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Why “1m downloads” is a useless goal

By on October 31, 2012

Earlier this month, UsTwo announced that their game Whale Trail had achieved 1m downloads.

I don’t blame them for releasing the figure: the press loved it, it means I’m writing this post and it does mean that lots of people have seen their game. However, as a indication of the success of their business, it is totally useless.

One million dollars

Traditional media types, used to thinking that the price of a product was fixed so “unit sales” was a good proxy for revenue, continue to make this mistake. Free-to-play is not about number of “installs”, the kind of measurement that Lean Startup author Eric Ries calls a vanity metric, because it can only ever go up.

The metric that matters is not the number of people who ever used your product, it is the number of people who value your product enough to keep using it.

With those 1m downloads, Whale Trail is making $250 per day, or $91,250 per year. It’s hard to tell if they are doing well, because that revenue would be impressive from 1,000 MAUs, but much less so from 1,000,000 MAUs.

The key to a successful free-to-play game is MAUs, or DAUs, not installs, registered users or downloads.

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
  • Christian T

    1 million downloads for a former Apple game of the week that’s been given away for free is unbelievably low volume, not something to mouth of about. Shows that there is almost zero consumer demand for the product – despite it being a nicely put together piece of work I might add. But the point is, unless were talking about a game that is build from the ground up with monetization and retention mechanics etc, of course its not going to have a high dau, arpdau, or mau or arpu or whatever! These games are not proper FTP, they just have no price and should not be compared. They need to make up the difference through high download volume. This is possible because they are normally much more viral than full blown ftp games and don’t require expensive user acquisition. So for these type of games, downloads is still probably the single biggest measure of success.