After Pokemon Go was released in the US,
it took less than a day before it was making more money
than all the other apps in both Apple’s and Google’s app stores.
“自上周三发布以来 它已获得一千四百万刀的收益 然而还不满一个星期”
“It’s already earned fourteen million dollars in revenue since launching last Wednesday-not even a full week.”
But users didn’t have to pay a cent for the game.
All that money was coming from optional purchases people were making as they played.
This is the word of “freemium” apps
a business model that, in the past few years, has largely wiped out the market for paid games.
Now game designers have to monetize the game play.
And one way to do that is by
applying some the fundamental lessons of behavioral psychology.
The first thing these games do is set up a virtual currency,
so that it doesn’t feel like you’re spending real currency,
even though you are.
This is a variation on something we’ve known for decades
which is that people find it harder to spend money when they’re paying in cash than if they’re using a card.
“So when you pay cash for something, you see it leave your hands
and you get a very immediate sense of like how much your cash reserves have dropped,
how much your wealth has dropped.”
Games add yet another layer.
You pay for lollipop boosters with gold bars
and you pay for gold bars with your credit card,
which is already distanced from the actual payment.
And then on top of that, they don’t make the exchange rate simple.
It’s not 50 gems for 50 cents.
They are always something weird like
one dollar would give you twelve purple diamonds.
和那种 呃 失衡的汇率是一样的
And that sort of, um, off kilter exchange rate is the same thing
你看到人们花钱 呃 比如说游客
you see with people spending, um, like tourists
spending money that they’re not familiar with in foreign countries.
If incense costs 80 pokecoins
and a batch of 550 pokecoins cost $4.99,
how much real money does incense cost?
Yeah, I don’t know either.
So you’re spending money that doesn’t seem real.
And it only takes a second,
because the app store already has your credit card.
The whole payment process is designed to be painless.
Other parts of the game, however, are designed to be painful.
A key finding of behavioral research is that people tend to experience
unexpected losses more intensely than comparable gains.
That can inform the timing of purchase prompts.
In Puzzle & Dragons, players progress through a dungeon before facing a boss.
And if they die, they stand to lose all the rewards they just earned.
That’s when they’re presented with the option
to save their coins and their points by spending magic stones,
which you can buy in the store with real money.
Other developers actively embed inconvenience into the games
so that you can purchase convenience.
In Clash of Clans, and Game of War, everything you try to build
has wait times that get progressively longer
but are skippable for a price.
So they build incentives to sort of
remove pain points into the games.
And then if they want that, then they’ve the incentive to
insert pain points into the game.
Ultimately though, only a tiny percentage of players actually become payers.
And a small percentage of payers are those so-called “whales”-
people who will spend hundreds,
sometimes thousands of dollars in the app.
The marketing firm Swrve estimates that about half of the revenue for mobile games
is coming from less than a half of a percent of all players.
Which means that for some of these games,
non-paying users, which is most people,
are essentially pouring time into a game designed to hit
the pain points of a small susceptible group of players.
If you’re really having fun, that’s great.
But it might be worth rewarding games that find another way.
As of now, the monetization in Pokemon Go is unobtrusive.
It’s kind of tucked away.
And that lack of manipulation is a pretty good reason
to buy some lure modules or some incense.
One argument in favor of free-to-play games and in-app purchases
is that they give develpers a reason to keep updating the game.
And they are collecting tons of data in order to inform those updates.
Things like where you get stuck, where you close the game,
which features are most popular?
All that data can help them keep making a game
that you wanna keep playing.
But it also means that they can tweak the prices
based on individual profiles and behavior.
So if it seems like you’re about to quit,
hey, here’s a discount.
Or if you’re the type of person that will spend a lot of money,
maybe they bump up the prices a little bit.
They can even look at how fancy your phone is
and what country you live in
and set the prices accordingly.
According to one survey, 40% of game developers
said that they were setting different prices for different players.
But the survey was anonymous
and it’s pretty hard to tell which games those are.