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Darknet's Free Launch
Why I'm giving my whole game away for free (temporarily).
At Oculus Connect, it was announced that Samsung’s Gear VR would be launching without a payment system in its app store. It’s just not ready to handle real cash yet. I haven’t spoken with many other developers, but my understanding is that, with no way to earn money, most Gear VR devs will be releasing a free demo or “lite” version, or else delaying the launch of their game entirely.
I’ve decided to try out a different strategy: The full, premium version of Darknet will be available for free at launch. It will be my gift for the early adopters of Gear VR. Later, once the payment system is ready, it will cost $10, but anyone who downloads it early will get the full game for free.
I expect that this will sound a little insane at first. After all, I’m making a pretty risky game for a small, unproven platform. Usually, in this situation, the idea is to get great sales at launch, when the consumers are hungriest and the app store isn’t crowded. The no-payment situation meant that those early sales would be delayed, but now I’m giving up on that revenue entirely.
But I don’t think it’s such a crazy idea. I’m convinced that my greatest foe is obscurity, and this is potentially a chance to get tens of thousands of people to try out my game. For a little while, Darknet may be one of the only premium games available that’s focused on deep gameplay, and hopefully the earliest wave of players will go tell the world about it. Of course, this strategy only works if people actually like the game, but that’s a risk worth taking.
I also made this decision because it worked out so well when I tried it before. My first commercial game, Auralux, was initially released for free on Reddit for 24 hours. That early surge of attention led a porting company to approach me and offer to build a mobile version of the game, and it was partially the success of Auralux’s mobile version that allowed me to go indie full-time and make Darknet. I pretty much owe my entire indie game career to Reddit.
Still, my games are my only source of income, and I’ll admit it’s a little scary to just give them away for free, even for a limited time. It’s a new platform and a weird launch situation, so who can say whether this is the right call? But ultimately, I believe that Darknet will live or die based on the simpler question of whether people will enjoy the game, and I can take some comfort in that.