I am just starting out in indie game development and one thing that seems clear to me is that in the mobile space at least, unless you are already a famous developer, have a well known brand/franchise or are just plain lucky, then you need to price your game at zero to stand any chance of being installed on devices. So to make money you must use Free to play (F2P) monetisation methods. In my own experience with myself and my kids plus reading around on the Web a lot of these methods are not appreciated by the players...

My questions is: Which F2P methods do players find ethical and acceptable?

I am looking for specific game mechanics and an answer which references or is based on data/research (if there is any) and not personal opinions or anecdotal references to successful, money making F2P games like Candy Crush Saga or Clash of Clans etc.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/80319/… \$\endgroup\$
    – user1430
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 20:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question is different to the potential duplicate as it is about free to play not ads in games. Free to play is when the game is free to play but users can get additional items or unlock things using real money. Some of the big games also use a hybrid model where users get stuff by taking actions that earn the developers money but don't cost the user money like watching videos, installing apps or clicking on ads. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 21:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm confused to: 1. How has a question asking for a list (thought we didn't like those) of ethical (seems subjective) methods has not been closed yet? and 2. When did we start doing community wikis again? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 23:02
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't close this for two reasons: we'd decided to leave this question open for potential community close (as a CW), and this question feels similar in structure. Also, I am curious to see what happens if I'm no so aggressive with unilateral votes; particularly since the graphics SE went into beta and may skim good questions here, I think we're going to necessarily see a shift in community perception around borderline questions like this in the future. \$\endgroup\$
    – user1430
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 4:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ You are of course free to cast your own close votes, or discuss the topic further on Game Development Meta. \$\endgroup\$
    – user1430
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 4:28

3 Answers 3


As in many of these things, there is very little formal research as far as I know, most of them comes from the Gamification community. On this course lecture 7.1, they discuss monetization in games. Here is an screenshot with relevant information, in case you don't want to check the video.

So there are some guidelines but they are mainly "opinion-based", and the only thing you can trust about them is that some people has used them and proved their validity before.

Some key points would be:

  • Everything that can be purchased can also be obtained for free in the game (paying is just a shortcut).
    • Exception to this rule are aesthetic items. These are items which provide no functionality but just make the player "look pretty". Since they provide no advantage whatsoever, it doesn't create any imbalance or unfairness in the game.
  • The best items available in game, are not obtained by money. This prevents paying customers from automatically becoming the best players (they need to AT LEAST invest some effort).
  • First make a good game AND THEN add in-game purchases. If you design your game around purchases, chances are it will become a pay-to-win unplayable mess.

Now, with my personal-anecdotal evidence. I have played many such games, and many of them fail in one or more of these points. The consequences are the following:

  • When there are items that can only be bought, you are automatically creating a differentiation between free and paying customers. Most likely this will mean an unfair advantage to paying customers, and therefore will drive free customers away. The good point is that people willing to pay will be more loyal, as they will keep paying to keep the advantage, but you will lose a large player base of possible customers.
  • When the best items can be purchased, you are killing endgame. If I can just pay my way to the top, chances are I will become bored of the game very fast. Combine this with the previous point and you have a combo of death where you are losing both free and paying customers.
  • When games are designed bottom up to provide in-app purchased, the result usually is an insultingly unplayable mess. The game is practically to force players to spend money just to turn an awful game in a mediocre game. Such practices include disproportional difficulty curve, gameplay limitations, penalties to non-paying customers or endless grinding. The result usually is that free customers are driven away before they have a chance to consider paying. Usually paying customers do not start buying right away, first they get hooked to the game. If you don't give them even a chance, probably they won't.

So some in-game purchases practices which seem acceptable in my opinion are the following.

  • Premium currency. Players can buy this currency to buy items in game. However make sure that any item that can be purchased this way, can also be purchased with regular currency.
  • Grinding shortcut. Lets say you have a tech tree that you unlock as you complete missions. Customers could just pay to unlock it right away and save hours of grinding. However make sure that the time saved is balanced and fair for free players. If I need hundreds upon hundreds of hours to achieve something that cost a few bucks, I will feel that you are practically forcing me to pay.
  • Limitation extender. This one I hate personally, but people seem to love it. The point is to limit the actions a player can do in a certain amount of time (for instance, each day), usually implemented with "action points". Then, players can buy extra action points for a fee, and then progress further than free customers. However, mind to put also a hard cap on how much a paying customer can advance using this system in order to avoid unfair advantage.
  • Generally speaking, reward paying customer instead of penalizing free customers. An example of the later is implementing a death penalty where you lose some exp each time you die, and then ad a paying item that removes this penalty. That way feels that you are bashing me for not paying. Instead, add items that provide exp boosts. That way, I will feel that you are rewarding me for paying.

This is everything I can think of from the top of my head. I hope it is useful.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Course link should probably be iversity.org/courses/gamification-design \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 8:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the tip, you can also edit the answer yourself :D \$\endgroup\$
    – angarg12
    Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 8:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Edited - couldn't find the link at first... \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 22, 2014 at 8:36

As a simple user, I quit any single game that pops up big screens begging for money (at the end of level, where the offers is actually bigger then my score). And every multiplayer game that offers boosts as unfair advantage.
A bit of explanation: the game made some advance since F2P became popular. As the players did - most are allergic to the early kind of F2P (farmville, RoM, and the most infamous mobile Dungeon Keeper).
As somebody interested in these questions, I found most satisfying answer: "it depends". It depends on platform, country, age etc.. To sell well you must know your target audience. And there is no general answer beyond that.
Also there is another question: do I need money more or good reputation? It might be worth to release a game that doesnt make nearly any money just to build a trademark (...and cash it later ofcourse). But that mostly depends on your current situation.


As a mobile gamer, I can say (personally) that some in-game adds don't bother me at all. For example: the game Jupiter Jump by Noodlecake Studios only shows ads after the first attempt (full screen) as well as at the main menu along the top. I think this is well-executed, as it doesn't overload the player after every attempt. Vector, by Nikku, is a little encumbering. After every attempt (roughly every minute) a full-screen ad is displayed. This not only annoys the player, but abruptly interrupts the flow and plot of the game.

Placing your ads away from the main focus of the screen creates far less stress for the user, and carefully managing the frequency at which you display ads can also keep your players engaged and entertained while unknowingly supporting the developer.

One thing to avoid at all costs is "pay $2 to get 50 coins!" If the user downloaded the game for free, odds are that he or she will steer clear of paying for anything, unless they become obsessed with the game (Candy Crush Saga). Also avoid using "sign up for Dish to receive 1000 XP" sort of deals. It's completely irrelevant to the user, and encouraging the user to sling his or her credit card information at one random company or another is borderline immoral.


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