Design tips for Free to Play Mobile Games
4.6 (13 ratings)
Instead of using a simple lifetime average, Udemy calculates a course's star rating by considering a number of different factors such as the number of ratings, the age of ratings, and the likelihood of fraudulent ratings.
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Design tips for Free to Play Mobile Games

How to keep players returning to your freemium or ad supported game
4.6 (13 ratings)
Instead of using a simple lifetime average, Udemy calculates a course's star rating by considering a number of different factors such as the number of ratings, the age of ratings, and the likelihood of fraudulent ratings.
101 students enrolled
Created by Jason Short
Last updated 8/2017
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  • 4 hours on-demand video
  • 1 Article
  • 1 Supplemental Resource
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion
What Will I Learn?
  • Why players play games, and how to satisfy their unique needs
  • Design a game session with a return trigger
  • What should you sell with IAP?
  • Get players to buy that first In App Purchase
  • Build core game loops, with sessioning, and return triggers
  • Understand premium currency and economics in F2P games
  • Understand game mechanics and why you need to think about them
View Curriculum
  • Interest in designing free to play (f2p) games for mobile game platforms
  • You should understand how free to play mobile games work on iOS and Android
  • You should have played some F2P mobile games
  • Want to understand Game Mechanics and why they work

This course is designed for developers or game designers working on mobile games.  You might be an indie game developer, or part of a professional AAA game team.  All that you need is a desire to make your game better, and understand what makes your players return to the game over and over.

We are not going to go into any specific technology or game programming.  This is a design course!

We will cover the following topics:

  • Player Types and what they want
  • Reward Systems
  • Core Game Loop, Wait Loop and Grind Loop
  • How to Keep Players Returning
  • Triggers - Return, Social, Events
  • Example Games with deconstructions on why they work (or don't!)
  • Premium currency 
  • What should you sell using IAP?
  • How to earn that first purchase from the player
  • What Game Mechanics work for player retention?

Mobile Game Deconstructions:

  • Idle Heroes
  • Tap Titans 2
  • Spaceship Battles
  • Scale
  • and more depending upon student feedback

Who is the target audience?
  • Indie Game developers
  • Anyone who wants to know how freemium games work
  • Students building their first game
  • Hobyists wanting to build engaging free to play games
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Curriculum For This Course
38 Lectures
Game Design is a skill you learn through practice
4 Lectures 14:08

Welcome to the Free 2 Play game design course!

Preview 03:04

A fun little indie game with some dance move mechanics for a quick, easy to play title.  It has some room for improvement, and I have been working with the developer to improve the game.

Preview 05:15

Feel free to skip this lesson if you want to just jump into the course.  

I am introducing myself and covering sort of how I have gotten to this point in my life.

  • Taught at Full Sail University in their game development department
  • Guest lectured at Tokyo Institute of Technology
  • Presented at GDC on AI design after Helicops was built
  • Presented at Tokyo Game Conference on a game I built for Japan market
  • Judge for multiple game jams in the US Pacific Northwest
  • Assisted over 20 indie game developers get their game from 1.2 star up to 4+ star ratings

There are some random facts about me at the end of the video, and ONE LIE.  Can you figure out what the lie is?

Preview 05:12

Please post your favorite free or freemium game in the discussion area.  Tell us why you like it, and how you might improve the game.

Assignment: Post your favorite free or fremium game
About Players
3 Lectures 24:44

What are Bartle player types?  Why should you care?

Understanding Player Types

Players love to get rewards.  Spend some time thinking about what types of rewards.  Do you make them random or the same every time you play?  What about EPIC chance for loot?  Do players care?

Rewards and Goal Systems

Choose how and when you reward your players.  The game mechanic of scheduled return to the game.

Choosing a schedule game mechanic
Game Play Loops and Return Triggers
9 Lectures 23:17

Core Loops are the "meat" of your game.  If you don't CLEARLY define what the core loop is, you will have a mess of a game.  This is the part I prototype (along with a single game mechanic) as early as I can in game development.

Core Loops

This lecture is broken up into the following parts to make it easier for you to review them later.  Having one big lecture that you need to skip around in wouldn't be all that helpful (I think).

Return triggers are almost anything that compels the player come back after they have left the game.  How do you encourage them to return?  Multiple sessions are THE KEY to free to play game longevity.  If players don't come back you are doomed.

Return Triggers

Giving players a regular time that they know to return for something is a great mechanic.  It could be a weekend sale, or a tuesday special drop, anything really.  As long as the player knows about it, and can schedule time for it.

Appointment Triggers

Adding a checklist (or a signpost) to tell players when their session is complete for the day is a great way to ensure players are not frustrated and feel like they are making progress each day.

Daily Checklists - Signposting

Test your assumptions!  Look at triggers as something you can change over time!

Testing your triggers

People are competitive!  You can challenge them to return when someone beats their high score.

Competitive Triggers

Relying on friends for game play triggers, or adding guilds or other real world people groups can be very effective at generating return triggers.

Social Triggers

Tying game events to real world holidays or short time events.  Weekend specials, and special days of the week also work as a nice game mechanic.

Special Events

This was very effective in the early days of iOS, but it doesn't work anymore.  Today users are prompted for permission to allow notifications.

You can still use them for appointment reminders, but do not use them for nudging the user after XX days.  That doesn't work anymore.

Nudge Triggers
Economics of Free 2 Play
3 Lectures 20:56
Game Economics

Deciding what to sell in your game is a key aspect of game design.  If you sell the wrong thing, no one will buy.  You need to decide how to make the player desire what you are selling.

IAP - In App Purchases - What to sell

When and where to advertise in your game.  You need to make money in a free game, but advertising can be both good and bad.

Advertising and Rewarded Video
Tips for Indie Dev Teams
7 Lectures 35:46

This section is all about quick tips.  Some of these are from blog posts I have done in the past, and some are just answers to questions I get all the time. 

Preview 00:51

What would a successful game look like to you?  Is it money, is it people playing, is it awards?

Define Success for your game

Deciding how big of a first project to tackle is a real problem.  Many early designers start with something they can never complete, it is just out of their abilities.  This leads to them abandoning the project, or getting discouraged and just quitting entirely.  Don't let this happen to you.

Define the scope of your first project

People new to game development always ask me "What engine should I use to build my game?"  This is such a hard question, but I give three really good ones and WHY you might want to use each of them.

Play with engines

How you do you finish that first or second game?  Project management is something that most schools don't teach, but it is essential to you being able to finish what you start.

Set and Keep Goals with Project Management

MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product.  This is what you need to build FIRST before you start on a full game.  You need to test the MVP for play mechanics, and is it fun?

What is an MVP?

Added this as an example video for the MVP lecture.  This is an example where to make this game you only need three mechanics to test your MVP.  It is really easy to see how this game has layered graphics and level mechanics on top of the core, but the core MVP is super simple to get up and running.

Canabalt Gameplay Example
Technical Jargon
2 Lectures 13:59

What is the difference between ARPU and ARPPU?  What does LTV mean and why does it matter?

Industry Acronyms

What KPIs are important?  Which should you watch and how do you know if they are good or not?

KPIs - Key Performance Indicators
Game Desconstructions and Bonus Lecture
10 Lectures 01:45:00

You made it!  I will also post updated videos in this section as questions are asked and I make new game breakdown videos as well.

Congratulations on finishing the course

BBTAN is a great brick breaker that I was introduced to by a student in a live session.  This started an interesting journey for me of other brick breakers and how they each have a different take on the genre.

Preview 08:28

BBTAN has an interesting 30 minute countdown on the screen.  What happens when it hits 0?  400,000 people on YouTube wanted to know!  I discuss it with you.

Preview 05:05

Ballz is a very popular game that was requested to be reviewed by someone at a live event I did.  After I recorded this I was told by several people that the game BBTAN was the inspiration for this game (I don't know if that is true or not).

This is a good game, but has poor monetization.

Preview 10:39

Another brick breaker, this one has a lot of character and polish.  Took the game in a few directions I hadn't thought about, and made a few mistakes (in my opinion).

Preview 13:17

One more brick is another great entry in the Brick Bracker genre.  Adds a few more game design tweaks that I like.  The core game loop is really the same, but there are some different game mechanics.

Preview 26:23

Scale by 101 Digital.  Free to Play game that has a lot to like, but is missing some monetization oppurtunities. 

Preview 09:07

This is a whirlwind tour of a current free 2 play title.  I am going to touch on a lot of the terms and hot points that we will go into deeper during the course.  

This is an attempt to give you a quick intro to how I look at games as I play them.

Preview 17:38

Part 2 of the walkthrough.  The game is quite large and it took a long time to explain the various systems used in it.

Preview 11:32

Links to articles and additional reading resources about game design, game mechanics, and just indie game life in general. Also ways you can follow me through other medium.

BONUS Lecture
About the Instructor
Jason Short
4.6 Average rating
13 Reviews
101 Students
1 Course
Lifelong geek with a passion for technology

I am a lifelong geek who builds and teaches about app development in my free time.  I contribute to open source projects as well on Github, and am a frequent speaker at Code Camps and developer events.

I work for Microsoft (located in Redmond, WA), and teach at an after hours app club.  I enjoy working with other developers who are building passion projects.

I have been building software professionally for about 20 years.  I have worked on multiple engineering team inside Microsoft, and had my own companies prior to joining in 2010.

I started learning programming to make games on my Commodore 64!  Since then I have built shareware, bbs door, and a few commercial AAA game titles.  These days I build and teach mobile development as a hobby.