At the start of a game’s development, it’s challenging to find an optimal way to monetize it. Above all, you must find a monetization method that is compatible with your game. In a way, your monetization should be integrated in the same way you would with a game mechanic.
This one is the most straight forward. Players pay to buy the game at the start – and you’re done. The challenges with this method are mainly player acquisition and setting the right price. It may be wise to make use of demos and trials so players can try it out before buying. This may help player acquisition. Secondly, the price will be a reflection of the game’s value. Some studios make the mistake of basing the price on their personal effort or development costs, not on player expectation. An notorious example of this is “No Man’s Sky”, which,with a $50 tag put itself among the league of other AAA titles, which it wasn’t. That same game for 20 bucks would have had a totally different expectation and hence a different reception. Same goes with indie titles with a relatively short playthrough. You can’t ignore that players will inevitably judge it based on hours of play – it may be unfair, but it’s only natural. If you think your short game is worth the price, you’re invariably accepting the burden of making ‘the best game ever’ – because that’s the only way players will forgive your high pricing.
This is the quick and easy alternative. By “easy”, I only mean “easy to implement”. However, it is nowhere close to being “easy to pull off”. In case you haven’t noticed, players hate ads in games, even when the game is completely free. The only solution is in placing those ads in the correct places. The basic question is: players already hate ads, does your placement help hate the ad more? Ads that pop up randomly during game-play, or that interrupt interesting moments, or that take too long, or that are completely unrelated will surely frustrate players. Some games have done a good job of placing ads. Things such as “watch ad to receive X gold coins” for example, are the best examples. Get players excited to watch ads because they know they’ll be rewarded for it. If you make it a player choice, it will not feel as invasive.
Microtransactions are a dangerous and challenging territory. The very first thing you must consider is whether your platform and demographic is suited to this model. After all, some players may simply be used to purchasing a game right out, while others prefer free games and having the possibility of spending a couple of bucks here and there. That’s the research you’ll have to prepare prior to developing the game. Microtransactions have proven very successful in the recent past for its capability to attract new players (since most of them are free to play), but most importantly, for not limiting how much a player can spend on it, unlike traditional pricing (since there is always the opportunity to buy unlimited gems or lollipops). It does, however, require an intricate knowledge of human behavior to maximize profits with this technique. I’d suggest you play as many F2P games as possible, gather ideas and carefully study how they are implemented. In the end it’s about making purchases that feel like they’re worth it. Microtransactions can also be blended with games that have a fixed price tag, but it does walk a fine line. In these cases, the purchases need to be truly optional and not impede you from playing the game normally. In this case it should be considered a way to let true fans spend more money on their favorite games (ex. buying hats).
Out of all monetization techniques, this one requires the most affinity with the genre. Subscription-based games are generally huge in scope. You don’t simply develop it, ship it and forget about it. The game will be forever growing. It is now no longer a game – it is a lifestyle. For you as well as for your players. You must be aware that for the following years, this game will be your life. Subscription-based games must constantly add content and offer new ways to play the game so that it never becomes stale or boring. Most importantly, subscription-based games must have a strong community. You need players to return to it on a regular basis. There is no better way to do that than to allow players to build friendships, guilds and deep relationships with all members.
Although gambling seems to be a type of game of its own, it really shouldn’t be. We see many “gambling” aspects in games such as Hearthstone, where you purchase a pack of new cards and are not sure whether it was worth it until they have been revealed. Humans have a strange innate obsession with gambling. There’s something special about taking risks. It’s not the same to say “give me $10, push a button and I’ll give you $10 back” than saying “give me $10 roll a die, and if you land on 6, I’ll give you $60”. It’s one of the easiest ways to add high stakes to any game. There is a certain stigma to it, but the same could be said about pretty much any other monetization technique: ‘subscription-based games rob player’s life and alienate them from the real world’, ‘microtransactions exploit human weaknesses suck them dry’, ‘crowdfunding campaigns are a scam that deliver a below-average product’. The truth is that charging money in any way or form carries a certain responsibility. If done right, gambling is only a design tool that can be used to your player’s and to your team’s advantage.
Many games overlook this aspect of monetization. Your game is not only a product – it’s a franchise. Fans of any game are not only about playing it, they’re all about ‘loving’ it. Game characters, universes, quotes and logos are things that can make awesome t-shirts, mugs and bobble heads. I personally would love to find more choice of t-shirts related to games that I love. Allow players to be fans. Allow them to share their love of the game with others. Besides, merchandising is a great marketing tool. Players will proudly carry your products in public and use them as conversation starters. Do not overlook the potential of merchandising. George Lucas himself made a ton of money only on Star Wars merchandise.
Donations can be achieved in many ways, and for some games it truly works. It’s tough, but it can work. One of the most popular and efficient ways to gather donations is before the game is even completed, via crowdfunding. This technique truly allows players to “pay what they can”. Which means that you’ll grab players who can’t afford much, but you will also allow wealthier players to pay more than the average price. Of course, you are also depending on the player’s will to be charitable, and that’s the main reason why it’s challenging. Building communities also helps to maintain a steady flow of loyal players, as in the case of Dwarf Fortress.
It’s always a good idea to consider merging two or more monetization methods that may allow you to cover all sorts of player demographics. For instance, subscription-based games that include microtransactions, or crowdfunded games that sell merchandising, or games with a fixed price that make use of product placement in a similar way that movies do (such as your main character wearing a specific clothing brand (The Sims)).
Above all, it has been proven that one of the trickiest things is pricing your goods and being able to make the most of players with a small budget, but above all, give the option for players with higher budgets to spend more on your game. Leaving this out can cut out a lot of revenue.