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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.

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4 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

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:

  • Frank wins because he doesn't have to do the grinding he finds so boring.
  • Bob wins because he gets to play the game for free.
  • You win because you're getting Frank's money (which you would have gotten anyway) and Bob's money (which you wouldn't have gotten otherwise.) Additionally, you haven't mucked with the ingame economy - you haven't spawned any powerful items, you haven't started "selling gold", you're just letting people trade gametime around.

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!

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This is a good answer. And it does make sense. –  Wight Aug 19 '10 at 8:46
    
Note this was used for years on EVE before PLEXes, it was just more cumbersome, but still encouraged and supported by the publisher. (They also charge slightly more cash per play time, so they actually get more money for brokering the transaction.) Also, you might not have gotten Frank's money anyway: he might've become frustrated and quit. –  Roger Pate Oct 6 '10 at 6:33
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Some recently popular ones

  1. Refer-a-friend. Generally you give bonuses to both the referrer and the referee.
  2. Social media broadcasts. More and more games will want to post stuff to Facebook and Twitter as basically free advertising. The new Warhammer 40k game is even rewarding players for this.
  3. Rich kid syndrome. Asian MMOs are notorious for this, putting pay items up that are clearly better than ones that can be earned within the game. Tread lightly here, western markets have been very hostile to this.
  4. Selling simplicity. Things like selling +%XP potions or pre-leveled characters for a game with a low level cap (think Guild Wars' PVP character system). This is generally better received than the above, but still hard to pitch.
  5. Veteran rewards. Pretty simple and every MMO I know of does it.
  6. Fast client download. The longer it takes to try your game, the lower the conversion rate is.
  7. Non-decimal currency. There is a reason that MS' Live points are 80 == $1.00. By keeping people's mental math off balance you can produce the illusion of lower prices.
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Careful with refer-a-friend. Assuming open trading, it can become easy for a player to "refer" themselves with a second account, then trade everything to their primary, which defeats the purpose. –  Ian Schreiber Aug 19 '10 at 16:04
    
Usually you only get the bonus if the new account spends money (in most games it is after their first month's subscription goes through), but I agree it can be harder to manage with a free-to-play game. –  coderanger Aug 19 '10 at 17:03
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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.

http://www.lostgarden.com/2009/08/flash-love-letter-2009-part-2.html

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Here's an article about a talk in GDC Europe that also somewhat answers my question.

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/29983/GDC_Europe_To_Succeed_In_FreeToPlay_Exploit_Human_Weaknesses.php

Not the best view though but is helpful anyways.

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