobo and a Member is usage: while Hobos represent a high number of unique visits, Members will account for a larger percentage of repeat visits. Members come back for seconds. Another difference is that Hobos are anonymous, but Members give us their email addresses. That crucial differences opens up a dialogue between us and our players – we can send newsletters and surveys, send special offers, and personally connect with our customers.
We mentioned in the last article how we turn a Hobo into a Member, but here’s a quick refresher.
Both Hobos and Members can play the game for free, but only Members can:
- Display their board avatar next to their names during the game
- Be tracked on the leaderboards
- Build a cumulative score across repeat visits
- Quickly Challenge a Friend from their Friends/Foes list
There are two other features in the queue that leverage membership in a powerful way, but these are enough for now. Since Membership is free and compelling, it’s quite easy to convert a Hobo to a Member. But converting Members to Owners (paying players) is the real challenge.
Both Hobos and Members can play Interrupting Cow Trivia for free. When you click to join a multiplayer game, you’ll to see a 15-second ad served up by MochiMedia. Then you get to play through x questions. i haven’t decided on this number. There are ten questions in a round. If you have any ideas here, please let me know!
After they play those x questions, Hobo and Member alike are unceremoniously BOOTED from the game back out to the lobby. If x questions were enough to show Hobos and Members a good time, they will click to re-join a game, at which point we show them another 15-second ad. And so on.
So in-game advertising is the first revenue stream for Interrupting Cow Trivia and, based on our past experience, the weakest. We’re including it in the game to make money in a very indirect way.
Fact: ads are annoying. i don’t like watching them, and most likely neither do you. But ads pay the bills. What do you do if you want to consume media without watching ads? You either steal it, or you pay for it. With its multiplayer integration, Interrupting Cow Trivia will likely be a hard game to steal, so that leaves paying for it.
How much would you pay to not have to watch this ad?
Charge Once or Charge Often?
So an Owner is a Member who pays for the game. There were a few different ways we could go on this. Do we charge a one-time fee, or do we charge a monthly subscription? Well, the idea of a one-time fee doesn’t excite me because i know i’ll have to keep writing trivia packs to keep the game fresh. i’ll be sinking hours and hours of work into the game past the point of conversion, yet i’ll only ever have the x dollars that Player A paid me. What if the game really takes off and it’s popular for ten years? i can’t constantly sink hours of development into a game that doesn’t constantly sink money back into my bank account to fund that development.
The other problem with a one-time fee is that i don’t think people will pay it. What if i charge $10 for Interrupting Cow Trivia? That’s a total rip-off, because it’s a Flash game. And we all know that Flash games are free. Plenty of other games to play that don’t gouge me for my hard-earned money. Screw you, Untold Entertainment. How DARE you?
Why i oughta …
But let’s look at a subscription model. Let’s say we low-ball it and charge people a buck a month to become owners. A buck a month – that’s RIDICULOUSLY inexpensive. And we can even give them a month for free if they opt for a year’s subscription. So a year’s worth of Ownership on Interrupting Cow Trivia runs them $11. And i think that since we changed the player’s perception, and have hit that magical 99 cent mark for game content (even though we’re charging it multiple times), we’ve gone from an unattractive flat fee of $10 to a dynamic, monthly fee of $1, which comes out to $11 with the free bonus month, which is one dollar more than the flat fee would have been.
And with the short attention span of gamers these days, i sincerely doubt that anyone is going to stick with the game for over a year. But for those few adoring players who do, we’ll see a fresh, crisp $11 bill in our account when the year is up.
Let me stop myself, because i really want to hear your opinions: good idea, or bad idea? Is $1 a month too low, or are we hitting the nail on the head here? If it were your game, what would you do?
Let us know!
So we’ve begged the question: how do you handle subscriptions with one-off currency systems like MochiCoins and GamerSafe? i’m going to come right out and admit here that from this point on, i’ll be borrowing a lot of strategy from OOO (Three Rings) and their ground-breaking game Puzzle Pirates.
Picture a game where the player can buy a sword. The sword is time limited – it degrades every time the player uses it, and eventually it breaks and becomes unusable. The player is effectively renting that item with real money. In Puzzle Pirates, you buy a gamer badge that allows you to play certain mini-games for a month. Once the month is done, you have to buy the badge again if you want to enjoy unfettered acess to those games again. It’s the same concept as the sword, so as long as you’re set up to offer rentable/degradable items, you’re set up to handle subscriptions.
In this way, we can sell an item (badge, hat, medal, crown – whatever) that makes the player an Owner for a certain period of time. Interrupting Cow Trivia will likely sell 1-month, 6-month and 1-year items (remember: one month free when you commit to a year).
But why stop there? Three Rings shares their financial info, and it’s no secret that Puzzle Pirates has pulled in a lot of well-deserved booty for the team. So let’s borrow one more idea from them: a content schedule.
Yarr! Thar be plunder!
Puzzle Pirates has a few mini-games that are available to Hobos right off the front page of the site – no need to download the game client. Inside the client, there are a number of mini-games that are available to (non-paying) Members on a rotating schedule. For example, the Drinking mini-game is playable on Tuesdays and Fridays. The Poker mini-game is playable on Mondays and Saturdays, and so on. What the Puzzle Pirates gamer badge actually does is it allows Members to play any mini-game on any day, breaking players free from the content schedule. Of course, there are leaderboard hooks and in-game money-earning incentives that make this an even more attractive item to buy.
We will build the same type of content schedule for Interrupting Cow Trivia by splitting the content packs across different days: Music Trivia will be playable on Tuesdays and Fridays, Movie Trivia will be playable on Mondays and Saturdays, and so on. The secret to keeping traffic up is to offer your most popular content on both your highest- and lowest-traffic days. If Movie Trivia is the most popular, we need it available on the site so that the biggest number of Hobos can enjoy it. We also want it on our lowest-traffic day, so that it will boost traffic on that day.
So now there are three compelling benefits to converting from Membership to Ownership:
- No annoying ads
- Play for as long as you like without being interrupted
- Get access to all trivia packs on all days
And it’s a realtive cinch to add one more benefit: when we release a new trivia pack, Owners get to play it first for, let’s say, two weeks. (Maybe a month? i dunno. You tell me.)
So the benefits of converting from a Hobo to a Member are clear and compelling, and conversion is easy. The benefits or converting from a Member to an Owner are clear and compelling … but there’s obviously that enter-your-credit-card-and-part-with-your-hard-earned-monays barrier that we have to overcome. But all of us Flash devs eyeing microtransactions are facing that same problem.
Would you trust this guy with your credit card number?
Brother, Can You Spare a Die?
If you’ve had any experience with Hobos, you’ll know that most never pay. And especially in the free-to-play Flash free-for-all, i think there are many Hobos who have a tremendous fear of commitment. Can i really expect them to plunk down a whole shiny dollar for an entire month’s worth of play? Hobos are moths that will flit from shiny game to shiny game. If i really want to make a go of this thing, i need to come up with a way to take money from shiftless Hobos.
You hold him down – i’ll take his wallet. (Wait … where’s his wallet?)
My limited research into micropayments has turned up evidence that offering multiple types of payments will net you more cash than one rigid payment system, like our subscription scheme. So alright – this is a little nuts, but try it on for size:
Hobos and Members click to join a multiplayer Interrupting Cow Trivia game. They’re served a 15-second ad. They get to play through x questions before they get booted back out to the lobby.
BUT … there is a die. The player rolls this die to earn bonus questions.
No, Mr. Bond. i expect you to DIE!
Let’s say that watching the 15-second ad buys you 15 questions. You play 15 questions, you get booted out to the lobby. But after the ad and before you jump into the game, you click to roll the bonus die. The number you roll adds to your question count. So if you roll a six, you get to answer 15 + 6 = 21 questions before getting booted out to the lobby.
Suddenly, Hobos feel that they’re getting away with something. If they roll a high number, they can buck the system. They’re really only allowed to answer 15 questions, but one sweet roll will keep them in the game longer than they’re supposed to be in there. This ability to stick it to the man will really resonate with Hobos.
So what are we going to sell to Hobos and Members? More dice.
Hobos and Members can, for a nominal fee, purchase another die. Suddenly, players have the potential to roll a 12 – max 6 pips on the standard die, and max 6 on the purchased die. 15 + 12 = 27 questions before getting the bum’s rush. A die will cost maybe fifty cents. That’s HALF the cost of the extortionist monthly subscription fee. Players can buy multiple dice – we may even sell three dice for a discount in a bundle – to stay in the same play session longer.
Dice, of course, are degradable.
Don’t ask ME. Maybe they rust?
I Second That Emotion
The folks who are really raking in the dough with micropayments are the ones who build up the player’s passion and sting him for cash at the most fervent, crucial moment: Alright, i’ve spent two hours playing this game. i have ZERO continues left, and i NEED to buy the Implausibly Large Gun for $1.50 to get to the next level where there’s a Save Point.
Emotional impact. Impulse buys.
OMG – i HAVE to have it!!
One way we could do this with Interrupting Cow Trivia is to offer some kind of incentive – say, a Double Points day – on certain trivia packs. Answer questions from the Music Pack and earn double points. Of course, today is Friday, and the Music Pack is only available to Hobos and Members for free on Saturday. But man, i just GOTTA get in there to earn those double points to increase my player rank and overtake Member markergreen in the leaderboards.
i click the Music Pack, and the pop-up tells me that i can pay the subscription fee to access ALL trivia on ANY day of the week. But who am i – Ritchie Rich? i can’t afford a subscription.
But wait – there’s one more option available to me. Apparently, i can pay fifty cents – HALF the cost of a month’s subscription – for a Day Pass. That’ll get me into the Music Pack to earn my double points. Deal of the Century!
Of course, this might have the opposite effect on the discerning consumer. “i can pay fitty cents for a single day, or one dollar for an entire month? A month is, like, thirty-five days or something. That’s a way better deal. And who knows what other double points promotions they’ll have this month? i’m going to pay the buck.”
“Waaait a second … you mean i get one month free if i buy an annual pass? That’s, like, a 40% savings!”
“HOLD ON! There’s a DONATE button?? So i can actually dump two months’ salary into this game to show my gratitude and appreciation to the amazingly talented developer? Well clearly, that’s the best deal of all!”
You should come live inside my brain. It’s a good time.
i’ve lovingly detailed all this strategy to you because i’m lucky enough to have some of the smartest people in the industry visting this blog. i’d really like your feedback on whether this plan is solid, or whether you think we’ll crash and burn. i would, of course, be thrilled if you knew of any brilliant ways to monetize Interrupting Cow Trivia that i haven’t thought of.
And if this article has spurred any thoughts towards how you can monetize YOUR upcoming game, superb! Our game world may be filled with Hobos, but curiously, there’s an awful lot of money stuffed into those bindles.
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