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Hungry Shark goes free, leaps to #1 free app, #3 paid app in the US

By on September 30, 2010
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I should have blogged about this a long time ago. The press release hit my inbox on 6th August.

Still, it’s a great story, an impressive achievement and better late than never, right?

Hungry Shark logo

Hungry Shark is an iPhone game released by a company called Future Games of London in April 2010. By July, the company had sold 250,000 copies (which is impressive in its own right), but they wanted to push the game heavily in the US.

So to tie in with US Shark Week, the company decided to test the freemium model. They offered the original full game for free, and gave players the chance to upgrade to a premium version (essentially more levels) for $0.99.

The results were phenomenal.

The free app reached #1 in the US for 6 days (2nd – 7th August). The paid app was number two in the US.

Commercial Director Ian Harper told me some specific stats:

“We’re shipping 250,000 free versions per day, with a conversion rate of ~7% which we think is down to the fact it’s a rather good game.”

A conversion rate of 7% seems impressive to me – one worth bearing in mind for anyone using the Lite/Premium model in the AppStore.

To my mind, FGOL have shown exactly how a small, independent studio should behave:

  • They had a successful game but (presumably) one that was flagging
  • They used the power of free to drive their game to the top of the free app charts
  • They had a strategy in place to capitalise on that success.
  • They very sensibly tied it into a real-world event (in this case, Shark Week) to give punters and pundits a reason to talk about or download their app.

I think the last word should go to Ian Harper:

“I think this success shows that the era of traditional games publishing is now over, and the companies that are now successful are innovative small design studios.”

Editorial note: to really leverage the success of a free game, learn the 0-1-100 rule.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: thecurveonline.com
  • An excellent example of overcoming the marketing problem in the iPhone space. The innovation in business model is just as important as the innovation in game design. Their game works perfectly with the freemium model, which also shows how important it is that your design works with the marketing and business model. Big companies trying to get into this space will need to understand this if they are to succeed in the long term. Meanwhile, small developers have a good opportunity to become big ones.