This post was originally featured on Gamasutra.com in May, 2015
For indie mobile devs who spend their time perfecting gameplay, marketing concepts like sales funnels can seem like black magic. That said, if you’re lucky enough to get featured, small changes to your game’s merchandizing strategy can have exponential benefits. If I had one bit of advice to offer any small studios working on a free-to-play title, it would be this:
If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
To be clear, I’m not advocating for super-pushy sales strategies. What I am saying is that the players who complete an IAP will only ever be a subset of those who are made aware of the option. Before launching, ask yourself three questions:
- Are my IAPs easy to find?
- Are they easy to evaluate and understand?
- Are they easy to buy?
If you weren’t 100% sure about any of those, here are a few fast, cheap ways to make notable improvements. Each strategy is designed to increase the number of product impressions you’re able to deliver by getting your game’s IAP-related UI to stand out.
1. Use Common Visual Language
As the App Store’s heavy hitters get more deeply entrenched and acquire more players, you can reasonably assume that anyone playing your game has also played at least one of the games in the top grossing charts. This can work to your advantage.
By employing the same visual language they do, you can more reliably illustrate to players how to make purchases in your game. Seen below, almost all of the top grossing games employ some derivative of the “+” symbol in the UI element that takes players to the in-game store.
By using the same iconography, you can be sure that the majority of your players will understand which UI element will take them to where they can complete a purchase.
2. Use Light and Motion
Talk to a UI designer and they’ll tell you, humans are naturally attracted to light and areas of high contrast. When running a promotion, use bright spots in your interface to attract eyeballs and clicks to your offers.
Combined with rapid motion like the animated effects used by Game of War in their promotional offers, you can expect a reasonable percentage of your players will click and investigate further.
3. Use “The Blur Test”
While not the most high-tech solution, “the blur test” has been a handy hack used by UI designers for ages. Simply squint your eyes when looking at a UI layout. If an element remains clearly visible, it means it has high contrast relative to the rest of the layout, and will attract attention.
If nothing on your layout pops out at you, consider upping the contrast on the UI elements that produce product impressions. There are plenty of tools online that can help you select a more effective palette.
4. Use Badges To Illustrate Value
Within your storefront, whatever products offer the greatest value should be marked by badges and any effective discounts should be clearly shown. Never ask your players to do math if it can be helped.
Adding labels like “Most Popular” or “50% Off” let your players quickly and effectively evaluate what’s worth their money. Make sure to employ the blur test when designing your badges to ensure that they’re high enough contrast to attract the attention you’re after.
5. Ask Playtesters to Make a Purchase
While playtesting might not be in the budget for every publisher, even a quick trip around the office or home can yield incredibly valuable information. Have your playtesters make their way through the opening stages of gameplay and, when it’s applicable, ask them to make a purchase. If it’s not clear to them where they should navigate to in the game’s UI, you can reasonably assume that your layout needs some work.
6. Count Clicks
If you’ve ever taken a close look at granular UI analytics, you know that with every interaction, you lose people. Whether the objective just isn’t apparent or their attention has been pulled away, minimizing the number of user inputs necessary to complete a purchase will benefit your sales.
As an exercise, go to every major screen in your game and count how many interactions it takes to get to the storefront and complete a purchase. If you have to enter a password before completing the purchase, stop counting at the input before you’re prompted. If this number is ever more than two, consider reorganizing your UI so that it isn’t.
7. Use Full Screen Interstitial Offers
Some deals are simply too good not to share. In any effective monetization strategy, you should be making special offers and running promotional sales for different player segments. For these high-value deals, put up a full screen interstitial early in the gameplay session with all of the relevant details and benefits clearly presented.
Be sure to include a clear call-to-action that leads directly to the next step in the sales cycle, not just a page in the store. Including a countdown timer adds a sense of scarcity that can further improve your sales.