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Category: Business

Pay-to-win is a necessary evil

Many developers working in the free-to-play arena declare themselves against pay-to-win. Pay-to-win is a series of flows geared toward getting players to pay for free games by tapping into their competitive motivations.

  • Are you stuck on a level? Buy a set of boosters.
  • Did you almost make it? Pay for extra movement.
  • Want to advance faster? With these gems, you can skip the waiting times.
  • Need to level up your characters? Buy card packs.

If we analyze the top-grossing rankings, we realize that in the top positions, there are only games that have these pay-to-win dynamics. This leads me to think that to create a service that is sustainable, it is inevitable to think in pay-to-win dynamics.

Instead of being against and working against the success of a service, it would be good to understand that many people find a sense of satisfaction in overcoming frustration. And capitalizing on this, in the context of the game, is an almost unbeatable way of generating profits.

The battle between creativity and business

I was reading thoughts on the cancellation of Apex Legends and Battlefield. Every time I read these studies I’m experiencing déjà vu. There are some clear signs that can be spotted in time but are ignored for some reason.

Surreal expectations

I have often worked with business leaders who have very ambitious numbers in mind. The best way to proceed is to try to invest the right amount and analyze the results. Based on those, work to improve them. It is impossible to expect even before starting production to reach champion numbers.

Requiring people to change their favorite game

That there are some blockbuster titles in today’s market that people won’t budge from. Creating a shooter hoping people would abandon Garena Free Fire is a dream and always will be. And the same goes for so many other games.

Wanting a game to grow beyond any limit

Many companies depend on shareholders who want to see growth every year. If this growth doesn’t go as expected, the companies cancel the games. Growth is often promised by the CEOs of these companies. Too often ignoring much of the roadmap that is in the hands of developers.

Every type of game has a limit, after all. And this limit is difficult to reach in the red oceans. Overcoming it is a dream. And back to the first point.

The MVP Culture

Over the years I have learned the single thing that product leaders hate most: uncertainty. There is a common myth of epic leaders capable of having a solid vision to spread across their team. It is almost never the case. Usually the game vision is the result of team effort.

During the development of a new game or a feature for an existing game, there are a lot of variables that make the people feel uncomfortable and insecure regarding the return on that investment. Which is why the MVP, minimum viable product, concept has been rented from the startup “fail fast” culture.

You develop the basics of that new implementation and with that you measure the results. In theory, you will eliminate risks.

In practice, instead, often that way of producing things shows a lack of vision and understanding of the market. I saw many times the MVP converting to the final product. The team publishes the MVP of a new features, metrics and analytics seem OK and they pass to the next MVP without putting the right effort to make that feature really awesome. 

This is a short term strategy that never works. Games are a refined craft that require passion for the details. That is where the magic happens.

MVP are useful to:

  • Test the technical context and make proper development estimations
  • Have something practical to show an idea to the upper management
  • Run playtests with some cohort

MVP are NOT the right thing to do if you want to:

  • Run split test with engaged cohorts
  • Prove the growth potential of a new game
  • Estimate the LTV improvement on the long term

Stadia and Cloud Gaming

Stadia was killed by Google. Cloud gaming is still alive and well in services like Microsoft Game Pass. Google put cloud gaming in the center, selling the idea of cloud gaming as a revolutionary platform. Microsoft instead put cloud gaming in the right place: as an added feature for a great service.

Cloud gaming is a very interesting features. I ask myself when Valve will also adopt it. I have a lot of friends with MacOS willing to play the same games with other friends with PCs. Cloud gaming would be a great add to Steam.

Cloud gaming is not the future of videogames, thou. Until now, in fact, there is not a single scenario in which Cloud Gaming offers something better than classic Console/PC gaming. Usually performances are better on console. Also, people who cannot afford best devices usually has access to worst Internet connections too. So that the market for pure cloud gaming is very small.

Cloud gaming is a feature and not a platform.

Being loyal

Year ago I was running a very promising free-to-play project in a local incubator. It was very promising, it was the future. My lead artist said: you are inventing the devil. Of course, it was just in my head. The project had no chance to go forward, because I wasn’t being loyal to my will of creating a new company around it.

Being loyal with ourselves is not just to maintain the promises we make. It’s not to respect the compromise. Is also to make well our numbers. If you want to build anything and we consider ourselves game designers it is necessary to stop and think well to all costs and scopes of the things we want to build. And then add a 20% of error to all of that. Otherwise we will most probably fail.

My project failed at many levels, but the main one is that you cannot start a free-to-play ambitious project without great professionals and lot of money behind. The art of giving games for free is very expensive, needs a good monetization strategy and the acquisition of new Players requires huge efforts.

I am glad that I didn’t invented any devil, and I am glad to be here happy telling you those stories.

A VIP idea from Delta Airlines

Design games for the free-to-play mobile business is whale hunting. Unless you are a genious, like Bit Life developers, you will probably do the math. And doing the math, you will notice that you need high spenders to sustain your business.

Yesterday I saw this comment on a LinkedIn post:

Shoutout to Tom Hammond for this great idea.

I checked out the original Delta program and now I cannot understand why nobody is doing that.


Ana, a Slotomania player, is a Black Diamond level VIP client. She gets an ad from your Mobile Casino Game that promises her VIP level can be matched with a challenge.

  • Installs the game, logs in
  • A pop-up asks her if she already has VIP status in other games, she answers that she does and details that she is a Black Diamond in Slotomania
  • Within 12 hours, a person from Customer Support contacts Ana, asking for more information
  • Ana’s VIP level is matched with the game’s VIP level.


If someone has a high VIP level in another game, it is most likely a whale. It could be a whales acquisition strategy.

Try sell this idea

A lot of skilled entrepreneurs (skilled entrepreneur = very talented seller) are convincing investors with promises of huge returns on investments coming from concepts that, on the contrary, are demonstrating to be not so appealing to the people. I am talking about metaverse, web3, play-to-earn, gamified economies and so on.

The dream of creating the perfect mousetrap where people come from all over the World to watch ads and spend many hours per day will remain a dream. It comes, in my opinion, from a huge misunderstanding of how games as a service work.

The reality is that is becoming harder and harder to create the right experience for the people. Usually it comes with a great gameplay, usually is multiplatform and usually has no barrier to start. But, I mean, there are a lot of concepts to try out that may actually work. And nothing so fancy, something very simple.

Think in Among Us and its big success during the pandemic. Think in Bit Life, a game made just with text that breaks all the best practices of f2p.

Games like those cannot be proposed to investors, because one has to be honest. One should admit that we know very little things about the future of our industry. The things we know for sure are:

  • We need to create more value for the Players
  • We need to think in a vast geographies, not just rich countries
  • We need more talent to join the industry

Is it possible to really sell this idea to an investor? Is it really possible in an environment where too often we hear words like “growth” before of even write the first line of code?

Build the game thinking in system

Making video games is hard and it has a cost. That is why often we feel the need of building an universal system, capable of letting us creating more games in less time.

Players, instead, purchase and play video games for the experience that game has to offer. They usually do not think in systems, also if they are capable of understand what is similar to other games.

To me the best approach is to make a video game. The best is to focus on a concrete platform and a concrete experience having a great vision. Then if that system is designed to be custom, that is great for the production of next games, of course. But the priority is on the game itself, not on the system you are building.

If you think just in the system, I have to tell you, maybe you are not believing too much in your game. Which is completely normal, you should rely on data and results to believe in it from a business point of view. But from the creative point of view you should also notice that little spark waiting to become the next big IP.

Have a nice summer folks, this is the last post before of my vacations. See you soon!

The reality of giving games for free

You start a new project with your team, and you read that someone is getting rich with a f2p mobile game. There are people, called whales, that are willing to spend thousands of euros each month. You can be rich too! You have a great idea!

Then you find the right investors and you build your team. You study the market well, mitigate all risks and put your product in soft launch, after 2 years of development. Then you struggle with metrics. Day one, day seven, day thirty retention. Average revenue per user, lifetime value.

You spend two years more in development. Investors want to see their return on investment. Your team is tired, many of the original members are gone. And you fail.

Was you a disaster? No, you are just the regular situation. Read here:

I asked to this expert how to prove your KPIs potential early. He answered me that:

And I tell you: it is NOT easy all of that. First of all because when you are under pressure is super hard to admit that your KPIs are not promising to the investors. You need talented people, and that’s pretty uncommon.

Many of us feel that F2P is dominated by white collar people full of money and addicted “users” that cannot stop play. The reality is super different. The reality is that 99.71% of projects fail. That’s the regular situation.

F2p microtransactions and recession

Experts from all over the World are claiming that a recession will hit hard the games industry in the next few months. I am no expert, but I can clearly feel something is going weird.

What about the Players? Will they prefer to spend $70 for a premium complete game or will they still prefer $5 microtransactions? Will microtransactions be considered a luxury good? We really cannot predict that. Players are very diverse and scattered all over the World, it’s hard to make predictions.

The only thing I can say for sure is that there will be always space for good games. With good games I mean games that engage Players in a meaningful way. “Artisanal touches and magical moments that make up a rich and unique player experience”, as the CEO of this brand new company says here.

During a crisis especially those who struggle to understand how to make good games will struggle. Anyway we should remember that with a crisis always come new opportunity.

Can be the new subscription triad game pass/playstation plus/netflix the saver of the old f2p World?