Some fun (or not so fun) stats on the popularity of free to play on TouchArcade

Discussion in 'General Game Discussion and Questions' started by Eli, Dec 28, 2014.

  1. Eli

    Eli ᕕ┌◕ᗜ◕┐ᕗ
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    I was going through our traffic stats over the last year for front page content to put together another year end article like this one to go over what stories generated the most interest over 2014 to put together another article like that as well as figure out a plan for 2015. Last year free to play was pretty huge, but this year it's a whole different animal. Historically our year-end coverage generates large amounts of traffic. We intentionally publish that stuff on Christmas and the day after to soak up clicks from all the people out there who opened up a new iPhone or iPad and are looking around online for recommendations on what games they should load them up with. Like all the years before it, all of these stories did incredibly well.

    ...But when I expand the traffic reports beyond the Game of the Year post, top games post the cumulative traffic of everyone's personal top ten lists and compare the traffic our various free to play guides (such as the recent SimCity guide) things get pretty crazy:

    [​IMG]

    Starting from when we posted the GOTY stuff on Christmas morning until posting this thread, free to play content generated more interest judged by actual site statistics than all of our game of the year stuff combined. (And again, the best of/game of the year stuff generates far more traffic than typical TouchArcade stories and this was true again this year.) When I expand the date range of stat reporting out to include more "normal" TouchArcade content like random news and reviews instead of specifically focusing on what historically are some of our highest interest articles of the year, the disparity grows even more.

    Anyway, I just thought this was sort of interesting- Particularly considering the comments those guides typically get revolving around how no one cares, no one reads them, or whatever else. In actuality, as sad as it is, those comments would be comparatively very appropriate in actual "premium" game reviews and news stories instead.
     
  2. fury

    fury Well-Known Member

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    #2 fury, Dec 28, 2014
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    Makes sense. Attention spans around Christmas are very short. Kids are still high off the excitement of ooh shiny, and want to play all the things! Older kids are juggling between still being sociable with the family and killing time. People aren't looking to hunker down for a 12 hour gaming session around this time, so the free stuff that you can play in chunks of a few minutes between waiting periods is probably really the only thing people are looking for. Though, I remember back in my day before I internetted, I would literally play my new Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis or N64 the whole week straight. Without sleeping. How times have changed.

    Might be interesting to see statistical trends throughout the year, i.e. once people get over the Christmas spirit and get back to every day life, do game-of-the-year/top-tens pick up speed as people are looking for more fulfilling experiences, or is it all still a drop in the ocean of free to play?
     
  3. Eli

    Eli ᕕ┌◕ᗜ◕┐ᕗ
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    When you remove the traditionally very high traffic game of the year and similar articles and replace it with normal every day content like news and reviews the free to play guide slice grows far, far more.
     
  4. kmacleod

    kmacleod Well-Known Member

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    Interesting to see that, and (sadly?) not all that surprising.

    One thing I'm curious about: where is this traffic coming from? Is it primarily regular readers?
    I'm completely guessing here, but I'd theorize that this traffic is primarily made up from people who reach TouchArcade via Internet searches for "how to spend the least in Freemium Game X". If that's the case, maybe these people are less likely to be regular TA readers, and are instead single-purpose guests. Whereas your regular readers might be more interested in editorial content about which games are your favorites, etc.
    If that's the case, then tailoring more of your content to this audience might not actually be useful.

    Perhaps it's worth digging in to where this traffic is coming from. If you're trying to appeal to your base of regular readers, articles who's traffic comes hugely from a non-regular audience might not be as important as the raw numbers say.

    I don't know, just my two cents. Personally, I have no problem simply ignoring articles I'm not interested in, so I don't take it as a personal offense when someone posts a guide that many people out there might find useful.
     
  5. blahdo

    blahdo Well-Known Member

    Dec 28, 2013
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    Not really suprising.

    Searching for Terra Battle guide or Seabeard guide usually has TouchArcade in a few of the links.

    There doesn't seem to be much forums anywhere else for mobile gaming.

    The people who comment/register are usually the ones who don't like IAP which is why the most of the comments are always negative and rate down freemium games.
     
  6. cloudpuff

    cloudpuff Well-Known Member

    Sep 12, 2013
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    Are multiple visits to the same article counted once or does each visit count as a click? What I mean is, the Iap freemium style articles generate more debate and you'll have people going back several times and in some cases from different devices to see if they've been replied to and to respond to comments etc. I was just wondering if that would bulk out the traffic?
     
  7. Eli

    Eli ᕕ┌◕ᗜ◕┐ᕗ
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    The ton of our traffic across all articles comes from Google. "Regular readers," or people who just type in toucharcade.com to their browsers are important for sure, but growing the traffic of a web site these days involves writing content that people are searching for. Getting people who decide to Google "candy crush help," find TouchArcade, and says to themselves "Oh neat, a iPhone site I'll bookmark this" is how you grow as a media platform.

    In the above chart, yes, but looking at the difference in page views versus unique page views doesn't really change things. When you're talking about articles that are getting hundreds of thousands of hits, a dozen people getting really invested in arguing in comments don't really cause that big of a blip in traffic metrics it would seem. Looking at the number of page views articles get compared to the number of comments, you're talking far below 1% of our readers who actually leave comments- Much less continually come back to comment more.
     
  8. Exact-Psience

    Exact-Psience Well-Known Member

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    Goes to show the general userbase is full of cheapskates. No offense meant, but true.

    Personally i have never opened any of the free2play guides in TA intentionally... Maybe a Hearthstone article, but one that i didnt think was a guide for maximizing free play.

    Sadly, this any dev who realizes or sees this will also tilt towards making free to play games, probably making the next year worse than this. Each year the free to play mechanics have been getting worse.

    Im just glad we are still getting premium titles, but even the most respectable devs have been seen to take on free2play as well. We'll see what'll happen on 2015.

    I still believe that premium iOS gaming is still viable, despite being drowned in a cesspool of freemium.
     
  9. kmacleod

    kmacleod Well-Known Member

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    Makes sense, yeah. Heck, I remember finding myself on IGN and such 10-15 years ago searching for cheat codes and walkthroughs, and I wasnt a regular reader. Seems to me this stuff is no different. And it's not like you're clickbaiting or lying or anything like that - a lot of people obviously find these articles very useful, even if a vocal minority don't like that.

    I strongly, strongly believe that premium gaming is viable. It doesn't need to dominate everything, it just needs to be profitable.

    In fact, I'd doubt that a gaming website dedicated solely to causal mobile gaming would be viable. The people who become regular readers of a site like probably skew way into the hardcore demographic. I don't take this thread as implying that TA is going to abandon us any time soon, but more as refuting all the people who say "nobody wants these freemium articles" - obviously not true.
     
  10. Mene

    Mene <b>ACCOUNT CLOSED</b>: <em>Officially</em> Quit iO

    Mar 18, 2012
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    Quite depressing really, I'm glad to be leaving ios gaming as I don't see it getting any better.
     
  11. Eli

    Eli ᕕ┌◕ᗜ◕┐ᕗ
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    The problem is financial viability is wildly different depending on how you structure your business. If you're a one man studio doing a project on the side, then sure, premium is super viable because you don't have much to lose. Similarly, if you're commanding an ultra-niche market like the the Hunted Cow guys are that can also work. There's few situations outside of that where premium makes sense, and the people who choose to argue otherwise are willfully ignoring the mountains of real-world developer accounts posted on Gamasutra and similar where developers have tried everything to make it work and it just doesn't.

    People largely won't pay for things on the App Store, and when they do they feel developers are beholden to them for eternity to continue offering free content, updates, and other support. Similarly, when your paid game inevitably bombs, your only remaining promotional tool is lowering the price, which often only serves to piss off the people who originally shelled out whatever you felt your initial reasonable asking price was.

    Like it or not, free to play solves all of these problems. Your potential profitability is way higher since the people who want to spend money can spend as much as they want, people who will never spend anything don't have to, and there's an entire auxiliary industry revolving around all the things you can do to promote or otherwise boost the success of free to play games.

    I think a web site exclusively focusing on free to play stuff in today's market would be super viable, because that's where the people are now. When you're reporting on something, you've got to follow what's popular to some extent, or else you risk being left behind as everyone else moves on. I mean, there's more people playing Clash of Clans in a month than read TouchArcade in a year, and that's just one game.

    Fortunately, or unfortunately, that kind of thing just isn't as interesting to me as the other indie stuff we've traditionally covered... But it is a very real reality that free to play content very much pays for our ability to post about the niche indie stuff that the more vocal members of our community are into. We're not posting this stuff to provoke the now traditional reaction of "LOL JUST DELETE IT THAT'S HOW YOU WIN FREE TO PLAY," we're doing it so we can keep posting about things those people care about.

    You realize you've turned into that guy at a party who tells you he's leaving at 8:00, says goodbye to everyone, then lingers until you're like "Alright, well, I'm going to bed now..." yeah? You've been saying you're "leaving iOS gaming" for quite literally longer than I can remember.
     
  12. Exact-Psience

    Exact-Psience Well-Known Member

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    Yet you find yourself checking TA out. Right on! :D
     
  13. Exact-Psience

    Exact-Psience Well-Known Member

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    LOL... Didnt see this until i reread Eli's post. :D:D:D
     
  14. Sven - Monkube

    Sven - Monkube Well-Known Member

    Nov 9, 2014
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    We used to be Premium devs, who moved to Free + ingame IAP to download the full game. That road didn't lead to the income we hoped, so we decided to soft-launch our next game as F2P.
    There's one thing Touch Arcade never really discusses when it comes to F2P: that is the always rising cost of User Acquisition. A bit over a year ago, it was sub 1$ for users that had a decent potential to turn into paying users. Now that number is 2,5$ and up. As far as I can see, the whole 'Top Grossing' chart is a big lie, as games in that list spend an amazing amount of money to constant User Acquisition. Only the ones that seem to stay up in that chart make money (their income per player being higher that the cost to 'acquire' a new user), the ones that appear in the charts, but drop back out after a week or two, have spent a lot of marketing money and made no profit, or ever raked up big losses.

    So almost all of the F2P games that aren't even in the charts, are as dead as all the Premium games that get no downloads. And the margins of F2P keep shrinking.

    Next to not being sure that our next game would stay afloat after the launch hype and review attention wanes, the fact that 95% of your players will only play the 'Broken' version of your game really made me decide to go back to premium.

    Our business model is this: we're ultra low-cost (part of the company is based in Romania, which has low wages) and make big profit on Work for Hire projects. With that, part of the team makes Premium games. Our goal is not to make profit now, but to build a fan-base of people who buy all of your releases. As that is the only road to success that will always be there. And that's also why the F2P and Premium games by well known developers sell well, and all the rest doesn't.
     
  15. Eli

    Eli ᕕ┌◕ᗜ◕┐ᕗ
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    I'd like to think the user acquisition bubble is going to pop eventually. Personally, I find that kind of thing to be incredibly interesting but biz-dev articles on TouchArcade get absolutely no traction. I'm not sure I'd agree that the top grossing chart is a lie, as at the end of the day all of those spreadsheets have to balance somewhere. You don't spend $2.50 a pop on a user if you can't input that into a spreadsheet and see you're averaging $2.75 (or hopefully way more) return. (I mean, you could, but that's usually where you'd re-tune your monetization versus dumping more on UA.)

    I'm not going to argue there isn't scammy stuff in the top grossing list, but if you look at the top 25 which is where the lion's share of the money on the App Store is, those are all very useful apps or very fun games that are monetized well. There's really no mystery behind it. Does King, Machine Zone, Big Fish, EA and all of them spend tons of money on UA? Of course they do, but you can look at their financials which are all public as publicly traded company and see that they are making money doing it.

    It does put smaller developers in a pretty shitty spot though, as unless you've got a few hundred thousand dollars to spend on launch day UA to boost yourself up the charts you might as well not even bother. More than anything else, that's what sucks about the App Store. There's just no middle ground anymore. It's like you're either a King or you're a Dong Nguyen.

    But, anyway, for the UA bubble to pop we need to get to a point where the big players can't gross $2.51 for every $2.50 they dump into UA. As long as they're making even a tiny profit, they've got the scale to turn that into something ridiculous. It's a weird world out there.
     
  16. Rubicon

    Rubicon Well-Known Member

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    To offer a sample of one:

    It's not still viable in the slightest. Our income from premium game sales has vanished almost to zero. Our income is split into basically 4 sources:

    1) iOS premium sales and iap expansions
    2) iOS adverts in free games
    3) Android premium sales and iap expansions
    4) Android adverts in free games

    Item 4 accounts for 70% of my company's income now. Item 3 accounts for 20%. Items 1 & 2 do for the other 10%. All four combined barely pays our small team a living wage despite having over 20 skus on the markets.

    Granted it's a bit old now, but our best earning iOS title - Great Big War Game - has a BAFTA nomination and a couple of GOTY awards. It earns us about £20 a day now.

    <tl,dr>
    Premium sales on iOS are completely unviable, even for companies like ours who have had some successes in the past. You need what looks like a megahit just to pay a small team of professionals nowadays.

    If you took this as a biz plan to a bank manager he'd piss himself laughing at you.
     
  17. Sven - Monkube

    Sven - Monkube Well-Known Member

    Nov 9, 2014
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    Well, I know some F2P games that did a pretty big push in UA, but ended up crashing and burning. (and they did well in soft-launch). The only thing those guys can't predict is when other similar games will go worldwide, and start pushing UA. If 3 F2P Puzzle games get soft launched in three different territories, and do well there, but then launch worldwide and have to compete, the one having the Venture Capitalist backing with the deepest pockets wins. And also, the fact that the majority of money spent by mobile games leaves the industry though the Ad companies is a real shame.

    To me, what you and Jared explained in the last Podcast (about WayWard Souls' pricing model) was a real eye opener. Launching your game, and making the price go up with every update that ads content does not only seem logical, but it also makes launch-day the best time to jump in. We indie devs should come up with a name for that (as catchy as F2P), and form a group that doesn't bend to the 'Sale Price' panic. As that is what killed premium games as much as F2P. When a new premium game gets released, everyone waits for a sale. And when a game eventually goes on sale, the press coverage is much lower and the dev still doesn't make enough money. And lots of games that would have liked the game, miss out on it, just because they forgot.
     
  18. undeadcow

    undeadcow Well-Known Member

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    So is Touch Arcade to cater to clicks by helping gamers enjoy freemium games without paying anything? That seems like a no win situation placing developers and financial interests at odds by catering to stuff that altogether generates no revenue.

    In this future who will be left to pay out advertising revenue? Soap companies?

    Economically it's curious that developers begin to focus on creating products with no inherent value other than to attrat promotion from salespeople, like the all powerful public television.

    /Odd rant
     
  19. Sven - Monkube

    Sven - Monkube Well-Known Member

    Nov 9, 2014
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    Okay. Interesting.

    What we're thinking of doing is making a bare-bones free version of our game, just containing the puzzle mechanic (which is new, and co-created by the guy who invented the top 3 games on this All Time abstract boardgames list: https://boardgamegeek.com/abstracts/browse/boardgame), and has Ads. There would be no option to disable the ads. We just encourage players to hop onto the full game.
    Does that seem like a smart idea to you?

    Also, how big is your 'small' team, and can you ballpark the monthly operational costs? (Monkube's is just below 11.000$, for a four man team).
     
  20. Jerutix

    Jerutix Well-Known Member

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    I also find those articles to be super interesting. Is that something that you could do some sort of special forum for? Like, Touch Arcade editors only get to post quick stories or links to biz-dev stuff for those of us who care? I'm thinking something that wouldn't take up much of your time (since it probably wouldn't generate ad revenue), but is still an outlet on TA for that kind of stuff.
     

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