Many game developers these days are going free-to-play, permitting people to download their creations for free only to nickel and dime them for additional lives, time, characters, levels, coins, or anything else that may be required to make the experience actually enjoyable. In an interview with Pocket Gamer, Double Stallion, the team behind Big Action Mega Fight, explained how it decided to buck this trend by turning their freemium game into a premium one - and how they ultimately ended up making more money in the process. Going forward, the crew has decided that it's done making free-to-play games.
"On a business level, during our $1.99 launch week June 25th to July 1st, revenue from the premium version of game across all versions surpassed lifetime revenue up to that point,"
- Nicolas Barrière-Kucharski, BAMF Designer
BAMF's developers felt as though they had to compromise their original vision for the game by adding elements that would make the product profitable and the company sustainable. And compromise they did. When the time came to go premium, they ended up having to remove ads, push notifications, scheduled rewards, virtual currencies, and other means of monetization. They then had to rebalance the game to make it enjoyable on its own.
Game designer Nicolas Barrière-Kucharski offered multiple theories as to why BAMF struggled as a free-to-play title. One, the company couldn't support it as an ongoing service. Freemium games function as a service where players get new rewards and incentives to return regularly. This requires a team to spend time thinking up and implementing compelling nuggets into an existing title rather than working on another project. Double Stallion, an independent studio consisting of just five team members, found this unsustainable. They were thus faced with the prospect of having a "dead" free-to-play game that wouldn't receive updates.
Barrière-Kucharski also felt that fighting games don't have the best reputation on mobile thanks to unwieldy virtual controls, and this preconception worked against the title. But BAMF's controls are more touch-friendly, and this news eventually spread through word of mouth. Regardless, there was a bigger issue than the controls:
"Which, in the end, didn't really matter, since players passionate about quality fighting games didn't overlap with people interested in free to play games."
Double Stallion is now working on a number of projects that aren't free-to-play, but none of them are currently intended for mobile devices. It feels that the area is too saturated with heavier players and that getting discovered remains a big challenge. The company may try again in the future if things change, but for now, it's looking elsewhere. The team learned a lot, and it's able to walk away having at least made some money from the experience. That alone is reason to smile.
As someone who prefers the premium model, this story puts a smile on my face. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to stretch this out to be an example of why the free-to-play model is doomed to failure. It doesn't take much searching to find stories of previously paid games going freemium, such as Rovio's Tiny Thief or Gameloft's popular MMORPG Order & Chaos. In those cases, all we can do is ask for our money back and play something else (in the case of the former) or hope that the game doesn't make a sharp turn for the worse (in the case of the latter). The hard truth is that many companies are making money from this approach, even if it isn't, as Double Stallion found out, a one-size-fits-all solution.
Source: Pocket Gamer
Photo Credit: Jen Whitson, Double Stallion website