The Mobile Free to Play Bible

Here is the mobile free to play (F2P) bible.  A collection of articles, links and videos that I’ve collected over the years which can really help you understand the main tenants of game design for mobile free to play. Each of these articles has inspired me in different ways to create better games, I hope they’ll do the same for you.

Free to Play Core Loops

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The basics of Free to Play come down to designing a “Core Loop“. A very repeatable gameplay system that acts as a basis for all other actions in the game.

Here are some excellent articles that pertain to designing effective Game Loops:

The Compulsion Loop Explained

Loops and Arcs (LostGarden)

Mid-Core Success : Core Loops

Basic Game Loop Theory

Behavioural Game Design

Understanding and applying the in game compulsion loop

Habits are the key to forming Long Term Retention

For the master class, here is my article on how to expand your Game Loop to ensure it doesn’t get too repetitive:

Grinding Sucks, Let’s Fix It (mobilefreetoplay)

Stats, Skill and Luck

One of the most fundamental game design principles is balancing the impact of Luck versus Skill. Since Free to play so often also deal with RPG-like progression in the form of Stats, F2P goes one step further in requiring designers to balance all 3: Stats, Skill and Luck together.

To understand the importance of each, as well as how to evaluate game concepts in relation to this balance, here is a list of articles:

Stats, Skill and Luck (mobilefreetoplay)

Building Tight Systems of Cause and Effect

Understanding Randomness in terms of Mastery (LostGarden)

Uncertainty in Games (Greg Costikyan, Playdom)

Luck in Games (Noel Llopis)

The Role of Luck (Elyot Grant)

Uncertainty in Games (MIT Press)

Retention & Session Design

The key metrics of a game’s success: Retention and Sessions per Day. These are the toughest metrics to increase.

Here is a list of articles that have helped me solve issues with Retention and Session Design:

Mid-Core Success Part 2: Retention

Mid-Core Success Part 3: Social

What factors influence DAU/MAU? Nature versus nurture

User Retention: 5 Mistakes to Avoid

3 Things to Know About Session-Length Restriction

Designing Elegant Mobile Games

Monetization Design

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Eventually, mobile free to play comes down to how you’re going to make money with your game. When you’ve nailed retention, it’s important you understand effective methods of monetization:

Critical Mobile Monetization Concepts

Primed to Spend (Deconstructor of Fun)

The freemium monetization curve is continuous (MobileDevMemo)

Monetization Strategies: iOS + Android (John Grotland)

14.5% conversion rate for freemium

Clash of Clans – Time Monetization Formulas Demistifyed

App Monetization Options and Best Practices (Localytics)

Freemium math: what’s the right conversion percentage?

The Tower of Want (Ethan Levy)

Economy Design

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Monetization ultimately comes down to an economy of intermediate virtual currencies. Sources and Sinks.

To learn the dark art of economy design, here are some articles to get you started:

Game Economies and Currency Flows (Both Guns Blazing)

Game Mechanics : Advanced Game Design (Book)

Freemium Mobile Games: Design & Monetization (Dimitar Draganov)

Virtual Economies: Design and Analysis (Vili Lehdonvirta)

Introduction Course to Game Balance

Evaluating Early Game Concepts

I’ve had to evaluate a ton of different game ideas in their early stages. How do you approach a crowded, mature game market? Should we make games for girls? casuals? core gamers? Is cloning okay, or should we go for something completely unique?

Does my mobile free to play game idea have a chance of success in the market?

For an answer to these questions and a whole lot more, take a look at my inspirations:

A Problem-centric Framework

Micro vs. Macro Gameplay

Why Your Mobile Game Failed: Complexity Kills!

Lessons about Failure

Theme and Game Design (LostGarden)

What is your Game Design Style? (Lost Garden)

Production & Project Management

Especially in small teams, usually a Game Designer ends up doing a lot more than dreaming up how the game will work. We’re commonly asked to lead teams, provide a vision, and even run project management.

For some basics in the area, here are some articles that I use as a basis:

Rockets, Cars and Gardens: Visualizing Waterfall, Agile and Stage Gate

Mobile Game Design: Iteration vs. Planning

Snake swallowing an onion-15

Visualizing the Creative Process

Why Games Fail: Pre-Production (mobilefreetoplay)

Analytics

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The Basics: Free to Play’s Key Performance Indicators (GameAnalytics)

 

Introduction to Mobile Analytics & Reporting (Quarterview)

The F2P Magic Formula (Both Guns Blazing)

The 10 Commandments of App Analytics (Mobile Dev Memo)

 

A/B Testing (Both Guns Blazing)

What Do Your App’s User Retention Numbers Really Mean?

Customer Retention Rate Explained For Dummies

The role of LTV in freemium

Retention rates and their impact on lifetime customer value

 

Blogs to Follow

Mobile Dev Memo – Weekly blog by Industry marketing expert Eric Seufert. Each week there is a powerful article that really nails the current trends in F2P (especially in marketing).

Lost Garden – Blog by Daniel Cook. This blog has been the most valuable source of game design knowledge that I’ve ever read. Not always relevant to free to play, but has excellent articles about understanding how to improve your game designs.

Quarter View – Joseph Kim

Both Guns Blazing – Anil Das-Gupta

Deconstructor of Fun – Michail Katkoff

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