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Pitfall at £0.69? Is Activision crazy?

By on August 9, 2012
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Activision has released its first game from its new Leeds studio today: Pitfall. A remake of a 30 year old classic that bears more than a passing resemblance to Temple Run.

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Activision priced the game at £0.69 ($0.99). I turned to Twitter to ask: "Question: if you were Activision, would you have put Pitfall out at 69p? Free? More expensive? Why?". These are the answers.

"I’d have put it out free. Grab as many users as possible, to promote future releases to." – @stepickford

"if i were activision i would iterate the game’s graphics first and then think about giving it away for freemium" – @fabi_smith

"69p is for publishers who dont have the balls/conviction for F2P but are worried that product is not good enough for £1.99" – @SJ_Harris

"@SJ_Harris I disagree. I think it’s simply a sweet spot for paid apps" – @FireflyNick

"@SJ_Harris @nicholaslovell it’s not ‘balls’ or ‘conviction’ in Activision’s case, I just think it’s a complete lack of expertise" – @BenjaminCousins

"Not sure you need free when you have the reach of an IP. So more expensive. Not sure how strong the Pitfall IP is though." @nicolasG_B

"going up against Temple Run at £0.69. Hilarious." – @BenjaminCousins

What do I think?

I agree with Simon Harris. 69p/99c is a terrible price point.

iPhone Screenshot 1

99c says that you don’t believe that your game will appeal to wide range of people. You don’t want it to reach the largest possible audience (for which you would need to go free).

99c says you don’t believe in the free-to-play business model. It amazes me that there could still be F2P refuseniks in positions of authority anywhere, but there you go.

99c also says that you don’t believe your game is any good. Epic believed Infinity Blade was awesome. They priced it at $5.99. Sports Interactive believes that Football Manager was awesome. They priced it at £6.99 (that’s sterling, not dollars). If you have a strong game, or a strong brand, you can price higher than $0.99.

Regular readers might be surprised that I am not arguing for free. I am not totally obsessed by free. I think you should go free (because your game great) or go expensive (because your game is great but has a marketing advantage such as a great brand or a first-out-of-the box element like Infinity Blade’s amazing graphics), provided that you have a paymium strategy.

To me, 69p/99c is the worst possible price point. What do you think?

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
  • Ian Hawley

    Yes, I shifted my position, acceding that some genres will have better retention and conversion rates.

    I still think it typically takes 1M+ Downloads. Is their 200k (still a big number!) downloads or active users?

  • You are moving the goalposts 🙂

    What I mean by that is that the general rule of thumb you espoused didn’t work for Book of Heroes. Or other RPG games. Or trading card games. Or strategy games.

    Similarly, how you implement F2P is critical.

    I guess I’m saying that I am wary of blanket statements “you need 1m downloads and 1%-3% conversion rate”. It depends on your game, your genre, your financial needs and so on. A game with great retention or high ARPU can have a much lower audience base and still be successful, for example.

    I don’t think F2P is right for every situation. But most of the devs who have publicly complained about F2P not working have implemented F2P badly (such as, say, a Lite+Premium strategy masquerading as F2P, or though making it hard for people to spend money). That is an execution problem, not an in-principle problem.

  • Ian Hawley

    I think this is an edge case. Sorry I don’t know the acronym MAU, but presume you mean ? Active Users. If you have a loyal fan base you can obviously have fewer users. Probably Book of Heroes has a much longer tail than most F2P games and indeed it looks like it’s an RPG, Trading Card style, so there is investment from fans and lots of replay value and advancement. This is a game type the engenders more long-term play, while endless runners tend to collapse much more quickly. An RPG/Trading Card game might also have a greater conversion rate to buying customers.

    So, yes it can be done, probably the game type matters a lot more. Certainly the wisdom within my local indie dev scene is that you need to hit 1million plus and expect 1-3% conversion rate. I would also imagine that this is the norm and that Book of Heroes does not represent the fortunes or expected revenue model of many F2P games.

  • I’m not sure that I agree with your premise that you need 1m+ downloads. You need an audience who will spend lots of money on your game, true, but that can be more niche. Venan is financing a team of 5+ developers with its game Book of Heroes which has 200k MAUs and is generating over $3m a year. If your costs are lower than theirs, so your MAU target can be lower.

    But if you are indie, you need to find a way to benefit from variable pricing.

  • Ian Hawley

    I totally agree, these games were launched before F2P became the norm. Because they now have brand cache, they can continue to be 59p because they have a loyal fan base and some lucrative brand associations (i.e. Star Wars).

  • Ian Hawley

    F2P relies on adoption, so you need a continuous steam of players, while retaining your most avid fans and often extending or adding to the game to keep your devotees hooked.

  • Ian Hawley

    Not true, F2P says that you understand that the top grossing games on mobile are free. Go check out the Top 100 Revenue on iOS, there are very few paid games and the last I looked the paid ones were premium price tags like £5.99.

    I am a little cynical about F2P, because it is a game designed to extract cash from you, rather than a game designed for enjoyment. Naturally the more successful ones achieve both. But as a developer, thus far, I have avoided jumping on that band wagon – I appreciate I will probably have to look at the market eventually however.

    F2P is more a business decision to make money rather than make games – I believe it can put the game mechanics at risk, prioritising the need to spend on IAP over gameplay.

  • Ian Hawley

    The reality of F2P is on mobile (or anywhere really) you need 1million+ downloads to get a conversion rate of 1-3% buyers who will pay you enough to fund the game.

    F2P also pollutes your game mechanics so you end making a game designed to extract money, to some extent at least, rather than just making a game. I don’t dislike F2P, it’s great, but it’s hard for indies to make money from it because you need to get it out there and that can cost quite a lot!

    Out own title (https://www.facebook.com/DungeonLord) will not be F2P because the game wasn’t designed that way. We may offer some IAP but it won’t be necessary to purchase anything, you can, and jump ahead in terms of skills and stats, but it isn’t necessary.

    If I sell Dungeon Lord for a modest £2.99, it is a highish price point. But, given we are part time, a £2.99 price point results in just 62p per game sold after Apple’s cut, after splitting with the artist (two-man team) and UK TAX at 40% (I have a day job). So to replace the day job, I have to sell something like 136 units per day per year, or make more games per year.

    Yep, I think 69p was crazy for this game – it should have been free. Sadly, because iOS is a race to the bottom on price, it would be a brave person to charge £2.99 or anything but free for an endless runner, because the culture is such that players now expect them to be free.

  • Sik

    Furthermore, at this point the price point is probably considered one of the main characteristics of the franchise, so there isn’t that much of a reason to change it by now.

  • Hmm, okay, get your point… now.

  • With the exception of Bad Piggies, all of those games were launched before freemium/paymium become to be fully understood. A free game has to work a lot harder to earn money from its customers than a paid one. A paid one just needs good marketing and if it sucks, oh well, the customer has already paid their money.

    I stick by my view that you should go free or go expensive, but not cheap.

  • “99c also says that you don’t believe your game is any good.”

    ??? WTF?

    So you think Chillingo, Rovio and so on think that Cut the Rope, Angry Birgs, Bad Piggies, Doodle Jump, Fruit Ninja etc. etc. isn’t any good??

  • I think Nicholas’ point is about price elasticity : at a higher price-point, an established IP will typically make more money because its reach won’t be proportionnaly reduced by as much. 

    Unless Activition *only* care about reaching as many people as possible, even if it means reducing their ROI, which I strongly doubt.

    With that said Pitfall seems to be doing well (top grossing 30-50) so perhaps it wasn’t such a bad price-point after all. Besides the game does bombards users with IAPs 😉

  • mysticalOso

    Everyone seems to overlooking a fundamental point here: The freemium business model massively effects the gameplay of any game. Therefore 69p is the best way to reach as many people as possible without having to bombard your users with gameplay intruding monetisation tactics! It’s not just about money guys it’s also about the games…

  • I agree with this, many games seem to be employing this tactic – launch as paid then switch to free a few weeks later.

  •  Do you really believe that?

    A free game has to work so much harder to keep a player than a paid game. It knows that its success lives or dies by retention, so it has to keep players playing. On average, people wont spend until they’ve played the game 10 times. It’s a much higher bar.

    A free-to-play game makes much more money than a paid game AND has to be better to be successful. I don’t understand your point at all.

  • “99c also says that you don’t believe your game is any good ”

    I’d rewrite that. 

    F2P also says that you don’t believe your game is any good

  •  That’s a good point, and I’m sure you are right. I would still have launched at £1.99/$2.99

  • Charles Chapman, FTG

    Given how they have IAPs anyway (including the must-buy 2x multiplier), I’d be very surprised if this wasn’t free within a few weeks.
    They’ll get Apple support today, which will guarantee a load of sales at 99c. Then within a few weeks or so they’ll make a big song and dance about it going free, which will be the main event as it were.
    So, really it looks like it is a free, game, but they’re charging for it for a few weeks.