What virtual good earned $75 billion in revenue? Michael Kalkowski, co-founder of GameDuell humorously opened with this question and went on to list the 10 essential features that improve monetization in social games.
So what virtual good was it? Michael revealed that it was letters of indulgence, which 15th century Dominican friar sold these to sinners.Â These goods were based on fear, and Michael explained that it was emotional triggering that caused people to get up and purchase these goods that gave them peace of mind. Certainly, the religious connection made for an easier sales pitch.
So if you’re a game developer, without the ability or desire to terrify your users into buying virtual goods, what can you do? Michael looked at the top 10 features that improve monetization and are featured in the top 25 social games that exist today.
10. Daily Bonuses
Bejeweled Blitz, for instance, has a daily bonus and a slot machine so that players can win a random amount each day. This has been known by casino’s forever, and social games are using it to great advantage. Michael shoed a great chart showing how PopCap fought off a downward slope simply through daily bonuses.
People love rescuing and sharing cute animals. GameDuell doubled the number of feed entries from their game by introducing unlockable cute fuzzy animals.
“In 6 hours a very skilled artisan will show up in your city to help you build a Shrine.” These kinds of scheduled gameplay moments are rampant in games, and of course cause users to come back regularly. Farm games rely heavily on this mechanism. Appointment plus the risk of losing something is powerful to people.
Before play sessions, you can buy boosts to help you compete at the highest possible level. They should be consumable and deplete over time.
This refers to any scarce resource that limits how much a player can do in a given play session. Players can wait for a refill or buy a new amount of energy to continue playing. Michael explained that it’s like buying a part of your life back, which is one of the most attractive things to human beings.
5. Achievements & Quests
There are all kinds of rewards for quests and achieving certain levels, but Michael emphasized that functional rewards work best and excite users. His example was Mafia Wars, and when it introduced achievements and loot, the number of Daily Active Users increased steadily for a few months.
Michael also hinted at cross-app questing, something which Zynga has been doing more lately. Complete Mafia Wars quests and get Frontierville knives, for instance.
4. Neighbour Interactions
Visit your friends and do 5 actions in FrontierVille, and you get XP, Coins and Hearts. Hearts determines your ‘reputation’, which determines how much bonus you and your friends get for continuing to help. It’s the evolution of a “multidimensional reinforcing engagement viral loop”, according to Michael. This is true, and I see it as the early stage of social evolution.
The “strongest viral element” that Michael observed was groups of friends. In the restaurant games, you can hire your friends to your restaurant and it saves you money as well as gives them bonuses. It also has that social advantage of just seeing your friends work.
Mafia Wars uses crews wisely, as every friend you bring into your crew confers you with another advantage.
The horse stable in FarmVille requires a series of different elements to create. You can’t get all the items yourself, so you have to send feed posts to ask friends for help. When FarmVille introduced the horse stable, their Daily Active Users increased by 20% in March of 2010.
1. Limited Offers
This is all about merchandising and smart marketing, and an easy way to introduce this is to put special offers directly into your payment flow. “24 hour sales”, “Buy now and get 2 for 1” and other sales tactics can increase revenue by 20%.
The other method is to create limited items that are limited in time (on Holidays) or limited in quantity (only 500 items in the world). This makes users that don’t usually buy, buy. You can “literally see the bumps in your revenue charts.” Problem is that they must be limited, and if you over extend you lose their power.
And if you’re interested, here’s an image of those letters of indulgence. Get in touch with GameDuell if you need to repent!