It wasn’t long ago that some games industry analysts were predicting the ‘death of premium’. At a time when free‐to‐play was a new frontier for mobile games development, many were quick to forget the merits of the paid‐for game. Now, after rumbles in 2013 that gained momentum throughout the following year, premium should not be discarded yet in the mobile space. Platform holders are again putting premium titles front and center of their app stores, while some of the 2014’s most critically acclaimed, successful titles came with an upfront price tag.
And a lot of those games were made with Unity. Threes, Monument Valley, The Room 2; these and many others prove both the potential of free, and the power of Unity as a platform for building a free‐to‐play mobile success story. If you want a sense of just how successful, look no further than the latest figures made public by Monument Valley studio ustwo; a team that have never been afraid to share their data. As detailed in the London outfit’s recently published infographic ‘Monument Valley in Numbers’, the refined isometric puzzle game was built using Unity in 55 weeks, costing the studio $852,000 dollars. 2.4 million official sales later, Monument Valley has generated $5,858,625 in revenue.
81 per cent of Monument Valley’s revenues came on iOS – the game was also launched on Google Play and Amazon; a feat made simple by Unity’s cross platform strengths – and made $145,530 in its first day. Not bad for a title made by a team of eight developers who began work on the game when some observers were still predicting the demise of premium priced games.
Fortunately for their fellow Unity users, ustwo are as generous with their advice as they are with their numbers. Neil McFarland is Head of Games at the studio, and he has some tips for Unity developers with a game that they feel might suit premium.
“I think a developer must understand whether or not their game holds a premium offering; if in fact it is offering content or experience that needs to be free from the pestering a freemium title must insert,” suggests McFarland. “So that means that a premium game should be considered in terms of making a really good and valuable experience right from the start.
“What is your game saying?” continues McFarland. “Why are you making it? Is it different from or better than similar games and therefore valuable to the player? If it is these things then you should stand a good chance of being promoted by the platform holders. They value these experiences because they sell their products and you're justified in thinking you should be paid for producing the game.”
And ustwo isn’t alone in its willing to share the experience of mobile success with the wider Unity community. Asher Vollmer is a game designer at Sirvo, which saw its Unity‐built tile puzzler Threes! explode in 2014, scooping an accolade at the Apple Design Awards (during a ceremony packed with premium Unity‐made winners, such as
Monument Valley, Device 6 and Blek). “I think it’s much easier to have a weird creatively interesting game that’s premium that makes a profit, than to have a weird creatively interesting game that’s free [and makes a profit],” says Vollmer on why he feels premium appeals.
“With free you can fail if you focus on making a game good instead of making a good in‐game economy that people can spend infinite money on.
“Knowing who your audience is important if you’re going premium with you game,” he adds. “I mean, that’s a pretty good, fundamental ‘rule number one’ for good game design. Know your context and know your audience. When you make a premium game your audience is going to be different from when you make a free game. You should think about that audience, and take advantage of that distinction.”
It’s a sentiment expressed by another studio continuing to thrive through premium with Unity‐made titles. Fireproof Games’ series The Room is presently set to continue with the anticipated launch of the third installment in spring 2015, following two hugely well regarded premium releases from the UK team.
“There's no one way [to design premium games] for sure but, there's a few things we'd bear in mind,” explains Barry Meade, Director and Co‐founder at Fireproof Games. “Your game must be commercially aware ‐ that is, know why you're making it, or in other words, why an audience might want it. Is it answering an un‐served niche ripe for the taking? Or is it a very fun and accessible game anyone would like? Or maybe a brand new game, a genre of its own?”
Regardless, says Meade, it's not enough to make an idea into a premium title just because you like it. Instead, it has to be best in class in some way.
“I think at Fireproof we'd all say novelty is important here,” continues Meade. “There must be a cleverness to the execution and in some ways it should be a game only your team could make. I certainly wouldn't listen to anyone telling you to copy other game styles.”
Of course, it would be rather unwise to disregard free‐to‐play all together if you plan on releasing a mobile game. It remains a dominant trend across mobile development, and despite some headline grabbing statistics about user acquisition and retention’s increasing costs, free can still work for teams of everysize.
Fortunately, Unity users need not always commit one way or the other with their game’s business model. That’s because of the simple fact that the engine’s cross platform advantages don’t demand target platforms each receive an identical version of a given title.
Rebel Twins is a small Polish studio founded in 2012, which has seen its hit game Daddy Was a Thief prosper on both Android and iOS mobile phones for some time. Partly, the success came from the fact that the game is both freemium and premium. That is to say, it is a premium title on iOS, and a freemium release on Android; a simple result of the studio identifying an opportunity in using Unity to adapt their business model to suit each platform.
“Daddy Was A Thief is a paid app on the App Store,” says Cezary Rajkowski, Rebel Twins Art Director and Developer. “We're not a huge fans of freemium models and dual‐currency systems which usually ruin gameplay. Unfortunately premium game sales are almost non‐existent on Google Play. That’s why our particular focus is on free games supported by ads for Android users. We tried to be fair so there is only one in‐game currency and you can unlock everything by just playing.”
It’s a model that has worked well for Rebel Twins. By offering a paid version and a player‐friendly free version, the studio has seen its game downloaded over 3.3 million times, and to this day enjoys well over 600,000 active users. And the total Rebel Twins spend on marketing, user acquisition, advertising and so on? A wholesome zero dollars; a figure any studio should like the sound of, whether they are opting to go with premium, freemium, or both.
Other blog posts in this series:
Making Your Mobile Game a Success. Part One: F2P Game Design
Making Your Mobile Game a Success. Part Three: Acquiring Users