If you’re following me on Twitter (now X), you’ll know that I’m a huge fighting game fan. I follow the big and indie titles and regularly jump to online ranked matches on weekend to sharpen my skill and have some nice me time.
Few months ago, Arc System Works, one of the big name in video game publishing company, released Gran Blue Fantasy Versus: Rising (I, know, long title), the sequel to the previous fighting game, which I highly recommend to any newcomers to this genre. What’s interesting is this game released with several product pricing tier, which includes, a free tier. Yes, free as in free donut. This is an interesting approach as not many fighting games are priced as such even if it’s a very logical one.
Fighting games require player vs player competition to keep it alive. The more people playing, the more PvP matches happening. The more PvP matches means the more the players are absorbed in the game’s ecosystem They’ll look into spending more time in the game, improving their skills and are more likely to consume DLCs. Thus, completing the product’s flywheel. It’s not a rocket science. Therefore, reducing or even completely eliminating the barrier to entry for daily players to compete becomes a viable strategy for developers to ensure the ecosystem thrives. This is where the free tier comes in.
Having done quick researches, Gran Blue Fantasy Versus: Rising isn’t the only one that offers the game for free. Few games popped up and this is what each games are offering without costing the players any penny:
- Gran Blue Fantasy Versus: Rising (2023) — Weekly rotating roster of playable characters (4 out of 28 characters are playable), limited story and training matches, ranked and casual online matches with no custom room matches, Gran Bruise Legends! Minigame (similar to Fall Guys)
- Killer Instinct Anniversary Edition (2023) — Weekly rotating roster of playable character (1 out of 29 characters are playable), access to single-player, local and ranked modes
- Brawlhalla (2017) — Weekly rotating roster of playable characters (9 out of 61 characters), access to all game modes, online and offline
- Fantasy Strike (2020) — Play all characters, access to limited modes, including: Online Casual Play, Online Ranked Play, Practice Mode, Single Match vs. AI
I may have missed other games, but those 4 cases are enough for the time being.
What’s interesting to me is that in these games, even though they exhibit freemium business model, they don’t fall into the notion of free to win, i.e. putting strong item/character behind paywall or only allowing player to progress by excessive grinding. Player can go quite far in online competition by utilizing limited character given to them. This still valid even in the case of Killer Instinct that gives only 1 character. The game is quite balanced that makes every character viable.
So, in this case, how do you pick which one to give for free?
In this writing, I’m proposing a framework to help you decide. I call this framework CFE, which stands for Core, Flavor and Expansion. Let me explain what each means.
- Core — The main experience and functionality encapsulated in a product
- Flavor — A variation of the core experience allowing users to taste the product value in one or more different way
- Expansion — Broader mechanism to experience the core, offering users convenience not previously available just by the core itself
Looking at the previously mentioned games, I can argue that the framework implementation falls as follow:
- Core — online Player vs Player match
- Flavor — different characters to play with
- Expansion — additional game modes to improve skill with lesser pressure compared to online competitive matches
And we can see, different games implement slight variation of this approach. Core and limited Flavor are given for free, so players can pick from limited character to play online matches, in ranked or casual. While bigger flavor and expansion, like access to all characters, additional game modes and DLCs such as characters costumes are all guarded behind paywall.
This configuration allows player to compete in online environment, in a manner that may or may not falls according to their preference, but they can play, regardless. If they want more convenience, such as having non-restricted access to character that allows them to express themselves (and in a fighting game, this is very significant), then paying for the game becomes a no-brainer.
Implementing The Framework
So, how do you implement this framework to your product? Let’s take a look at an example. Say, you’re working on free-tier of your money management app. We can slice the product as follow:
- Core — Manage expense in structured manner that includes categorizing expense
- Flavor — Plan future expense on each category through budgeting
- Expansion — Hassle free expense recording and forecast potential saving
As such, you can choose to offer core for free and introduce different pricing tier to grant access for both flavor and expansion.
It may take time to slice the product this way, but one tip I can give is try to think in matter of value, instead of features for each category. This gives negotiable space to implement the values in form of features further down the line.
I hope this short note gives you inspiration and idea next time you’re trying to implement free-tier pricing in your product. In the current affair, where startups are expected to be profitable in shorter amount of time, being strategic in where we can capture value, becomes paramount. Picking which values to offer for paying customer will be important in keeping the business alive.