Dev Talk: Is There Still a Place for Premium Games on Mobile? (Part 1)

Hello, and welcome to Dev Talk, a new weekly iFanzine feature in which I ask a panel of indie game developers their opinion on a topic or current hot-button issue related to the games industry.

This week I posed the following question(s): Where do you fall on the whole free-to-play vs premium debate? Is F2P the way to go these days if you want to make money, or is there still a market out there for high quality paid games?

Here’s what the devs had to say…

Ryan Cash, Snowman

I think both options offer their own unique challenges and opportunity. At the end of the day, it’s very hard to make either model work. Or perhaps, to be more optimistic: if you build a really great game (and the monetization is right for it), both options can work out well.

Trent Gamblin, Nooskewl

I think F2P is probably the way to go to make money. Especially on Android where anyone can buy a game and refund it with no human interaction instantly and just get it for free. There is definitely still a market for paid games though. Personally I don’t play F2P games and all our games are paid. I guess I’m old school.

Ryan Carag, Raiyumi

Yeah definitely. There’s still a market for premium games, but quality for both F2P and premium has risen expontentially compared to the past. It really depends on the type of game. For example games like Monument Valley wouldn’t work with ad monetization and ads would distract from the artistic approach it takes. On the other hand Cat Bird, I believe, worked best with ad monetization simply to attract more users and especially as my first mobile game. I’m not sure how it would’ve fared as premium, but I’m happy with the current results!

Dan Taylor, Thunderbox Entertainment

This is one of those “apples and oranges” questions. Some games make sense as premium, others make sense as F2P. Games like Dandara, The Room and Oddmar have found success as premium games due to their thoughtful design, beautiful art and high production values. Multiplayer games like Pokemon Go or Clash of Clans need a massive install base so that the social and multiplayer elements have a solid foundation… and the only way to do this is to offer the core game for free. With that in mind, games can be designed to properly integrate monetization into the main game flow. Some games just can’t shoehorn in a monetizing mechanic, and so premium is the only viable deployment choice.

Board games are a very interesting section of the app ecosystem, as they usually retail for a relatively high price point. We’ve seen good results with this, but it has been hard to build a multiplayer community, so we are investigating new ways to rapidly grow our install base. Unfortunately there is a side effect of most games being F2P… The consumer’s perception of value has been massively skewed. We’ve had a few people complain that Roll For It! isn’t good value at $1.99, even though it’s a feature-rich game with AI, online multiplayer and all sorts of cool shenanigans! If you only play it for half an hour, it’s already better value than a latte from Starbucks. But when consumers can get Fortnite for free, it’s hard to explain why an indie-made dice game costs money.

Desmond Wong, The Gentlebros

We used to think premium was dead because that’s what everyone was saying. However, Cat Quest has made us the most money, many many times more than any F2P game we’ve made. This shows us that premium games are still very much alive and that there is an audience willing to support it. I still do believe that F2P games have a higher potential to earn money of course, but if you don’t want to sell your soul to be successful, premium games are still a really great way to do it.

Barry Meade, Fireproof Games

The paid market still exists but it is very niche, about 5% of the mobile market last time I checked. So to survive you really need to know how to negotiate that tiny but well informed market. Apple and Google used to promote these games more and gave the market an extra boost but that’s faded away now so paid games are tougher than ever to survive in. As with any small market, the best thing you can do as a developer besides having a world-class game is have cheap overheads and costs. If anyone wanted to make a lot of money or build a studio in mobile games, I would advise them to make a free to play game instead as your path from funding to sales is made much easier. However you still need to make a kick-ass game which, frankly, most of the industry doesn’t know how to do. But we’re all learning.

Johan Larsby, Pastille Games

F2P is what everyone is expecting. Only unique unicorns can make money on paid games. The market has just shifted. All you have to do is to compare the list on any app store. Compare the highest grossing and the paid games list and you will find such a small overlap that it is ridiculous. Still, paid games are the more ethical way to go. A lot more thought has to be put in to make IAP’s and advertisement fair in your game.

Jinn Karlsson, Pastille Games

Following the market by making F2P games but trying to make the IAP ethical is a huge challenge. Subscription based games or non-consumable IAP (something that the player will have forever after it’s bought) are things I think are interesting and give the player more for their money. But still, like Johan said, it is a huge and hard effort to make this work in a financially sound and “nice” way.

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