F2P: Do or Do Not, There Is No Try
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Bombcats was Radiangames' biggest project by a sizable amount, and the one which I had hoped would finally break the string of critically-acclaimed-but-barely-successful titles that have been the hallmark of Radiangames' first couple years of existence. But there was key mistake made with the launch version of the game:
I wasn't sure if the game should be paid or F2P. So I compromised and made it a player-friendly F2P game with few, if any, paywalls. And if there's anything you should not do with a F2P game, it's only going half-way.
The results, like other free indie games that were "generous" in their design (Punch Quest and Gasketball), were disastrous. Bombcats has been downloaded 800,000+ times, but its average revenue per user is well below anything resembling a decent F2P game.
Even an update that added a timer of sorts, along with decent limited time deals, could not make a significant impact on the ARPU. That update was definitely hurt by understandable player backlash (including some 1-star ratings on iTunes). If the game had launched in its 1.1 iteration and avoided the backlash, it would have performed better (financially).
But better enough to stick with the F2P model for the Android version, whose launch was fast-approaching?
Once I started working on a paid-only version of Bombcats for Android (for non-Google and non-Amazon stores), the answer became very clear. It was a painful but necessary realization, and one which I was hesitant to accept.
For Bombcats: Special Edition on Android, I've decided to completely abandon in-app purchases. The game is one complete package for $2.99, and the balance has been radically altered to reflect having to earn the in-game currency rather being coerced into buying it.
The Free-To-Play Corruption
Free-To-Play corrupts the design and enjoyment of your game, it corrupts your soul as a designer, and it takes away time and effort from other things that would make the game better. Here's a breakdown of those elements:
1) Time. I spent about a month's worth of time (if not more) working on making Bombcats into a Free-To-Play game. That includes adding a more complicated UI, balancing the game to encourage spending, and hooking up all the in-app purchases. I could have made an entire small game (like CRUSH, Slydris, or Fireball) in that time.
2) Game Enjoyment. Once I started playing Bombcats with the no-IAP balance, it was SO much more fun. As a player, you're thinking about what to spend your gems on, instead of whether you want to spend money. You have so many more balanced, meaningful choices instead of either a strong imbalance begging you to spend money, or an excess of bought gems that give you too much power.
3) Work Enjoyment. As a designer on a paid game, you're thinking about how to increase the player's enjoyment of the game, not how to get more money out of them.
If you're considering making your game F2P, make sure you ask yourself whether it's really worth it. There's a chance you'll make more money with a F2P game, but if the game's design doesn't lend itself to F2P, and there aren't other similar successful F2P games, those chances are very small.
If you're employed by a large company, many times you don't have a choice whether to work on a F2P game. But I did have a choice, and I chose wrong. I thought I was being smart and agile, able to change and adapt with the market.
But what I ended up doing was trying to be a salesman (that's what you need to be as a F2P game designer), but not becoming a salesman. I hate being a salesman, and I always will. I finally became one with Bombcats' 1.1 update, and by that time it was too late, and it hurt my game as well.
If you're not willing to go free-to-play all-the-way, then please, for your sake and your players, don't.