Shovelware Games’ Zombie Match Defense (Free) is the latest piece of evidence that low-cost paid games are a risky, almost unworkable proposition. Jake Sones of the studio wrote a Medium post talking about how the game has failed, despite him doing pretty much everything that should be done. He went to conferences, had advertising on Facebook and a major media site (won through a contest), prerelease coverage, reviews (though admittedly mixed ones), and clever guerrilla marketing, and yet, the game made only $1,979, as of November 10th. The lack of a front-page featuring on the App Store did hurt, too.
The thing is that this whole process was sort of unsurprising. I feel bad for the game’s failure, but I was suspect of its chances as a $1.99 game without any in-app purchases at all. The evidence that the mass market just won’t pay for a $1.99 match-3 game any more has been around for a while. They might have in 2010, but that was eons ago in the age of mobile gaming. Heck, they won’t pay for a game at all unless it’s something really special, and the thing about really special things is that they don’t come around that often. Even Sones calls his game “decent," which is fair. It’s not a bad game, but it doesn’t move the Earth. And here’s the thing, there’s thousands of decent games out there for players to pick from. A decent game is no guarantee of financial viability at all right now. Could things change at some point? Sure, but for the foreseeable future, it’s way too risky of a proposition.
This is also why the anti-free-to-play attitude is so brutal – it’s causing developers to act against their own interests. Maybe Zombie Match Defense wouldn’t have made more money if it was free-to-play, but it certainly feels like the $1.99 price limited this game’s ceiling, hard. A vocal minority of people abhor advertising and IAP, and I understand the moral points, but people have shown in a market without scarcity, they don’t want to pay up front, and don’t have to.
For developers reading this? A decent game isn’t going to cut it if financial viability is the goal. The $1.99 price point is too much of a risk to make any money from, at all. And pray that you get an App Store featuring.