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[Gamesbriefers] Should you go free-to-play with big name ip?

By on May 21, 2013
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Question:

You run a big games company. You have the Star Wars licence to release a game on tablets and phones to coincide with the next movie. The game will definitely have IAP to provide variable pricing over time, but what is your initial price point for the game? This is Star Wars. There will be more marketing out there than you can possibly imagine. Fans will definitely pay upfront. Do you launch at £4.99 to capture that demand or do you price it at zero to get the widest possible audience? And why?


Answers

Ben Cousins1Ben Cousins Head of European Game Studios at DeNA

Free. ‘Demand’, ‘Hype’, ‘Marketing’ are all things that can drive higher-than-normal IAP as well as increased likelihood of up-front spending.

As we all know, reach is the difficult part. Once you find consumers, monetizing them is the easy part. I’m convinced we’ll have billion-player franchises with 60-dollar-plus LTVs within my lifetime.


harry holmwoodHarry Holmwood CEO of Marvelous AQL Europe

Both.  Trial in two equivalent territories and gauge user reaction and revenues.


andy payneAndy Payne MD at Mastertronic

I would go free, free and free.


Mark SorrellMark Sorrell Development Director at Hide & Seek

Free. Star Wars FANS and Star Wars fans are not the same people and there are a lot more fans than FANS. So go for the biggest audience.

I would suspect that a Star Wars game would have difficulty getting far enough away from narrative to really embrace the full design principles of freemium, that said.


Emily GreerEmily Greer SVP Product, Marketing and Finance at Kongregate

The quality and type of game determines the decision. A mediocre game (as licensed games tend to be), or one in a genre unsuited to F2P, is better off charging up front and getting its revenue from the superfan.


Eric-Hautemont1Eric Hautemont CEO of Days of Wonder

It doesn’t matter which way you go, you’re doomed and will lose your shirt either way 8-/

Star Wars is in this category of licenses that are great for the licensor, but terrible for the licensee – I can’t think of a single Star Wars licensee that made money on their deal with Lucas.


tadhg kellyTadhg Kelly Creative Director at Jawfish Games

My instinct is to say you charge up front. One of the benefits of f2p is that it drives wider exposure of your game (10x download rates etc) to bring you out of obscurity, maybe get featured on front pages of app stores and so on. But there is no bigger idea than Star Wars, everybody has already been exposed to it, and considers it valuable. And it will automatically get featured status in all stores by editorial departments because they’ll consider it to be a big deal.


Oscar ClarkOscar Clark Evangelist at Applifier

This is one of my favourite questions and one I seem to always come back to the same answer on – but honestly I try to argue both sides.

Most of us argue the value of Free using the concept of ‘Price Elasticity of Demand’. We argue (and I would say a little disingenuously – I know I’m guilty of this too) that if we sell lots of things at a very small price that we can fill up the whole of the curve. It’s not a bad shorthand; but its much more complex in practice. Repeat purchases have their own questions in terms of lifecycle, long term risk, buyer remorse, player fatigue, fear of loss, etc.

There is an argument that Paid ‘can’ work. If there is sufficient player anticipation (or marketing) then we will see lots of players buying our game. If the concept has the associated accessibility, brand values and quality then new-fans may also feel able to grant themselves ‘Permission’ to buy which is necessary for any entertainment or luxury product. However, you will have reduced the potential size of the audience than had you gone free. The potential scale of the audience from Free (given the same marketing budget) will always be bigger. Although I admit that with Star Wars perhaps that’s still enough people.

By setting an up-front price, you also have set an expectation of the value of the game. You have asked players to pay upfront for the privilege of playing… and at worst that sets an expectation that this should be ‘All they can eat’ or at best limits their expectation of how much additional money they may wish to put into the game.

You can succeed if you go paid. You can have happy fans. But there are very few circumstances where starting Paid leaves money on the table. Going free seems again to be the best strategy.


Stuart DredgeStuart Dredge  Journalist at The Guardian

I’m not keen on the ‘leaving money on the table’ line of thinking on the paid or F2P question.

Yes, perhaps a paid Star Wars game with no IAP would make x, versus a F2P Star Wars game making 5x or 10x (for example), but if the paid game is a marvellous idea that would work best as a paid game, and make a decent profit, why not do it as well as the F2P game? Resources permitting, of course.

I agree that no (adult) gaming/entertainment brand can’t lend itself to F2P with smart thinking. But I’d push back strongly against the idea that if there are beautiful, creative game ideas for that brand that would suit a paid model better, they shouldn’t get made because they’d leave money on the table.


Martin DarbyMartin Darby  CCO of Remode

It really does depend on the execution. If you’re launching a game with IAP then you are inevitably running the game as a live service. You don’t want to annoy the *majority* of the customers of that service from day 1, so how necessary the IAP’s are to playing the game become an essential part of the execution.

I don’t believe F2P is a panacea anyway. It works brilliantly with some design patterns; not so well with others. This question seems to ignore that. I don’t know whether to accept the question on the basis that the game design is highly conducive to IAP or whether it is not and therefore the upfront fee would just be a quick buck.

In short, it is a difficult question to answer because the monetisation model is just one of the lenses through which to view any game proposition which is aiming to serve a market need/desire.

 

About Gamesbriefers

Every week, we all ask our august panel of luminaries a burning question in the world of free-to-play and paymium game design. Or we ask a broader question on the future of the industry. We’re not going to announce who is a GAMESbriefer. You’ll just have to read the posts to see who is saying what to whom. We have CEOs and consultants, men and women, Brits, Germans, Americans, indies, company people and much more besides.
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  • John Thomas

    If you want the most players then Free. If you want to make money then Free. But, if you want the best experience for the players, then Free also (but only if it’s designed well – not like some of the cynical shite out there at the moment).

  • David Garth

    Ben’s statement sums it up: “As we all know, reach is the difficult part. Once you find consumers, monetizing them is the easy part.”

  • I think free is the way to go, Having work with big brands on consoles for many years they can really help. On Mobile its a little different. Your Brand partner has to understand its different than a box product. They have to really continually help market and promote it to rise above all the other games out there. When the brand I was working with did a promotion (Press Release, Email, Newsletter, Social) all apps would rocket up the charts. They would have a nice tail and then start to slowly sink back down. We would push for more support and they would say they already did it. I think you need to help them understand the new market and come up with a solid marketing plan that you both can agree on.