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A Hard Paywall Can Be A Huge Barrier Between A Customer And Paying You

Originally Published on Techdirt.

Paywalls are one of those things that have had us scratching our heads for a while. We had questioned the New York Times for its paywall and have shown that it might not be quite as successful as it claims. The main problem with such paywalls is that people don’t like to have their use of a product interrupted and further use blocked unless they pay. Such reactions are not limited to online news either. Other forms of media have much the same issue.

Over at Games Brief, a number of game developers were asked about paywalls in games and whether they should be used at all.

Harry Holmwood writes: “A colleague and I downloaded New Star Soccer at the airport and were playing it on a flight back from Germany last week, got hooked, but then hit the ‘hard payment’ point where we had to pay to continue the career. As we were on a plane at that point we couldn’t do the IAP and had to stop playing. Over the weekend I was tempted to pay and play but didn’t bother – the moment was lost, and I suspect now I won’t do it at all.”

Are hard paywalls a good idea, or should you always make it possible for players to keep playing?

While most developers were pretty varied in their opinions on this question, the general theme is that putting up walls in front of the consumer and preventing them from playing more is something that should be avoided. Take this comment from Philip Reisberger from Bigpoint.

In general, we’ve seen that it’s most important to have the users playing. Monetization is always to be regarded as consequence of gameplay.There are some really core-style titles where a hard paywall is possible, but I’d regard this rather as an exception than the norm.

While it is possible for such hard paywalls to make some money, it would be better to have as many people playing as possible. As soon as a person is no longer able to play, they are less likely to pay into the game. The question then goes to how do you get those people to pay if they can play for free? This is where opinions vary widely.

By allowing a consumer to continuously play, you can provide multiple opportunities for the consumer to evaluate how much they actually value the game they are playing. This is where proper selling of freemium options comes into play. If you have already sold the person on the game itself as something fun to play, then the next step is to sell them on the extras. This can be done by showing them how the core experience can be enhanced by such extras. As Tadhg Kelly of What Games Are explains.

In some cases (Temple Run, Bejewelled Blitz) it’s the same. They basically sell boosters and cheats to make better score runs, and since the core action of the game is so compelling it’s more likely over time that you will buy. Bringing a money-now question into that dynamic is inappropriate for the same reasons as the grind game.

The core issue to remember with paywalls is that it is very difficult to convince someone that paying for the ability to keep playing something they have been playing for free is a very tough sell if all they are getting is just more of the same experience. You need to sell them on an expanded experience, one that they wouldn’t otherwise get if they were playing for free. Of course, there is no one way to do it. There are a variety of market factors that can determine how and when you go about charging your customer.

Patrick O’Luanaigh, CEO of nDreams, sums up this overall market reality.

I’d be very wary about ever saying that a particular model/route is ‘the correct one’ or that you should ‘never’ do something. Every game is different and every platform is different. In PlayStation Home, where we publish most of our games, it’s beginning to appear that ‘paymium’ may be the most commercial route given the size of the audience, their propensity to pay and the ease of generating awareness. But on iOS, being new to the platform, freemium is the only model that makes sense to us currently.

FYI, I don’t believe the gaming world will end up existing purely of games that you can play forever with continuous loops, return mechanics and daily bonuses. I believe there will always be games that have a beginning and an end and a strong linear storyline. For these kind of games, I’m not convinced that freemium is necessarily the correct approach.

This variation in the marketplace would then allow for many different ideas of monetization both good and bad, both successful and unsuccessful. However, putting barriers between the consumer and your goods makes it more difficult for that consumer to buy. Look back at the original question. Because of external circumstances at the time of hitting the paywall, that potential customer was not able to process a transaction. That delay then led him to rethink the idea of purchase and, as far as we know, he has not made a purchase, even though he enjoyed the part of the game he played. Why would you want to limit your potential to make money in such a way?

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