The psychology of pricing games

The Power of Relativity is a great article by Spryfox CEO David Edery on game pricing, and how important relative pricing can be. Spryfox develops LeapDay, Highgrounds, and Triple Town, so has a ton of experience with what works and doesn’t in mobile. Great feedback that matches what we see every day. 

Whether it’s through anchoring, making sure consumers see the right substitutes, or simply making sure supply is meeting demand at the optimal point, pricing psychology plays a huge role in making money, so developers need to think about the right approach. Read David’s article for some hard-won lessons.  

The golden tail of card battlers

Card battlers have been among the best monetized games in mobile. Rage of Bahamut enjoyed a long stretch as the top grossing game through most of 2012 and GungHo’s Puzzle and Dragons is rumored to be grossing $2.5 million daily, mainly in Japan. 

Less discussed is the “golden tail” of these games. Relative to other top grossing games, card battlers have incredibly long-term retention and monetization. Staying at the top of the top grossing charts is, in large part, a war against churn. Most new users churn out very quickly, leaving a much smaller engaged base to be monetized.

Most of the best revenue generating apps are therefore also on the Top Free Apps or Top Paid Apps list. And when they can no longer add new users, they fall off the list quickly.

Not so card battlers. Among the top apps, card battlers Rage of Bahamut, Castle Age, Lord of the Dragons, and Dark Summoner, are unique. They maintain great presence in the top grossing list without adding new users. This means they’ve got an incredibly engaged audience that continues to buy. In fact, they may increase spend over time, a real rarity. 

There are (at least) two contributors to this great ARPU: 

  1. Very short core loop. The card battles are perfectly designed for Bing Gordon’s “stoplight test”: if you’re at a traffic light and can’t cross the street, your app needs to provide value before the light changes.  
  2. Events to create demand for virtual currency. DeNA’s Yuji Shimizu has a nice explanation of how Blood Brothers builds events

Our guess is that #1 is a huge element, and is likely true for every type of game. We’d expect that the length of the core loop and retention/monetization are very tightly coupled.