I keep changing my mind about how to monetize Paint it Back. At first I just assumed one could simply charge a single price and that was that, but that was a few years ago, before the rise in popularity of free-to-play, where you download the game for free and pay for features from within the app. Nowadays it seems only logical to release as F2P, because, why would somebody pay for a game when they have so many free ones to choose from? So I steered towards F2P and implemented in-app purchase features. They lived in the code for several months, but, eventually, after more internal debate, I took them out. Then, after another period of time, I put them back in again.

The game is releasing this Thursday, Oct.17. Did I flip-flop some more? Sure, plenty of times. But I eventually did choose one of those monetization strategies. And I’m still second-guessing myself over it.

What I really wanted to do was simple – on the App Store, have a button that said “$2.99.” The customer presses it, I get paid, they get the full game. After doing some research, though, I discovered some disadvantages to this method:

  • Many people won’t pay more than $0.00 to try a new game.
  • Many people won’t pay more than $0.99 to try a new game.
  • Many people will buy a game for $2.99, if you are an established game developer with a following. That ain’t me.

In light of this, I investigated the F2P model, where the player could download the game for $0, play it, and then press a magical purchase button to buy something from within the game itself. This seemed to have the advantages of:

  • No barrier to downloading the game because…it’s free! So if it looks half intriguing, why wouldn’t you download it? Many more potential customers, many more opportunities for somebody to make an in-app-purchase.
  • More people will be exposed to the game. Even if nobody buys any in-app purchases, at least the game got out there, and that exposure could lead to other opportunities in the future.

But there were some downsides:

  • You lose the sales from people who would’ve paid just to try your game.
  • You are competing in the App Store charts with many more games. According to Flurry – as of July 2013, 90% of the apps in the App Store are free.
  • F2P has a stigma, but I guess not too crippling of one since so many of those games are successful. I think this infamy comes from two factors:
    • Stories like the exploitation of “whales” and the mis-appropriations of “smurfberries.”
    • When you use i-a-p in your game, you make your game less fun. This is the negative that caused me to flip-flop the most. I have two points to back it up:
      • As a game player, when I encounter an i-a-p purchase, I am forcefully yanked out of the experience in which I had been immersed and transported back to the real world, where I have to play a different game of judging if the purchase is really worth it. Not fun.
      • As a game designer, I know that most likely whatever that i-a-p is, it didn’t have to be a purchase – somebody chose to make you pay for it, even though it could’ve been integrated into the game in a more enjoyable fashion. I’m not talking about expansion packs as i-a-p, I’m talking about power-ups, timer shorteners, buckets of coins/gems/extra moves, cheats, hints, etc. Things that were regularly included in the full versions of games just a few years ago.

Personally, when I’m looking for new games to play on the App Store, I rarely download the ones that are F2P. I just assume that it has been tuned to maximize spending opportunities at the expense of gameplay. I know there are F2P games out there that are quite reasonable with their i-a-p, but since there’s so many other games to choose from, I’ll usually go with one that sells for a set price – it feels like I’ve actually bought something, and I don’t get that feeling like I’m being nickeled-and-dimed.

So which monetization scheme did I choose for my game?

Free-to-play. Is that hypocritical?

Well, I can’t overlook the fact that I’m a no-name developer with no marketing budget. It’s hard enough to get attention, so if somebody is checking out my game on the App Store, I want them to take the next step and download it. A $2.99 roadblock at this point would deter too many.

And the way I’m handling the i-a-p is more like “free-to-try.” You can play the first 30 levels, and if you want to play more, you can do an in-app-purchase to unlock the whole game. There’s no consumable coins or gems or other F2P trickery.

I feel pretty good about this model. The gameplay doesn’t need to be compromised and the customer gets to try the actual game before risking a purchase. I just hope others who, like me, ignore F2P games, will not ignore this one.

© 2013 Casual Labs LLC