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[Gamesbriefers] Should Pitfall have launched for free?

By on August 24, 2012

This is the first ‘Gamesbriefers’ post, in which industry experts debate topical questions about game design, marketing and business strategy.


Activision recently launched a revival of a 30-year-old IP with a paid iOS version of Pitfall. They have taken a Paymium approach, combining a 69p up-front purchase price with IAPs. The game has consistently been in the top 100 grossing games since launch, but is currently falling rapidly. Should Pitfall have launched for free? Should it have been more expensive? Or is 69p/99c the right launch price for this kind of game?


Teut Weidemann Online Specialist at Ubisoft

The problem with going both ways is you lose whatever you do.

#1: user paid, so why should he pay more

#2: loss of reach, i.e. fewer downloads

If you go all free you get more reach, so your percentage of paying users mean more. The lesson we learned from f2p is either you are all in or you should not do it.

Stuart Dredge Journalist at The Guardian 

On reflection, Pitfall did feel a bit… aggressive with its expectations to pay, and that put me off paying. I wonder if that’s the wider issue here.

Zynga’s Zombie Swipeout was the same, or in fact worse. I played it, liked it, paid a couple of IAPs. But in an update, they suddenly stopped letting you skip the death scene with a button – in favour of making your character fall slowly to earth with five seconds more looking at the other ‘pay now’ button to revive him. I was so annoyed, I didn’t ever pay or play again – it really did feel like ‘y’know what, you’ve paid! But we’re going to squeeze you even more…’

Philip Reisberger Managing Director at Bigpoint 

They’re still in the ‘learning phase’ in terms of mobile monetization. Taking an old IP with limited ‘reach’ is a good approach for this. I highly doubt that they would have been more successful with a F2P approach, since it can be tricky especially in terms of pricing. So either way, I don’t think they would’ve been more successful.

Oscar Clark Evangelist at Papaya 

To start with I think its an excellent reboot.  It captures an element of nostalgia whilst being unequivocal about simple platform action and I think looks great.

[…However], in this game we see a very well-designed but highly aggressive Paymium model; it takes 10 Diamonds (the Premium currency) just to unlock a checkpoint you also have to have passed in the game. Not to mention that the length of play needed to get to the first checkpoint is far too long. […] My biggest problem is that I am only granted 12 Diamonds for my 69p upfront purchase of the game and that seems paltry. Lets face it, any half-decent Freemium game would probably have given away more starting value. This is a recipe for how to leave the player feeling cheated, nagged and otherwise unsatisfied; I did not feel enchanted!

Was it a good idea for Activision to make Pitfall go Paymium?  Personally, I think not, not in this form.  However, if the initial launch had been a ‘Special Edition’ which announced that the Freemium Version was coming, for example, 3 weeks later and that this version granted a truely substantial amount of Diamonds (e.g. enough to unlock all the checkpoints) and a badge which showed you off as a Founder Member… well may that could have been much more interesting.

Martin Darby COO at Remode 

They should have launched free considering competing products are probably games like Temple Run, Jetpack Joyride, Whale Trail, etc.  69p with IAP is no man’s land.  If you want to launch paid you need to *know* you are at the more ‘core’ end of things and with a premium price to match e.g. Horn

Mark Sorrell Game Director 

I don’t think the combo approach is a problem if you can get over the customer acquisition numbers hump. It just seems odd to do it at 69p. If you’re going to do it, then maximise your income at both ends and charge a good chunk up-front also. You just have to be sure you can get lots and lots of people to buy the game in the first place.

I wonder if paid + IAP conversion rates for IAP are higher or lower or the same? There’s a bit of me saying that if you’ve paid once, you’ll pay again. Sunk cost fallacy and similar tics coming into effect. Never seen any numbers on that.

Ian Marsh Game developer at Nimblebit

Perhaps they are just copying what Temple Run did, which launched at 99c and dropped to free at a later date.



Darren Jobling COO/Owner at Eutechnyx 

There is a tendency amongst console publishers to think of Free 2 Play as being “just like 8-Bit”, therefore dust down one of your old IPs and it will fly. However, Activision is smart and will be learning throughout this process…


Charles Chapman Director and Owner at First Touch Games Ltd. 

Just checking the top-grossing charts too, and it’s not exactly flying either. 64 in Italy, 112 in USA, 193 in UK. Not terrible numbers by any means, but not what they were looking for.

My initial instinct was that they’d capitalise on being featured (it was Game of the Week I think), mop up a load of cash as a result, and then switch to free the minute things tailed off, so get the volume needed to drive the IAP revenue. It peaked at #35 in USA top grossing  last Monday, and I would have expected they’d be free by now. I still expect they’ll be free soon.

Andrew Smith Managing Director at Spilt Milk Studios 

I reckon either: A) they thought the power of the IP would give them success with the combo approach Or B) they knew it wouldn’t necessarily do brilliantly but wanted the IP to help ensure they make money on what is otherwise an experiment.

Premium, top tier titles with core gamer appeal, that have immense Apple support too (let’s be honest, Infinity Blade ticked a lot of really key boxes) have a good chance at the combo approach working for them, but for everyone else it is a bit of a pipedream.

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.