Tumble Panda’s (non-intrusive) monetization strategy

Recently, we launched the beta test of Tumble Panda. While this test is still ongoing, some of you may have already tried the game. All the others are still invited to join. Today I want to talk about the thoughts we had when building Tumble Panda’s monetization strategy.

Free to play & pay to win

If you have played games like Candy Crush Saga, you have probably experienced something like this: You are beginning to enjoy playing a game, but then, all the sudden it tells you that you have No more lives and need to wait until you will get new ones. However, lucky you, there is a simple way to fulfill your desire to continue that darn level you had almost beaten: For the small amount of only $0.99, you will be granted another full set of sweet lives.

Candy Crush Saga's pay n' play strategy

Candy Crush Saga’s pay n’ play strategy (picture by business.financialpost.com)

Now this strategy surely is clever and the psychology that is at work in Candy Crash Saga can be the topic of at least one PhD thesis. Also, this way of monetizing would be very applicable for Tumble Panda: We could make the user wait after every 10th time he fails to complete a level.

We could. However, we have a very clear idea how our games should be made: They should be free to play. And by that, we mean that it should be possible to always play the game and that it should be possible to win the game without having to pay for it. We do use in app purchases in our store, but it is never mandatory to use them. Also, we don’t like to use multiple currencies (such as gold and diamonds) when it is not necessary. That’s why we only use one currency in Tumble Panda, which the Panda’s most favorite: Bamboo.

 Monetizing by helping the user

The user is our focus in Tumble Panda. We do never force them to buy anything or wait until they can play the next time or have them pay for an artificially shortaged currency. However, there are spots in our game where we think the user could want to make a purchase or get free bamboo by using Tapjoy.

Prompt to the bamboo store

The first of this spots is when the user wants to purchase an item without having the needed amount of bamboo on their account. In this case we prompt the them to the bamboo-purchase part of the store. Here they have the possibility to purchase bamboo via in app purchases and get free bamboo by using an offerwall or by following us on social media.

Tumble Panda's store

823 Bamboo is good but not enough for another upgrade of Ki-Training…

Tumble Panda's Bamboo Store

…that’s why you will be prompted to the bamboo store, in which more delicious bamboo can be obtained. The “Not enough Bamboo”-text you are seeing is a standard Android Toast using a custom TextView. Also, when making an in app purchase in Tumble Panda, we are giving a part of that to reforestation projects – more on that soon.

Skipping a level

When a user repeatedly fails to finish a level, we ask them if they want to skip it. This comes to the price of 15 times the amount of bamboo that can be collected in the level. For example, in level 40 there are 60 bamboo to collect, which means skipping the level would cost 900 bamboo.

Tumble Panda's skip level dialog

In Level 40, the cost of skipping the level is 900 bamboo

Of course, when trying to skip a level without having a suitable amount of bamboo in one’s account, we will again prompt the bamboo store.

Free bamboo after a canceled purchase

This one is my personal favorite.

Users will cancel purchases. May it be because they don’t remember their password to Google Play, an error occurred or they changed their mind. That’s why we are showing a dialog asking them whether they want free bamboo, once a purchase was canceled. Accepting this offer leads to Tapjoy’s offerwall, where they can receive tons of tasty bamboo.

Tumble Panda's free bamboo dialog

When an in app purchase has been canceled, we are asking the user if they would prefer to receive free bamboo instead

Ads – the backup solution

Since we built a very non-aggressive strategy on monetizing via in app purchases and offer walls, we are using ads to further support us. When first designing Tumble Panda, we thought about displaying banner ads inside of the game, in a similar way Angry Birds used to.

Angry birds ads
Angry birds used to show banner ads during gameplay (picture by http://www.businessinsider.com.au/)

However, the times changed and full screen interstitial ads gained more and more acceptance while banner ads lost theirs. That’s why we also adjusted our strategy and are now exclusively relying on interstitial ads in Tumble Panda. We are trying to show a banner every 5th time a level is loaded and on average every 3rd time a user is accessing the main menu when coming from the game. In this way, we are providing a solution that is giving the user a less intrusive ad experience while still providing us with some earnings.

For those of you that are interested in numbers, in the statistically not significant beta phase, this ad-backup-solution so far provided us with an ARPU (average revenue per user) of about $0.12 so far.

Conclusion

Tumble Panda uses a monetization strategy that is much less intrusive than it could be because our main focus is a good user experience. We sincerely hope this will not harm the overall financial success of the game, but future will show. I will keep you updated!

Wanted: Beta Tester

We will soon release our first big game, Tumble Panda.

We put a lot of effort in this game, and I think we created a great and fun product. However, in order to find the last bugs and get your valuable feedback on where to improve next, we need beta testers. If you are interested, please go to our Google plus community and click on “Ask to join” . I will grant you access within 24 hours.

A click on "Ask to join" will open your gate to tremendous amounts of gaming fun

A click on “Ask to join” will open your gate to tremendous amounts of gaming fun

Enough of the text, here are some screenshots:

menublueskyboom3

And some of Tumble Panda’s features:

  • Be a furry Panda
  • Tumble around the world
  • Eat bamboo
  • Collect hidden stars
  • Jump on trampolines, fly on geysers, balance on lampions and fall into water
  • Destroy obstacles using Panda-powers
  • Train your Panda’s abilities
  • Hand illustrated, colorful graphics
  • Simple gameplay
  • 40 Levels, all free
  • Regular updates with new levels

Thank  all of you that are joining in advance. I’m looking forward to your feedback.

 

How to create a Game’s About

When creating a game, the About screen is probably the part of the game that is given the least effort. It does not give much benefit to the gamer and usually consists out of information such as credits, licenses and privacy information. However, it is still part of your game and should therefore be a nice part of your software with a pleasant user experience and a design fitting the rest of your product. With our Game Tumble Panda, wie again went with an iterative approach and tried three different types of About screens, which I want to show you and discuss the good and the bad sides of. But before, let’s take a look at what you need to think about before building your own about screen.

1. Content

The content of your About screen determines its design and placement. Hence, you should think about it a lot. Should it show only credits or also your privacy policy and EULA? How about license texts? And what about Links to social networks? Some apps just show a three lines of names of names while others show a rather long list, licenses or even settings. In our case, we wanted it all: Credits, our privacy policy, licenses, social media, a way to contact us, access to signing in and out of google play games services (which is a requirement) and even the possibility to enter promo codes. Also, we wanted to list all the software we used to create our game.

2. Placement

Depending on how much stuff you want to put in your about, you might want to chose its placement. Angry Birds for example uses a little info-button in the settings drop-up-menu in their starting screen, an approach that many seem to like. For us, we decided to make the about accessible via a button on the main menu, which is not hidden but smaller than all the other buttons (see this article to see the size of our “About”-menu-button).

3. Design

Once you know about your content and the navigation path to enter your about, it is time to select a design. For Tumble Panda, we tried three different types of designs, of which the first two are the most common ones.

 3.1 Scrollable Credits

This one is pretty obvious and suitable most of the time. In the beginning of the Star Wars movies, and in the end of most other movies. In popular games such as Angry Birds, it is used in combination with buttons that scroll up and down and when you finish reading the credits, you can even find a bonus in the form of a golden egg. This works pretty well for most basic stuff and if you want to do it quick and unspectacular, it is probably the way to go. Since we didn’t want to spend too much time on the about this also was our first approach which looked like this in an early version:

Scrollable credits

Our approach to scrollable credits

However, we found this didn’t quite fulfill what we wanted. It didn’t really suit the rest of the game and it would make using functionality like entering a promo code a hassle since one would have to wait for the right button to appear on the screen in first. And since promo codes are usually given to people you want to review your game, making this process as easy as possible is what one should be striving for. So we decided to try something different.

3.2 Buttons & Dialogs

Our next attempt was to create a buttons-and-dialogs version, which can also be seen in many games. Especially if you don’t want to have a complete screen for your about, a little popup dialog can do the job. For us, we need a bit more than one entry point. We came up with three main buttons which would each open a dialog which would then provide more details. In addition to this we had two social media buttons and, of course, an access to sign in and out of google play games. Our approach looked like this:

Dialog credit buttons

Each of the buttons leads to different dialogs

Six buttons (phew, that’s a lot!)! The “Credits”-button would lead to a dialog containing credits, licenses and so forth as a scrollable view. “Support” would bring you to a dialog which included buttons such as “Contact” and “Privacy”, and “Promo” was just responsible for showing a dialog for entering a promo code. Way too complicated!

3.3 Combination

Now that we had tried this two solutions, we decided we had to do both, an approach which I haven’t seen yet:

Our approach on combining a dialog and a scroll style about screen

Our approach on combining a dialog and a scroll style about screen

The screen was now divided in three parts. On the left are scrollable credits, in the center all important buttons. On the right are social media buttons and a mandatory google play games button, plus some empty space. “Contact” would fire an intent with some pre-defined text to our contact e-mail address. “Privacy” and “License” would open a web page and “Promo” would show a dialog.

We decided to stick to this concept since we had the impression that this would easily let the user realize what every column is about. The center buttons make it clear they are clickable and the credits are recognizable as such, since they are scrolling all the time. The signs for Facebook, Google+ and google play games are easily recognizable since they are all well known brands.

3.4 One more iteration

After we decided for the concept we wanted to take, we did one more iteration on the design side. The separators in the scrollable credits where replaced by margins and handdrawn highlighters for the different sections. We also changed the background scenery from the cherry blossom towards two Panda-kun and Panda-chan enjoying the full moon together.

The functionality stayed the same, the design changed

The functionality stayed the same, the design changed

In case you were wondering, the dialogs, which are plain Android dialog fragments, were designed to fit the game and look like this:

A Dialog for promo codes

A Dialog for promo codes

Conclusion

The take away from this article is: Every part of your game matters. Of course something as infrequently visited as the about should not need as much time as your main or level select menu. However, building an about screen in a totally loveless and/or unfitting way (e.g. using plain Android dialogs like Temple Run does when asking the users for rating) really disrupts the user’s experience of a game. Probably the scrollable credits or dialog version will suit your game. If not, it’s time to experiment.

I would be really glad to hear your feedback and thoughts. Please feel invited to share them in the comments.

How to create a Game’s Store

When creating a game, the in-game store or shop is one of the most critical parts of it. It is the part that has the tendency to be the least fun for the user but is the most crucial for the developer. Without a shop, most in-app purchases won’t happen in your game. This is why, even though it may not be fun, a developer should pay close attention when building up his shop. For our upcoming game, Tumble Panda, we put some effort and time into our shop and went through some iterations. With this game as an example, I want to show you how you can build a nice store.

 Step 1: Identify your store’s criteria

First, you might want to identify critical criteria for your game’s store. As for us, we worked out the following points. Now, as I’m a lover of simplicity and like having one screen doing one thing, I like to also have a more minimalistic design, for example with rather big instead of many buttons. Of course, this criteria may vary from individual preferences and from game to game: Our biggest point was that it should be easy and seamless to use. This is a very soft formulation, so soft, that it is probably a criteria for every app ever specified. This is why, from this starting point, we worked out six other, more specific points:

  1. The design should fit the rest of the game.
  2. The design should be as minimalistic as possible while still highlighting the different functionalities of the virtual goods.
  3. Animations should be as quiet as possible.
  4. There should be little  enough goods to not confuse the user while still providing enough variety to make purchases attractive.
  5. The flow from overview to purchase should be done with as little clicks as possible.
  6. There should be possibilities to gain in-game currency without having to pay “real” money.

Furthermore, in order to keep it easy for us, and since we would need to experiment a bit to create a balanced variety of goods, we wanted to have the content easy to configure.

Step 2: Implement

Once the soft and hard criteria for your game are done, you should start implementing according to them. You will probably go through some iterations in which you will experiment, test and refine your shop more and more. Usually there area many ideas in the beginning, so it is probably the easiest to simply start implementing analog by sketching your shop and its transitions first. Here is how this looked in our case:

The first sketch of Tumble panda's store

The first sketch of Tumble panda’s store

From the number of screens, your store will probably look somewhat similar. A screen to purchase items and a screen for purchasing your in-game currency with “real” money are the vital parts of it. Then it is time to test and try out.

First, we thought about a simplistic design that would show all the items we offer represented by icons. Once the user clicked on one of these items, he would be taken to the next step of the shopping procedure in which he would see the item’s details, like description and price, a bigger image of the item and confirm and cancel buttons.

Steps 3, 4 and 5: Iterate

When testing this approach, we found that the initial display of small  icons for all the items and details to them on click was simple, but only on the first view. Because for the user to find out about the different items, he would need to click on each, read through the description and then click on the next item. We had a trade-off between a simplistic design and a simplistic user interaction path.

The first implementation of our store

The first implementation of our store, with one icon for each element

This was the reason why we decided to go with a design that displays more information, which can be positive but also negative. We decided to put our items in two categories which can be accessed by tabs. For the item’s representation, we chose lists:

Our store with tabs and a list

Our store with tabs and a list

This changes are the reason why it is important for you to chose a method in which you can quickly test rough concepts and ideas, like just sketching them first, then implementing a basic version and putting the final finish only in the end. This way, major changes will be less pricy when they appear on  this stage. Imagine you implement your complete store and then realize you sticked to the wrong concept and need to implement the whole UI interaction again.

You need to as well talk to your users and have your different ideas tested. Then implement changes, based on your user’s feedback. In our case, the testing team consists of a mixture of employees, friends and relatives which span from the age of 7 to 52. This test-team should be not too big and fast in making responses so that you can really have a process of showing your work, receiving immediate feedback, improving upon this feedback, and showing your work again.

Once you decided on the basic way your store’s design and interaction  works, it’s time to go over the smaller parts. It should be a set of iterations with continuous improvements, followed by tests, followed by the next iteration.

Here is an overview over the various iterations we took on our store. As you can see, we sometimes only did small graphical changes, trying to improve more and more. Then, in the end, we gave it the final touch and it is now in the state in which it will go into the beta testing phase.

 

The iterations of Tumble Panda's shop

The iterations of Tumble Panda’s shop

Step 6: Balance your content

When you look closely to the changes we made, you may notice that not only the graphics changed, but also the content of the store. In the process of development we found out, that some of the items we thought would be good to have in our store weren’t but others were.

The items in a store should be useful and affordable enough to make some of them easy to purchase, but not cheap enough to buy through the game without making real money purchases. The prices of your store and your virtual currency determine the value you give to the user’s time. If you for example give up to 50 gold coins for a level for which the user needs 2 minutes to play and offer 1000 gold for $0.99, that would give the users time a value of $0.02475 per minute. Obviously this value shouldn’t be too high nor insultingly low.

Furthermore, the items in your store should provide some use to the user. In our case, we created two categories for Tumble Panda, items that are consumable and which can be used once and need to be re-purchased, and items that improve the protagonist’s power gradually and stay forever.

To balance your content well, I recommend to do some more iterations with your Alpha-testers, track their behavior, for example with Flurry (we use this one) or Google Analytics, and ask them for more feedback.

Summary

In the end I hope we met all the criteria we specified. Some things may still need adjustment, but the beta phase will show.

Besides a clear set of criteria to measure against, consecutive iterations with a set of testers involved are crucial to creating the store that not only you but also your users love. Personally, I also like to break the content down to the essential elements with every screen being responsible for exactly one thing, while keeping buttons and touch areas big, since the store is designed for a mobile device. The store of Temple Run for example really appeals to me, since it has all the stuff in one place, while items are still clearly grouped using separators and the user does not need many clicks to purchase an item.

I’m interested in unconventional and great ways of implementing stores and monetization systems. If you know any, please feel invited to share in the comments.

P.S.: We are looking for beta testers for Tumble panda. If you want to join, please let me know.