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I do not believe in F2P games

Free-to-play games are now extremely popular and many creators think that developing a F2P title can be a simple way to enjoy massive popularity and generate high revenues. But what are your chances of success if you're a small indie developer?

Michal Stepien, Blogger

February 18, 2014

4 Min Read

Free-to-play (F2P) games are now extremely popular and many creators think that developing a F2P title can be a simple way to achieve a great success and can lead the way to a huge response from the press and players. Actually if you look at the statistics, F2P games enjoy massive popularity and are able to generate revenues worth millions of dollars. Reports also indicate that the future belongs to F2P. According to a recent App Annie's report, applications featuring a freemium model generated 93% of total revenue in the App Store. Although personally I don't believe this data to be entirely true because it takes into consideration all apps and games with IAPs (not only freemium), these statistics are indeed very impressive. And if you look at such titles as Clash of Clans or Flappy Bird, it might seem that with a good F2P game you aim for the jackpot.
Source: App Annie, http://www.appannie.com
In the light of this information it might sound surprising to many, but I do not believe in F2P. I will say even more - I don't like F2P, either as a player or as a game developer. First of all, we need to pay attention to a few facts. And so it is extremely difficult to make a good F2P game - plain and simple. If you want to create a freemium title, you need to take note that from beginning to the very end your game needs to be designed in an appropriate way. You also need to perform a soft launch, so in other words you need to release your title to a limited audience to test how users play your title. Thanks to the gathered data, you can improve your micro-payments system in the hope of improving your downloads/income ratio.
For many indie studios this can be too much, because in a small team it can be really hard to create a perfectly thought out product. Sure, apparently Flappy Bird was made in only two or three days, but let's be honest - there are very few similar success stories. And, according to 148Apps, there are currently 194,512 active games in the iOS App Store alone! As you can see your chances are rather slim.
And that's another problem I have with F2P - that is competition. The rising popularity of freemium games resulted in an obvious increase in the number of such products, because every developer wants a piece of the pie. There are more than 150 games being added to the App Store daily, most of them are F2P titles. Freemium games generate revenues primarily through micro-transactions and advertising, but who will spend enough time with your game if dozens (or rather hundreds) of other F2P titles launch every single week? How many players will download it? How many ad impressions you will get and how much money players will spend on your IAPs?
Clash of Clans or Flappy Bird are great examples of success stories and both games are doing great (in the case of Flappy Bird one could even say that the fact the game got removed from the App Store added to the hysteria). But what about the tens of thousands of titles that go unnoticed? If you want to break even on your product, you need to get one million downloads or even more, but you also must keep your players active and involved for a long period of time. I'm not claiming that Premium titles are better for you, but paradoxically, Premium titles can give you a greater chance of success.
Marketing is also an issue. Games that see a rapid growth in popularity almost solely thanks to word-of-mouth are exceptions, it's like winning the big lottery. In fact promoting a F2P game can be associated with enormous costs and marketing budgets often reach hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is certainly beyond the reach of a small development studio.
Last but not least the freemium model dramatically affects the gameplay. It often interferes with the balance of the game because the developer wants to force players to spend money on IAPs. This can lead to frustration, bad ratings, and so on. This is why it is extremely important to properly adapt the gameplay to the freemium model. And this is also something that takes a lot of time.
Many players would prefer to pay once to enjoy full peace of mind and this is also why I choose paid games myself. I don't have anything against IAPs, I just want to be able to complete the game without being forced to spend an additional dime. What's more, in the case of paid products it is much easier to determine what are the expectations of the players. Moreover in the era of F2P-cult, it can be much easier to break into the rankings with a Premium game, just because in the "Paid" section of the App Store the competition is much smaller.

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