From oct 2010 my educational posts are published only on Pip

30 aug. 2010

Be the good guys and give them the frickin' money

When starting working with Stardoll, I was convinced that we couldn’t give away too much virtual currency to the users, as they would not have any reason to convert to paying members. In the beginning the poor doll (avatar) was starting off almost naked with no clothes or furniture to play with at all. This soon generated a quite bad reputation – Who wants to stand all naked and alone in an empty room?

Everyone would agree on that this was not a great user experience. We counted and calculated – exactly how much can the user buy for a certain amount of money? Is it enough to learn and appreciate the game, and yet so little that you will need to buy more to have fun?

There have been so many lessons and a timeline in between and today I’m convinced of the opposite.

The first years most of the production plan was set by the users’ requests. We did what they asked for, they formed the game. The early adopters, who to begin with only had ‘half a game’ to play, were, and felt that they were, part of the process. The site developed piece by piece to an entire gameplay.

The only request we didn’t listen to was ‘We want free Stardollars’. We kind of replied that it costs to develop and run this entertainment feature and that it must cost for the users to use it. We tried micro payments, subscriptions, top ups, communication, dual currencies, play to earn a very small daily amount, but the request remained. Some paying members defend the model, but the general attitude is still that this game is not worth paying for – either as there are other places on the Internet to hang out or that you don’t pay for virtual garment or that the more in the game the merrier.

The lesson I believe I have learned from this is to never ignore a frequent request like that. Even if the request itself seems impossible, it must be investigated and rephrased – How can we make the users experience that they get the game for free?

When playing Farmville, almost a year ago, it all stood clear. This was the secret key. You can’t play without currency - that’s what we’ve said all along, but we’ve been the bad guys, forcing those who can to pay. Be the good guys and give the users the frickin’ money instead! Everyone wants to play if they have lots of money. The more the merrier. When having played for a long time, you will need and want the special offers you get in the exactly right moment.

Now I just wonder how hard can it get? Why didn’t I think this before. It’s a tricky balanced puzzle that requires a lot more from you as a game designer, but the clients are still always right and you give the them what they want - lots of free Stardollars.

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