The Experts Debate: Is Monetization More Important Than Good Game Design?

Gaming Companies Try to Find the Balance Between Gameplay and Monetization

Game Development Monetization

As the gaming industry becomes more and more fragmented, one can not help but wonder what makes a particular game more successful than others.

At his final keynote talk for this year’s Develop Conference in Brighton, Barry Meade of Fireproof Games – the studio behind the award winning game The Room – plays down the need for developers to focus on the business side of game development. He says developers should “stick to what they know,” which means that they should focus on delivering good gameplay before thinking about monetization.  Similarly, he added that Fireproof hadn't gone the free-to-play route with The Room, simply because no-one at the studio knew about free-to-play.

And so, this poses an important question for discussion: Should developers prioritize monetization more than gameplay? Or should gameplay be the first priority?

A panel of experts drawn from all sectors of the mobile gaming industry have valuable insight to share with all of us. Their opinions may vary, but they all have their fair share of notable points. Read below what they each have to say.

Will Luton – Free-To-Play Developer

Luton believes that gameplay isn’t the antithesis of monetization – it's a requirement. Indeed, you can’t make money unless players find value in playing your game repeatedly.

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Keith Andrew – PocketGamer.biz

Keith feels that it is not an either/or situation. At least from his point of view, he feels that Barry Meade was merely concerned that developers are becoming obsessed with how they monetize the end product during development, rather than focusing on the gameplay itself.

As far as Keith is concerned, monetization and good gameplay shouldn’t be taken as two mutually exclusive priorities. There is validity to this argument because how can you make money if your game isn’t good in the first place? Similarly, how can you make more games if you don’t have money to work with?

Definitely, the two go together, but for Keith, more weight should be considered on the creative side of things rather than the business side of things. In his own words, “Monetization should come naturally, rather than existing as some planned element determined by analytics.”

John Ozimek – Dimoso

It comes as no surprise that Ozimek shares a similar viewpoint as Luton. As per Ozimek, “Any developer out there that is more focused on the monetization than the quality and enjoyment of their game is likely to fail.”

Jared Steffes – Furywing

There’s nothing particularly ground breaking with this point of view, but according to Steffes, “Brilliant game design is still key to successful monetization.” This suggests that monetization is the end goal of most developers, and realistically speaking, it should be, right? Why create good games if you don’t expect them to make money? It doesn’t make any sense.

He also introduces another opinion that needs to be factored in by most developers: What percentage does “word of mouth” and huge marketing spend mean to monetizing? They probably mean a lot and the only way to capture the return is to think about monetization from the start.”

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Harry Holmwood – MAQL Europe

Holmwood suggests that without good gameplay, you're not going to make any money, no matter how clever you are. This frame of thought makes absolutely perfect sense. Create good games and then make some money. Simple, isn’t it?

He also attempts to answer the question with his own personal experience with The Room. “For what it's worth, I think The Room is pretty much the best couple of quid I've ever spent on a game. No game has ever left me wanting so much more, but feeling I'd had fantastic value. But it (the concept) wouldn't work well as free-to-play. Free-to-play games work best when the experience is something you can choose to dip into, or immerse yourself in and let it become a major hobby, like golf.”

At the end of the day, the point he is driving at is simple: Monetization is irrelevant without retention. If you don't have retention you won't make money. Retention is only possible with great gameplay.

Brian Baglow – Consultant

As several people have already pointed out, Baglow also thinks good gameplay is crucial. But he is quick to recognize the power of injecting a little business sense into the game development process. In his own words, “Without something fun, engaging and interesting, it doesn't matter how professional or businesslike you are – it won’t succeed in the long run – though marketing can help sell and extend the life of almost anything.”

In conclusion, he says: “Make games to make people happy. Then, make money. If you don’t, you're not going to be able to make more games.”

True enough, there is great value in both creating good gameplay and maximizing the monetary potential of a certain game. Thinking about profits does not make any developer less of a creative mind – it only means that he has the ability to transform ideas into profits.

Game Monetization

David MacQueen, Strategy Analytics

MacQueen, who was once a game developer, answers the question in a rather blunt yet realistic way: “Running a business is not a game, even in the games industry. If you’re a CEO, and you don’t care about the revenues, you’re an asshat!”

The Debate About Gameplay vs. Monetization Will Continue

At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong answer. It is all boils down to priority. However, realistically speaking, developing a new game costs time and money. At the very least, every developer’s goal should be to recover the investment spent in making a single game. If not, what’s the point of it all, right? Developers are not in the industry to act as a non-profit organization or a charity. They’re in the industry to make some money.

This is not to say that good gameplay should be put at the backseat.  The point is, in order to make money, creating a unique gaming experience is important. This can only be achieved when one fully understands gaming behavior and the target audience.

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