You’re in the zone on your favorite puzzle game, carefully disassembling a level that has perplexed you for days. This time, you catch the false move that would have doomed you before you commit to it, and a moment later, you finally seize sweet victory!
“You beat level 12! Share your accomplishment on Facebook for a free coin booster!”
If you’ve played free-to-play mobile or browser games, you’ve seen this for sure. Read on to learn why reaching your social network is so important to game developers, and whether or not it’s worth it for you.
What’s In It For Them
Why are developers so eager to reward you for sharing their games with your friends? The reasons have to do with how free games generate revenue.
The Human Billboard
How often do you click an ad banner? Probably not too frequently unless the topic or item really speaks to you, right? Many of them are misleading, flashy appeals that smack of exaggeration. It’s only natural to be skeptical.
But what happens when a close friend can’t stop talking about a game? When they go on and on about how awesome and exciting it is? You trust their enthusiasm is sincere, because they have no motivation to mislead you.
Developers don’t have to ask you to sell your friends on games directly. Instead, they reward you for talking about the game through shares and invitations. They’re hoping that if your friends see regular notifications about their game, they might one day ask you what it’s all about. In a staggeringly crowded market of free-to-play content, that puts your friends on the road from being skeptics, to being players in their game.
The 89-10-1 Rule
Once you’re into a free-to-play game, you won’t play for too long before you brush up against a monetization tactic. Some games monetize through ad imprints, and in those cases, every share means more players looking at more ads. Other games monetize players via a cash shop of some kind. They implement this in a variety of different ways, but the end goal is always the same: publishers want you to spend real money on virtual perks and prestige items.
“They won’t get a dime out of me,” you say, “I have the discipline to play through without paying for help!”
Well, assuming the game gives you a fair shot at succeeding without spending (many do), or lets you get around gameplay restrictions by inviting friends, you don’t have to. You’re in the 89% part of the 89-10-1 rule.
The actual numbers vary from game to game, but the general idea is the same. About nine out of ten players will choose to spend nothing if the game allows them to progress without spending. Of the remaining 10%, nine out of ten will spend a modest few dollars each month. But that final 1%? They’re the big spenders. They’re known to spend dozens, or even hundreds of dollars each month to have the best of everything in their favorite game. App marketing firm Swrve even estimates that half of in-app purchase revenue comes less than a fifth of a percent of players.
With such a small fraction of players spending so aggressively, these games need to deal in big numbers of players to find the spenders. Maybe the 10 friends who accept your invitation to play don’t pay anything, but if each of them brings in 10 people too, odds are the game just attracted 1 more big spender.
What’s In It For You
Seems like the game makers are getting a pretty good deal from your willingness to share, but there are benefits to connecting your Facebook account too.
Developers love to give away little bonuses to players who help them out, and if you’re genuinely enjoying their games, it’s a great way to get benefits that might otherwise cost real money. Maybe it’s some kind of experience point or in-game currency booster. It could be extra chances to play the game immediately, instead of having to wait for those chances to recharge over a few hours. Maybe even a special hat for your character that only recruiters for the game get to wear.
One thing you risk by sharing game announcements or inviting Facebook friends is that they’ll get annoyed if you do it repeatedly. Don’t be surprised if they take active steps to silence spam posts. Respect the wishes of anyone who asks you to stop sending requests, and you’ll likely be fine. You might also be able to change the privacy options on the app in Facebook so that announcements from the game are visible only to you. As long as nobody has to like, share, or join to get you the perk, you’ll get all the benefits of sharing your progress, without bothering your friends.
Competition And Community
The other big benefit of connecting games to Facebook is that you may find more friends who play what you love. Many free games have competitive or cooperative social elements, and they’re designed from the ground up to offer the most interesting gameplay to people who interact with each other. While you can rely on random matchmaking to find friends or foes, things will be a lot more interesting with players you know personally.
This feature is also a boon to game developers though. If it’s a game in which you cooperate with your friends, there’s a chance you might gift them microtransaction items or currency at some point, even if you’d never make that kind of purchase for yourself. In a competitive game, a close match between you and your friends might encourage you to spend a few bucks to get the edge you need to win. Validation from your friends is a powerful motivator, and game developers aren’t afraid to leverage it to encourage you to spend.
So What Should I Do?
After this little peek behind the curtain, it’s understandable that you might feel used. “How dare they leverage me to get into my friends’ wallets,” you say!
But think about it for a moment. This paradigm for monetizing things isn’t much different from the advertising that’s powered radio, television, and the Internet for years. You get something for free (a game that amuses you, your favorite TV show, an endless stream of music), but its creators make their money by offering all content consumers opportunities to buy things on the side. Some bite the hook, some don’t. You’re under no obligation to pay money, or advertise their content for a kickback if you feel their tactics are too manipulative.
If you think you or a friend may have reached a point where all the playing, sharing, and buying has become a damaging addiction though, there are ways to help break the habit.
Did you know that this was why you were being asked to share? Will you keep connecting your games to Facebook now that you do know? Talk it out in the comments.