Thatgamecompany’s latest game Sky: Children of Light is, like many games in the crowded mobile market, built on a free-to-play model designed to be sustained by microtransactions. In an interview with GamesIndustry.biz, studio co-founder Jenova Chen has talked about the delicate balance needed to support an ongoing game financially without its in-game purchases feeling too predatory.
Since its inception, Thatgamecompany’s games have bucked industry trends by focusing on interaction and exploration in a market flooded with action and combat. Their latest mobile game Sky: Children of Light, currently available for iOS, is no different despite its new business model.
Chen says that when they were researching other freemium business models, microtransactions were often built around conflict and competition. “The more I played these games, the more I felt like the developer was like an arms dealer,” he told GamesIndustry.biz. “They’re selling weapons for whoever wants to pay to win. The conflict is what drives spending. That’s definitely something I don’t want to associate with.”
Instead of leaning into these systems, or using the gambling-like gacha model, Chen says they instead leaned into the social aspect of the game–helping not only provide a different type of value to microtransactions, but also to keep players engaged in between new content drops from the developers.
“Everyone understands if we just continue to produce content, like a premium game, the player will always consume it faster than you’re making it. So we shifted our strategy to focus on how we could build a park where people who love this type of game can find a social space,” he said. “What keeps the players around is the other players, not the game.”
In line with this philosophy, the in-game economy was instead built around gifting and giving, encouraging social connections between players–though in testing Thatgamecompany soon discovered it was necessary to give players the ability to be at least a little selfish. “When everything is about giving, people start to do quid pro quo and sometimes when you gift something to someone and that person doesn’t return the favour, you get angry because you’re expecting it to return.”
By re-introducing some “selfish” purchases, however, this transactional impulse was balanced out.
The full interview has plenty of other insights into the development of Sky, and how the same design theories that were used in Thatgamecompany’s other games were implemented into the mobile title.
GameSpot’s review called Sky “an ambitious evolution of thatgamecompany’s previous endeavors without straying too far away from what has made them special.” Read our full review here.
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