Usually when I say I’m a game designer, I’ll either get asked about Flappy Bird, Candy Crush or Angry Birds. The ones I went to school with will assume that means I program all the games they can find on Facebook or that I spend 40 hours a week playing games. For the sake of everyone who has no clue what I do and also since I’m not writing a lot about anything anyway, I’ve decided to put in more work-related content in here which explains a little about what I do for a living. (Also, feel free to debate my points!)
These two weeks I’ve been playing a lot of LINE’s Tsum Tsum. It’s a match-3 game that features the cutest Disney characters in even cuter art and music so happy you wish you could hug a llama there and then. I’m quite convinced that the monetization aspects is secondary to using the game as a platform to sell more merchandise since the pricing of items is not very well-balanced and that obviously makes for a great study in how to design monetization loops!
There are 4 main currencies in the game – Coins, Hearts, Gems and Time. The only currency that has a direct exchange rate with real-world money is Gems and you will have to buy Coins and Hearts with Gems. There are 5 bundles you can purchase and here’s how the Gems are sold:
To expand on this, let’s look at the exchange rates between Gems and Hearts and Gems and coins.
I’ve highlighted in yellow the coin deals that can be purchased if a player were to purchase the amount of gems afforded by the column header.
Note that there are just 2 blind box items you can purchase with Gold in the game – a basic boxed Tsum costing 10,000 and a premium one costing 30,000.
Now let me explain 3 main reasons why the monetisation aspects can be better designed.
1. The middle bundles aren’t very different and leads to confusion.
It’s expected that the lowest-priced bundle is going to be the priciest per unit currency and the most-expensive, the best deal there is. Usually, there’s an in-between that pushes the player towards buying the most expensive bundle. Even without looking at the curves, it’s hard to visualize the difference between the last 3 bundles and worse, makes the $68.98 bundle seem less of a deal than it actually is. The jump between the $6.98 and $30.68 bundles is so ambiguously small, I wouldn’t actually purchase the higher-priced one since I can already afford a premium box with just the $6.98 item. Also, because there’s a rather similar gap in price between the three highest bundles, it makes me believe that there’s the same lack of bargain between the $44.98 and $68.98 bundles. Players are probably more likely to buy the $6.98 bundle in this case and I’m not too sure why the designers would want that.
What might work better: There’s no price option that allows for players to chase for the basic 10,000 coin boxes. While the intention is for players to go for the seasonal premium boxes, I feel it is still worthwhile to introduce a price range that allows for players to purchase above 10,000 coins for completionists. This would also allow for a Gem package that’s between the $2.58 and $6.98 range, closing the gaps between the two. On the premium front, I would opt for a bundle that’s closer to $10 and the best bargain bundle at a price point of $20. This makes it clearer to players what they should be getting to get at the items they want and the push would be towards the bundle that’s between $2.58 and $6.98 and the $20 bundle instead of solely centered on the $6.98 one.
2) Heart purchases are redundant
Hearts are quite easy to come by in the game. You’ll gain one every 15 minutes and since a game takes roughly 2 minutes, as long as you have 6 friends who are playing at the same time as you are, you’ll be assured of a neverending supply of hearts. Let’s look at the time costs of the 2 blind boxed items available, compared to the number of games (hearts) needed to achieve them assuming an average gain of 300 coins per game.
At the moment, I’ve 4 other friends actively playing the game at intervals through the day and it’s not unusual for my inbox to be filled with 20+ Heart gifts/requests to gift Hearts every time I log in.When you gift a Heart, you receive one as well so it serves the same purpose of granting you a heart.
The way the current numbers seem to be balanced seems to take into account only the amount of hearts you can expect to have every time you login. If you have 20+ hearts at a go, chances are that you’ll be just slightly short of a few hearts and will be driven to purchase some more hearts.
I’m speculating though that an average player won’t spend above an hour at a time on the game so it’s likely that at each login, the player will always have sufficient hearts every single session to never feel this drive.
What might work better: Instead of merely balancing based on Hearts costs, it might be worthwhile to cut back on the minimum time costs for the Happiness box and also to reduce the number of Hearts that players can earn from their friends at each login. At the moment, I can get as many as 5 Hearts from the same friend at each login (possibly more).
As long as the player feels that the most basic box is within reach, he would probably be more compelled to continue on to reach a target.
3) The Hearts packages are counter-intuitive
The only currency that truly matters are coins which are used to purchase more Tsum Tsum characters which gives you a better score. Since players will not naturally purchase gems for hearts, the only situation they’d spend on hearts is when they run out of hearts and happen to have just enough gems to purchase hearts but not coins. Hence, it would make sense to sell packages that can pay for coins and some amount of hearts (or continues).
Let’s look at what a player can purchase with the gem bundles:
- 20 Gems = 2 * 6000 coins
- 65 Gems = 1 * 39600 coins + 5 Gems leftover
- 300 Gems = 1 * 195000 Coins + 50 Gems leftover
- 460 Gems = 1 * 195000 Coins + 160 Gems leftover
- 800 Gems = 3 * 195000 Coins + 50 Gems leftover
Since a full bar of Hearts is 5, it is quite unlikely that a player will ever buy the 20 or 50 Hearts sets. With the leftover amounts, there’s also the propensity for the player to purchase more coins with them instead. Again, buying a full set of 5 hearts with 5 Gems makes sense, bargain or no bargain and the rest of the Hearts package just serves to clutter. The reason why players buy Hearts isn’t to seek a bargain, it’s really to seek the enjoyment of the game.
What Might Work Better: Using coins to purchase Hearts instead of Gems might serve the intended purpose of getting the player to spend more on coins without realizing it. It adds a gambling aspect not unlike the power-ups that’s already in-game. In fact, perhaps using Gems to purchase power-ups might be more effective in persuading players to part with their spare Gems and also to get players to dissociate between spending an amount of coins for a power-up that doesn’t give enough in returns.
If Gems are to be used to purchase Hearts, perhaps the interface could be simplified to be a one-click purchase to refill all Hearts so the player doesn’t second-guess his judgment.