How do free-to-play games make money?

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

How do free-to-play games make money? By tricking players into buying just a little help:

A coercive monetization model depends on the ability to “trick” a person into making a purchase with incomplete information, or by hiding that information such that while it is technically available, the brain of the consumer does not access that information. Hiding a purchase can be as simple as disguising the relationship between the action and the cost as I describe in my Systems of Control in F2P paper.

Research has shown that putting even one intermediate currency between the consumer and real money, such as a “game gem” (premium currency), makes the consumer much less adept at assessing the value of the transaction. Additional intermediary objects, what I call “layering”, makes it even harder for the brain to accurately assess the situation, especially if there is some additional stress applied.

This additional stress is often in the form of what Roger Dickey from Zynga calls “fun pain”. I describe this in my Two Contrasting Views of Monetization paper from 2011. This involves putting the consumer in a very uncomfortable or undesirable position in the game and then offering to remove this “pain” in return for spending money. This money is always layered in coercive monetization models, because if confronted with a “real” purchase the consumer would be less likely to fall for the trick.


  1. Red says:

    There’s an alternative to the F2P and monthly model of payments. Eve online has a system where for the price of a 1 month subscription you buy 30 days worth of game in a in game item and then sell that item to other players in game. It’s called the PLEX system and about 1/5 of the game accounts are funded by plex. The people buying the plex are either newer players or players who don’t want to spend the time farming the games PvE content to earn money. The people selling the plex either play a great deal or have well established sources of income that allows them to play for free.

    PLEXs can even be transported by ship and are often stolen or destroyed by other players on the way to market.

    Eve has created a system to allow people to get a bit ahead or remove boredom that’s not fundamentally exploitative.

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