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Community Post: Three Keys to Successful Free to Play Stores -

Community Post: Three Keys to Successful Free to Play Stores

Posted by The Community | 09 Aug 2012 |

Free to play, according to the community.

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The rise of Free to Play (F2P) games has allowed individuals like myself ,who have short attention spans when it comes to gaming, to try out various games with no inherent risk involved. This works for me, as there are many good games out there that would not be on my radar if they had a large initial price tag attached to them.

Of the many games that have taken some of my time over the last several months, there are three in particular that are very enjoyable and have similar cash shops; Super Monday Night Combat (SMNC is a MOBA type game), Tribes: Ascend (Billed as the worlds fastest shooter), and Blacklight: Retribution (A semi futuristic first person shooter).

Super Monday Night Combat


All of these games offer a pretty good balance, even for those individuals who choose not to spend any money. However, as a business, you want to encourage the cheapskates such as myself to actually part with some of our hard earned money. This is where the games begin to differentiate themselves.

Both Super Monday Night Combat and Tribes: Ascend have publishers that really seem to understand how the psyche of consumers works, while Perfect World, the publishers of Blacklight: Retribution, seem to somewhat miss the point. Let’s start by pointing out that price in itself is not necessarily the most important factor to consider when purchasing from a Free to Play store, and that’s a good thing for SMNC fans as it can cost $250 to buy all of the available content in one shot.

There are three basic tenants that should be followed with any in game cash shop to encourage spending by players:


With bundles, consumers feel as though they are getting more for their money. Just take a look at McDonald’s extra value meal if you really need to see how this works. People will gladly spend in excess of $6 per meal even though much of that cost covers the fries and soda, which are inherently cheap to produce. Cable companies also seem to truly embrace the bundle with their triple play packages that include cable, internet, and phone service.

In regards to the games mentioned above, SMNC really has a handle on the whole bundle thing. The game allows you to purchase individual characters, vanity items, and taunts for varying prices. Many of their items can cost in excess of $7 each. An example of their deals would include four characters valued at $5 each plus three taunts valued at $3 each bundled together for $20 thus saving the buyer $9. Of course saving is a relative term but that’s the point. People like to feel like they are getting something for nothing.

Tribes also offers bundles that can include deals on weapon packs and skins. Blacklight on the other hand has no current bundles available for sale of any kind.



It has been proven that consumers love sales, even if they aren’t necessarily getting the lowest price. Just ask JC Penny who saw a 40% drop in merchandise moved after switching from ‘sales’ to a static, lower price model. This is another area where SMNC and Tribes both shine. SMNC has weekly sales where you can purchase bundles, characters, and skins for drastically reduced prices. Tribes also has daily sales on weapons allowing for more buying power from the players. Generally speaking, the limited time frame for sales encourages individuals to make a purchase that they may otherwise put off for another time.

As with bundles, sales are another area where Blacklight seems to miss the boat. There are no sales of any kind and this really keeps people from spending the in game currency or “Zen” that they purchase.


The best way for a company to make money is to convince people to purchase your currency even if they never end up spending it. Think of gift cards in the real world. The folks at Barnes and Noble are more than happy to sell you a gift card for $50 because it’s likely you will either not spend the money at all, or spend in excess of the gift card value.

Free to play games tend to abide by this same rule, in Tribes you can purchase in game Gold with real money to purchase in-game items. A quick look at the current gold prices shows that $10 will buy you 800 gold at a cost of 1.3 cents each while $50 will buy you 7,500 gold at a cost of .7 cents. They even break it down for easy consumption by saying that the $50 deal gives you 3,500 gold with a bonus of 4,000 gold. What a deal!

Keeping up with the current theme, Blacklight doesn’t offer any bonuses for buying in bulk. 100 zen will cost you $1 and 1,000 Zen will cost you $10. There is absolutely no incentive to purchase Zen in bulk. This is unfortunate because, as it stands, it leaves players to scrutinize and justify every single purchase they will make in game.

Blacklight Retribution


The goal of this particular article was to highlight some of the basic tenets for a successful F2P cash shop by comparing three free to play games with similar business models. Of these three games Blacklight is the one that I will spend most of my time playing. I would love to support the game by purchasing some in game currency but they haven’t even attempted to make me feel like there is any value in my purchase. Hopefully Perfect World will make some changes to the way the system works as it would be a shame to see them lose money on what is perhaps the best shooter on the market today, paid games included.

What are your thoughts on how various pricing models work?

Bio: We don’t know much about Nathan Evrard, but we do know he likes Free to Play shooters.

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