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The Blue Toad Murder Files Price Experiment

By on October 11, 2011

This is a guest post by Andrew Eades, CEO of Relentless Software.

Way back in 2008, Relentless was known just for Buzz! Our mega-successful, BAFTA-winning quiz franchise. We were riding high but we could feel the winds of change in the console market. PS3 had not given us our traditional Buzz audience so we looked to create a way out of Sony exclusivity and dependence on a single platform and a single franchise. In December that year, we greenlit the episodic murder mystery game Blue Toad Murder Files. Split into 6 episodes aping a TV detective series it also allowed us to do a pricing experiment. This blog is about how we ending up with making FREE our entry price.

Best Laid Plans: Episodic Games

The concept was simple. We would create a season of 6 episodes and release them in 2 halves giving us an opportunity to sell individual episodes, bundles of half a season and a full season. Episodic and subscription based models were not supported by PSN at the time so we created a game with PDLC instead. The episode player was contained in Episode 1 and is required to play all other episodes. The pricing was set to make the single episode expensive (£6.29) and encourage people into buying the bundles of 3 or 6 episodes.

One lesson from this is that reviewers take into account the price and can’t help saying things like “fun but too little for the price”. When you read this, you want to scream “it’s not the real price” but you are left with a review that has been marked down 10-20%. As price is so fluid, I don’t think it should be considered in mainstream reviews. But it is and you can’t ask for a re-review every time you change price. The bundling worked however and we’ve sold over twice as many episodes as part of a bundle as on their own. (Fig. 1)


Game Launch

Unfortunately, it became clear that we were not going to have 3 episodes ready for launch so rather than delay launch, we took the decision to go with 3 bundles of 2 episodes instead. This compromised the game somewhat as Episode 2 didn’t have as strong an ending as Episode 3 which was designed as a mid-season finale. We launched at £6.29 per episode with a 2 episode bundle of £9.99. We got fantastic month 1 sales and were very pleased with the result. But the criticism regarding value continued especially as there was no replayability designed into the game.

Episode FREE

As I played through Episode 3 for the first time, I realised that I wanted everybody to play it. It was great fun and I felt that we were missing a trick if we didn’t show it to the maximum number of people. But it was not due out until we’d completed Episode 4 and could launch the 2nd bundle. David Amor (co-founder & CCO) and I always have the best ideas when driving somewhere, that’s how the Buzz buzzers came about and it was on one of these road trips that it occurred to us that we could rebalance the bundle offer and address the value issues if we did something radical. We decided to release Episode 3 in March and replace the bundle of 1-2 with a bundle of 1-3 at the same price.

This left us with the problem that our loyal customers who owned 1&2 would feel aggrieved so we offered a catch up mechanism and put out Episode 3 for FREE for 2 weeks before launching it at full price. Remember that the player only came with the first episode so you could only play Episode 3 if you had already bought Episode 1. We were astonished by the number of downloads we achieved with Episode FREE. At over 70,000 it’s still more than the total lifetime sales of single episodes put together (Fig. 1). This also gave us our first hint at the power of FREE. We more than tripled sales of the bundle of 1&2 (Fig. 2).

Experiment: Episode 1 as a free game

We’d always planned to erode the pricing of episodes and bundles in the time-honoured tradition of retail pricing and with every price drop we saw the expected spike in sales. Everybody likes a bargain! Each month we’d debate whether it was time to make Episode 1 free and offer an upgrade to the full season and it became clear to us as we planned our pricing for the remainder of 2011 that this was the next price experiment to do. We calculated that by offering Episode 1 for free for 2 weeks we’d easily capture enough upgrades to cover the “lost” revenue from episode sales. So we made Episode 1 free – just before PSN was brought down by hackers! It was unbelievably frustrating to have our experiment disrupted by hackers. I was glad that we were no longer reliant on a single game or a single platform. We massively increased our exposure by going FREE (Fig 3.)

Decision Point

With even the limited amount of data we had, it showed that FREE was a real option. In the States we saw a revenue multiple of 22 in 1 day. In Europe, we had swapped an average of 276 Episode 1s per week to 295 season bundles in 1 week. People downloaded, installed, played and upgraded in their droves. Our conversion rate was above expectations and continued for weeks after the offer expired and PSN was back. Our game was good enough to produce many upgrades (Fig 4.). And we saw that the effect lasted for a lot longer than any previous offer as people were still upgrading in increased numbers weeks later. Next time rather than end up as FREE, I think there is more potential in starting as FREE.

N.B. all data from SCEE sales only.

About Andrew Eades