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GDC: Backflip's Farrior On iPhone Ad Sales, Free Versions

Julian Farrior, CEO of Backflip Studios, shared some of the company’s ups and downs after one year on the app store. He pushed the idea that free apps are an excellent way to drive revenue, but Lite versions don't always work.
Julian Farrior, CEO of Backflip Studios, shared some of the company’s ups and downs after one year on the app store. He pushed the idea that free apps are an excellent way to drive revenue, but you can also employ some interesting tactics if you can predict the market. One of Backflip’s apps is Paper Toss, a very popular ad-supported free game with about 400,000 impressions per month. So in the pre-holiday period they put a lot more third party ads in the game, compared to house ads which compel users to pay for Backflip’s non-free apps. Then, during the holiday period when everyone’s in a buying frenzy, they switched it up, placing more house ads. The results were quite interesting. In the pre-holiday period they wound up making over $400,000 in that month on ads, and just under $90,000 as a result of their house ads. In the holiday period, they made over $250,000 that month in sales of their other apps, and about $140,000 in ads. Lite versions are also popular among iPhone apps, and Farrior felt two ways about it – one of their games was greatly supported by a free Lite version, while the other was totally cannibalized. Ragdoll Blaster was the title for which the Lite version helped – they had the good fortune to get featured by Apple, which gave them a lift of about 2,000 units per day. Releasing a Lite version afterward gave them another 2,000/day unit lift on top of that. The game Harbor Havok 3D though, did not benefit from a Lite version. “We thought we were pretty good at this game at this point,” said Farrior, “and launched Harbor Havok 3D, and it didn’t really do anything.” They launched the game, a twist on Flight Control, into a saturated market. “We thought we were building a better Flight Control, because it was a deeper game,” he said, “but I’m not sure you need a deeper Flight Control, in retrospect.” Farrior had pushed for press coverage too soon, because the app was rejected multiple times, which delayed the launch making his press effort wasted. When they released a Lite version, it furthered the disaster. “With this version, it literally cut out sales in half,” he lamented. The game had four levels, which they considered four individual games. “When we gave away one of those, there’s just no reason to buy the game. All of that said, we’re going to repackage it as a free app.”

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