There’s definitely a discomfort among smaller developers about how to simulataneously take advantage of the benefits of free-to-play – the large audience and desire of many people to not pay up front for games – while throwing a bone to the vocal paid game audience. The upcoming NeoWars is going to be the latest to try a sort of hybrid model out in their next game. They discuss on our forums something called the Retron Converter. Basically, every time that you buy a gear pack, it fills up the Retron Converter, and once you fill the bar up, the game converts to paid mode. What’s interesting is that incentivized video ads will also fill up the Retron Converter. So theoretically, you could get NeoWar‘s paid mode without any money changing hands.
This sort of tactic is interesting but has really yet to take off in any significant way. Bombcats tried a paid mode that could be unlocked, but the way you did it was rather arcane as you had to buy a couple separate IAPs, it wasn’t just one thing you could buy. And the game bombed. It hurts me emotionally to make that pun, but it’s too appropriate to not use it. Strange Flavour tried hard with their PlayNice system to do free-to-play in a limited way, but they eventually went back to just doing paid games with a paid re-release of Any Landing ($2.99). And I think that it’s telling that Mediocre, who saw success with Smash Hit (Free) as a freemium unlock game, went paid with Dirac ($1.99). The history of free-to-play says that if a developer gives a player good enough reason to not pay, or to cap their expenditures, they won’t pay. But consider that big-money free-to-play has had a lot of testing, research, and experimentation that smaller indies can’t do. Maybe having a progress bar to fill with the Retron Converter might be the way to finally make this ‘no whales’ free-to-play work?