Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade Deconstructed Part 4 — Monetization

In the previous posts of Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade Deconstructed we’ve looked at the gameplay of Freeblade, the game loop, and the in-game economy. In this post, I’m going to share my views on monetization in F2P games and explore monetization in Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade.

Part 1 — Game Basics
Part 2 — The Game Loop
Part 3 — Game Economy
Part 4 — Monetization
Part 5 — What’s Hot vs. What’s Not

Mobile gaming has been a gamer’s dream come true. Since mobile apps became available through Apple’s App Store we’ve seen a flood of games from both established and indie developers. The democratization of game development and distribution in combination with the popularity of mobile devices has connected developers to more gamers than ever, created a multi-billion dollar industry, and arguably ushered in a new era in the video game industry as a whole.

While this democratization of game development is great for consumers, it presents unique challenges for game developers. As the number of games available has increased over time, there have been two primary side effects:
1. The sheer number of games along with new monetization models has created downward pressure on the price of apps such that mobile games effectively have to be ‘free’ just to be downloaded.
2. The ability for developers to get their app discovered among the sea of other games is both difficult and expensive.

As a result, mobile game developers face an environment where they have to create a game, spend money in order to acquire customers, sell it for free, hope players will both open AND engage with their app, and finally hope players will decide to monetize. The stars that have to align for a mobile game to be successful can be mind-boggling.

We’ve reached a point where the quality bar for mobile games is on-par with AAA games, which means a lot of time and money needs to be spent upfront to meet player expectations. In addition, since you can’t count on charging for your game at the time of download, you need to treat your game as a service and consistently reinvest in it in order to keep players engaged. All of this time and development requires money, and monetization is the primary mechanism through which developers can recoup development costs and reinvest in the game to keep players engaged.

As a player, I mentally bucket free-to-play games in a different category from traditional video games. With traditional video games I expect that I am paying upfront for a high-quality end-to-end experience. Video game reviews were especially important with traditional video games because they effectively helped you decide whether you should spend your money or not. With free-to-play games, I expect to get a high-quality experience without paying. If I consistently engage and if there is a path to monetization that I find enhances my game experience then I will choose to monetize. While there is a lower barrier to get someone to play a free-to-play game, there is a much higher barrier to get them to reward you for the value they derive through monetization. The core challenge with free-to-play games is that you need to design a game that players can play without monetizing, but where they want to monetize because it enhances their experience.

Just to summarize my thoughts on the difference between traditional and free-to-play games:
Traditional Video Games: Pay first, the get value
Free-to-play Video Games: Get value first, then pay to get extra value

In terms of how you monetize, I think that has more to do with the core audience for the game and what both reinforces and enhances the core game experience.

Bringing the conversation back to Freeblade, the game monetizes through the following items that are available directly for cash:

Gear Packs: Gear Packs are ‘sets’ of gear that can be used to increase your damage and armor. Each set contains a set of weapon or armor, Gold, Story or Patrol Mission Revives, and Loyalty, which I’ll come back to at the end of this post.

Customization Packs: Customization packs include Liveries, Paintings, and Emblems, and Patterns. The Liveries in these packs can only be purchased through these backs and provide unique bonuses while equipped.

Blessing Packs: You can purchase a bundle of blessings, or boosts, to use in Story and Patrol missions. The Blessing Pack includes 10x of EACH blessing including: XP, Loot Quality, Ore Found, Knight Power, Revives

Gold (see Gold Sinks in Freeblade Economy Post): As the most versatile currency in Warhammer: Freeblade, gold can be used for a variety of reasons. Grinding for gold is a probably not the best use of time, so if there’s something you really want to purchase, such as a Livery or Paint customization, buying Gold might be your best bet.

Ore (see Ore Sinks in Freeblade Economy Post): If you’re short on Ore you can also purchase it in the store. While this might be tempting, keep in mind that if you’re planning on using it for crafting you’re also going to need sufficient gear to forge higher-quality items.

Moving beyond the actual items that can be purchased for cash, the real question is what underlying player need to these purchases meet? Considering that Gold is about as close to real-world money as we get in Freeblade, I’m going to use that as a proxy for what Freeblade monetizes in addition to items that are directly purchasable for cash.

Permanent Power upgrades the Wargear Rating of your Freeblade and enables you to complete higher-level missions. Gear packs and Supply Drops are examples of buying Permanent Power. When you buy the Tarnisian Hero Pack, you get a set of 150lvl gear that should allow you to breeze through the first 5 chapters. Similarly, Supply Drops guarantee a minimum level of gear to upgrade your Freeblade. Players who choose to purchase these items may find the progression to higher levels of the game too slow and are looking to speed up their progression.

Temporary Power temporarily boosts either your Knight Power or rewards that you can earn through a mission such as Ore, Gear, or XP. Blessings are examples of Temporary Power because they are consumed when used. Players who purchase Blessings may want an incremental boost during their games, but still want to experience the game through it’s normal progression.

Time is commonly leveraged as a monetization mechanism in free-to-play games and is generally used by speeding up the process by which you can gather goods or craft items. Forging items is one example since by paying gold you can significantly speed up the crafting of gear. Additional Patrols is another example since by paying gold you can grind through additional patrols to acquire Patrol Medals and resources. Purchasing Ore also effectively allows you to speed up the resource collection process and either upgrade or craft items assuming you also have the necessary gear. Players who purchase these items may not have the patience to wait for their gear to be forged or for additional patrols to unlock.

Access to content is typically gated by some criteria that need to be met. Story Chapters can be unlocked by acquiring a minimum number of Patrol Mission and Story Mission medals, however the Story chapters can be unlocked with Gold. Players who choose to purchase access to later Story Chapters may not have the patience to grind through both story and patrol missions and just want to access the subsequent chapters of story content. On a personal note, I wouldn’t recommend purchasing access to later chapters unless you have sufficiently upgraded your mech.

Extra Tries gives you another chance to participate in activities that limit your participation. Currently the Daily and Weekly Events grant you one free try. You can get another try by watching an ad, but any additional tries require spending gold. Players who purchase extra tries may feel like they can do better, and want to take another pass to increase their rank in events.

Extra Rolls give you another chance at a random item through the Salvage Team. While this is similar to the Extra Tries, I feel it’s different since it’s like rolling a dice for an actual item instead of getting an extra life. Players who purchase extra rolls may like the thrill of the gamble along with the chance to win high level gear.

Customizations are the things that let you customize the look and feel of your mech. Currently you can customize your Freeblade’s paintings, emblems, patterns, and liveries. While I do like the ability to customize my Freeblade, I listed this last because it is currently for your own benefit since there isn’t really a way to show off your customizations and they are pretty limited right now. Player who purchase customizations may be motivated by the ability to express themselves through their Freeblade or simply like the ability to customize the look of their Freeblade. On a personal note, I would love to see the ability to REALLY customize a Freeblade akin to something out of Robot Wars.

When you distill all the ways that Freeblade monetizes it seems like the main driver for monetizing is seeing how quickly you can max-out your gear and grind through content. This is a bit perplexing considering the predominantly single-player nature of the game and the light story elements. This would make more sense if the game had more multiplayer elements similar to Clash of Clans or Clash Royale, but the grind to max level gear feels more like Diablo than Clash of Clans. I also don’t get the sense that the Daily and Weekly events scratch a competitive itch, but are instead designed around getting the gear and resources. If they were more competitive in nature I could see a desire to max out your gear to show off your skill to others.

This all begs the question of what the end-game looks like. As someone who has fairly consistently engaged and has a Wargear rating of about 3,000, I have to wonder what the primary driver to continue engaging will be once I hit level 50 and complete all the story mode missions. What I suspect is that my desire to reengage will be primarily driven by either new end game content, an increased level cap, or multiplayer features that allow me to test my skills head-to-head with other players.

A potential counter-point is that as long as I monetized along the journey to the end-game that is sufficient from the developer’s point of view, however if there was potential for me to continue engaging then there was a lost opportunity.

Finally I’m going to come back to Loyalty. Loyalty is effectively a ‘perk’ that is rewarded to players that have spent real world money on in-game items. There are 3 tiers based on the cumulative amount of money you’ve spent and provide bonuses such as improved loot quality, ore rewards, and crafting speed. In some ways this is like the ‘Premium Account’ in World of Tanks, with the primary difference being that Loyalty seems to be a permanent perk, where the Premium Account in WoT is time-based.

I personally have several problems with this system as it’s currently implemented:
1. Even though I have a bronze loyalty, I don’t perceive a meaningful benefit from the perk
2. Since I haven’t been able to benefit from the higher loyalty tiers I don’t know what I’m missing. 
3. The indirect way that they’re trying to get you to spend money feels bad.

My recommendation to the dev team is that they consider the following options:
1. Make Loyalty directly purchasable so it doesn’t seem locked behind other content that I don’t really want.
2. Make the Loyalty Ranks rentable for different time periods similar to WoT 
3. Provide players with Loyalty Ranks based on how consistently they’ve logged in. For example, if a play has logged in for 30 days in a row unlock Loyalty II. In this respect you are rewarding loyalty through engagement.

So far in this series we reviewed the gameplay of Freeblade, looked at the primary and secondary game loop, took a deep-dive into the in-game economy, and explore all the ways that Freeblade monetizes. In the next post I’m going to share my insights and takeaways from this analysis as well as opportunities to improve Freeblade.

Part 5 — What’s Hot vs. What’s Not