Ethan Levy on Game Design & Monetization

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Steve Waskul sits down with Ethan Levy of FamousAspect to discuss monetization for the gaming industry and for free-to-play games in particular.

Levy was a game designer and producer for nine years before becoming a consultant. He describes his entry into consulting as a “bizarre accident.” During his years in game development, he often found consultants frustrating because they had never been game developers themselves. So, in a way he’s become an “anti¬consultant consultant,” but he brings true experience to the table and aims to offer companies efficient and valuable advice

It’s become a “very tricky world” with free-¬to¬-play games, and this is where Levy finds much to offer his clients on strategy. One issue with monetization within free-¬to¬-play games is that products are often offered for purchase in ways that irritate the audience. By seeking consultation in the early phases¬ of the game design, strategies can be employed that will help to make the monetization effort more seamless. As Levy states, the developer ought to look at “what the core loop of activity is within the game, what screens [the players] will see repeatedly and should assume the player is not inquisitive¬ he or she will not press buttons. Developers should think about what adds value to the player and what may annoy the player or may disrupt the experience. Consider how people are playing¬ the game whether on the bus, on the toilet, during commercial breaks of a TV show, or in other situations and plan accordingly?”

Waskul asks, “How do you make the decision to charge people for a game or not?” In Levy’ opinion, it depends on the audience. A game developer needs to have a target group in mind, but also needs to ask what is the audience that the developer can reach without advertisement? What is the game experience the developer wants to create? “Some developers don’t like free-to-¬play games,” comments Levy perhaps because those developers feel more comfortable with games featuring strong narrative. He also suggests to “try to find other success cases and fail cases.” These can help a game developer to make a decision on whether to charge or not for play of a game. Importantly, “you can’t assume what works for the most successful company will work for you.” “

Additionally, learn from your audience. Levy finds that popups cause negativity because the player intended to play but got offered an advertisement before all else. Look at metrics. What devices are they playing on? Longer gameplay usually means someone will go to their console not their phone. Levy’s had to learn from his own mistakes, and he finds that the ones he’s made are the same as the ones many developers make. The biggest one is trying to solve your problems not the audience’s problems. Therefore, he cautions, “cater to your audience, not to what you want as a developer.” Waskul agrees¬ calling it a “cardinal rule of business: Build something they want or need.”