One of the things I’m very proud of when we monetized SWTOR, is how generous we were to the new users. Players don’t get asked for any money before level 10 in SWTOR (roughly 4-5 hours of gameplay) – a design stance I had to defend hotly a few times. My rationale: we had done focus testing out the wazoo on our newbie experience, and gotten the test scores as high as the various meters would go. Why mess with a good thing? As such, I tried to make it that the only change a free player saw below levels 1-10 was the button that opened the store. Hopefully, by the end of newbie planet, you’ve decided you want to live there – then it’s appropriate to suggest some upgrades.
It seems like more game companies should see the light in this regard. Gamasutra did a recent article where they did metrics on people who quit after playing first. One finding: 70% of the games that people quit early are noted as being overly aggressive in their monetization. Asking for money before there is even a remote chance you have earned that devotion is a huge turn-off, but still one I see all the time. A few weeks ago, I played a game where how to spend money in-game was the second tutorial! This communicates to the player that the game ISN’T free. When a game asks for a dollar in the first two minutes, the player extrapolates that outward – the game will ask for $30 bucks in an hour! $150 bucks in 5 hours! Christ, this game is expensive!
The most successful free-to-play games are uncommonly generous. Consider League of Legends and Candy Crush. They let you play, often without fear of timers or energy mechanics, for as long as you want. They offer pathways to experience most of the important parts of the game without paying a cent. And most importantly, they allow you to fall in love with the game before they ask you for money. Most people love to spend money on hobbies that they love.