The question of going Free to Play (F2P) or the paid app route is something on the mind of every mobile game developer when they start their journey. If you're following the money, however, there really isn't much choice. As far back as 2011, there were reports indicating 72% of all app store revenue came from in-app purchases. Now, this number is over 90%.
If you're still needing evidence after those sort of numbers, the App Store and a til now unknown developer have given us a great example of the power of free today.
Merge is a great little puzzle game that came out on the App Store 12 months ago for 99 cents. I've been playing it for the past half hour - it really is first class. Its got a great puzzle game mechanic and its art style and sound is reminiscent of Cut the Rope.
Despite that lofty comparison they haven't had a great deal of commercial success. According to App Annie, they have just twice nudged the top 2,000 highest grossing games in the U.S. App Store in the past 12 months - a 3 day stay on the chart peaking at 1341 in the puzzle category. Not much to write home about. Their marketing is virtually non-existent. Their app store description is terrible, their Twitter account has 6 tweets and their Facebook page has had one solitary post in 12 months. Their main strategy seems to be sporadic attempts at making the app free, which has resulted in some pretty good download numbers each time (peaking at number 31 in the Puzzle category in July of this year).
Today though, its blown up. Below is what they looked like less than a week ago in App Annie in terms of downloads. The image further below shows their app today. Number one downloaded app in the overall category in six countries. Top 5 overall in 16 countries. Top 100 overall in 35 countries.
These are no slouch countries either. According to Distimo, Brazil and Russia are two of the fastest growing app markets in the world.
All this is a great shame for the developer, Yalcin Yavuz. Its clear they have a very good game. This is evidenced by the spikes in downloads they have each time they make the game free, and the extreme spike they have had now. That is pure WOM and the power of exposure from the charts in action. If they had chosen to add some in-app purchases to the game prior to this latest price drop to free, its highly likely they would be sitting on a healthy pile of cash right now. The game is ripe for an extra lives / time penalty IAP (ala Candy Crush), an extra time IAP at the end of each turn (like Candy Crush extra moves or a Subway Surfers 'save me'), and some powerups. With that revenue mechanism in place, throw in some added virality, and they could ride their free price point to victory. Instead, I'm guessing Yalcin will make his game paid again at some point in the next day or two. Shame.
Being an iphone game developer myself, and getting very close now to releasing our first game, Danger Rabbit, this is another timely reminder for me that the App Store market has changed and F2P is the only way to get download numbers. Much as I hate them and try to never do them myself, in-app purchases are the only way to go. Too many highly polished games from top tier developers are free, and consumers give them a try because they are free, making the barrier to 'try' a paid game that much taller in consumers minds. Would value anyone else's opinion on the matter.