Free to Play Models for SaaS Services

Photo by SCREEN POST on Unsplash

A while back I was checking out some models that free to play games used to gain revenue. I realized that, to an extent, virtually all these models could be used for apps — but no one was trying it.

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Premium Subscriptions

I’ll start this list off with the one free to play model I have seen software use. In reality, subscriptions are prevalent all across software — games or not. The reasons behind this are pretty clear — they’re very easy to implement, and provide a stable source of revenue. The one downside is that sometimes people just don’t want to give money monthly to something that they only use sporadically — this can be a bad thing for both games and apps alike. 

Energy Bars

No, I’m not talking about Clif. Have you ever played a game like Candy Crush, and notice that you can only do a certain set of actions in a given time? In free to play games, this is called the energy bar. It’s purpose serves two-fold — to some users, it manages the amount of time they’re on an app so that they aren’t playing it constantly. However, others who insist on playing longer can pay to extend their energy bars. A similar approach could be used for apps that involve active participation. However, make sure your energy bars are long enough that you aren’t upsetting large amounts of users by cutting their experiences short! 

Premium Currency

A premium currency in video game terms is a currency that can traditionally only be obtained by purchase, and allows you to exchange it for a small subset of items that boost your in-game experience. Technically, premium currency models are in use in SaaS apps already. For example, AWS uses credits which you can use to buy more time on their servers. I have a feeling that premium currencies will probably be the next big item that is used universally across all of software, as they remove the issue for people who use apps sporadically (they can buy the currency any time they wish).

Cosmetic Items 

Okay, this one might sound weird — but hear me out. The purpose of cosmetic items in free to play games is to give premium users worthwhile items without providing them any distinct advantage over free to play users. If you let premium users buy items that made them significantly more powerful than free to play users, then free to play users would become upset and leave en-masse. The translation of this concept to SaaS apps might involve giving premium users added benefits that don’t necessarily exclude free users from the full experience. Think bonus content, rather than unlocking content. 

Loot Boxes

Loot boxes are highly controversial, and are already being subjected to a lot of regulation — it’s for this reason that I list them last. Still, loot boxes are certainly worth mentioning if only for their massive success as a revenue component. Loot boxes are a form of gambling that is legal because they a) do not involve direct purchases (they have their own currency you use to get them, and that currency can be obtained for free) and b) they are transparent on the probabilities of you receiving certain items. Technically, you could use this as a method of giving out the “premium currency” or “cosmetic items” that I mentioned earlier, or some other added bonus that is tied to the app (just make sure they aren’t physical items — those still count as gambling!). 

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