Free Buy Now

The subject of monetization on mobile is a tricky one. Obviously, starting in the early days of the App Store, a "race to the bottom" mentality developed and created a world where if something cost more than a dollar then it was a hard sell for iOS consumers. Frequent price drops and the potential to spend money on total garbage has trained iOS gamers to wait before plunking down cash for something. It's a big reason why free to play has taken off the way it has. Here, it's free to begin with so there's nothing to lose in just downloading a game, but now we have to be wary of how the monetization scheme is handled. It was much simpler when you could just buy a game, whether it was bad or good, and just get the whole enchilada up front for the initial cost, but those instances are few and far between nowadays. Like it or not, we live in a world dominated by free to play.

This can lead to some unfortunate circumstances, though. For instance, a previously paid game switching over to a free to play model. It makes original purchasers of the game feel "burned" that they paid for something that is now free, and now must deal with freemium shenanigans that they never bargained for in the first place. A recent example of this is the game Dead Effect [Free], developed by inDev Brain and published by Bulkypix, which this week went permanently free alongside its newest content update. As you can imagine, they've been receiving a pretty mixed response from people in our forums. Some are livid, and have immediately deleted the game in protest and have sworn off ever supporting either the developer or publisher again. Others are more moderate towards the switch, understanding that the world of mobile games is a tough business and sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Today, both Bulkypix and inDev Brain have chimed in on the discussion taking place in Dead Effect's forum thread. Basically, the paid version of the game has not done well, and the options were to try and go the free to play route or drop the project on iOS entirely. They have also tried to do right to their original paying customers by giving owners of the game who download the update a hefty slice of premium in-game currency, about $20 USD worth according to inDev Brain. Whether or not you feel this is sufficient compensation or if you agree with switching the pay model isn't really what I'm here to talk about. Rather, I'm more interested in a tidbit of information inDev Brain revealed as part of their explanation for the switch.

You see, Dead Effect launched on Android as a free to play title right out of the gate, whereas it launched on iOS a month earlier at $3.99 and has seen several sales since (though it's never been free). So how does the paid iOS version of Dead Effect stack up to its free to play sibling over on Android in terms of downloads? Well, according to inDevBrain, on iOS the game saw "a few thousand" downloads and over on Android the free to play Dead Effect "reached over a million downloads." That's a pretty staggering difference.

While this may not be the case for every game and every developer's situation, it makes the choice of going paid or going free to play when launching a game seem like not a choice at all. You are putting yourself at a disadvantage by going paid, unless you're in a situation where you can sustain yourself off of not very many downloads. In the case of something like Dead Effect, which has a moderately-sized development team, a publisher, and a fairly hefty amount of content and production values, the few thousand downloads they've attained on iOS in the last six months just wasn't going to cut it.

deadeffect

I'm not a fan of having a game changed into something I wasn't expecting after I've bought, played and enjoyed it, but I'm also not a fan of developers going out of business or dropping an awesome project altogether because it's not making sustainable income. In the case of Dead Effect, the change isn't really a bad one, unless you absolutely hate anything that's free to play on principal alone. As I mentioned, previous owners have been given a nice gift of in-game currency, and the freemium model itself is pretty unobtrusive and typical of other free to play games where everything can be earned just by playing. There is a very occasional ad pop-up that I'm not too fond of, and I'd even pay again to be able to disable it, but it's not that big of a deal. And, the actual update that accompanied this free to play switch has all sorts of great new content in it.

Dead Effect was and still is an excellent mobile first-person shooter. If you have never checked it out before, well, obviously now there's nothing stopping you as it's free to download. Hopefully the switch to free will bring its numbers more in line with the Android version so they can continue supporting it.

  • http://afterpad.com/ Kevin MacLeod

    This isn't the right way to handle it. It's a good game, but you don't pull the rug out from under paying customers like that.
    Release a new version as freemium. ALWAYS include the ability to opt out of ads and social features. Treat your players with respect.

    • curtisrshideler

      Whoa, are you a composer by any chance?

      • http://afterpad.com/ Kevin MacLeod

        Nope, sorry, that's another guy - I'm a photographer though ;)

  • vicsark

    So how do you guys deal with TA's review of the game?
    Do you feel it should take into account the new pay model?

  • Kiltedsheep

    I do love TouchArcade for these sorts of careful, considered pieces. People might not like F2P, but we all have to be realistic about the current market. And it makes it even more important that those who talk the talk about F2P actually shell out for premium content and support the devs, rather than wait for stuff to go on sale.

  • anarchy in the app store

    WOt de fak iz Dis bull shieeet!!!!

    • dancj

      Sorry, this is an English speaking forum.

      • anarchy in the app store

        Indeed, but I still stand by my statement, this was a bad idea...

        Making a premium game F2P is a terrible idea, gameplay wise and integrity wise...

  • Morgan01

    Part of the problem is the lack of visibility on many games that come out on the App Store. The App Store doesn't help the issue. I've noticed many of the AppStore's Editor's Choice of the Week games are not necessarily good games, but big name titles with money earning potential. The more money an individual app makes, the more money the App Store makes. This puts smaller developers or less known titles at a severe disadvantage.

    Once upon a time there used to be a thing called advertising for games. Somehow, the mobile process has brushed that aside. While sites like TouchArcade definitely help shine some light on more unknown titles, however, there are just too many title available that any single team can handle. I don't think trying to turn a game into a cash cow is the answer.

    • Arcite

      Of course, the App store has a captive audience. There is after all, only one place to get your ios apps. It's like Oprah's bookclub, one mention and instant blockbuster. It's not exactly fair how the App store is set up, many thousands of apps will never get exposure under the current setup, especially if one is only looking at the 'top downloads'.

  • torosama

    Though there are many games I support on day one at premium prices, I'm also sick of paying a premium price for a game only for it to be a travesty like that Borderlands POS they released. Which is where free to play kinda kicks in, because it gives you a taste of the game without having to cough up a lot of money for something potentially bad, then again instead of making a game more like a demo they try and turn a game into a never ending cash cow with timers and this is more annoying than getting burned at a single price point.

    With all the exposure you get from being free, I can see where the draw is. Because all the kiddies can download it too without making their parents mad for spending more money on yet another game.

  • Deixa

    What good is having a million downloads when you won't earn anything from it by making it free? Yeah you can put ads and make a little money from it but people will complain. Put iAP maybe get a little back and people will complain. I'd rather put a set price and leave it at that

    • xzeldax3

      I personally think having a premium version AND a f2p version would be the best option.

  • kioshi

    I'd like them to post how much they earned comparing the free Android and paid iOS versions, at least a proportion.

  • Nekku

    I've read the dev comment and he said you need the pre-update version 1.1 before updating to 1.2 to receive the IAP worth 20$. I don't have this version stored anywhere so I'm screwed if I consider to download this game as a fresh install. Thanks for nothing.
    This is the same BS as it is with Galaxy On Fire 2, which was one of my favorite games on iOS and now...it's ad filled garbage. I've paid a premium price for this, dammit!

  • http://www.foursakenmedia.com/ Foursaken Media

    imo, sometimes its easy to use the free vs paid thing as an "excuse" for why a game failed... I think often developers want to quantify why their game flopped (which unfortunately isn't even always possible), and if its paid, more often than not at least one finger is pointed to being paid instead of free. What we've found is that most of our games that didn't do well paid, don't do that well when switched to free either (on the same platform at least - not familiar with Android... yet :p) - I know its not just us because I spend a ton of time tracking and keeping an eye on other trends in the industry, and dropping free these days when you're game is already flopping isn't a magic opportunity like it used to be 2-3 years ago.

    I'm not saying paid is better than free, or vice versa, but I do think its not a black and white answer. Even with a million downloads, a moderate or poorly monetized game still is probably going to have a tough time recouping costs. And being able to continue to generate a lot of free downloads after the initial launch surge is likely going to be tough for almost any dev.

    On the other hand we have over a million paid downloads of Block Fortress (the paid version of BF actually has more downloads than the lite version), and Heroes and Castles has also done really well (which also continues to out perform its free counterpart by about 300-400% on a day to day revenue basis).

    In the end, I really believe that yes - the very top end of the grossing charts are always going to be dominated by free games - but as you go down the ladder into middle and upper-middle ground territory, there are a lot of paid games like Block Fortress and Heroes & Castles that continue to find their audience and do well. Its just easy to look at Candy Crush and Clash of Clans and kind of get swept away with the potential.

    Again, my point is just that I think developers should be looking at what makes the most sense for each game, because I do believe that both paid and free games are still both very viable options.

    • http://afterpad.com/ Kevin MacLeod

      This is absolutely right. I won't spend time saying "I agree" to every point, because that's basically what it would boil down to. Free isn't a panacea that will save a failed game. What it is, is a legitimate way to monetize games when those games would make sense within a freemium context.

      What I will add is that there is an added loss of goodwill associated with "changing the business model" after early adopters have already given you their money. You may make short-term profits off of new users, but people will remember what you did.

      Speaking personally, I didn't buy Horn because of what Phosphor Games did to The Dark Meadow. When you "switch" a game to freemium once, to my eyes, you lock yourself into that model forever, because no customer in their right mind would every buy a paid game from you again.

    • JohnnyJ301

      Do you guys have any plans to bring Block Fortress or Heroes and Castles to Android?

      • Bool Zero

        I will one up that question and ask if they have plans to bring them to Steam!

    • Pray For Death

      Are you planning to add controller support to H&C and BF?

    • whitestatic

      This is exactly what I've been curious about. Number of downloads isn't the stat I'm most interested in. I want to know what the monetization is over time. The premise with F2P is that you are able to create and adjust ARPU (average revenue per user/unit) on some regular basis. That your content and business model will create recurring revenue. With "premium" you're getting a one-shot payment (assuming no IAP). The "millions" of downloads may tip the scale in your favor in the short run, but if you don't convert those users to paying subscribers then, and I'm no math major, a million multiplied by zero is still zero. Content has, and will always be, king. Adjust the business model to the content/genre vs fitting content into some "desired" model.

    • Rip73

      I very much agree with all you say there and that it's not as simple as a black and white answer between free and premium. Absolutely.

      But when the difference between the two platforms and the two pricing strategies is a few thousand versus 1 million and the only differentiating factor is the pricing structure, the gameplay and its elements being the same, one has to go with the obvious answer.

      Plus one has to factor in the other elements. I believe the games of your own that you mention have iap (unobtrusive and balanced iap just to be clear and excluding deluxe iap free versions) whereas inDev didn't have any in the premium one.

      I believe the original mistake was launching at the premium price point and without iap. I accept that will be a hated opinion but I firmly believe that's where the mistake was made. Especially considered the models of the games it will be in direct competition with and that's before even delving in to the can of worms that can be associated with monetising on android never mind on iOS.

      Now that is no way disagreeing with anything you said, it's just adding to your point and showing that there is even more to be considered than just free versus paid, iap among them and many other things.
      Sometimes though, when you have two platforms with one distinguishing factor of differentiation, you kinda have to go with the obvious.

      And even in saying that, I'm not sure how well this one will monetise anyway because it really is easily progress able without any iap at all. I don't think the ad revenue will be enough to support it.
      I hope it genuinely will be but will have to wait and see.

      Thanks for voicing your opinion as well by the way. It is always very interesting to see developers point of view on certain topics. Appreciate it.

    • Morgan01

      The one problem with many Freemium games these days is that they are designed as cash cows seeking that big payoff. Many developers are going this route and foregoing the most critical aspect of gaming, an enjoyable gaming experience and the gameplay itself.

      • Salt Abdullah

        Yep. They're chasing money for money's sake. Not just charging to pay the bills. However, they're getting away with it. So who the hell's buying into it? Because if people weren't they wouldn't do it. A few weeks ago one of the panels on Leo Laporte's TWIT episode talked about spending $400 on Candy Crush on her iPhone. So there are people out there feeding the thieves.

  • Jake7905

    With such a large difference in the number of downloads, for the same game, it's easy to understand the developer's decision. Though I originally paid for the premium version, and didn't like the freemium switch, the developer's move to compensate original paying customers shows respect I can return.

  • JohnnyJ301

    Good luck inDev Brian, you guys deserve to make money because you actually have cared about your customers from the very beginning. Hope you guys do well on iOS !

  • Alexythimia23

    As someone who works it does not bother me, as sometimes i will get a deal where a game goes free, you win some you lose some. But the sad truth is its peoples mentality out there where they are not willing to pay for a quality game that pushed a lot of these companies into the freemium model, so we just need to put up or shut up, we just gotta get on with it now as its not going anywhere. I would rather pay a fixed price like jared mentioned but sadly those days are gone, i purchased dead effect but i work, but for people who don't and young kids i do feel sorry for, but hey at least give them credit for at least trying to put things right, i at least can appreciate that, as they say.... better then a kick in the teeth lol

  • Grits n Gravy

    To be fair, the reason I don't game on Android is because games are mostly FTP or full of ads while the iOS counterparts are usually premium and without ads. Some might demo the Android version and buy the iOS unless they didn't like it.

    I'd rather pay for the non intrusive experience. There has to be some middle ground for this though as I've been hit with this kind of stuff before. Like a VIP pass for previous buyers that take out the ads or something along those lines.

  • Earth Vs. Me

    The best F2P mobile game I've played is Fightback. It's a blast to play, and even though I never spent a cent on that game, it never once felt like a grind. Every time I played, I felt like I was making substantial progress. Levelling up and earning cash for weapons and upgrades happens faster than you'd expect, is is totally rewarding.

    If more F2P games were balanced like Fightback, I would be totally okay with the freemium trend in gaming.

  • dancj

    This isn't about paid vs freemium. This is about changing a game for the worse after people have paid money for it.

    It's not acceptable and everyone who paid money for it should go to Apple for a refund.

    I really wish Apple had a policy against this.

    • Adams Immersive

      I feel the same, BUT... with an Apple policy like that, the game would simply vanish, and never be updated with new features, fixes, or support for future devices/OS's. That doesn't serve the paid users very well either. I would say the mistake here was when the developers predicted that they COULD serve paid users well into the future. They were wrong, and should have started freemium (which makes me sick to my stomach). But hindsight is 20/20. They guessed wrong, and now they have to so what's best for their customers (and their grocery bills). Maybe vanishing isn't what's best.

      Now, if a company planned all along to go freemium, and sneakily gouged a bunch of early adopters on purpose, pretending to be premium--now THAT would be cause for a boycott! And it has happened, I'm sure--but I don't see evidence of that here.

  • Bool Zero

    Why not just let the premium version stand (perhaps even no longer updated) and just release the separate free version? I don't know about most but for me personally a paid game going freemium doesn't entice me to want to contribute to the switched pay model. I'm not angry that they switched; I totally understand. But I know I probably will never update my version of the app either to find out how "not bad" the new pay model is in regard to the game balance. I mean, that's why I buy paid release in the first place, to not feel that psychological game...

    • Adams Immersive

      I think that would have been a good idea. Granted, the current app economy is what it is, and one developer can't put food on the table by pretending they can change that. So unpleasant compromises may be necessary--but there are better and worse (EA/Zynga/King) ways to face this unpleasantness. Having TWO versions seems like the ideal way to change course, if a developer tried a paid model first and then had to go freemium or perish. (Which is not saying the developers of Dead Effect have done some great evil--I just like your idea better!)

  • vic_viper_001

    It's exactly this kind of shenanigans that's encouraging me to drop iOS gaming cold turkey and buy a 3DS. It's irritating to have to keep making sure each update isn't some freemium switch thing... and then be careful not to update the games that already switched. Why bother, when I can enjoy games without IAP, or worrying about them switching pay-models after I buy them?

    • oddyoh

      Plus you'd have physical controls = way better gaming experience.

    • Salt Abdullah

      I'm with you but I'm not. All the latest games are coming out on iOS. The sheer simplicity of downloading games anytime and having them playable on my phone, which is always on me is also alluring. But I hear you - this freetard business is starting to look like a cash grab.

  • Otaku73

    The AppStore is getting more and more packed with Freemiums that it has become scary. I really don't like Freemiums. As much as a want to like them, I can't help thinking that the Dev what's my money, and some are doing a really good job reminding you of that.

    Personally as a gamer, (and I am talking about many, and many years of gaming) I found this a really scary turn in the industry right now. Of course the Dev are making tons of cash, but I don't find it fare, that the fun of playing a games comes down to how much money you make for a living. Of course if I was rich I will spend without counting, but I am not, and I have to wait instead. When the iPad and iPhone came out, I saw in the technology the possibility to play amazing games with console quality graphics on the go without the use of a joystick. These types of games on the Store are getting more and more rare now.

    I am the kind of gamer that likes to lose himself into a good game, like a good book. Being taken on a journey worth every penny. Now it's about the pennies and rarely about the journey.

    When the AppStore was born, I was amazed on how cheap the games were and how good too. Now to survive the huge library of titles available, the word FREE has become a way for the Dev to get noticed, and have you downloading their App.

    I don't understand people playing "Hey day" without paying. It is obvious that the main goal of the game is not for you to have a farm but spend your money. Which means that people are spending their time working against the main idea of the game. Freemium are redesigning the concept of gaming. But I would like the Dev not to forget about those like me, that find in a game the joy of a great trip from an immersive gameplay.

    I hope that I make some kind of sense for some.
    (I seriously start to consider turning on my old PSP again)

    • Salt Abdullah

      The problem everyone fails to mention is that we TA members are outliers. We don't mind paying for games. We respect a good freemium model when it's not about paywalls or timers for the sake of tugging at your wallet.

      It's certainly gotten to the race-to-the-bottom on the app store. Everyone's competing for that freemium sweet spot. I'm afraid this is the way it will be for a while yet.

      I guess the market pays what it'll bear. I'd like to see the breakdown of the app user demographics. Like how many users are on older iPhones because they're lower on the socioeconomic rung. There's no crime to being poor - but these guys are ruining gaming for all of us. These millions and millions of users demand free games.

      Who ultimately gets dinged in the wallet? The freetards aren't, I don't think. They've got no money.

      I know developers have to keep the lights on, but it's getting a bit ridiculous when you think about games like Dungeon Keeper 2.

  • apolloa

    This is strange, I have tis game on my Nexus 7, it is one of my favorite games ever. All I did was buy the auto generating health option, it made the game a bit too easy but it didn't cost a lot a all. So can you not do the same with the now free iOS version?

  • curtisrshideler

    When you pay for a premium game, that specific app should remain that way. If they need a free-to-play version they should make a separate app. It's as easy as that. Whether they continue to support both is up to them. However, I'd hope they would.

    It really upsets me when I've paid for an app and then it transitioned into an IAP fest (cough*NewStarSoccer*cough). They should have made a separate app and put all the stupid IAP in that one so us who have a few bucks to spend AND already did so, can enjoy the game it was meant to be and not the kiddie slot machine timer fest of an app that most turn into.

  • diaskeaus

    Exactly how I felt about Bloodmasque, from Squeenix. Went from a premium priced game to a free game, and never even offered premium people any benefit for it (from what I can tell).

  • Themostunclean

    Once again, thanks a lot Android. Their consumers' aversion to actually paying for anything and rampant piracy has done nothing but hurt gaming on (non-dedicated) mobile platforms.

    • apolloa

      I HIGHLY suggest you check the top ten games that are constantly on the Apple app store list before trash talking like that! IOS users have a LOT to answer for when it comes to freemium games and iap mate.

  • kiancheong

    Hmm, so you compare a paid version with a free version and made your decision based on that. Genius maths!

  • George Willian

    excuse me, when i click no the link of Dead Effect, it lead me to REDNECK REVENGE on the Appstore; anyone knows why? The game was removed? Thanks, George.

  • Gamer_Kev

    Changing something after people paid for it to something else is down right theft. In no other medium would publishers be able to get away with this. Imagine buying an album and after you had it for a while, being told that you now had to pay any time you listen to any song other than the first one. The BBB would be all over them.

    I've never understood why developers don't just release a different version when they do this. They could even remove the original version and those who bought it would still be able to download and play what they paid for. To be sure there are a few honest developers that do so, but the majority just put up an update with a new version of the game that is something different from what the buyer agreed to pay for.

    I've had the bad luck of quite a few games I've purchased do this. As a result I very rarely buy games for my iPad or iPhone anymore unless the games are released by a developer I happen to trust. Last summer, being fed up with the way consumers are treated on iOS, I bought a N3DS XL for my mobile gaming needs and couldn't be happier that I did. The whole gaming experience is so much better all around and as a plus I have a lot more space on my iPad for books, magazines and more productive type apps.

    PS: this post is in reference to games that make the switch from pay to freemium, I'm not talking about games that are free to download from the outset.

  • Taclys

    Didn't Dark Meadow re-release a freemium version, but kept the paid version as well? That's how I believe it should be done. Give the customer the option to buy it. That, or have a total freemium unlock for the same price as the full purchase.

    • http://afterpad.com/ Kevin MacLeod

      Not really. They added a bunch of freemium components to the paid game while also releasing a true freemium version.

      When there was a huge gamer backlash, they removed all the premium currency from the paid version and gave everyone gold. In this process, they completely destroyed the entire currency balance of the game and alienated their fan base.

      Throwing free in-game money at early adopters doesn't solve the problem either. Most of us want a well balanced game, where we have to earn money through playing. Getting millions of gold for no reason breaks the progression system. Imagine the Final Fantasy games throwing a bunch of money and experience at everyone who paid, for no reason - it would hurt a lot of the fun associated with playing the game and earning that stuff yourself.

  • oofstar

    why free to play with in game currency instead of a demo? free to play games always just seem like subscription services and it's annoying. the papa pear saga pay rates are actually obscene considering how much in app currency you need to buy anything.

    and does millions of downloads translate into more income if they're all free? I'll happily pay for something I was able to demo for free but I'm won't pay over and over again to get through a game.

  • Dcmac

    Welcome to the modern gaming industry where the market is flooded everywhere you turn and games are considered services instead of a product. If it's not always on DRM, it's freemium crap ruining the day.