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Learn with me

June 25, 2010
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This is Ian Schreiber writing (yes, I’m still around, even if I haven’t posted here in awhile). For those of you who were following this last summer, I ran a free online course on game design. It was a fun time.

I’m taking what I learned from that, and doing it again this summer on the topic of game balance. The course website is here, everything else you need is linked to from there, and I hope those of you who are interested in game design will join me again as we continue our journey.

What do Education and Facebook have in common?

Since we talk a lot about social media games and online games on this blog, there’s one other thing I wanted to mention. This year, I wanted to find a way to monetize the course; it’s a lot of work, it contains real value (or so I’d like to think), so it’s only fair that I get paid for my time. While investigating the different ways I could do this, I realized that there’s a direct one-to-one mapping between monetization methods for a course and for a Facebook game. For example:

Subscriptions. Sign up for a course with a credit card, get auto-billed a small amount each week (or each month). Okay, I guess there aren’t many Facebook games that do this yet, but other online games like MMOs have been doing it for years, so it’s only a matter of time before it catches on here.

Microtransactions. The course is free, but I offer small bits of gated content individually for a small amount: maybe a sample spreadsheet or Flash app, $1 each.

Advertising. The course is free but has banner ads or embedded content thanking those who made this possible. This could take the form of enabling targeted ads on the course blog, or taking direct sponsorships from individual entities (such as schools with game programs) and pushing their program.

Commissioned work. Like the Facebook H&R Block games, someone with a vested interest in game design pays me to develop a course for them. Realistically, any school that would pay for this wants the course to be theirs exclusively, not something that they release for free online… but then again, some schools put their course materials online for free, so who knows.

The patronage model. Game is free, but there’s a donation / “tip jar” button. I don’t see this much in Facebook games, but it seems popular with Flash game portals (Newgrounds, Kongregate, Armor Games, etc.) as well as some indie games. A variant on this is “pay-what-you-want” where everyone must go through the payment screen to pay something, but that something can be any amount from $0 to $infinity (some game developers, musicians, even restaurants have tried this, to varying degrees of success).

The “Free-mium” model. Most of the course is free, but access to a block of premium content is offered in exchange for a one-time payment. This is the model I ultimately went with: the blog and Facebook group are free, but live and recorded lectures, supporting files, and direct instructor contact require money. I also went ahead and created some sample content that’s available for free, to let people see the value they’re getting. (How much is the right amount to charge? I chose $55. Why that specific amount? That’s a question for another day.)

I’m still deciding whether there’s a strong analogy because games and education are just that similar, or whether online business models are transferrable between all media (whether it be games, education, goods, services, or whatever) and online games can freely crib their business model from, say, the B2B manufacturing sector.

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