In-App Purchases (IAP) and how to make it work?

Foreword on (IAP) In-App Purchases

This will be the the summary of everything I have learned about IAP so far going through different forums, videocasts and guides. If you reading it please don't treat it as final of definitive guide to In-App Purchases.

On the other hand, if you new to the subject or perhaps would like to recap knowladge you have I believe it might be great place to start.

IAP Checklist

Here is quick checklist of all the features, characteristics and techniques mobile game should have or use when it comes to IAP. You will learn more about them as you go through the article.

  • addictive gameplay,
  • incremental difficulty,
  • player engagement,
  • player encouragement,
  • behaviour tracking,
  • unlockable items,
  • IAP content samples,
  • earnable IAP content,
  • social media conversions,
  • lifebuoys,
  • shopping alternative choices,
  • no adds or no adds option to purchase,
  • consumable items,
  • durable items,
  • store and its items easy to access,
  • IAP offers displayed at the right time,
  • special offers,
  • purchase recommendations

IAP Factors

Addictive gameplay

Lets start from stating that addicitve gameplay is dead critical for success of the game. Player retention depends on it, so do it's ability to spend money. In a nutshell, more time player spends in the game higher is the chance he or she will spend money to improve it's gaming experience.

Incremental difficulty

Incremental difficulty should be one of the very first things to consider while balancing game with In-App Purchases. Completing each level should be a little bit more difficult than the previous one. Not too difficult though. Players, who chose to beat the game without paying should still be able to do it at the cost of time it takes.

Players spending more time in your game will allow to take advantage of additional reveneue streams such us in-game advertising. More gameplay time will also provide more time to convert freemium player to a premium one.

Emotional connection

Gameplay should be crafted to keep players engaged and curious of what comes next at all times. One of techniques already mentioned is presenting game content that can be unlocked on demand at any time. To make it work all purchasables should have descriptions adverising their benefits to make players curious encouraging the purchase. Speaking of engagement it is always great to provide some a little tip while loading next level or perhaps reward player after completing difficult part of the game. You aren't always winning, are you? How great does it feels to hear those few words of encouragement when you fail? Why not to do that to a player rewarding him or her for trying. It surely feels better than "game over".

Collecting and analysing data

It is important to understand your players behaviours. That can only be achieved by analysing collected data. But what data to collect and what to pay attention to? Data analysys is more than just a topic, it's a study on its own. For starters focus on gathering basic information about your users, such as sex, age, where do they spend the most and least time, What items they buy and when. Those basic information will help to analyse and segment player. There is a bit more about it later in the article.

IAP Techniques

Unlockable content

When it comes to IAP done right, ability to complete the game shouldn't be soly based on paying for the content. It is however ok to hide away some of the game elements making them available only for paying players. There are two main benefits of this solution. First one is rewarding premium players for the purchase they made. Secondly, locked content might be great encouragement for the player to spend a little money to make it available. Good examples of unlockable content are premium game chapters, bonus levels or special items. It is important to remember that regardless of the type of unlocklable content, it is critical to present it in an obvious and encouraging manner. It can be achieved by adding a lock image or bluring item images to stimulate user imagination. It should always say "locked" and have visible "unlock" button.

Samples of locked content

Even though usage of some of the items might seem logical for game maker, it might be not so obious to a player. More importanlty, benefits of using premium item might seem even more blury. Why to spend money if one could simply start over and try to beat the level without spending a penny. It might be wise to let user try locked item. What is better way of presenting its benefits if not a little demo?!

Earning IAP content

Very good strategy might be providing means other than paying to take advantage of IAP content. Player could perhaps win it as a bonus at the end of the level or by handling difficult task or scenerio. Another method could allow to earn points by completing various tasks, that then could be spent to unlock IAP content.

Lets don't forget about meaning of social media. There is no better way to say thank you to a player for Facebook likes or inviting friends, than providing him or her with access to IAP content.


Completing the level or in some cases just a chapter always takes takes time. Who wouldnt like a "lifebuoy" providing with that extra move to reach the checkpoint. Weather it's additional time, extra life or extra boost it might makes a lot of sense to have that "save me functionality" in place when it's needed the most.

Alternative choices

Is is good to provide alternative choices of IAP content. As a customer we love to browse through the goods and pay only for those items that represent the "right" value to us. We also do it to justify purchases we make. If 100 credits costs $1.50, 200 costs $2.50 and 300 costs $3.00 it becomes very obvious which one has the highest value for the money.

Time watching

Game should be fun and allow total immersion. There is no need to distract users with real life time or showing time spent in game. Make your games fullscreen only. If you making mobile game, remove system status bar showing current time. There is only one exception to the rule: timer.

Lets start with level timers. Those are commonly used in puzzle games but not only. Baisc principle is that player has to complete the level or reach the checkpoint before the time runs out. Another example are timers on replenishable items. We are talking about regenerating in-game food or lifes or number of moves allowed per time bracket. I either case it is must to provide player with the information on how much time is left or when next life is available.

Replenishable items create unique monetisation opportunity. Players running out of time might be offered "extra time". Those who don't want to wait for the next move or next life, could purchase it.

Adds vs. no adds

None of us like advertising. It is just too much of it everywhere, in many cases it is done poorly and displayed with very unnoying manner. That is especially true when it comes to games.

Firstly, if player is already spending money there is no need to be a jerk spamming him or her with adds. Making any purchase, idealy, should automatically remove all advertising. In worse case scenario purchases should limit advertising to a bare minimum.

When it comes down to in-game advertising, planning for it in advance is critical. Adverts should feel as a part of the game and should always (ALWAYS) have option to skip it.

Even if player doesn't want to pay IAP content, there is no need to penalize him or her with adds all over the place. If, however advertising is a part of the revenue model player should be allowed to pay for disabling it, which will keep both parties (developer and player) happy.

Consubales vs Durables

You migt have heard that there is much more revenue being generated from consubales than durable items. Does it mean you should neglect power of durables? Definatelly not! Each game is different. It is true, consumables allow you to monetise again on the same item and are great for in-game currency, consumable items. There are however, elements of the game that should be unlocked once. Those are "no adds" options, additional levels, full version of the game, downloadable content (DLC), etc.

Figure out what is your monetisation model and consider which option is right for your game taking into considaration not only how much money can you make but also how it affects the player.

Special offers

Special offers, bundles, time-limited offers and one-time offers have a lot in common. Despite subtle differences, those are all promotions encouraging player to spend money. Who doesn't like special offers like buy one get one free or 2 for 1 or available only today.

If there are more than one IAP items, it might good idea to present them to the user as a budle with attractive price, which is lower to what it would cost buying those items separately.

Adding special offers into the game will encourage players to spent money. Implementing them however, is only half of the success. Second half relys on presenting it to the player in a right way. Designing special offers make sure they are visible but not agresivelly in the player's face. Also always inform players about potential gain, telling how much money they can save making particular purchase.

Timing and availability

Consider following scenerio. Before user starts the level you give him or her a chance to purchase additional time. You provide the same options half way through the level and one more time at the very end of the level when time is gone. Which of those offers is going to have higher conversion rate? Real value from the purchase comes from the demand. We are more likely to spend money for something we really need that something that is nice to have.

Making IAP content available when is really needed not only improve conversion rates but gives you the chance to price is at slightly higher price too.

Easy access

Finding a store or even a product in the store should be as easy as possible. It is good practice to have store available at any given moment in game. Another great tip is to auto open store page providing right item when player clicks locked item or when it is really needed as in case of "extra time" from example scenerio above.

Psychology of color

It is proven by many researchers that color plays very important role in our shopping habbits as well as emotional responses. It is another broad topic that deserves own article. Here is simple summary of colors.

  • Relaxing green is the easiest color for our eyes to process.
  • Use blue to create a sense of trust and security.
  • Use yellow to grab shopper attention.
  • Use red to create urgency it is good for time-limited deals.
  • Use orange for call to action.
  • Use powerful black to market luxury products. Relic itmes associated with black and gold create a sense of priceless value.

User segmentation

Although not easy to implement it is good segment all your players into different groups based on:

  • Spending habits — different items could be offered to new users, non-paying users and most valuables premium users.
  • Usage habits — obsessiv players might interested in different offeres.
  • County of origin — countries and cultures influence purchasing habbits.
  • Demographics — adults spend differently than kids.

Purchase recommendations

It is good idea to suggest to the player best purchase based on current progress in the game, situation he or she is in or perhaps inform which item is the most common and which is the most powerful.


Published by IndieForger