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Today was an interesting counterpoint to yesterday. Saw a number of talks, but I'm finding that the ones that attract me lie at the intersection of game design and money. It's a tough nut to crack - how do we structure the transaction so that the player feels good about their decision to spend? How do we developers send the message that we appreciate their support?

Yesterday, as I posted, I saw a fantastic talk about player-centric monetization design that gave me hope. Others are out there on the same crusade. So that's cool. Hang in there. We're not all evil.

Today, I saw the flip side in a talk that was much more directly about designing for monetization. The speaker did a great job of trying to handle the sensitivity of the subject, but didn't shy away from the realities of today's game market, either. Still, he had his work cut out for him.

At one point, he talked about push notifications, and onscreen was a picture of a woman in a park, sitting in the sunshine on the green grass with an infant playing and exploring next to her. Instead of interacting with the child, she was playing on her phone, and the voice track was "Don't be afraid to use push notifications and bring your players back when there's something interesting to see."

Someone in the audience shouted out "How is this not evil?"

The speaker stopped a moment, and said "Because the player has chosen to turn it on. If they want to turn it off, they can. My point is that it's there, and they do a good job of delivering it, so you shouldn't be afraid to use it and let the player decide." (Paraphrasing, not actual quote.)

Later in the talk, he told about a client he was consulting with and reviewing their monetization scheme. The store where hard currency was bought was 4 clicks from the core game loop. He suggested they put an option to buy right before going into the main sports game, and found it resulted in an 80% boost in revenue. He then asked the audience "Who here wouldn't want an 80% boost in revenue."

I chickened out. I was on the cusp of raising my hand, but wasn't really clear on why I wanted to or what I'd say, and I have to say I really wish I'd raised my hand. If he asked why, I'd respond "What did the players think of having that screen pop up right before they want to play a game?" There's something that still just sits wrong with me when an 80% boost in revenue is the only part of the equation we value.

To end on a higher note, saw a fantastic talk by Emily Greer of Kongregate, which is summarized here:
and also gave me hope. In fact, I've got a bunch of ideas from that talk that I want to implement in an update of Frog Bog - some things we can do that add value to the game for players without being disrespectful or manipulative in how the player pays.

I think in the end, we're going to look back and realize the first critics were right - doing 'free' to play games has established a baseline in the players' minds that these games should be free, and that's silly. It took talent and hard work to get the games made, and it provides entertainment value. Giving it away for free has reset players' expectations.

The best response to that I've heard is that it's not free - even if a player never pays a dime in your game, if it's designed right, they can still add value, by:
- showing it to their friends
- providing opponents for PvP games
- viewing ads
- offering feedback

Those are hard to quantify in terms of impact to food-on-the-table, but it's true that we need to expand the value proposition of players beyond simply extracting money and start celebrating that more players playing more games more often is more gooder!
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