Let’s talk about money.
It’s a cliche, but games need to earn cash. Nobody works for free. However, HOW they should monetize is the subject of endless debate. This problem is fundamental in skill-based games. Very often, this is where there is a misunderstanding, and accusations that such games are gambling, which (as you know from previous articles) is not true.
The factor that separates skill-based games from gambling I will discuss in the upcoming article. – you can treat this text as a kind of introduction to it.The matter I’d like to raise today is not too complex but is not trivial as well. We’re going into a serious subject: monetization.
How to sell your game to make money should not be a problem. It’s enough to choose the proper monetization method for the production, right? So free-to-play games will be based on micropayments, many AAA games will be sold as exclusives for particular platforms, or in digital sales on Steam, enticing with DLC content, in mobile games there will be additional micropayments and so on – all clear, right? Wrong, because in this equation… well, the player is a bit missing. How so? After all, it is the player, our audience, the consumer, who buys our games! By default, it’s always about him!
Well, not really. Many designers create products for the mass audience. The player is a “persona” for them – a set of data, a part of the public willing to pay. And while I’m far from condemning this type of work (it’s good to know the profile of your target user). I think that in too many cases, the image of a player who wants to have fun while using our application escapes somewhere. And poorly used lootboxes or “pay2win” monetization are not synonymous with fun for anyone.
Unlikely, this “user=payer” approach transitions into games. A player is just a $ symbol in a spreadsheet. Skill-based games disrupt it by allowing players to earn cash by playing. Instead of paying for playing, players earn money and create an entirely new monetization ecosystem.
We might say that players create a symbiosis with studios and publishers. In, let’s not be afraid to call it, archaic monetization models players were consumers. Developers and publishers were sellers. This system might create a vicious circle. Developers and publishers, to increase cash flow, upgraded the monetization schemes. This caused players to avoid those games. And, finally, even the entire studios collapsed.
So, again don’t be afraid to name it; skill-based games bring a new quality into the gaming world! The player is no longer the payer. The player is the earner!
Let’s take a look at an example., I’ll use two titles that, from a perspective, look like purely skill-based games but took completely different paths in designing their gameplay in terms of monetization. I’ve played each of these games personally (in fact, I still do) – I love them both, and I’m not going to criticize either of them, especially since they were both a GIGANTIC success. The first is 8-Ball Pool, and the second is Clash Royale.
If, anyhow, you don’t know them, here is a brief description of both games. 8-Ball Pool is a classic table billiards game in which you have to pocket the black ball with the number 8 as the last ball. A player can play against another opponent on different tables (they differ in name, appearance, and the amount that has to be paid for the participation in the match), in different game modes such as classic and its variations and even in whole tournaments.
In Clash Royale, on the other hand, you have to capture an area belonging to your opponent with your units – you place the units on the map by choosing special cards from a deck that you assemble yourself – and then the game goes on, right before your eyes. You win if you have solid units and send them to the right place at the right time. So – strategy, planning. Pure skill-based game, right?
Well, the basis of winning in 8-Ball Pool is ALWAYS just your playing skill. Of course, you can buy a better cue with better stats, but if you don’t know how to play, you can’t do anything with it. So what if the ball flies faster, or you can turn it up easier if you aim it wrong? And whether you hit it is entirely up to you and your skills. Clash Royale, on the other hand, at first glance, looks like a skill-based game where the player’s positioning of units and spells is essential. But since the game “runs itself” beyond that, the stats are crucial in its case. It’s not one’s skills that the player is directly juggling, but the items’ stats.
How does this relate to monetization? In both cases, each of these games has been successful – none of their systems are “pay2win”, none of them need criticism. However, it’s worth knowing that in terms of gameplay design, there are two ways to be seen here – one in which we monetize stats: buying the right items, skills and letting the player have to be careful about whether they have enough powerful items to join the game, and the other – in which it’s the player asking themselves: “am I strong enough to play?”.
I think that game’s monetization based on the player’s skill should go more towards monetizing the player’s actions – not the item stats. In the case of the 8-Ball Pool, this means using the game’s currency as the cost of entering the game itself or buying better equipment or cooler skins. As an average player (which I am), there’s no way I’m not going to lose most of the game’s currency at some point – so once in a while, I top it up with real money.
Although I wrote above about the two ways to monetize skill-based games – this only applies to game design in the systems we implement. In a broader perspective – if we take into account skill-based games – we can choose between games based on “in-game” currency – which is somehow earned both by playing and through microtransactions, and the possibility to use… real money. That is: by winning tournaments, the player not only pays but also earns money.
Of course, there is also the possibility of placing ads in the games, advertising banners, or entire screens that prevent gameplay for a period – the game thus earns money, and the player can purchase a micropayment that frees him from such views … I will not discuss this for two reasons: first – this is also the use of microtransactions, and second – as a player – I am annoyed every time I see such advertising.
In an interview with GamesIndustry International, Tyler Thomas, co-creator of Mini Golf Stars, said:
“We’ve tried monetizing our various games on both Android and iOS with banner ads, in-app purchases, and conversion methods from lite to paid app. After learning about Skillz and how it monetizes through tournaments, it just made perfect sense to partner with them. We were able to quickly add the tournament functionality into our game, and immediately started seeing our players get into the action at an increased rate in terms of playing time and retention – and ultimately helped us start monetizing our games more effectively.”
Why are games based on this second monetization system – money – more engaging? If you’re looking for a more developed answer, read one of my previous articles on how players are attracted to games) Well, of course it all depends on the stakes. I gave the example of the game 8Ball-Pool above – although I happen to buy this game’s currency through microtransactions, even if I invest it later in a given match and lose, I don’t feel the same adrenaline surge as when real money is involved. I can explain to myself that this is the case in both examples – I’m simply switching from one currency to another, but…. my brain perceives it differently.
The stakes change everything – and if, on top of that, the outcome depends only on your skills, then winning is within reach, right? Even if not now, not right away, you will eventually learn – you will become better. You will prove yourself. You’ll make money – both you as a player and we as creators. And in the process, you’ll gain better reflexes, improve your planning skills, and strategic thinking – in other words, your skills, not the stats of virtual characters.
Forget about “pay to win” – playing skill-based games is always “win-win.”
About the Author:
Michał Stonawski (born 1991 in Kraków, Poland) – writer, publicist, game designer.
Originator and co-author of the anthology “Map of Shadows”, author of the ebook collection of short stories “Strange Days” (published by Ebookowo 2018). In July 2020, he debuted his first full-fledged paperback book; “Paranormal: True Stories of Hauntings” (published by Znak), which gained bestseller status.
Proudly working with RealityUnit as a game designer.