Cash Cow Part 2

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.

Bert and Ernie Here Fishy Fishy Fishy

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:

Hobos

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.

Hobo

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.

Pyramid

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.

Members

Both Hobos and Members can play the game for free, but only Members can:

  1. Display their board avatar next to their names during the game
  2. Be tracked on the leaderboards
  3. Build a cumulative score across repeat visits
  4. 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.

Proceed

Owners

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?

Pugilist

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?

Suggestion Box

Let us know!

MochiCoins Subscriptions?

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.

Puzzle Pirates

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:

  1. No annoying ads
  2. Play for as long as you like without being interrupted
  3. 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.

Mochi Media Mascot

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.

Hobo

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.

Die

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.

Metal Dice

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.

Airbrushed Wolf Shirt

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.”

And then:

“Waaait a second … you mean i get one month free if i buy an annual pass? That’s, like, a 40% savings!”

And finally:

“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.

Armchair Presidents

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.

Moo.


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25 thoughts on “Cash Cow Part 2

  1. Michael

    Fascinating — you’ve taken the classic sales funnel but based it around a community that interacts with each other, rather than just with you. I cannot wait to see how this works out :)

    I must admit I find the dice a little confusing, though. If a game has ten questions in it, and I end up being able to play 19 before being booted out, isn’t that just going to be more frustrating than getting booted out after ten?

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      MJW – The trick is that (and we have to figure this out) while a game has 10 questions in it, it’s multiplayer. So you can jump in at question #4. If you only get to play 10 questions, then you play from question #4 to question #10 in the first game (6 questions), and then from question #1 to question #4 in the next game (4 questions), and then you’re booted. You didn’t actually get to play a full game.

      At 19 questions, you get to play a full game, and then some. But these are all test numbers. Who knows what the best number is? Not sure how to figure that out. (Playtesting?)

      Reply
  2. Andy Smith

    I haven’t finished reading past the Charge Once or Charge Often yet because you told me to tell you what I think.

    To me, the charge often is akin to xBox Live, I’m paying for the privilege of playing the game as opposed to buying the game itself. I know that’s not an apt comparison (did I use apt aptly?), but that’s how subscriptions feel to me. Whereas, if I pay once, I can walk away from the game for a year, and come back to it whenever i please for a few days at a time.

    Who has the Biggest Brain on Facebook has this method. They hooked me on it and sold me a premium account for $10. I played with my premium account for a while, got bored of it and moved on. THEN! (excited then) Many of my friends started playing it for the first time, renewing the interest in it for me. I played it again and again and didn’t regret paying for the game at all. If they ask me to pay for another game, I know I will.

    In my example, you would probably make more money off of me with a Charge Often model, but i enjoyed my experience with Playfish.

    P.s. I apologize for my often, stream of consciousness, rambling comments known as a mind dump.

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Andy – Playfish is definitely doing many things right.

      Remember that Microsoft doesn’t leave any money on the table. They charge once AND charge often. They charge you once to buy an Xbox Live arcade game, and then they charge often for an annual subscription so that you can play that game with others over Xbox Live. Then they charge semi-often for downloadable content – Rock Band songs, Halo levels, horse armour for Oblivion. Then they charge SUPER-often with micropayments for avatar clothes. i’m sure they’ll cook up some way to charge per button press in the future, but by then the Zombie Apocalypse will be upon us.

      – Ryan

      Reply
  3. Rasmus Wriedt Larsen

    I think it a good plan, hope it works out :) But as Michael I find the dice thing a little weird, maybe you could save up extra questions until you have 10 ? As for how many questions that should be served until the ad pops up, I would say 20 (or more). I think if you had to do it every time you finished a game, you would just piss people off. I also think that (if possible) the dice should be cheaper if you want to sell some of those.

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Thanks, Rasmus! 20 questions = not a bad idea. i want to charge less than fitty cents for a die (if we end up building that feature), but i think that fitty cents is the smallest amount you can charge with MochiCoins. ima do the research on that and report back.

      – Ryan

      Reply
  4. Andy Smith

    Aaaannndddd for one more comment, I like the die system in a way. I think the die would serve users better as a way to get a taste of ownership. For instance, let hobo’s grind away and play 50 trivia questions (and watching 5 ads) let them then roll a die for a chance to win a few hours as an owner, or something along those lines. It’s like the free weekends that Xbox Live puts on. Gives you a taste of what you’re missing.

    Reply
  5. Jim McHobo

    Just some thoughts from a guy who has never sold a game…

    “Is $1 a month too low, or are we hitting the nail on the head here.”
    I don’t see anyone commiting to $1 a month. 2 problems:
    a) COMMITMENT level just as offputting as $15 a month for WOW
    b) Is this transperent to the user? Do I see a $1 every month on Visa? Sounds like a pain.
    $10 for the full game also sucks (especially these days).

    Regarding Dice…
    Does ANYONE (Hobos or otherwise) pay for “potentially” more questions? NO!
    When I buy another die, and roll 2 ones for 17 questions, I am going to feel ripped off.
    Plus, Hobos might miss the fact they’re bucking the system.
    Instead, when a Hobo goes to play (a second time or more),
    randomly give them more questions so they can see how the other half lives.
    Shout this to the mountains:
    “The GODs have deemed Greg worthy of 30 questions (this round only)!
    Register now to always bask in their glory!”
    Hobos might continue playing in hopes of this casino win again.

    While I haven’t played Puzzle Pirates, from what I know about it your game is missing a key element.
    Like all MMOs, people are playing Puzzle Pirates to build their character stats first and foremost.
    They’re paying for the mini games and items so they can build their character stats.
    They’re *not* paying to play the games themselves.
    Aside from cumulative score and leaderboards, what are you offering?
    You want people to pay for more questions, but that’s not enough.

    ——————–
    What would I do?
    ——————–

    Every month, release new content for ICT. Ensure the schedule is PUBLIC,
    and everyone is aware that every month there is new content.
    Hobos and Member have access to the new content (with the distinctions you already outlined).
    Just like Puzzle Pirates, people are essentially playing the game for free.
    You’re take the hit to establish a community. Let’s build that hobo pyramid base.

    Once a month you will offer a SUPER MAD COW TRIVIA one night only.
    Hobos or Members pay $1.00 to play SUPER MAD COW TRIVIA
    (process changes Hobos into members).
    The regular game talks about this upcoming night, so everyone is aware
    “This Thursday… it’s for real.”
    In fact, the regular game should feel like a warmup for the REAL event.
    On Thursday at 7pm, you pay your dollar and play.
    No subscription. Just the extra dollar for a little extra magic.

    Thursday “Super Mad Cow Trivia” night needs to be VERY exclusive.
    Slight graphic facelift, and ENTIRELY NEW questions.
    After 2 months, release these questions to the hobo/member crowd without the facelift
    (ensuring people who played the $1 version don’t get them again – unfair!)
    Players don’t know the theme until after they pay the dollar.
    People are gambling on the theme, it evens the odds for bad players.
    Add some kind of LIVE element to it, kind of like XBOX 360 1 vs. 100.
    Should start with a custom message from you: “Welcome Fools. Today it’s about MUSIC.”
    You’ll do a writeup afterward of the results of SUPER MAD COW TRIVIA night.
    Make people who missed it know they missed something.
    “Damn! I’m really good at music questions! That sucks!”
    “D-List celebrity Dennis Rodman played last night! DAMN!”

    What are people playing for – Part I?
    Have 2 point systems. Free points you get by playing as hobos/members.
    And MANLY points (graphically bigger) you get by playing during SUPER MAD COW TRIVIA.
    You’re not buying points, you’re buying the chance to get more points
    (same as Puzzle Pirates). People consider that fair somewhat since Hobos/Members
    with a lot of time can still catch up to the rich bastards.
    If hobos/member don’t like it, pay the $1.00 and take their chances.
    Your leaderboard position is based on this formula:
    Free Points + MANLY Points * 10 = LeaderBoard

    What are people playing for – Part II?
    You now have a history. When I click my profile,
    it should list every game I played EVER (as a Hobo or a Member).
    It should extra highlight the SUPER MAD COW TRIVIA I played,
    with links to the blog entry (hopefully I’m mentioned).
    It should list whoever I beat on the leaderboard at that point in time.
    2009-01-03 You moved from 20th to 10th, beating “Franky Bigbrain”.
    2009-01-06 You droped to 11th. “Franky Bigbrain” trumped you.
    It’s not about my overall place on the leaderboard,
    it’s about those around me.
    Only one person makes 1st, no-one cares about him.
    Everyone only cares about themselves and those preventing them from moving ahead
    (friends or otherwise).
    It would be cool if you could calculate (based on falling/rising leaderboard position)
    who my nemesis was and IF they’re going to attend SUPER MAD COW TRIVIA this Thursday.
    Because then I’m sure as hell going to be there and pay $1.00

    My points COMBINED with the number of games gives me a certain Level.
    Not JUST points – if I suck at MCT I must still be of some worth. Seniority RULES!
    At Level 5 I’m allowed to add a quote to my profile
    (initial signup aks for minimal information, you need to EARN the right to enter more).
    At Level 10 I am allowed to submit my own set of questions.
    At Level 15 I am given a SUPER DOUBLY EXCLUSIVE set of MCT where I can win a green shirt.
    If I do badly, I don’t get the green shirt and can NEVER get it.

    This history is key. My profile IS my character.
    I don’t need no stinking avatar, I need my history.
    Think Twitter of Facebook Status, but all of it is relative to Mr. Important. aka. me.

    I believe you can do this without much work.
    The tricky part is ensuring you don’t go overboard creating questions for Hobos/Members,
    so they expect a TON of new questions every month.
    You need enough to keep them interested to get them to the $1.00 version, nothing more.

    Hmmm… this was a bigger reply than I planned. Sorry for the rambling!
    Good luck!

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Jimmy – i’ve picked through your mad ramblings. i’m with you on some points, and not-as-with-you on others.

      Do I see a $1 every month on Visa? Sounds like a pain.

      No – that’s the innovation that Puzzle Pirates introduced. It’s not a subscription in the traditional sense – you’re not regularly dinged for your money. You consciously purchase an item – magic talisman, badge, sexyPants – and that item gives you privileges. The item also rusts, dissolves, or vanishes after 30 days. So you buy a VIP pass card that lets you access all of the content on any day of the week. And when that runs out, you buy another – like a pre-paid phone card.

      For some people, NOT being billed automatically will be a pain. Those are the people who buy the 12-month VIP Superpass or whatever.

      Your game is missing a key element.
      Like all MMOs, people are playing Puzzle Pirates to build their character stats first and foremost.
      They’re paying for the mini games and items so they can build their character stats.

      ICT isn’t an MMO – playing the game itself is actually where the joy comes from. Answering trivia questions is a little more engaging than repeatedly clicking to kill a boar, especially when you’re competing against other players to answer quickly.

      But fear not – we actually DO have stats and levelling. That’s all a cumulative scoring system is – levelling. You earn points for sitting through questions, and bonus points for answering them. If you get lots of points, you rank up. The points required to reach the next level increases. You know the drill. So when you come into a multiplayer game and you see that guy with the purple diamond next to his name, you KNOW he’s going to smoke you because he’s been playing a lot.

      Every month, release new content for ICT. Ensure the schedule is PUBLIC,
      and everyone is aware that every month there is new content.

      Agreed.

      Add some kind of LIVE element to it, kind of like XBOX 360 1 vs. 100.
      Should start with a custom message from you: “Welcome Fools. Today it’s about MUSIC.”

      Ugh – 1 vs. 100. i just don’t like that game. i don’t play it for the very reason that it’s scheduled. Thanks to PVRs, we’re now free of the schedule grid and can watch teevee whenever we feel like it. Now you expect me to wait until 9PM to play a video game? It’s like going back in time. You want me to churn my own butter while i’m at it??

      i’m an old man and i have two kids. When’s the best time for me to play video games? Whenever i can fit it in. If i can squeeze in a quick round of trivia between cleaning up my toddler’s explosive diarrhea and hosing spaghetti sauce out of my infant’s left ear, i’m all about it. But you’re gonna make me wait until 9PM? i love trivia, but i don’t think i’m the target audience for that game. Plus, it’s slow as Hell. The more questions i can pound through in a short amount of time, the better. i don’t have time to sit and wait for 30 seconds staring at a blank screen because you haven’t sold video advertising into your game yet.

      This history is key. My profile IS my character.
      I don’t need no stinking avatar, I need my history.
      Think Twitter of Facebook Status, but all of it is relative to Mr. Important. aka. me.

      So you’re talking about some sort of stream like the one you see on Facebook? Not a bad plan, but does it really need to stretch back through a lifetime of playing? i can’t remember the last time i went back seven months into my Facebook feed, but i’m pretty sure it was “never”.

      As far as future features go, we already have a panel for players to submit their own questions, but it’s missing two things: 1) a search feature to prevent duplicate entries, and 2) a decent moderation panel to sift through the submissions. The feature’s not in the game yet, because we haven’t decided on the strategy for it.

      Currently, we’re working on a feature where you can click a member and add or remove him from your Friends or Foes list. This is a site-wide thing – changes are reflected on our boards system, and in all future Untold Entertainment community games.

      We have also flowed out the Create-Your-Own Quiz feature to tackle some of the apps you see on Facebook, but it’s an ambitious feature and will likely take one or two months to complete. And as you well know, we’ve got a project on our plate at the moment :)

      Thanks again, Jim!

      Reply
  6. David Williams

    Hi there Ryan,

    In regards to your ‘dice degrading’ method (which I think has serious potential!) rather than a timegate degredation, maybe make it work on a use-gate (Is that even a term?) system. One die is good for 50 uses. It’s a system used regularly in tick-based web mmo’s, and it works.

    Customers feel like they are getting a great deal ‘1 die is 50c and I get it forever, as long as I don’t use it 50 times in 2 weeks, I’m getting a sweet deal!’ then they blow the 50 uses in 2/3 days whilst getting ‘married’ to your game.

    End result – you get paid twice, once for the dice (attracting the hobo) and second for the subscription they realise is better when they are done with the dice (turning hobo into owner).

    Great posts btw.

    Reply
  7. Jim McHobo

    For a subscription, I still don’t think players will ever pay for more questions.
    They’ll only pay for the permanence/history/story the questions produce.

    After renting the Puzzle Pirates sexy pants, I’m able to level up my character
    which presumably does something for me even when the pants become floods.
    In Facebook’s “Restaurant City”, you’re buying more stuff for your permanent restaurant,
    you’re not buying more gameplay. You have access to all of it.
    What does buying questions do for me in MCT that regular questions don’t?
    The Hobo/Member experience is already pretty compelling
    (which is why I’m considering becoming an owner),
    does more convenience and more questions really make me want to become an owner?

    Since there’s no world outside of the questions,
    I was thinking History would become your world.
    Something to accompany that Stats and Levelling.
    Something that shows owners have a distinct advantage when Levelling.

    Regarding the exclusive 1-Night Only Idea.
    I actually think “scheduled” content is the FUTURE of multiplayer!
    It works for all kinds of paid content (hockey games, rock concerts, The EX).
    It may not be convenient, but that’s part of what makes it special.
    Churn that butter baby!

    To me it’s like getting a group of friends together to play Poker.
    Untold takes care of the logistics (new questions, scheduling, promoting) which is why I’m paying $1.
    It’s not that Untold is forcing 9pm for the good of Untold,
    there needs to be a known time and place for everyone to rendevous around.

    We’re totally agreed that there cannot be a 30 second wait.
    When I pay my dollar at 9pm it had better be an awesome experience.
    If that means changing the game for a better 9pm experience, so be it.
    i.e. Multiple simultaneous sessions of 5 player games.
    i.e. No interruptions (single player). You answer 100 questions before the cow tips.

    Good luck with everything!

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Jimmy – sorry, to clarify: players are never paying for more questions. One perk of membership is that they have early access to new question packs. But other than that, all players have access to all content. Free players are limited to accessing that content on a rotating schedule. In a fantasy MMO, it’d be like saying “you can enter the swamplands on Tuesday and Saturday, the high plains on Monday and Friday”, etc. You’re not paying to unlock more areas – you’re paying to have unfettered access to those areas.

      I actually think “scheduled” content is the FUTURE of multiplayer!

      You heard it here first, folks!

      To me it’s like getting a group of friends together to play Poker.

      Sigh. There are three features in the queue that i didn’t want to mention, but you’re squeezing it out of me.

      We’ve planned a tournament feature. You pay $x (low low low … maybe one dollar? Dunno) to create a tournament that your poker buddies can enter. We give you a widget that you can host on your own site to show the tournament scores and rankings.

      In the Best World Imaginable, i’d LOVE to be able to let people toss money into the kitty, and the winner takes all. Wouldn’t that be great? You and all your friends toss in five bucks apiece, and the winner takes the $30 pot when the tournament ends. Unfortunately, navigating the rules and regs would likely require more Lawyer Power than i can currently stomach.

      – Ryan

      Reply
  8. David Williams

    Tick based content is very old (many of the worlds ‘tick’ based games are set in the web 1.0 era) But in my experience were the first ‘Westerners’ to utilise microtransactions.

    Basically one tick = one turn. So each player in the game has a limited number of ‘turns’ they can do in any given day. Each day, the amount of turns is refreshed, and so on. In an RPG style game, for instance, a tick might be used in the following situations:

    1 per movement
    1 per attack
    1 per market buy/sell
    1 per use of bank
    1 per PvP action

    As you can see, they make it so almost everything in the game is ‘timed’ You might think that this sort of a system would lower player retention, but the reverse is true. A great example of how this all works, and the micropayments behind it would be fallensword (www.fallensword.com) I would suggest looking inside just to see all the little things that ‘cost’ a player money. And they are practically grateful for it.

    Some of the things that $$ might buy (in fallensword)

    – more ticks
    – an increase in the amount of ticks you receive ‘per day’
    – more inventory space (increases the time you can spend hunting, vs the time you spend selling)
    – $$ – Gold (Can’t afford that great new weapon?! now you can!)
    – weapon upgrades
    – GUILD upgrades (Riding the social networking pony)

    Some of the guild upgrades

    – increase maximum members
    – allow your guild to have a longer description (initally capped at 100 chars I believe)
    – build guild specific buildings which affect all of your members

    so on.

    The list of upgrades in Fallensword is HUGE. and believe me, these guys are sitting on WADS of cash. Before they brought FallenSword into the marketplace, they had a team of four. Their team has since grown to fourteen. They received 250,000 players in the first three months with barely any advertising.

    And the amount of money they made? Well, when I played, I didn’t know a single person who hadn’t purchased SOMETHING at some point in time.

    So a tick = a turn = a use. Games like this sell more ticks (I think Fallensword calls it ‘stamina’ mmm gimmicks) to the user, knowing that the item they are selling will degrade, and the consumer will want more.

    I think one of the star players of this entire theory is that players feel they are in control. It’s not a matter of ‘hey if I pay $x I can play more’ It’s more that the control of how often they wish to play is in their hands. ‘hey if I pay $x I get a dice whenever I want it’

    You control this ‘need’ of the player by letting them throw a single dice per day (or more?) The best part is, it has that additional ‘gambling’ feel. Make sure, if possible, that the last time they throw a die it always rolls a 5 or a 6 – to give the player that additional incentive to purchase more dice.

    It’s amazing what players will buy if given a choice. Especially if they think they will then be in control.

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      David – thanks for the run-down. This is excellent. i had a feeling i knew what tick-based MMOs were … i was thinking Kingdom of Loathing, where you’re only given a certain number of quests/actions you can complete each day. But it sounds like games like FallenSword take it to a more extreme degree.

      Smart! i like it. And sounds like they havea high ARPPU! (ima cover ARPU and ARPPU in a later post … as soon as i understand it well enough myself :)

      Reply
  9. jouni

    Maybe some more community features?

    Person to person notes, either privately or public during game play. Game UI could have a comment stream box, just beside the question: members and owners can make comments, everyone can see them. Of course first comment would be asking for the answer, second one would suggest a wrong one :)

    Btw UI design: could show previous question + correct answer above(?) while current question is presented. Could show next question below(?) to make hobos want to come back for more when they are kicked out (Ohh, I know that question, got to get back right away !!!).

    Btw UI design: I’m about all mobile, so I think everything within mobile restrictions == narrow screen :)

    More stats. I’m (so not) good at music, so I really want to compare myself vs. others in that category. Couldn’t care less of sports or math, but really want to see my name on Top-10 stats somewhere, anywhere. Don’t care about combined all-together-now stats. Maybe also Top of The Month, might bring me back next month to a) take top spot again or b) hope “the other guy” won’t show up and ruin my game.

    Person game history could be public (opt-in). Want to check WHO is that guy and what he has done so far. What has he done recently. Want to leave a message –> email sent to hidden address, which btw reminds him about ICT with an easy-to-click URL link to your site. Newsletter is a good reminder, but a personal note is a … well, personal.

    I wouldn’t come to play a game. I would come for the company. Weird when you’re alone at keyboard anyway, but that’s the way things are in net nowadays. Oh, make the Facebook app. Really. Go where the people are, hook and bring them in.

    Btw top-1/3/10 of each month could win some … whatever you have available except cash. Cash usually costs some money and might have legal consequencies (money laundry, tax, international), while virtual goods are usually easy to replicate and might be without too many nasty legal issues.

    Btw offer an easy way to “invite” another person, personal greetings from someone they know. First month for free, most of them won’t stick anyway. First month for free, because first impression is the tough one: people come and see nobody else, they keep telling their friends to avoid the place. So MUST gather as many ppl as fast as possible, get community kick-started and do some magic to keep ppl return.

    Well, that’s a start. Many thanx for your original post, others’ comments. Looking forward to the update, might even make a hobo visit on actual game site ;) Would love to see stats about launch hype curve vs. where it balances. Would love2 to hear about your marketing plans: review blog sites, google words, even game mags?

    Good luck,

    –jouni enjoying enormously your blog :)

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Thanks, jouni!

      Messaging – you CAN chat to each other during the game. (try it!) Anything you type in can be seen by the other players. This will hopefully become more obviousl when more ppl are playing.

      Mobile – i’m not sure this game would even work on mobile. Or would it? i’m crap at typing quickly on my iPod Touch. Mebbe the Blackberry crowd are more proficient? One thing is for sure: i can’t rightly put keyboard-enabled players in the same game room as mobile players, because mobile players are distinctly handicapped.

      More stats – This is tricky. We can tell you how good you are at Music trivia, for example, because you can enter a room and answer questions all by yourself, or you can play against 9 other people. There’s a much lower chance that you’ll do as well playing against others, so doing a High Score thing in multiplayer isn’t quite fair. (Or maybe we can weight the points based on how many players are in the room?) We DO want to have a pie chart that shows how many questions in each category you’ve answered. This will show you where a player’s proficiencies are. All this will appear in the player pop-up that we’re building.

      Personal messaging – i like this idea. In fact, just last night, i thought of something like it. You can click a player’s name to see his profile pop-up, and from there you can add him as a Friend or Foe (not yet – this is in the dev queue). This should absolutely trigger an email to the player, subject line: “You’ve got a new Friend!” (or “Foe!”) Link back to the game from the email. Of course, in his own pop-up, player will be able to opt-out of this messaging. And yes, personal messaging on top of that is a very good idea.

      Prizes – i wonder how much legalese you have to stick on top of a random draw? ie “Every day you play, you get a ballot. Then we’ll draw from all the ballots, and send you a BRAND NEW CAR!!” (We’ll need a very big envelope.) i wonder if i can even be a dirtbag and swipe the T&Cs from one of the myriad copycat contests running on the web at any given moment?

      Gathering as many ppl as fast as possible – would you believe that i’ve toyed with the idea of paying India to play the game, so that the rooms are always populated? There are some problems with this … the paid staff will eventually memorize all the questions and totally smoke all the newcomers. i wonder what the cost would be to populate the game for a month?

      Stats you requested – we’ll definitely post all those figures and more. We’re an open book.

      – Ryan

      Reply
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  11. axcho

    Great article! This is the perfect complement to Danc’s Flash Love Letter – going from the general and theoretical into the specific, with a lot of particular insights to guide developers who are actually trying to make money this way. And exceedingly funny and easy to read, as well. Hobos. It is a brilliant metaphor. :)

    I like Jim McHobo’s suggestions, for the most part. And thanks, David Williams, for that overview of tick-based games – fascinating. :)

    “Make sure, if possible, that the last time they throw a die it always rolls a 5 or a 6”

    Evil. So deliciously evil. It repels me and attracts me so strongly at the same time. :)

    Reply
    1. Ryan

      Axcho – yes. i’m wondering, if i force a high number on the dice on the last roll, if i’ll be doomed to wielding a red lightsaber for the rest of my Jedi life, if you get my drift? Will i have to grow a goatee at that point? knowhutimsayin’?

      Reply
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  14. Porter

    Excellent post, this is probably the most in-depth planning of microtransactions I’ve read thus far. I really think you’ve hit the nail on the head, granted the game is good enough to entertain players to the point of spending money. The dice idea is excellent, nothing pulls hobos in like a discounted way to play for a bit. As for that comment above about landing a 5 or 6 on the very last throw, that’s genius to the extreme, best idea I’ve read in a long time; plus you get a free red saber, win-win. Excellent article overall, I’ll definitely check up on this once I dive into the world of MT’s a bit deeper.

    Reply

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