It’s a familiar feeling. You’re running out of gold/gems/cooldown and you don’t want to quit just yet. The modern PayWall in mobile games is a constantly evolving monetisation method that has divided the gaming and development community.
More and more development studios are shifting their monetisation strategies toward the freemium model. But at what cost? Is this PayWall method good for the games industry or does it warp game design toward profit?
These questions are difficult to answer. The gaming and development community is split across how to monetise their games. A number of high profile PayWall monetisation disasters have rocked studios, but has it made an impact? EA revenues have soared, despite consistently being ranked as the worst of the games companies.
This article is the first in a series here at Which Button Is Jump on the modern monetisation methods in mobile gaming. These are all opinion pieces that are my own views on the subject. If you’d like to lend your voice to the crowd, head over to either @WhichButton or the WBIJ Reddit posts to discuss. Thanks!
So let’s look at the four main kinds of PayWall that you’re likely to confront. Which ones have you come up against?
1) The Classic PayWall
The first of the PayWalls to emerge. This has a huge range of examples, running from all kinds of DLC to unlockable quests and characters.
- It is a single one-off payment that unlocks defined content. For example, unlocking a new questline in an RPG, the next set of levels in a puzzle game, or a locked character in a beat em up.
- Without payment, you would never get access to the content through other methods (like time, or achievements).
Standard practice for DLC across the board, especially the big AAA titles that open up new areas. Destiny, World of Warcraft, Mass Effect all have Classic PayWalls in place for new content.
For mobile gaming, this is the lifeline of the games developer, if they choose to use the Freemium model. The ideal gamer would get the game for free, then move through the PayWall to purchase the rest of the game. In my opinion, this is the cleanest of the PayWalls, with a single transaction giving a definite reward. It is a choice not governed by outside pressures.
The situation is muddied by multiplayer games, like World of Warcraft. Though not (yet) a mobile game, it is worth counting these areas as we move forward. These expansions are defined within a social environment and though you have a classic PayWall, it becomes something else when your best mate shows you his new Sword of Super Fire, or whatever. Hearthstone is the same. If you want to remain competitive, missing out on the DLC adventures like Naxxramas is not really an option. In this sense, you are dealing with something more like a PressureWall. More on that later.
It is worth considering the impact of making a game either multiplayer or online. DLC in a closed, single player environment versus the peer pressure of MMO worlds. Even a social scoreboard connected through Facebook is power enough to alter the motives behind a player buying through a PayWall. So is it difficult to have an exclusive Classic PayWall at this point in time? With most mobile games connected to social networks, this isolated form of monetisation might not function at all. Instead, it has evolved into a different, more connected, way to draw money from gamers.
2) The PatienceWall
The PatienceWall is the one of the most common trends in current Freemium models. Whole empires are built on this monetisation method, with games like Clash of Clans and Candy Crush leading the profit tables for years.
- A single payment purchases the in-game currency needed to remove timed obstacles.
- You would eventually gain access to the content, but without payment, you may be facing a looooong wait.
The PatienceWall has a perfect target in mobile gaming. We generally use mobile games for short, immersive experiences that don’t last as long as the standard console/PC game. Of course there are exceptions, but let’s go with the generic.
A good example of this are games that use a ‘collectible’ approach.
- Strategy card games, like Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering (You could argue here that these games are PressureWall and not PatienceWall – PressureWall would be part of official expansions and PatienceWall for the standard card packs)
- The recent trend of turn based strategy combining card deck systems (check my review for Space Wolf here, which I thought was pretty poor, then look at the review for Deathwatch, which managed monetisation in a similar fashion, but much better)
The problem is that the PatienceWall monetisation method is targeting the impatient, the compulsive, the bored. Sadly, when a game slows down like Clash of Clans or we are frustrated at not unlocking in-game money quick enough, all of tend to move towards those traits. We want to see our little towns/units/cards moving forwards and improving with every log on. So when we are denied this, we become impatient, compulsive and bored. We are being offered progress, at a cost. Combined with the mobile gaming idea of short, immersive experiences, and you have a recipe for monetisation that has ensnared millions. It’s tough to log on to Clash of Clans and still have the bulk of your buildings on cooldown.
And this is how, when PatienceWall games are connected socially or through MMO worlds, they become PressureWalls.
3) The PressureWall
The evolution of PatienceWall to PressureWall is an easy step for developers. Why not put your players in a social situation where they can see what their friends are doing? By the act of connecting the gameworld to others, you enforce a different motive for success. Competition.
Let’s look at the kind of games that use cooldowns – the city building games (there are probably a few on the right hand side of this article, via AdSense) that tend to dominate the mobile market. From Farmville, to Clash of Clans, to Evony and so on. These cooldown builder games are not that difficult to master, they just require time and logging in whenever you have a spare moment.
Add to this a combat driven world, where you prey on the undeveloped, is a harsh landscape to thrive in. That rush of adrenalin of if-only-i-had-another-catapult is the source of power behind the PressureWall. When your immediate neighbours in the game begin to threaten, that’s inviting you to buy through the PayWall and prosper. the shortening of cooldowns with real money is going to be a difficult monetisation method to dislodge. It is the most highly evolved of the PayWalls, bringing together social, game and time pressure and offering a way out.
The competitive nature of social games with DLC options means that you are under the gun if you don’t have the latest content.
In some games, the insidious nature of the PressureWall is that it does not end. It is just staved off for a while. You can log in every day and keep your city/squad/deck ticking over, but the clock is always ticking. Armies are moving about and for gods sake, don’t go on holiday to somewhere without reception. Or maybe… do.
4) The AdWall
The last of the PayWalls, the AdWall is the most annoying. It comes in the form of in-game progress at the expense of having to watch a trailer, or take a survey or install an app. I first encountered this with World of Warriors, a game which tries to use pretty much every one of the PayWalls described on this page. The most offensive to me was the clutch of ads that I could watch and mobile games to connect to on Facebook, in exchange for some gems.
For some people, this might be fine, but of all of these PayWalls, please let’s stop this one right now. I’m not going to watch a trailer for a movie that I’ve no interest in. I’m not going to play through 5 levels of some mindless puzzler and post it to Facebook.
This frustrating blend is a painful system for monetisation – at least in it’s current form. The fact that progress is blocked until you watch a video is a sure fire way to stop and remove the game. I might be a little draconian in my approach to this, but I’m much happier to face into the PressureWall than have to deal with an AdWall.
We are facing a difficult and incredible time for gaming. Monetisation techniques are necessary to games industry growth, from indie developers to the giants. With the advent of some kinds of PayWall deliberately targeting some of our more negative traits, we should all be careful about how we move forwards, both as gamers and developers. There are lots of innovative ways to monetise games and not necessarily at the cost of the gamer. “Pay once” titles are my choice – to be in control of the content and not have PayWalls moving in once the game deliberately slows down.
In App Purchases might have heralded a wave of “free to play” games, but nothing is really free.
Be careful what you play and give support to small games developers.