Here at Department of Play, we’re often approached by teams aspiring to improve a game’s revenue. More often than not, these games contain several monetisation features with the potential to earn a profit. However, in many cases, players are spending irregularly or not at all.
This is often due to a lack of pressing reasons – beyond impatience – to spend. These pressing reasons are what we refer to as ‘monetisation catalysts’.
In this article, we’ll explore what monetisation catalysts are, why they’re important, and how they can be used to improve a product’s revenue.
What Are Monetisation Catalysts?
Monetisation catalysts are some factors that spike the effectiveness of monetisation by highlighting the necessity, value or exclusivity of an item, system or service. These can be as small as a visual prompt – i.e. an ‘UPGRADE NOW!’ pop-up – or as large as a brand new system – i.e. a new liveop event.
The driving factor for all monetisation catalysts is time. These catalysts often begin with an arising circumstance that makes it meaningful to spend now rather than later, whether that be to get the edge in a competition, prevent punishment caused by a loss or accelerate progress for personal achievement.
By creating an impetus to spend, monetisation catalysts become hugely important in the profitability of a product.
Why Are They Important?
By highlighting potential benefits to the player, monetisation catalysts kickstart player conversion and develop recurring transactions. Good F2P economies are balanced to maximise the supply of controlled resources so that players have enough to understand the basic utility, versatility, and benefits of a resource, but can’t gain enough to sate their desire for it.
Without monetisation catalysts, players will defer initial and repeat spending decisions. Potentially indefinitely. Catalysts then are essential in ensuring higher conversion and average revenue per user, which in turn improves retention.
Catalysts in Action
Below are three common examples of monetisation catalysts that provide a further understanding of the topic:
Timers are a monetisation mechanic which allows players to pay to continue playing when they are otherwise faced with waiting for an action to complete.
Timers primarily target impatient players who want to continue playing without the downtime and are balanced such that longer (more frustrating) timers appear later in the game where more engaged players are found. Many psychographics, particularly achievers, want to see progress each session, and so when timers restrict this, a catalyst is created.
Clash of Clans utilises timers extensively, requiring players to perform gameplay actions (constructing, training, and upgrading of buildings and troops) to progress. As the buildings and troops become more substantial, so do the wait times.
Win streaks are a tool primarily used to strengthen loss aversion. Players are rewarded for consecutively winning matches or some other accomplishments. If a streak is broken (by a loss or similar), players are encouraged to engage in loss aversion mechanics (e.g. pay for more turns) to avoid breaking the streak.
The psychology behind win streaks has players paying to avoid losing a benefit (a psychological phenomenon referred to as ‘loss aversion’) rather than simply paying to acquire one. By endowing the player with the benefits of a bonus whilst a win streak is active, taking the bonus away acts as a strong loss aversion driver. As people are much more motivated to avoid a loss than an equivalent gain, the threat of a loss in a win streak is more effective than directly selling the benefit.
Angry Birds 2 features a win streak mechanic which rewards players each time they sequentially win a PvP match (up to a total of seven times). Rewards can be claimed once and increment in value with each sequential win. However, if a match is lost, the streak is reset back to one.
Once the streak has been completed (seven wins without a loss), it will be unavailable until the next day. Win streaks have had a huge effect on Angry Birds 2’s revenue by indirectly driving booster sales and loss aversion engagement (paying for an additional bird).
The strength of liveops as a monetisation catalyst is in their limited nature which creates an impetus to play now and get the reward or miss out. Often liveops are balanced as such that gaining the top reward by the end of an event almost guarantees the need to monetise.
An additional benefit to liveops is the freshness and excitement they bring to the game through the regular introduction of new content and mechanics for players to explore and aspire towards. If done well, liveops spike both economic and engagement gains significantly.
In the example above, Homescapes utilises liveops as a monetisation catalyst, driving players to play (and pay) now to get the prize or miss out during their events. Whilst an event is active, players gain a new currency – e.g. Bells – as an additional reward. This event currency can be used to purchase limited-time prizes upon reaching collection milestones. Homescapes reinforces this feature with the addition of leaderboards, utilising social comparison to further catalyse spend.
Homescapes, much like many other games, has its liveops events frequently reworked and reskinned with new themes and visuals, allowing the team to reuse a design multiple times throughout a game’s lifetime and reduce development workload.
Categories of Catalysts
The above showcases a few of the many monetisation catalysts in our toolbox. However, there is a multitude of different monetisation catalysts within F2P design to accommodate the wide array of genres, platforms, and audiences that may arise.
Monetisation catalysts can be grouped into four core categories:
Social catalysts drive conversion by utilising social behaviors – i.e. social comparison and competition with friends and rivals within the game.
Social catalysts increase spend behavior by comparing two or more players together either by stats, visuals, or other status indicators.
Leaderboards, guilds, and friends lists all feature a form of social comparison which encourages players to examine one another’s progress and status within the game.
Candy Crush Saga features a weekly leaderboard (referred to as the ‘Weekly Race’) which positions players based on their weekly engagement, whilst putting those in the top three positions on a pedestal for all to see. The Weekly Race leaderboard creates a yardstick for player comparison, driving those driven by competition to increase their engagement and / or spend to top the leaderboards.
Competition catalysts boost the purchase of items players believe to increase their odds of success (for example, boosters and upgrade materials). These are especially powerful when a game features PvP.
For example, tournaments spike an increase in both engagement and spending with players looking to increase their chances of topping the leaderboards and winning big. Tournaments use a carrot on a stick mentality, spiking engagement for a limited time by showcasing a big-ticket prize (i.e. a high rank, cosmetic items, etc.).
Economic catalysts refer to points in the game balance which increase resource demand, thus giving players an option to either increase engagement or spend.
Pinch points are reductions in resource supply that drive players to increase spend to keep up with progression requirements.
Specifically, a ‘pinch point’ defines a time when the supply level becomes so low that players worry about resource security, and so demand increases. This creates a perfect opportunity to present an IAP offer.
For example, games with duplicate upgrade systems such as Clash Royale allow players to upgrade their deck to counter an increase in difficulty alongside progression. Card requirements scale with each sequential upgrade, and so as the player progresses, as do the upgrade requirement and so the demand for resources.
Supercell capitalises on this with the addition of systems such as Daily Deals which expose cards and offer them at a discounted rate for a limited time. Costs escalate with each sequential purchase, deepening the sink and preventing mass purchasing.
When done intentionally, economies that feature inflation scale resource sinks alongside player progression and resource demand. This allows for more generous IAP bundles which commonly increase revenue.
When resource sinks don’t scale alongside demand, resource IAP bundles will no longer offer users value as the game economy will be flooded, ultimately harming revenue.
For example, in Game of War, IAP bundles offering hard currency (gold), resources (food, wood, stone, etc.), speed-ups, and gacha (chests) increase in value as resource taps and sinks scale, consistently offering players ostensibly better value bundles.
Boost periods refer to a time when progression and / or rewards are multiplied, making it the most beneficial time for players to spend.
For example, in Call of Duty: Warzone, owners of a Regiment (aka clan) can choose an hour of each day where players earn double XP while playing with other Regiment members.
With these ‘Happy Hours’ creating an opportunity for players to level up faster than usual, players are incentivised to both join a regiment (thus exposing them to social catalysts mentioned earlier) and purchase XP boosters to optimise their XP gains and increase their progression speed during this period.
Time catalysts utilise impatience (waiting and downtime) as a catalyst, encouraging players to convert or engage in loss aversion mechanics to advance progress and obtain limited-time content.
Time limits refer to mechanics and systems which feature time as a key component to their functionality – i.e. opening a chest or participating in a limited-time event / challenge.
Time limits often have the added benefit of acting as an appointment mechanic for engaged users.
Limited-Time Items / Exclusives
Limited-time items add pressure to purchases for players not wanting to miss out on content. Exclusives spike both spending and engagement.
For example, battle pass features often increase engagement through the desire to unlock exclusive, limited-time content (often available for weeks, if not months). This is then paired with an additional monetisation layer (for example, Fortnite’s infamous Battle Pass) which unlocks an additional tier of rewards, thus offering players additional content (and often, progression speed) for a price.
Regular liveops maintain a high level of engagement with the addition of new content and diverse gameplay. As mentioned earlier, the key fundamental to a liveops success is its limited nature which spikes KPIs with players aspiring to collect as much of the content as possible before it becomes unavailable.
Call of Duty: Mobile has a calendar full of events that run back to back, ensuring that players always have new challenges to discover, goals to work towards, and mechanics to master.
Win & Loss Catalysts
Win and loss catalysts create an impetus to spend through a desire to succeed, progress, and prevent the punishment and social judgment that accompanies a loss.
Win streaks (as discussed earlier) are a mechanic which rewards players for winning several matches or achieving other accomplishments consecutively. This reward is lost upon a loss.
Win streaks increase ARPDAU by incentivising players to pay to maintain a benefit via loss aversion; this can be seen in many forms, for example gaining additional moves in a puzzle game or adding more time to the match timer.
Lives & Energy
Life and energy mechanics act as a catalyst by gating play and offering a paid option to remove it. Energy is often depleted through play, while lives deplete on a loss.
Getting it Right
Now that there is an understanding of the types of monetisation catalysts and how they can be used in-game, there are tools that you can use to maximise the effectiveness of monetisation catalysts.
One very straightforward approach is to simply expose players to the benefits of items and services regularly, making attainable gains secured through spending explicit. This would include both highlighting premium content and endowing players with taster consumables such as premium content trials.
Tracking data and AB testing regularly offers another elementary way to lift the effectiveness of monetisation catalysts, by ensuring that all groups and player types are met with the optimal experiences for their demographics.
Staying curious and consistently asking yourself and your team questions equally serves to increase the impact of your monetisation catalysts. For example, if your game has an upgrade system, you need to ask yourself several questions:
- Firstly, is the game prompting players to upgrade at all points that the relevant update would affect (i.e. upon loss, prior to a game, when all materials needed to upgrade are owned)?
- Furthermore, are the benefits of the upgrade system being showcased, perhaps through a free upgrade or a comparison system?
- And finally, does the game balance support an upgrade system that ensures that players are suitably pinched at appropriate moments, thus making upgrading a requirement?
A Final Note
As we’ve seen, monetisation catalysts have the potential to make or break a game’s monetisation potential. To succeed in these cases you need not only give your players ways to spend money but also pressing motivations to do so.
As such, the monetisation catalysts detailed above present a powerful set of tools for encouraging LTV growth, improving both spend and spend regularity. Get monetisation catalysts right, and the lasting success of your game can be significantly improved.