Heartless gamer made a very good point in a comment to my earlier post about how much the average paying user spends in a free to play game. I had linked to a famous Gamasutra article which shows that the average spend per paying user in Puzzle Pirates is $50 per month and from that I concluded that that was what a serious end game player in any free to play should expect to spend. Heartless points out that we cannot be sure it is the same 5,000 paying users every month. Perhaps a much larger group of players are making sporadic payments of $50 or so every few months. This of course changes the economics for users. If a larger percentage of players are prepared to pay something the the average cost per paying player can be less.
Perhaps the most interesting figure coming out of that article is the $3 per every user (paying and non paying) that he feels would be a very good revenue target for a flash based free to play. Every single user whether they are hard core or softcore beginner or end gamer adds some cost in terms of server bandwidth, in terms of marketing costs and in terms of support costs. Now my gut feeling is that a full blown mmorpg like Allods is a lot more expensive to create and maintain that Puzzle Pirates or any of the Flash based games. I am going to stick my neck out and guess that $6 per every user is a more realistic revenue target for a game like Allods online. Remember that subscription games are taking more than $10 or more per user even after all discount subscriptions and free trials are taken into account.
Ok going with the $6 figure the next question is: "What percentage of users will pay something"? Then it becomes simple arithmetic to determine what you need to get from paying users. If half of your players are going to pay something then an average monthly spend of $12 from them is likely to be enough. On the other hand Daniel James from Gamasutra suggests that only 10% of his players every paid anything. If only 10% of Allods players put their hands in their pockets then Gpotato is somehow going to have to squeeze $60 per month out of each of these dedicated players.
To be honest a 10% figure for paying versus non paying wouldn't surprise me. Going from the buzz in the game and on the internet there is a surprising number of people who seem to feel they have a "right" to play the game for nothing.
Based on the above analysis I don't think that a target $60 per paying user (ARPPU) is unrealistic for Allods but many of the games erstwhile most vociferous supporters clearly do think it is unreasonable. The problem here may be that the game is so good and so polished that it has attracted a large number of former players from subscription mmorpgs who are accustomed to paying only $15 per month for a game of this quality. Unfortunately if most people are going to pay for free then there is no way the small number of serious payers are going to get away with $15 per month or anything like it.
What to do?
1. Try to broaden the revenue base as much as possible - stack the cash shop with cheap novelty and convenience items that will get $1 or $2 from a much wider spread of customers.
2. Consider gating content in some way and charge for access. Free to play up to level 10 or whatever.
3. Think about going to a subscription only model - you would lose a lot of customers but those you keep would pay their way.
4. Cash shop and optional subscription combined. This is tricky - If most of your players still opt to play for free and hard core players use the subscription to limit their cash shop expenditure then you won't get enough average revenue per user. Since subscription players would rightly expect to have unhampered access to all game content you would need to stack your cash shop with glamour items (pets and such) in order to entice a few extra dollars off subscription players.
5. Introduce a pay for time model with some free allowance of time to justify the continued "free to play label"
5. Accept that former World of Warcraft Players are a dead market for this game. Sit out the mass exodus that occurs once the cash shop becomes live and advertise heavily to players of Puzzle Pirates and similar games who are used to $50 per month expenditures.