What are other retention and conversion (free to play to paying to spender) strategies in MMOs?
I know some like promotions, social viral, content generation, intentional imbalance, perks and community management.
Clever economic manipulation.
Say you've got two people playing the game. Frank has a lot of money (he's a millionaire in real life) but not a lot of time ingame. He wants to get some really awesome and expensive equipment and go kill Starfuries (they are the best thing to kill) but he has no interest in grinding ingame to gradually get the gear he wants. He does not care, in any sense, about the $15/mo monthly fee for your game. He will probably forget to unsubscribe because he cares so little.
Bob, on the other hand, is a highschool student. He has no money and absolute tons of free time. Huge amounts of it. He's managed to get his mom to pay for a few months of subscription, but that won't last forever.
So here's what you do. You make an ingame item, a "Hunter's License". A Hunter's License can be traded on the auction house ingame. It can be redeemed for a month of subscripton time, and it can be purchased out-of-game for $15, it just shows up on your character.
Frank buys a pile of Hunter's Licenses and sells them on the Auction House. Bob spends a few days farming money and buys his Hunter's License for the month. Everyone wins:
This has been used very successfully with both Eve Online's PLEXes. A variant micropayment system, using ingame tradable items as necessary reagents for almost every production and trade, can be seen with Puzzle Pirates' Doubloons. Another variant can be seen with Kingdom of Loathing, which sells powerful unique items (kind of iffy) that, again, can be traded on the auction house (suddenly makes them far less iffy, because you don't need out-of-game money to get your edge.)
Remember: every person who spends PLEXes and Doubloons is giving you money, even if they personally never gave you any money. Trading is a good thing! Let the economy help you!
Some recently popular ones
Dan Cook has a great blog post about this. His post is from the perspective of Flash games and not MMOs, but at the end of the day the principles are the same: you're offering something free to play, with some kind of premium content that is worth paying for, and trying to convert customers.
This is a good question because it applies to all free to play games that are monetized with microtransactions. What you're basically asking is: “How do I get players to become engaged in a game after they download and once they're engaged, how do I get them to spend money?” How a developer addresses this question is key to whether their game succeeds or fails.
How people usually answer this question on forums like Stackexchange though is with randomly picked strategies that have SOMETIMES worked for SOME developers, which is incomplete. To answer this better it's best to look at this from the perspective of player's lifecycle through the game.
Generally a player's lifetime engagement with your game looks like this
So coming up with strategies for "retention and monetization" mean you maximize the numbers at each point in the above flow. Firstly, to do this, you want to come up with a way of measuring your performance at each step, which is usually done by measuring user behavior with gameplay events, which look something like the format below, and then analyzing it later to establish behavioral patterns
Once developers collect this data, they can begin to analyze it by looking at any immediately visible trends that emerge. Once a large enough dataset has been gathered, developers will usually develop statistical modes to establish patterns in player behavior.
These statistical models seek to establish:
User Segments: Developers put players into different behavioral cohorts based on their play style. This is done so that individualized content and features can be targeted towards individual user segments.
Unique value of each segment: Each player segment has a different value. Some will spend more money, some will be extremely viral & invite a lot of other users, some will serve to engage other users. Once players know the value of each segment, they can add new content and features to the game that maximize the value of each individual user segment.
Create custom KPIs relevant to their game's retention, engagement and monetization: Since games are all different, developers will define metrics that define success for their individual game so that they have custom measures of success at each phase of the player lifecycle. Examples might include:
And so once this firm grounding in understanding users is established, we can take a look at the strategies developers use to maximize player retention, engagement, and monetization.
---- Monetization ----
What will work for any given game is different, but some free-to-paid conversion techniques that have seen success recently are:
Advancement pain points: Points in the game where users are interested in advancing but it is difficult to advance without buying premium items. Games that require "grinding" to advance use this a lot as do games that are level-based (multiple levels the user plays which get progressively harder)
Provide a competitive impulse: Many games that feature a competitive or P2P mechanic allow people to spend to get ahead of other players. (Personally, when I spend on mobile games, it's usually to better PWN other players.)
Play limitation: Users have limited plays or lives and have to wait a certain amount of time before playing again without paying for more tries. Games such as Family Feud 2 and Bejeweled Blitz employ this strategy as a primary monetization tactic.
Time-to-completion: Tasks that take certain amounts of time that can be sped up with premium currency. Many games that have a building mechanic often employ this tactic.
High-priced offers/Social distinction: Design expensive offers for players that allow major advantages or major distinction. This will give highly engaged players an incentive to convert to whale-level spending. Many game types offer this, but MMOs or social games with lots of direct player interaction can rely on this more.
You want to ensure you really know your player segments so that you can target individual play styles with content that they’ll be most likely to buy.
Some retention strategies used frequently by successful developers include:
Heavy immersion in enjoyable experiences: The game gets people into the most enjoyable core gameplay mechanics fast
Smart Tutorials: Tutorials recognize how much help a user needs and offers more if they do need more help, and less if they don't.
Predictive individualization: Ability via predictive behavioral modeling to determine what a user likes within the first 5 minutes of play and to customize the experience to maximize their involvement in gameplay mechanics and content they love. This strategy is hard to pull off because it requires statistical modeling.
Care Obligations: Creating timed tasks that users must come back to finish
Early Customization: The ability for players to customize their in-game avatars or possessions. Establishes an early sense of ownership
Early re-engagement notifications: Re-engagement push notifications, emails, and social network notifications
Eliminating Error: Error is ESPECIALLY damaging to early retention. In a player's first hours and minutes they are very skeptical of your game and error in this phase absolutely kills retention. So again, you'll really want to make sure you integrate a good QA process and a log management tool like Loggly to monitor error while the game is live. It seems like a no-brainer, but MANY MANY developers miss this point and end up losing the cash and time they invested into the game to easily manageable errors.
Here's an article about a talk in GDC Europe that also somewhat answers my question.
Not the best view though but is helpful anyways.