FTP Design Thwarted

Problems with our free-to-play design emerged.

As we analyze the results of Demolish! Pairs FTP, the free-to-play edition of our fun arcade/puzzle game, Demolish! Pairs, this is good time to review the basic design of the IAP (In-App Purchase) products and other options we provide for continuing play.

The Original Design

The first complete plan included the following four IAP products:

  • Golden Ticket  [$3.99] – This product permanently removes all game restrictions and all advertising, providing the same unlimited experience as the “paid” version.
  • Silver Pass  [$2.99] – This product permanently removes all game restrictions (but leaves the advertising in place).
  • Express Pass  [$1.99] – This product permanently removes all advertising (but leaves the game restrictions in place).
  • Two Day Pass  [$0.99] – This product would offer a 48-hour subscription, or a 48-hour extension to a subscription, with no limits or ads.

As we considered the various views that might be necessary to provide notifications of game limits, as well as how we would offer products to eliminate ads, it became clear that one unified store view, which doubles as a notification message, would serve the purpose nicely.  (We plan to refine this idea further.)

Additionally, we added the idea of a button to extend play, for free, which can only be used once each 12 hours.  In practice, we implemented the countdown timer to only begin at the next restriction notification, to make the idea of “appointment” gaming work for us more clearly.  We also limited the extension to the current game (for each player).

The First Hurdle

In an earlier post, Free-to-Play Take 1: Rejected, I documented the initial rejection of Demolish! Pairs FTP due to the fact that the 48-hour subscription was against App Store guidelines, which require all subscriptions to be at least one week.

The original IAP was designed together, as a unit, so each of the buttons would function in conjunction with the others to create the desired “menu” of offerings.  The most expensive (read: still really inexpensive) option was deliberately the same price as the original (“paid”) edition.  The crucial part was to have a cheap option, at only 99 cents, which provided some value, and then another option at each pricing tier.  Once a player commits (mentally) to spending (less than) a dollar, it is only another buck to reach another level of value, and again and again, up to having it all for only $4.  A customer can purchase a middle level of value (Silver Pass or Express Pass) and then, later, obtain the equivalent of a Golden Ticket by purchasing the other one, but the ultimate price difference ($0.99) is the incentive to go for it all at once.

When the lowest tier caused rejection of the game, we quickly removed it, accepting that this destroyed the carefully considered equilibrium of the menu of purchase options.  Also, because of simple mathematics, we could not drop prices and make it work correctly.  We have now designed a replacement (non-subscription) product to provide that least expensive option, though that will take a little more implementation time.

The iAd Problem

As mentioned my last post, FTP: Early Results, the only thing that was absolutely wrong was that iAd had not started serving any ads, so that completely messed up the IAP design.  The Express Pass was pointless, and even looked like some kind of idiocy, because there were no ads to remove in the first place.  On top of that, of course, that also relegated the Golden Ticket to the same value as the Silver Pass, so essentially our whole menu of IAP products had been reduced to merely one logical choice.

Two or three hours after I posted that article, iAd suddenly began serving some ads.  I actually discovered it while playing the game on my iPad just for fun and, unexpectedly, getting an advertisement for Small Business Saturday, after which I was able to confirm a handful of ad impressions (for thousands of requests).  I had never been so excited to see an online ad, and it briefly looked better.

Unfortunately, though ads are being served occasionally, the fill rate is still far below 4% (i.e., 1 ad for every 25 requests), which is almost worse.  Now, the very irregular ad appearances make them almost novel, so there is no real incentive for an Express Pass (nor for choosing a Golden Ticket over a Silver Pass), and there is no indication that the fill rate is going to improve substantially.  As an unexpected twist, most of the few ads that do show up look fine and unobtrusive; in fact, the blue and gold of the most common banner, from Progressive Insurance, almost matches our menu color scheme exactly.

The Next Step

Our next step will be analyzing customer behaviors to see if we can glean any useful information from the limited number of downloads so far.  We have a custom analytics package (that I developed) built into the app but we were waiting to see how the initial release progressed before “flipping the switch” to begin actual reporting.  It now seems fairly clear that our server will not be overwhelmed…

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