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Casual Connect Asia 2013 – GameStop (Kongregate) – F2P success strategies

The title of the presentation may have been long, but GameStop’s principal for business development, David Chiu, gave a wealth of stats that reinforced a lot of what you might have heard and know, but it also had some surprised that were backed up by data from stats from game portal Kongregate.

Hence, “Maximizing Player Retention and Monetization in Free-to-Play Games: Comparative Stats for Asian & Western Games” probably ranked as the best session for me on day 2 of Casual Connect Asia 2013 which was held in Singapore.

Some stats about Kongregate:

  • 15 million monthly uniques
  • Core gamers are 85% male,
  • Average age of 21
  • Most popular game genres are MMO (massively multiplayer online), RPG (roleplaying games), CCG/TCG (collectible card games/trading card games), TD (tower defense), shooters


Kongregate uses the following metrics in measuring Free-to-Play (F2P) games:

  • Daily active users (DAU)
  • Income per DAU
  • 1- and 7- day retention to a lesser extent MAU (monthly active users) and 30- day retention
  • All stats are calculated based on the lifetime of the player on the platform, based on a minimum of 6 weeks on the platform
  • Revenue is broken down into 2 segments: ARPU (average revenue per user) and ARPPU (average revenue per paying user)
  • A player is definied as a Kongregate registered user who has loaded game page at least once
  • Number of plays is definited by the number of sessions played and is the preferred method to measure player retention

David showed a series of graphs and charts, of which I’ll post a summary here. If I get access to the presentation, I might link out to it.

These stats will give you a rough idea of what was shown.


MMOs outperform single player games (not too surprising)

Single player games tend to have lower ARPU $5-10 range

MMOs have a greater variance in their range: $20-350, thought the majority of them fall within $0 to $3 range. Having said that MMOs feature a few outliers that kick ass. Big spenders can spend in excess of $300+ and there is a linear correlation between how hardcore a player is and their spending patterns.


When it comes to ARPPU (paying users) game developers can take heart that big spenders (ie “whales”) are not caught, they are created. The longer you can keep them in-game, the more opportunities you can present them to spend.

Asia F2P games vs Western F2P games vs Mixed F2P games

This is going to be a little tough without the chart, so bear with me.

Asian MMOs have a higher ARPPU of $181 vs $54 for western MMO.

Asian MMOs have lower conversion rates for new player signups vs Western equivalents.

Asian games have slightly lower retention, defined as the percentage of people who have played 50+ times.

In general with Asian games have higher ARPPU, tight player funnel and caters to big spenders.

Western games have good intiail retention, broad conversion at lower prices, and the Pay-to-win model (where you might have to unlock a paid stage or purchase a key to finish the game) is not accepted by Western game players.

Mixed games are defined as games which have a mix of elements from both Asian and Western games. They tend to have high conversion rates, have a wide funnel and can create big spenders.

When it comes to monetizing your game, the cardinal rule is that the more people play, the more likely they are to buy and they are also more likely to spend more.(repeat of the last section but this is an important one).

With Western multiplayer games, 55% of ARPPU revenue is generated by people who play 500+ times.

With Asian multiplayer ARPPU, 58% of revenue is generated by pepoel who play 500+.

F2P best practises for optimizing retention

Keep players engaged

Daily play bonuses – motivate players to come back regularly. There are many ways to improve on the 5-7 day cycle of daily bonuses With one successful title, Wartune, every day you check in, you get a stamp, up to 26 days. With longer time = better stickiness. Wartune’s system doesn’t reset every 5-7 days, doesn’t punish for missing a day. With another game (from one of my favourite studios, Edgebee) Card Monsters’ daily login opens up bigger rewards on successful days.

Use of punishments – Punishments can deter unwanted behaviour, but they can also drive away players if not used correctly: Don’t punish people for taking a break (castle raided, troops killed).

Players need a break from time to time, it’s a psychological need.  Exams, vacations, illness are some of the more common reasons for taking a break from gameplay. Having strong punishments (ie: other players raiding their castle, stripping resources, killing all their troops, etc) may otherwise drive away users who might have been re-activated after their break.

Getting whipped for not playing regularly will create a “there’s no point coming to the game since I lost everything” mentality.

Meting out punishment:

  • Punishment should sting but not handicap players permanently.
  • Limit losses and allow easy recovery. Eg: when raided, enable shield or protection if you lose a lot of troops.
  • Mix in positive reinforcement – allow one-step rebuild (vs rebuilding 100 buildings

Player engagement
Wartune keeps players busy with various types of activities (PvP, PvE, team PvP, team PvE, individual raid bosses, world raid bosses, etc).

More things to do = more players staying

It’s important to continually add new features, but pace the gameplay and introducing of new game elements so the learning curve is not intimidating.

Players don’t want long, boring tutorials.

Track player’s progress:  Without progress you have nothing. Not having a way of keeping score means your players can’t measure how they are doing.

Asychronous does better than synchronous (online at same time): asynchronous (aka “fake multiplayer” where the other player’s character is controlled by the computer AI) vs both players having to be online at the same time so they can fight.

*Important*: Shopping should be easy and frictionless

  • Location, location, location – If your store can’t be found easily, how are players going to buy stuff?
  • Help them buy: make easy to find the right item, include detailed descriptions
  • Mix soft, hard currency items
  • Don’t sell stuff too early, the first few sessions should focus on engagement, enjoyment, building the relationship with the player.
  • Buy screen: show discounts for large packages, do math for the player (don’t make them have to whip out a calculator and see how much they will save buying items in bulk)
  • Less friction in buying process = better conversion
  • Hide $100+ package until after first purchases. Big ticket items can scare away new players
  • Make shopping experience interesting -firstime buyers can be presenter with a cheaper, good value starter packs (helps them get over the first hump of buying their first item)
  • Help them walkthrough their first purchase
  • Get players in the habit of buying deals/events to get them into the habit of spending money
  • Look for items which enhance gameplay, not just producing/build speedups
  • Keep them coming back, keep your store fresh – add new items, seasonal, time limited items
  • Look at items like a timer counting down before the deal expires
  • Look at gamification elements in the buying process. In Asian games, players can “level up” and earn points and perks for buying
  • Let players can spend as much as they want – Give them the ability to spend $1,000 if they want to
  • Have lots of items, introduce variety. Have stuff which is appealing, useful to hardcore/committed players and also items for early, mid play.
  • If you make a fun game, someone may want to spend infinite amounts of cash on your game.

Best practices for community building

Make it easy for a community to develop – provision for players to easily create chatroom, forums. This lets players easily build relationships.

Kongregate monetizes better compared to other platform (more sticky userbase, real relationships result in higher ARPU (can be 5-10x higher compared to Facebook)


*IMPORTANT* Guilds are awesome

All top games have guilds.

Guild members spend 10-20x more than normal players.

Guild members have a social incentive to return – to see their friends

Social pressure element is in play- “I don’t want to disappoint my buddies, so I’ll be sure to show up for the raid, rack up points, etc”

Psychology of buying is boosted in guilds and hence spending goes up- “I’m doing it for team, not me”


Community mgt and customer service

Important, especially for Western audience. Expectation of good quality control, customer service.

It may be your game, but it’s their experience.

Be visible – on forums, chat, email.

Listen to conerns (you don’t always have to agree with criticism), acknowledge their emotions, be transparent, honest, accurate (especially with game downtime, give advanced notice of upgrades)

You can use downtime to surprise with good customer service and as an opportunity to give out some freebies and delight players (ie: Sorry for the downtime, here are some credits you can use in our premium store).

Consider the marginal cost of virtual good vs losing a player. Do what you need to retain players, but don’t do something unless you are willing to do for everyone. Players talk to each other, so if you show favour, it will come back to bite you.



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