Yesterday, I talked about how monetization is best when a player wants to spend money. Before you really sell something to someone, though, you need to understand what you’re really selling. Let’s have a look at this GDC Vault presentation on D&D Online: Stormreach.
Quick history lesson: D&D Online: Stormreach started as a subscription-based MMORPG. They went free-to-play, and their monthly active users multiplied by 10 and their monthly revenues multiplied by 5. On top of that, they managed to monetize 20% of their players, which is an incredible conversion rate.
Now, let’s have a look at their top-selling items from September 2009 through February 2010.
Top Sellers by Units Sold
- Siberys Spirit Cake (Consumable. Resurrection item)
- Major Experience Elixir (Consumable. XP booster)
- Moderate Heal Potion x50 (Consumable. Health potion)
- Copper Sigil of Leveling (Upgrade. Raises level cap)
- Medium Jewel of Fortune x5 (Consumable. Loot booster)
- Best SP Potion x10 (Consumable. Spell Potion)
- Greater Siberys Spirit Cake (Consumable. Resurrection item)
- Greater Experience Elixir (Consumable. XP booster)
- Bell of Opening (Consumable. Unlocks locked chests and doors without need of a rogue)
- +1 Full Plate (Equipment. Survivability)
The biggest trend that jumps out to me is that all of these items, with the exception of the +1 Full Plate and Copper Sigils of Leveling, are consumables. Two of those items are resurrection items, two are XP boosters, and two are related to getting more treasure.
(As an aside, the Copper Sigil of Leveling has since been removed from the game. Previously, its function was to raise a character’s level cap from 4 to 8. The designers wisely decided that it was better to retain a free player than effectively tell them to stop playing if they didn’t convert after a certain level.)
The biggest lesson we can take from this is, in retrospect, obvious. The items that sell the most units are ones that players will frequently use and are consumed upon use. You can sell these items multiple times to each player, they’re often cheap, and they save the players some time.
Now let’s have a look at the biggest earners.
Top Sellers by Revenue
- 32 Point Build Characters (Power. Character stats.)
- Major Experience Elixir (Consumable. XP booster)
- +2 Tome of Supreme Ability (Power. Character stats.)
- Siberys Spirit Cake (Consumable. Resurrection item.)
- Favored Soul Class (Content. New class)
- Drow Race (Content. New race)
- Character Slot (Upgrade. Additional player options)
- +1 Tome of Supreme Ability (Power. Character stats.)
- Monk Class (Content. New class.)
- Veteran Status Characters (Convenience. Higher starting level)
When you look at this list and compare it to the previous one, you’ll notice that this list only has two consumables: An XP booster and a resurrection item. The other eight items are comprised of three content unlocks, two power upgrades, and a convenience upgrade. There’s a lot more diversity here, but the general trend I’m noticing here is that the top revenue earners are dominated by permanent upgrades.
You can charge a lot more for permanent unlocks, and they bring in a lot of revenue, but you do need to be a little cautious with them. For one, their effects are permanent. If a permanent upgrade provides paying players with an extreme advantage, you face the risk of alienating other players. This is especially risky in the case of games with a heavy player versus player element. Every time that permanent unlock is used to the detriment of another player, it’s creating a negative experience. That permanent unlock won’t just be used once. It’s going to be used dozens of times. Hundreds of times. You need to make sure that unlock makes the game a more interesting experience for everyone, even the person it’s wielded against, or the price of your revenue is going to be the lifetime of the game.
The other big thing you need to watch out for with permanent unlocks is that you can only sell them so many times per player. If a player pays to unlock a new class, they can’t unlock it a second time. This is obvious, but it is something to consider. In order to sell it again, you need to convince another player to buy it. Not everything is going to appeal to everyone, so if you want to monetize through unlockable content, you need to release more of it. I want to be clear that this isn’t a warning against using permanent unlocks. Not everyone is willing to buy consumables, and adding new content in particular adds to your game’s value and feature set. Every time League of Legends adds a new champion, the game gets a little deeper and people start talking, and with 27 million daily active users, they have to be doing something right.
So, to wrap things up. Monetized consumables provide a steady stream of revenue because players use them all the time and can buy them over and over again. Monetized unlocks provide bursts of revenue as long as you have players capable of buying them. Consumables provide you with a safe and stable source of revenue that you can always count on, and unlocks are literal game-changing features that can hit those high numbers.
Before we stop for now, though, don’t underestimate consumables! That Major Experience Elixir is number 2 on both lists, and Candy Crush Saga is nothing but consumables. Until next time!
Addendum: I should note that if I had the sales numbers, I’d be able to draw more detailed conclusions (or perhaps entirely different conclusions!). These numbers are also about four years old, but when it comes to publicly available monetization data, you take what you can get.