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Paying To Win

In November 2009, EA hit the headlines when the BATTLEFIELD HEROES team made sweeping changes to their in-game economy and virtual item catalogue that many felt would completely destroy the game Kotaku's headline summed up the feelings of the press - 'BATTLEFIELD HEROES Is Practically Ruined'. A game that had previously been perceived as welcoming to free players suddenly demanded much more grinding to maintain a player's free items, a team that had previously promised they had no plans to sell items that gave an advantage were selling 'super' and 'uber' weapons that many players felt were more powerful than standard equipment, and the Battlefield Heroes forum posters were in uproar with an 'EA Failed' campaign against the changes. Despite the predictions of destruction, over a year on, BATTLEFIELD HEROES continues to be a powerhouse in the free-to-play space, with nearly 7 million registered users, no declining trend in active users, and it long-term future assured. So, what happened? In this talk, Ben Cousins, General Manager of Easy (the EA studio behind BATTLEFIELD HEROES) takes us through the story of this controversy. Through the development of BATTLEFIELD HEROES and the early performance of the title, into the high-pressure environment in EA that forced the sweeping changes and out the other side with detailed look at the games store catalogue and business performance.

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Paying To Win

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Hinweis der Redaktion

  1. General Manager Easy. First ever team in EA to have been ‘built’ for free to play business models
  2. four live titles, Battlefield Heroes – which is the subject of this talkFree to play cartoon shooter – open beta June 2009EA’s first free to play game outside of PogoThe landing page video does a good job of giving you a feel for the game
  3. Battlefield Play4Free
  4. Battleforge
  5. Lord of Ultima
  6. 80 staff divided between three teamsTeam in Stockholm who build shooters, Team called Phenomic in Ingelheim, Germany who build strategy gamesTeam in Stockholm who tie the titles together with web technology and websites. Set up as a fully integrated developer/publisher, with most of the key functions all housed in one location.
  7. ‘Battlefield Heroes Is Practically Ruined’ – with this headline on December 1st 2009, Kotaku announced something we’d been working on in my studio for the last several months. ‘As a regular player of the game, I've had some kind things to say about Battlefield Heroes. As an online game, however, things can change at the drop of a hat. And EA just dropped the hat.’
  8. Over at ArsTechnica they felt the same – ‘a recent price restructuring destroys the ability to play without spending real money’.
  9. Over at industry news site Inside Social Games they reported a little more soberly ‘EA’s Battlefield Heroes Has Virtual Economy Troubles’ ‘The phrase here is “freemium,” in quotes, because recent virtual goods changes to the game have shot the title in its digital foot, forcing players that want to compete to spend money.’Articles using our forums as sources this is a typical forum post
  10. ‘Now it's impossible for me to play the game for free. I can't even afford the long ranged pistol anymore, let alone bandages. Let me make this clear: now it takes 22 wins for us to earn enough VPs to rent a weapon for a day. If each match is 10 minutes long, that means I'll have to play for 3 hours and a half with a stellar team just to afford the weapon.’Post originally contained an incorrect calculationSaid 6 hours to maintain weapon for freeHe corrected itOnline news sites didn’t
  11. ‘EA Failed’ forum sig campaign 80% of forum users were using this sigGot 300+ emails that weekHere’s one
  12. According to forum posters, fans emailing me, consumer press and business blogs we’d fucked upKilled a popular free gameAlienated the audiencePushed commerce too farGame was obviously going to dieWhy am I standing here? Why is Easy still open? How come I still have a job? How come we are releasing a game with an identical business model this month?This talk will answer those questions
  13. Heroes after Korean modelNo significant virtual goods games in western world in 2007No shootersAnnounced the game in 2008 – many questioned if a free to play shooter would work in the westWe learnt from Neowiz, collaborated on Battlefield OnlineThey taught us about Korean item catalogues
  14. Heroes launch catalogue was simpleTech limitation meant we couldn’t do pets with AIClothing itemsEmotes – can be played at a key moment – when you’ve been killedWidgets – our convenience itemsAllow faster access to content but don’t directly sell content, especially not weapons.Didn’t sell weapons because of something else happening in EA
  15. March 2008 Bad Company 1 closed beta from sister studio DICEMistake ‘buy this weapon on Xbox Live Marketplace’Internet uproarWe decided to pull permanent weapon salesMade promises in interview, many on YouTube, came back to haunt me
  16. Launched on the 25th of June 2009A year late (that’s another presentation)July 2009 still our biggest month for usersLots of people playing the game a lotWe had a problemBy the end of the month I t was clear we were not making anywhere near as much money as forecasted
  17. Free to play games measure success by ARPU, among other metrics
  18. We calculate ARPU this wayPicked a conservative forecast arpu supported by Korean data
  19. We calculate ARPU this wayPicked a conservative forecast arpu supported by Korean data
  20. Didn’t feel goodWe were confident about $0.50 forecast from Korean benchmarksARPU was lower in the closed betaThought that was because it was closed betaSweden has mandatory month-long holidays in JulyMany spent the summer worrying
  21. I got back in augustOne of the only other people there was RommyGhaly, our analyst
  22. Rommy and I looked at the KPIs for July Already talked about ARPUMeasure player volume with Monthly Active Users or MAUOther metrics Rommy and I looked at% of active players who spend in a given monthAverage revenue per paying user in a month
  23. Our ARPPU was goodThe conversion rate was horrible for a game like this
  24. Our ARPPU was goodThe conversion rate was horrible for a game like this
  25. Good user volume, good amount of money from spendersConv rate was the issueThis clarity enabled us to concentrate
  26. Store metrics told us spenders were buying clothesPeacock – show off relative wealth with cool-looking heroOnly 1.29% of userbase were peacocksNeed to double that number. Find out what everyone else wanted to buyDecided to run survey
  27. Store metrics told us spenders were buying clothesPeacock – show off relative wealth with cool-looking heroOnly 1.29% of userbase were peacocksNeed to double that number. Find out what everyone else wanted to buyDecided to run survey
  28. Store metrics told us spenders were buying clothesPeacock – show off relative wealth with cool-looking heroOnly 1.29% of userbase were peacocksNeed to double that number. Find out what everyone else wanted to buyDecided to run survey
  29. I worked in Market Research for 2 yearsWe had previously set up a zoomerang accountCould pop up surveys when players hut down clientWanted to find out what items would convert people to spending
  30. Multiple choice - % add up to more than 100Vehicle cust considered too technically difficult and would just be more ARPPU from peacocks, not solving the problemMore payment instruments, bundles already planned
  31. Boost items wasn’t in our backlog, we’d decided not to do it
  32. When people got back from summerBuilt a plan to add updates according to surveyPut advantage items at bottom of list, thought it would kill userbaseWanted to try to stick to original plan – no buying advantages
  33. Team was too small to do this workHad to do work on dev framework before we could even do updatesAsked immediate bosses for more staffThey said ‘not until you make more money’A Catch 22 situation
  34. F2P was new to EAThey didn’t know if the business model would ever work, even with more staffRefused to make investmentWe slowly worked through planUptick in October, but not enoughMoving too slow on key monetization features
  35. Frank visitedOriginally gave Heroes greenlight and said ‘I would invest my own money in this’Looked at plans and metricsQuickly agreed that we needed more moneyWithin an hour, hiring blockages were cleared.
  36. By late Oct we had most of the features from the surveyPerm weapons, bundles, more clothes, more payment types, but were holding back on advantagesBut immediate bosses had lost patience. Game was still loosing moneyWe weren’t moving the needle enoughEA was going through an aggressive round of layoffsIn this climate we were in trouble – we started getting very paranoid that we would be laid off along with the teamFear of losing our jobs caused us to consider making some big changes
  37. Orange room for adhoc meetingsJohny – game still too free. Salt – VP is for ‘demo’ rentals, but so much of it that people can keep renting foreverWe had guys who had played for 100s of hours and never paid a penny
  38. Orange room for adhoc meetingsJohny – game still too free. Salt – VP is for ‘demo’ rentals, but so much of it that people can keep renting foreverWe had guys who had played for 100s of hours and never paid a penny
  39. Orange room for adhoc meetingsJohny – game still too free. Salt – VP is for ‘demo’ rentals, but so much of it that people can keep renting foreverWe had guys who had played for 100s of hours and never paid a penny
  40. Changes made us nervousThought it could have a big effect on userbase, driving revenues down even if more people were paying as a proportion of userbaseWe were going back on assurances we made nearly 2 years beforeUnder pressure to save our jobs and our staffs jobsDev team went to work
  41. At 11:57 am local time on the 30th of November 2009 we updated the gameChristmas calendar campaignFirst weapons that dropped were shotgunsEnd of the day had 64 page forum thread about shotgunsSo moderators made a dedicated thread on changesBy end of the day 50 pages, 1000 postsWithin a week 200 pages and 4000 postsForums in turmoil, moderators working to close abusive threads
  42. Press picked up on changesKotaku often lead the way with news stories and within days all the major news sites had picked up on our changes It was everywhere. In the eyes of the world we had fucked up. The community was in uproar, the press was openly critical of the changes. In any normal business we would have assumed we were fucked and packed our desks ready to leave. But we aren’t in any normal business. We are running a direct-to-consumer online business. We have one thing a lot of people don’t have. We have the data…
  43. So what happened to the consumer behavior?
  44. Recap of what was broken before?So what happened after the pricing change and the new weapons were introduced?
  45. As you can see here our revenue approximately doubled overnightBut what was causing this upswing? Was it more users, or higher revenue per user?
  46. Here’s the users.Note there was no change in users during this periodThe doubling of revenue wasn’t caused by a doubling of playersBut crucially there was no exodus in players at all contrary to what people were expectingSo, if the doubling of revenue wasn’t more users, was it that the existing spenders were simply spending more?
  47. Nope – as you can see, the spending per spender actually dropped during this periodSo if the douboling of revenue wasn’t more usersAnd it wasn’t the spenders spending moreIt must have been conversiton rate – more people were spending?
  48. It wasWe’d succeeded in our goal of increasing conversionWe’d created items that appealed to the competitive players, not just the peacocksAs you can see we’d tripled our spenders, while maintaining the userbase and only slightly decreasing the amount spenders were spending.Worth noting that its still a very small number of users (less than 5%) who buy stuff in a daySo what was happening on the forums? They seemed to be indicating the audience were deeply unhappy with these changes, and that the userbase should be crashing
  49. Shows the entire userbase, divided by different types of forum usage78% of users never touch the forums, never even visit them20% of the users visit the forums to read at least onceOnly 2% of users post on the forumsSo these complaints on the forums only represented 2% of the entire audience for the gameSo maybe the forum posters represented a small subset of players who were passionate but wernt the sort of people who would spend?We decided to look at the spending habits of forum posters
  50. Shows the entire userbase, divided by different types of forum usage78% of users never touch the forums, never even visit them20% of the users visit the forums to read at least onceOnly 2% of users post on the forumsSo these complaints on the forums only represented 2% of the entire audience for the gameSo maybe the forum posters represented a small subset of players who were passionate but wernt the sort of people who would spend?We decided to look at the spending habits of forum posters
  51. Shows the entire userbase, divided by different types of forum usage78% of users never touch the forums, never even visit them20% of the users visit the forums to read at least onceOnly 2% of users post on the forumsSo these complaints on the forums only represented 2% of the entire audience for the gameSo maybe the forum posters represented a small subset of players who were passionate but wernt the sort of people who would spend?We decided to look at the spending habits of forum posters
  52. Shows the entire userbase, divided by different types of forum usage78% of users never touch the forums, never even visit them20% of the users visit the forums to read at least onceOnly 2% of users post on the forumsSo these complaints on the forums only represented 2% of the entire audience for the gameSo maybe the forum posters represented a small subset of players who were passionate but wernt the sort of people who would spend?We decided to look at the spending habits of forum posters
  53. We calculated the average revenue per forum poster (ARPFP) Ar-Per-FupThis gave us an astonishing figure.Forum posters on average spend more than ten time the average userSo a couple of reasons why the sentiment of the forum posters was so contrary to user behaviorFirstly, numerically they are a very small sample of the entire userbase only 2%Secondly there seemed to be a disconnect between what they were saying ‘I will leave the game and never spend a penny’ and what they were doing (sticking around and spending lots of money)We now no-longer think of the forums as giving us a chance to take the temperature of the entire userbaseWe think of the forum posters as a small but passionately engaged subset of usersThey play more, they spend more, they talk more, they socialize more they care moreWhen they panic about say balance or cheating, we take notice and do an data-driven investigation, rather than thinking this is how all players feelSo what about some of the guys who were complaining earlier
  54. We calculated the average revenue per forum poster (ARPFP) Ar-Per-FupThis gave us an astonishing figure.Forum posters on average spend more than ten time the average userSo a couple of reasons why the sentiment of the forum posters was so contrary to user behaviorFirstly, numerically they are a very small sample of the entire userbase only 2%Secondly there seemed to be a disconnect between what they were saying ‘I will leave the game and never spend a penny’ and what they were doing (sticking around and spending lots of money)We now no-longer think of the forums as giving us a chance to take the temperature of the entire userbaseWe think of the forum posters as a small but passionately engaged subset of usersThey play more, they spend more, they talk more, they socialize more they care moreWhen they panic about say balance or cheating, we take notice and do an data-driven investigation, rather than thinking this is how all players feelSo what about some of the guys who were complaining earlier
  55. We calculated the average revenue per forum poster (ARPFP) Ar-Per-FupThis gave us an astonishing figure.Forum posters on average spend more than ten time the average userSo a couple of reasons why the sentiment of the forum posters was so contrary to user behaviorFirstly, numerically they are a very small sample of the entire userbase only 2%Secondly there seemed to be a disconnect between what they were saying ‘I will leave the game and never spend a penny’ and what they were doing (sticking around and spending lots of money)We now no-longer think of the forums as giving us a chance to take the temperature of the entire userbaseWe think of the forum posters as a small but passionately engaged subset of usersThey play more, they spend more, they talk more, they socialize more they care moreWhen they panic about say balance or cheating, we take notice and do an data-driven investigation, rather than thinking this is how all players feelSo what about some of the guys who were complaining earlier
  56. This guy who said he couldn’t play for free anymore and was quitting the gameHe was still an active player a year later
  57. And this guy who wanted to tell me how many children I’d ruined Christmas for?He quickly became a paying player.So lets finish by looking at the long-term performance of Heroes in the year or more since the ‘big change’ to what the big trends are
  58. Here’s the registration rate – how many new players we get.No major change since the pricing changesA big summer dip this yearGame is most popular in Europe, young people take long summer holidays over thereCan see that there’s no real long-term effect of the pricing change on regsitrations
  59. Here’s the churn rate – the % of players that leave the game each month – high is bad, low is good.We can see that the pricing changes had no long-term impact on the rate at which people registered for the game or left the game
  60. Gross revenue gone up a lotWe thought Dec 2009 was good after we made the changesThis Dec we took twice as much money from approx the same number of usersSo what's causing this upward trend?
  61. A small uptick in conversion rate following the big upswing in Dec 2009Caused mostly by the addition of more payment instruments like SMS
  62. Also we’ve had an increase in how much the spenders are spendingThis is mostly driven my releasing more and more items that appeal to either the peacocks or the competitive playersWith more choice of items to buy, people tend to spend more
  63. In conclusion then…Heroes is very profitableProjections for next year have a 50% profit margin
  64. Has enabled us to get approval to make a new game Battlefield Play4Free Takes the free-to play game to the next level with the same business model as Heroes, but with HD graphics and a more realistic settingWe aim to make this the western world’s biggest ever client-based free to play game
  65. What can we take away from this?
  66. The BF Heroes team acted as crash test dummiesIt took fear of losing our job to take a leap in the darkWe discovered people don’t mind playing a multiplayer game where some players have bought an advantageAre there analogies from the real world?
  67. Lots of sports where better equipment can given an advantageI race road bikes, always someone who has spent $10k on some really light wheelsSometimes hes a strong rider and we don’t mind him winningSometimes he’s an overweight banker and we like beating himThis is also the case in other sports like golf and motor racing. Buying a small advantage in equipment is accepted
  68. We accept inequality in other aspects of lifeDon’t hate the guy with the Porsche unless he’s an asshole about itDon’t begrudge people because they got an expensive engagement ring
  69. In Heroes, people don’t mind that much if they’ve been killed with a more expensive weaponSometimes the guys is a good player and he would have killed them anywaySometimes he’s not such a good player and the free players enjoy killing himThe difference between the haves and have-nots and the desire to better yourself that comes from this inequality is what drives all economies, whether we like it or not
  70. So let’s follow the user behavior and stop trying to define what a virtual goods game should be in an ideal world, Instead look at what the consumers want them to be. Our consumers told us that our virtual goods game is like a game of golf, a car race or a bicycle race where small purchased advantages are part of the accepted norm, rather than a perfectly balanced game of chess or Poker where no outside influences are allowed.The users accept this, in fact as our survey shows, they demand it.