Catching lightning in a bottle is a ridiculous notion when taken literally; even if it were physically possible, the feat would be so difficult to replicate as to be virtually impossible. And yet, game industry insiders and analysts keep trying to sell us on more conductive lightning rods and better bottles.
At GDC Europe this week, Ubisoft online games supervisor Teut Weidmann cautioned developers against following the monetization model set forth by Riot Games' League of Legends. "My conclusion was that League of Legends gives too much away for free and it doesn't sell power," Weidmann said. "Riot doesn't care. Optimizing monetization is not the top priority. They monetize purely through their reach. So it only works because of the large user base, and if you don't have that user base or don't expect to, you should not adopt their monetization. It should not be a role model for your monetization system."
League is a financially successful game despite a supposedly low conversion of free-to-paying customers and each customer's supposedly low amount of money spent – I say "supposedly" because Weidmann said he had confirmed with Riot employees that the conversion rate was below five percent, and his estimate for amount of revenue per paying user ($35) is based partially on that claim. Weidmann called League "an exception."
Here's the thing: Weidmann is right. Unless you're a company like Valve, which has the resources and built-in audience, chasing after League will probably not end the way you'd like. But saying that League monetizes "purely through their reach" ignores a crucial part of the equation, namely how they got that reach in the first place. Riot attracted 27 million daily players and $624 million revenue in 2013 for a simple reason:
Because they caught lightning in a bottle.