I’m trying to wrap up the high- and mid-level design for Project Smart Birds (see 1st listing under “My Projects” here), and one of the topics I’m dealing with is monetization — how to make money from the game. My current plan is for it to be a paid app with optional in-app purchases (IAP). But such an approach can hurt gameplay and feel exploitative — see Ben Kuchera’s article on the IAP for Final Fantasy: All The Bravest (FF:ATB) for an example of what not to do — and it’s very important to me that I avoid those pitfalls.

(To be clear, my problem with FF:ATB’s IAP isn’t the slot machine-style character purchasing — choosing not to purchase those characters doesn’t really hurt the core game. In contrast, the game’s Hourglass mechanic, where when your party loses you either need to wait an hour or buy an IAP Hourglass to continue immediately. And since the game is a paid app, this really rubs me the wrong way.)

My game will be a paid app, and for its IAP I have 3 guidelines:

  • IAP should not directly affect core gameplay
  • IAP should not feel exploitative (to reasonable people; I understand that some may consider any IAP to be exploitative)
  • IAP should still be worthwhile enough that some players will want to buy it

In line with those guidelines, my plan is for the IAP to affect only the meta-game, not gameplay itself. Without going into specifics about Project Smart Birds, the best way to describe my intent is with an analogy. Let’s pretend that Animal Crossing was a paid (not free) iOS game with IAP. Further, let’s narrow our focus to the game’s fishing gameplay, which is pretty simple: buy a rod, go to the water, play a timing-based mini-game to catch fish, and later sell them at the shop for Bells (the Animal Crossing currency).

If Square-Enix was making IAP for Animal Crossing fishing, given what they did for FF:ATB, it might go like this:

If a fish gets away, your rod has an 15% chance of breaking. If your rod breaks, either A) wait an hour to receive a replacement rod for free, or B) buy an IAP rod to continue fishing immediately.

For a paid app I find that appalling, so in contrast, my approach would be something like this:

If you want to make more Bells from fishing, you can buy an IAP Fishing Badge. When you activate the badge, all fish you catch on that same calendar day will be worth twice as many Bells.

Sure, both approaches give a benefit to IAP buyers, but I think that my approach is a compromise that is worthwhile but doesn’t hurt the game for the players who choose not to buy the IAP. Luckily, since Project Smart Birds is still early in development, there’s still time to revise the design if I find a better fit. But for now, I’m pretty happy with this idea.