Older players spend more on freemium games?

In the social gaming webspace, companies vie to produce headline grabbing research and/ or claims on their blogs to show (potential investors) how much evidence there is to support their business models. I’m not saying the research or claims are wrong – only that you have to take them with a grain of salt.

This is the category in which BigPoint Games claim that players are perfectly OK with pay-to-win cash shops falls. It could be true, but it’s a message for investors. As is today’s headline catching research finding from Flurry that older players pay more in freemium games. This particular survey focussed on freemium games on mobile phones, and they sound to be more like social games than MMOs.

They show that younger players (under 24) spend more time and less money in these games than older ones. And the 25-54 year old age group accounts for almost 80% of revenue. So basically, the core users are not the core spenders. I’m sure if devs could think of a way to appeal more strongly to the older, spendier, age group they’d do it.

But what can we conclude about this, really? As they say on their blog, older players are likely to have more money and more commitments (less time). Maybe if the younger players had more money, they’d spend even more than the older ones.

But simply having more money and less time doesn’t answer why they spend more, even when they are mostly paying to avoid time-wasting grinding. They could have simply ditched the game and found one that was more simpatico with their available time. Bejewelled, after all, doesn’t care if you only have 10 minutes during lunchtime to play it. Or spend the extra cash on something else.

Maybe as achievers get older, they get even more focussed on the actual achievements and perks and have less patience for jumping through hoops to get them. Especially when their own income has increased and they are more used to paying to avoid things they don’t want to do personally. Or maybe buying virtual luxury goods is the poor man’s equivalent of the mid-life crisis sports car. But it would be fun to do an experiment with giving a load of players of different ages a bunch of cash shop points for some game and seeing whether the older players spend more than the younger ones.

And it does leave the question: If you know that most of your paying players will pay to avoid grinds, doesn’t it make sense to design more and more grinds into your game so that you can sell short cuts?

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28 thoughts on “Older players spend more on freemium games?

  1. I might echo: “If you know that most of your players only care about the endgame, and they are paying for time, doesn’t it make sense to make the road to the endgame as long as possible?”

      • Seems like pretty similar economic pressures to me. I don’t think it’s obvious or inevitable at all that designers choose to abuse their players.

      • It has and it hasn’t. While in WoW, for example, the road to 85 is almost a teleport. But the end game isn’t 85… it starts there, but then you get faction and gear grinding so you can get to the “real” end game. They’ve shifted the time sink from the level path to the gear path.

      • I don’t know about abuse, but in traditional models (eg. board games, single player games) your players are the people who pay the bills. So ‘entertain your customers’ is good business as well as good practice for game designers. But what happens to that when the people who pay are a small proportion of the player base? Maybe you’re right and it makes no difference to design decisions, but surely if management are jumping up and down on your head and saying “if we can’t increase revenues next quarter we’ll have to start letting people go” it’s something to take into account?

    • Tesh, your analysis misses the point here. Time to endgame, in a subscription game, if too long, functions as a barrier to new players, who want to catch up with their already-playing friends who are already at level cap. This has no analogy in a cash shop for xp game, so your analysis fails. An analysis of sub games with the gear endgame shows that most not only nerf old leveling content as they raise the level cap, but the “recruit-a-friend” bonus xp feature has also been rapidly spreading throughout the genre. If you want to make a more salient analogy, look at the various gating strategies at the current endgame stage for these subscription games.

  2. “If you know that most of your paying players will pay to avoid grinds, doesn’t it make sense to design more and more grinds into your game so that you can sell short cuts?”

    This is my single biggest gripe with “F2P” games. Subscription games will string you along for time, but usually not by dangling a carrot in front of you that promises to be “the real game”. F2P encourages actively making your game worse so that players can pay to improve it.

    @longasc: LotRO seems so full of (luckily optional at my stage in the game) grinds like the virtue ones. (Though there’s also rep, and item xp, and badges of various forms and…) I wonder how much of that already existed before F2P. I know virtues were around back at launch and item XP came with Moria (and therefore before F2P.) But what about all the badges and stuff?

    • There were badges with Lothlorien and Mirkwood, before F2P. I don’t actually think LOTRO has changed much in that particular respect. They designed the game with all those grinds and crazy travel requirements from the start.

      The shenanigans with the Isengard pre-order and some of the rather highly priced cosmetics are possibly more questionable.

    • > Subscription games will string you along for time,
      > but usually not by dangling a carrot in front of you
      > that promises to be “the real game”.

      Yes, they would never add a stupid daily hub stacked with chained dailies that take forever to complete and sell that as major content for people who don’t raid.

      After all that would be an insult to their customers. (opinion, not a fact)

      • One month, under 30 minutes a day, = forever???

        Or are we not talking about WoW 4.2 here? If not, then what are you talking about?

      • I would say that a game that expects you to spend 15 hours (one month x half an hour) doing something boring so that you can do something fun at the end of it, better make damn sure that the reward at the end of the grind is worth the pain.

        I think my grinding days are over with, frankly.

      • The current WoW shows very well the nasty side of the subscription model. It shows how Blizzard adds stupid barriers to keep you paying instead of improving the game to make it more fun.

        Yes, F2P has the risk that stupid grinds are added. But at least you can remove them with money. Subscription games too have the risk that stupid barriers are added. And those can only be removed by boring game play and not with money.

        I’m not sure if I would like to play a F2P game but I’m quite sure that I’ll never play a subscription game again that contains a lot of boring tasks with the only goal to keep me paying. Grinds can be fun, artificial rationed daily quests are not.

      • I did say subscription games string you along to make you spend more money. They give you just-good-enough content at a slow pace to keep you going. What they don’t (tend to) do Is tell you: “Here is this awesome game you could be playing, but first do something really boring for a long time.”
        WoW shows this, time-to-raid is constantly shortened on both the leveling and the gearing side. (As far as I can tell, from a player who quit somewhere mid Icecrown and has only been an outside observer since.)

      • Bear in mind that not all sub games are the same. It’s a category that includes pure sandbox games like EVE and Tale in the Desert as well as WoW.

      • > They give you just-good-enough content at a slow pace to keep you going.

        I agree but I think there is a difference between “just-good-enough content at a slow pace” and “not good enough but abusing the sunk cost fallacy” to keep you paying. And I think stuff like 4.2 daily hub, without having experienced it, is on the “sunk cost fallacy” side.

        > Bear in mind that not all sub games are the same

        Of course not. The same is true for F2P.

        But a lot of people are scared by the F2P model (rightfully so). And at the same time they are not scared by the subscription model while Blizzard shows us how you can abuse the subscription model and use it to the players disadvantage.

    • The badges are something different from grind for the sake of grind (or grind for the sake of making you buy your way out of it). Badge systems are a way of letting players choose their reward and reducing randomness – instead of the Orc Boss having a 5% chance of dropping the Really Neat Sword, now he drops 5 tokens and after you’ve collected 100 tokens you can send off to the NPC Mail Order Epic Shop for the sword instead. On average you need to do the same number of Orc Boss kills and we’re spared the horror stories of players who have fought the Orc Boss 500 times but been denied their Really Neat Sword by the cruel caprice of the Random Number Generator.

      Of course the system has downsides- there’s no chance of being the lucky git who got the Really Neat Sword on their first every run of the dungeon, collecting tokens just doesn’t feel as heroic as seeing what goodies are in the treasure chest this time, and if everyone gets given an equal numberof tokens then your guild doesn’t need a DKP system and is thus deprived of a rich source of drama and controversy…

  3. This is the tragic dilemma of F2P (where F2P is taken to mean “cash-shop games”… funny thay F2P lost its meaning as real free-to-play, like an old MUD):
    – if the game is too convenient, nobody spends a dime in the cash shop
    – you cannot make it too much pay-to-win or you’ll alienate a lot of players
    – the only solution left are time sinks and ways to reduce/avoid them.

    LotRO is a good example, the grind/time wasted can always be shortened by paying (virtues, crafting, travel) and at the same time they are never game-breaking (one of the hunter guides I read about LotRO was saying about virtues: “ignore them, the stat bonus is not worth the time spent”).

    I must say that I’m happy with the subscription approach: as long as I play, I pay and I get the full thing. When I’m bored, goodbye (it’s not like I would log in anyway, so not having access when the subscription ends is not a big deal).

  4. I would have the say the line that older players have more money to spend is the key. When you do not have any cash those F2P games are not very appealing to most. Some are to the point where you can not even reasonably compete without spending cash.

    On the other hand, some people that have some disposable cash gravitate to games like that because they know they can make up for the lack of time, lack of ability, or lack of knowledge with a little bit of cash and feel like they can still compete. The key here is they feel if they ever fall behind they can always pay to catch up.

    I honestly see nothing wrong with that. If someone has the money and wants to spend it I say let them. However, you will not find me playing one of those types of games, at least not seriously.

    My personal feeling about paying to play is that it ruins the point of the game. Paying for cosmetic things makes perfect sense, it does not effect game play and generates profit for the game makers, but paying for other things such as gear or bonus experience like some games have it just wrong. Where is the sense of achievement if everything is given to you?

    To each their own really. There is a place in the market for all types and the way it seems is that the type willing to pay are usually the type that has the money and those people are usually older and have decent jobs and free time with nothing else to spend a few bucks a week on.

    Personally, I like the grinds. I doubt I would ever be attracted to a game where I could buy my way past the grind. I would get bored to quickly and move along to something else because there would be nothing left for me to do if I bought everything.

    • > Paying for cosmetic things makes perfect sense, it
      > does not effect game play and generates profit for
      > the game makers, but paying for other things such
      > as gear or bonus experience like some games have it
      > just wrong. Where is the sense of achievement if
      > everything is given to you?

      Actually, you’re argument boils down to “Paying for things I don’t need makes perfect sense, but paying for things I want is just wrong.”

      Please, please stop assuming that the best armor is the most important thing for everybody. There are a lot of people who are more after “cute” things then after cold stats.

      Please stop assuming that buying a better armor is paying to win and buying a pet is not. If your goal is obtaining a cure item, then buying said item is paying to win.

      • That’s not what paying to win means. Paying to win strictly refers to buying an item, which has stats/effects that let you win. If your goal is obtaining a cute item, then buying said item is paying to acquire. It’s not paying to win, unless it’s an MMO where you defeat bosses/other players in pvp, with cuteness.

        Winning = competition. So, I guess in some game where the leaderboard is comprised of whomever acquired the most cute pets, then buying cosmetic items with real cash is paying 2 win. Does neopets work like that? There might be other games that work like that, I suppose.

        I don’t think anyone who originally was involved in coining or using the term paying2win really cares about neopets, however. Might be easier to coin your own jargon Kring, since those 2 genres are generally so disconnected. The goal of language is to communicate, not create confusion.

      • My point was that it’s incorrect to say that “paying for cute texture” is fine but “paying for a higher number” is bad. At least not in a PvE game.

        You might get excited about higher numbers on your character sheet, someone else might get excited about a special texture on his mount/pet/gear. It’s not like you absolutely need that gear for todays content.

        Would it be so different if Blizzard would sell T13 in an item shop compared to a mount? I think not, not at all.

        T13 would probably feel less special because everyone can buy it but the same is true for a cash shop mount.

        T13 would feel less special because you didn’t “work hard” to aquire it but the same is true for a cash shop mount. A cash shop mount can never be as special as a winterspring tiger or a baron mount or mimirons head.

        T13 would probably increase your characters power but that’s neglectable. It’s rather unlikely to be hold back by your gear in todays WoW, most of the time you’re hold back by your or someone elses “capabilities”.

        “Paying for cosmetic things makes perfect sense” is the same as “paying for things I don’t intend to acquire makes perfect sense”.

      • “My point was that it’s incorrect to say that “paying for cute texture” is fine but “paying for a higher number” is bad. At least not in a PvE game.”

        Then your point itself is incorrect.

        Let’s be clear here. Most people who say that paying for a cute texture is fine, but paying for better gear/stats is bad, aren’t playing competitively. My earlier post was dealing with those who are, for them there’s a real difference between cute gear and stat gear. But, even if the larger case of people who aren’t really playing PvE competitively, I still don’t agree that claiming “paying for cute texture” is fine but “paying for a higher number” is bad are “incorrect”. They are making a subjective judgment which differs from yours, that is true, but that is not the same as being incorrect.

        Your earlier post: “Actually, you’re argument boils down to “Paying for things I don’t need makes perfect sense, but paying for things I want is just wrong.””

        No, his argument boils down to :”you paying for things I don’t want is ok, but me paying for things I want is just wrong. ” That is selfish and highly subjective, but not “incorrect”.

        He isn’t assuming everyone is just like him, he just doesn’t care about people who aren’t just like him. Why does that upset you?

        “T13 would probably increase your characters power but that’s neglectable. It’s rather unlikely to be hold back by your gear in todays WoW, most of the time you’re hold back by your or someone elses “capabilities”.”

        This isn’t really a matter of probability. I can join a hardcore guild and be more limited by gear, or I can join a casual guild and be more limited by bads. No randomness there. (Most people aren’t good enough to get into a progressed guild, I am, so again, no future randomness there. Past randomness maybe, but not really, in any meaningful sense, for any individual person.)

        ““Paying for cosmetic things makes perfect sense” is the same as “paying for things I don’t intend to acquire makes perfect sense”.”

        Yes, that is exactly what he was trying to say. Why does that bother you? Why do you expect people who don’t enjoy or respect your style of play to advocate for your style of play? Are you spending your days and nights advocating for theirs?

      • Because if you buy items they feel less “earned” then when you loot them. Regardless of if they are power items or cosmetic items.

        It’s like back in vanilla where you had to save money to buy your first normal speed mount. And when you had enough cash to buy it, it felt special and great. If it would have been possible to buy the mount in the cash store back then, a lot of people would have missed that “good feeling”. A game shouldn’t allow you to spend money to skip such things.

        And we should respect people who like cosmetic items and not just expect to get everying for free and them to pay for our content. That won’t work out.

        If You’re Not Paying for It; You’re the Product

      • I wonder if paying to skip a grind counts as pay to win if there’s a real advantage in game for beating the grind more quickly. Like: you get better weapons sooner than everyone else.

  5. I’m one of those older players with more money than time. Basically, what it means is that cost isn’t a factor for me in deciding what or how to play. It comes down to whether the game is any good and if I enjoy it.

    Being able to spend money to skip grinds in a bad game doesn’t make it a better game and just being cheaper doesn’t make Bejeweled any more appealing.

    Yes, I’ve played enough to have used the godmode cheat codes that ruined a good game and I’ve bought the expensive games that didn’t live up to the hype. Fun is a tricky thing.

    What developers need to know about my group is that we’re focused on getting a good game. We can spend money in your game but we can just as easily jump ship without much worry about the sunk costs. If I bought everything in your cash shop, would it still be a compelling game?

  6. “If you know that most of your paying players will pay to avoid grinds, doesn’t it make sense to design more and more grinds into your game so that you can sell short cuts?”

    Regardless of the amount of money you have available to spend, you still want to be treated as a valued customer. If the game abuses your trust, I think it is more likely people will leave rather than pay.
    But they may also implement other mechanics other than the grind to keep you there and endure the grind just for those other parts.

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