How to do IAP right in RPGs

Gamers hate IAP (in-app purchase). It’s consistently voted as the aspect of mobile games that players hate most. Particularly loathed are “play to win” models where buying endless and increasing amounts of premium gems/gold/crystals ends up being a requirement to progress.

But devs have to monetise somehow. And with many players unwilling to risk the “price of a coffee” on a mobile game, they’re in a challenging position. Devs, even if they’re developing as a hobby or a labour of love, frequently have costs. But there are better ways to do IAP than pushing players to spend hundreds of bucks on crystals.

1. Pay to unlock the full game

For most players, this is pretty reasonable and it’s a very old model, going back long before the era of mobile gaming. You play the first couple of chapters, then you pay to unlock the rest of the game. Apple had a “Pay Once & Play” promotion for zero-IAP games: including “free” games with an one-off unlock IAP would be really good. Maybe they could even call it something else, and have an “Unlockable” category?

2. Buying extra content

Adding extra content to a game, in the form of new chapter or expansions, is another way that a game can be kept “alive” and generating income for devs. This can also be in the form of additional playable characters or character classes. Polytopia is free and completely playable with several tribes in the base game, but you can also pay to unlock other tribes.

3. Convenience perks

These include features such as auto-loot. The base game shouldn’t be make clunky or irritating, but walking over an item to pick it up versus manually tapping on it is a convenience feature worth paying for for some players. In a previous post I listed a few suggestions:

  • a slightly larger minimap square
  • autolooting bodies
  • autosell junk items
  • an extra life for recharge games (I bought this on Two Dots to try and show appreciation as the base game is free)
  • slightly faster recharges
  • slightly bigger loot bag/more item slots
  • early access to new features or content

4. Collectible fan items

These include things like customisation options and skins, or gear that doesn’t affect stats. Mage Gauntlet has collectible hats which make no difference to stats, they are just for fun, and some of them are only available via IAP or for early buyers of the game. Another one is gear exclusively for pre-orders, which may be valuable/useful early in the game, but later on is surpassed by better gear so it doesn’t affect the ultimate chance of winning.


So there are ways to get IAP right in RPGs, in a way which doesn’t frustrate players but is even welcomed by them, while also helping devs get some financial reward for their efforts.