The problem with free apps is that they are too expensive.
This week we removed Trucks & Skulls Lite from the App Store. Trucks Lite was the last "Lite" iOS app in our catalog. There was a time when we had several Lites in our lineup -- FaceFighter Lite, Zombie Pizza Lite, Appy Newz Lite -- and we weren't alone in that. When we entered this business in 2008, the customer expectation was that they could sample full apps -- "premium-priced" at a dollar or two -- with a free Lite version and then upgrade to the paid game if they liked what they saw.
Times have changed.
Like undersea creatures crushed into strange shapes by the unimaginable pressures of the ocean's depths, pricing pressure has forced app publishers to find a rung below "free" on the pricing ladder. For Appy Entertainment -- as for many publishers -- the solution has been to pivot from "free" to "freemium," in the form of full-featured apps that are free to play, but also offer in-app purchase options for players wishing to purchase additional content or options.
Appy's take on freemium is that players get "paid to play" as they can earn currency by completing levels and setting high scores. It's entirely possible to complete our games without spending any money at all. Players wishing to "get rich fast" through in-app purchase can do so, but players can also "get rich slow" by earning their rewards through play. Players are never halted by a hard pay wall requiring purchase before they can advance in the game.
Last month we were featured in PocketGamer.biz with a contributed piece detailing our pivot from "Premium to Freemium" for our fastest-selling game, Trucks & Skulls NITRO. That article outlined Apple's selection of Truck's as iPhone and iPad game of the month last November, as well as the substantial revenue the app earned during its "premium" lifetime, before settling into a long tail of lower daily sales. Our solution was to rebuild that app from the inside out, and migrate the existing player base from the premium to the freemium model. As the article notes, reducing Trucks to free pricing greatly improved daily revenue thanks to a greater volume of in-app purchases.
Following that report, we set Trucks back to its "premium" pricing of $0.99 for several weeks, but when we released FaceFighter Ultimate last week, we saw an opportunity to again experiment with Trucks as a free app. We returned it to free and cross-promoted between Trucks and FaceFighter Ultimate, leveraging the two free apps against each other to improve daily downloads. As with our first free period, we found setting Trucks & Skulls to free significantly improved downloads, chart position, and volume of in-app purchase.
You might think that a game with more than 200 levels -- with new levels added monthly – and one that enjoys a 4.5-star review score on iTunes would be a bargain at $0.99, but markets are never wrong, and the market has spoken. Starting immediately, Trucks & Skulls NITRO for iPhone will be free – forever.
Furthermore, beginning on Thursday, August 18th and through this weekend we will experiment with free pricing on the iPad version as well. Trucks & Skulls NITRO HD has always been $1.99, and includes all the features and content of the iPhone version, plus the same full-featured level editor that we use to create content for the game. Depending on how it performs during its free period Trucks & Skulls NITRO HD might very well become free on a permanent basis. We will give it a go over the weekend and then evaluate.
The conclusion of the "Lite" era for Appy Entertainment is overdue. "Lite" has come to represent "incomplete" or "advertising!" in the minds of most players, and download and advertising numbers have declined as a result.
Eliminating Lite apps from our catalog has several collateral benefits:
- Eliminating multiple versions of the same title in our catalog reduces customer confusion and concentrates downloads on fewer apps, improving rank position and ultimately helping the discoverability of our games.
- Offering upgrades through in-app purchase is a more efficient means of monetizing customers from "free" to "paid" than asking them to try one app, and then download a second app if they wish to pay.
- Fewer apps in our line means reduced customer service and support expenses for Appy Entertainment.
- Greater download volume from these fully-featured-yet-free apps lets us reach more players, improving our ability to launch and promote other games by marketing directly to our own player base.
With the pivot of Trucks & Skulls to "freemium," and with last week's successful launch of FaceFighter Ultimate replacing "FaceFighter Lite," Appy Entertainment is out of the "Lite" business and has completed our transition to the freemium model. Our original games from this point forward will be built for freemium from the ground-up, commencing with our next original title, an as-yet unannounced role-playing game releasing this Fall.
In case you can't tell, we're in love with "free" here at Appy. Now we just have to convince our banker, our landlord, and the taxman that they will make more money in the long run by cutting OUR fees to free!