This post is part of a series of articles discussing game monetization concepts and strategies in Core. The goal of this series is to help creators improve the monetization in their games by sharing knowledge and information, as well as learning from the experiences of the Core community. If you would like to contribute your own article, please contact the author.
Did you know that big game companies hire psychologists to gain insight into player behavior in order to shape gameplay, make design choices, and improve monetization? This article will concentrate on the role human behavior and psychology play in game monetization.
This article summarizes some of the most common techniques in order to help you understand why certain monetization methods are effective. For further reading, you can find many articles online covering these topics in detail.
When designing anything based on human behavior and psychology, the topic of ethics usually comes up. Use these methods in moderation to help with your monetization strategy, but always keep the interest of your players first. The best approach and the biggest boost in monetization is to make a great game that players love.
Some common monetization methods that are based on psychology are described below. Interestingly, many of these methods have been around for quite some time and are used in other industries outside of gaming.
This typically applies when a player is given the choice to buy several similar items, such as buying different amounts of virtual currency.
Number Of Choices
If given too many choices, people can get overwhelmed and not choose any of them, a phenomenon which is called choice paralysis. To avoid this, limit the number of choices shown at one time to a reasonable number such as between 2 - 5 products.
Anchoring is where a really expensive product is shown in order to make the less expensive items appear more attractive. The expensive product is sometimes priced so high that there is no realistic expectation that it will be purchased. As a player, the less expensive items look like a great deal compared to the really expensive product.
A customer's decision making process changes depending on the other products that are offered at the time. The decoy effect occurs when a preference for one option over another changes as a result of adding a similar but less attractive option.
For example, if given the choice between a large popcorn for $5, and a small popcorn for $2, then you would buy the one you want. But if we add a decoy - a medium popcorn for $4.50, which is a better value than the small option, but much worse value than the large option, then your decision process changes. The large option now appears to be the best value relative to the other options.
Decoys distract customers' attention to the options companies want them to buy, and at the same time make the customer feel like they are getting the best deal. In games, price decoys are used when showing several similar purchase options in order to steer you to the product the game developer really wants you to buy.
The foot in the door technique is based on the assumption that agreeing to a small request increases the likelihood of agreeing to a second, larger request. So, initially you make a small request and once the person agrees to this they find it more difficult to refuse a bigger one.
In games, this method is often used to convert players into first time buyers. Starter packs, for example, are offered at a great value to new players in order to get them to make that first purchase. The idea is that once a player overcomes that mental barrier of making the first purchase, then they are much more likely to spend more money and make additional purchases in the future.
Using virtual currencies, such as coins and gems, makes it much more difficult for players to know the real cost of items. Virtual currencies hide the true price of items, so that buying items does not feel like spending real money at all. With all the items priced in virtual currencies, players are less likely to realize the actual amount of money they are spending. Since the currencies are fictional, and the true cost is hidden, players have no barriers and tend to spend more.
This principle relies on a human behavior that gets more satisfaction from receiving unpredictable rewards than from predictable rewards. In essence, getting a reward unpredictably or randomly can be a very rewarding and compulsory experience.
In games, the best known example of this technique is the loot box, which uses random rewards as its main mechanic. This has been very successful for game developers, but has also become very controversial due to concerns about addiction.
Variable rate reinforcement is also used in other aspects of the game such as progression, currency rewards, and item acquisition to determine the rate and frequency of rewards. Often there are many variable rate rewards happening at the same time to give the player a constant sense of reinforcement.
The fear of missing out is a psychological phenomenon in which a person is anxious about missing out on something. In games, FOMO refers to the anxiety around missing the chance to obtain in-game items or complete activities that are only available for a limited time. A player, knowing that certain rewards will only be available for a limited time, may be more compelled to buy that item, or complete the activity. Games use this technique all the time - mostly in the form of limited time items, events, or offers.
Psychology suggests that people tend to value things that they already own higher than things that they do not own. In other words, people tend to hate losing something that they own, more than they enjoy gaining it. For example, it feels worse to lose $20 than it feels good to gain $20.
This is commonly seen in games that give players a chance to pay in order to avoid losing progress. In match three games, for example, if you fail a level you can buy an extra chance in order to continue and avoid losing all your progress.
A bestselling book in behavioral psychology by a renowned expert describes two modes of thought: slow thinking and fast thinking. Slow thinking is logical and calculating, and involves thoughtful reasoning. While fast thinking is instinctive and emotional, and involves automatic responses.
In game design, the fast thinking approach is often more effective in terms of monetization. For example, when showing several items that offer discounts at larger quantities. Instead of making the player do the math (slow thinking), the discount should be calculated and displayed for the player (fast thinking).
This also works well with loss aversion by showing the player an option to buy something when they most need it.
People tend to value things more if they are rare or hard to obtain. Scarcity creates demand, and is a strong motivational factor for players. Players want to obtain the items simply because they are rare, and they can obtain items that not many other players have.
Notifying all players when one player obtains something rare is also an effective technique. Other players may feel that the item is more obtainable or really desirable, and may be more motivated to try to get that item themselves.
This is a social behavior that if someone gives you something then you feel like you have to give something back. It is the same concept used in supermarkets when they offer free samples in order to get people to buy the product.
One way to do this in video games is to give out free boosters for the player to sample, and once they run out, offer a way to buy more. The player may feel more obligated to give back since the game generously provided so many free boosters.
People value things they have invested a lot of time and effort into. Players have a hard time quitting games that they have spent a long time playing because they don’t want to stop and waste all that time and effort.
Games use this concept by offering ways to continually progress. With so many ways to progress, players feel like they are always making progress, and continue to come back. As players continue to play, they eventually reach the point at which they are reluctant to stop in order to avoid wasting all their time and effort.
Players are often influenced by the behavior of other players. If you see that most of the other players pay for in-app purchases, then you may consider that the norm, and are more willing to pay for items yourself. Games often take advantage of this by grouping non-paying players with paying players, so they can see that most players are buying things.
Please join the discussion and let us know about your ideas or experiences in Core related to this topic.