Over the last few years, mobile game developers have moved away from the premium game model for freemium titles. And it makes sense. According to a 2013 Distmo Report, 71% of all in app purchase (IAP) revenue on The App Store is generated from free apps. Those numbers are pretty eye opening, and the positives are clear: a free game makes it more likely potential players will give it a shot because there is zero monetary risk in trying it. Then if the game is able to hook a solid user base with addictive gameplay and spending incentives, there’s a chance those devoted players are going pay a great deal more than the $6-7 the developers would have charged for a premium game. Seems obvious enough, right?
Well, as a guy responsible for publicizing and marketing apps, let me take a contrary position as an advocate for premium games – particularly in how it can impact the marketing of your game. Here are a few thoughts based upon first-hand experience:
Monetization Scrutiny: in a nutshell, you better get it right because media will review how a game is monetized. An app with captivating and engaging gameplay, coupled with poorly implemented, or overly invasive monetization methods, will almost always result in negative coverage.
Game Perception: because they come with a price tag, premium games tend to have a higher perceived value to media, so review codes are an incentive to review the game. Not so with freemium games. Many game reviewers will forego a code thinking that they can download it for free when it launches and review it. The likelihood of that occurring is slim as reviewers are tremendously swamped with apps to check out, so there’s a great chance you’ll miss out on coverage. Post-launch, having premium game codes opens up other value-added publicity opportunities such as consumer promotions and giveaways.
Pricing Strategy: we’ve worked on a handful of premium mobile games that enjoyed critical success with users and press, generated a healthy share of downloads and months later launched a free version with additional content. It gave the developer the opportunity to launch their game twice and pull in two different audiences, as well as build their brand in a much more powerful way. Conversely, once a game is out for free, it’s out there and unless the new content schedule is robust and the gameplay phenomenal, it will likely fade quicker than a premium game.
The success of the freemium model in recent years has caused the explosion of free games, and deservedly so, but let’s not sound the death knell for premium games just yet. There is still significant upside for producing those games too.