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When quarantine hit, the number of at-home gamers rose to new levels. The question becomes: How do you retain your new loyal users, and keep them happy in your gaming ecosystem? Join VB’s Dean Takahashi and others at this VB Live event to learn what it takes to boost loyalty, a look at the current gaming landscape and more.

Register here for free.

A captive audience at home has been a major asset to the games community — worldwide, there are more players than ever before. The free-to-play business model, without the barrier of a large up-front price tag, is a major attraction to new players across the spectrum. But monetization of the free-to-play model has always been the major question, even before this massive uptick in players. How do you implement a fee structure without alienating new players or wrecking your game?

Many studios and developers are turning to subscriptions. It’s a relatively simple way to create revenue with low overhead, boost player loyalty, and generate reliable, predictable income streams, especially when a developer is planning to update their game for the long term.

Subscriptions allow developers to offer players many ways to access gameplay, with the voluntary option to boost the experience by subscribing to a more robust premium tier. Subscriptions can offer popular, exciting upgrades to everything from gameplay to the game world, such as more quests or better skills, minigames, special events, or loot crates, or simply a larger world to explore.

Subscriptions are a fairly easy sell too, as consumers have simply become accustomed to the idea of paying a monthly fee for expanded access to streaming media and entertainment, from services like Netflix and Spotify to cable channels and more. Games have always felt the inevitable next step.

Subscriptions boost revenue

A move to subscription models has meant that some game publishers have more than doubled their market value. In 2012, Electronic Arts was worth $4 billion. The switch to a games-as-a-service model boosted that number to $30 billion in 2018. In just about the same time period, Activision implemented a subscription service and went from being valued at $10 billion to about $60 billion.

Classic MMORPG games have also reaped the benefits of subscriptions. When Activision Blizzard implemented a $14.99 monthly subscription fee, the company hit a peak of over 12 million paying customers. That’s about $180 million per month in subscription revenue or $2.15 billion per year.

Smaller and indie developers are reaping similar benefits. Dota 2, a free-to-play game, implemented subscriptions in 2017 and increased their revenue to $406 million, up from $238 million in 2015 — a 41% increase revenue in just over two years.

The subscription model has also proven to boost the amount of money that players are willing to spend, as well: According to market research firm SuperData, gamers who pay for subscriptions spend twice as much on in-game purchases, usually for upgrades to their gaming experience, like cosmetic enhancements to weapons, armor and housing, or expanded access to in-game content. A rise in in-game purchases is how World of Tanks earned over $470 million in 2017, according to Xsolla.

The most effective subscription models

In-game subscriptions are popular with players when they offer exclusive benefits that help players achieve more in their game or advance with fewer barriers. Developers should also aim to offer new in-game privileges or bonuses, as well as access to information and insights that free-to-play gamers don’t get.

For example, the World of Tanks premium subscription, which costs $9.39 for 14 days, gives subscribers 50% more XP and credits for every battle. For $3.99 a month, Dota Plus players get weekly rewards, challenges that are specific to the player’s hero type, premium skins, and an in-game assistant.

According to Xsolla, a subscription charge somewhere between these two price points has been shown to be the most effective rate for attracting new subscribers — high enough to make money for the developer, but low enough for a consumer to find it affordable and worthwhile.

But to be most successful, a subscription service should be adding value to the game without affecting the overall balance. Subscribers shouldn’t be super-powered to the point where their advancement and benefits actively overshadow the experience of your free players. A subscription should also never be required to access standard features that should otherwise be included with the game (progress saves, key items), and they should never create a pay-to-win scenario.

The rule of thumb for subscription extras: If the subscription model was removed, the game itself should still be a playable and enjoyable product

Boosting loyalty and longevity

A subscription can significantly impact a player’s enjoyment of a game, keeping them coming back for more. But there’s a psychological element to paying for a subscription as well; when a player is shelling out money weekly or monthly, they’ve essentially entered a contract with the game to play more often, and more consistently, in order to feel like they’ve gotten their money’s worth.

They’ll return again and again to experience their expanded world, take advantage of their subscriber-only benefits, and explore the new content and special events they get as part of their exclusive access. In return, loyal game subscribers offer developers a predictable and steady flow of revenue, in exchange for the developer’s creative efforts in offering updates, exciting enhancements, and a better world.

Learn more about designing an effective subscription plan that benefits both you and your players, get data-driven advice on how to structure subscription plans and keep players happy, and hear from experts about the current state of the pandemic-impacted gaming world when you sign up for this VB Live event.

Don’t miss out!

Register here for free.

In this webinar, you’ll learn:

  • Why it’s important to build loyalty programs with players now
  • Why subscription-based gaming experiences have become popular
  • What it takes to keep new players loyal
  • How to design a fair and profitable price structure
  • What to include in a subscription plan, and what players want most


  • Dean Takahashi, Lead Writer, GamesBeat
  • Berkley Egenes, Vice President of Marketing, Xsolla focusing on Subscriptions & Monetization

More speakers to be announced soon.


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