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Finding The Sweet Spot: Pricing For Independent Games

January 12, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next
 

Flying Free

Of course, not everyone has the same mentality when it comes to developing games for the iPhone. After experimenting with various payment options, prominent iPhone developer ngmoco has settled on a free-to-play model for its new titles.

"We made this decision after a year of developing and publishing games that were priced from free to $9.99, and evaluating the pricing erosion in the App Store, and the behavior of players in other areas of their entertainment mix -- like social networks," says ngmoco's VP of marketing, Clive Downie. Two of the developer's most recent titles, Eliminate and Touch Pets Dogs, are free to download but offer for-pay features.

"Consumers have reacted well," says Downie, of the move to free-to-play. "You can't make everyone happy all of the time, so this approach doesn't suit everyone.

"But it's important to say that it suits most people and we think in the future it will suit more people. The consumption behavior of players now and in the future is changing based on their habits.

"An example is right there alongside the App Store," says Downie. "iTunes would only be selling albums at $9.99 and above in another world where consumers didn't want to pay for specifically what they wanted to consume. But it sells singles for $0.99 to cater to choice.

"We're taking it one step further. The game is free. If you want to achieve more and use the game as one of your regular entertainment outlets you can pay more."

Traditionally, free games have been viewed as being of lesser quality then their for-pay counterparts, but as Downie explains, the nature of the App Store has changed this perception for many consumers. Free-to-play games have shifted up in quality, argues Downie.

And there's more to it, he says. "Consumers expect optionality. Time is restrictive and there's so much more to do with it that, by providing choice at a price, if you have a good game at the center, you can receive returns that are comparable or more than just asking for a one-off purchase. A one-off purchase that actually will result in the majority of consumers never experiencing all of what they've paid for.

"Both Touch Pets Dogs and Eliminate are very sophisticated games that take this approach. They are designed like premium games, have the quality of premium games -- but are free-to-play and allow players to consume at their pace."


Touch Pets Dogs

Prior to moving towards the free-to-play model, ngmoco made use of the flexibility of App Store pricing to test out various methods of selling its games by judging the reactions of consumers.

For example, when the company released Rolando 2: Quest for the Golden Circus, it originally planned to discontinue the game's well-received predecessor to help boost sales for the sequel. However, the decision to remove the game was changed just one day later, after numerous fans voiced their displeasure. This sort of instant feedback, especially with regards to price changes, is one of the major benefits of the App Store.

"Price changes on iPhone games result in increased downloads, that's for certain," Downie says. "But the amount of volume change and for how long that continues is a function of a series of factors.

"Timing is the crucial factor. Best to drop price when the app is still fresh and there's a large amount of latent need for the game -- so when the price is dropped there's a release valve against that need, and the downloads are high, and [that's] enough to propel the app into a high chart position where organic downloads happen."

A Flexible Console

Capybara found a similar level of freedom when it released an upgraded version of Critter Crunch as a downloadable title on the PlayStation Network this past October. The game was sold for $6.99, a unique price on a platform where smaller titles are generally sold for five dollars or under, and bigger games typically cost $10 and up.

"We consulted with SCEA about our price point, and they were extremely helpful. But in the end it was Capy's call. And we made the decision to price it at $6.99 for a couple of reasons," says Vella.

"To make my first point, I am gonna fall back on the food analogy I've been using... Some games, we'll call them 'meal games', leave you full when you finish playing them. A game like Flower leaves me feeling so satisfied that I don't really want to play anything else after. Other games are more like snacks, that you play in short bursts around meal games. For example, Noby Noby Boy is a wonderful snack game. When you are done, you feel good, but you could easily segue into another meal-sized game soon after."

"With Critter Crunch, we set out to create something in-between -- a size of game that's more akin to a large appetizer. Something that, depending on your gaming mood, can satisfy or leave you open to more gaming as you choose. When we looked at this, meal games are comfortably priced at $10 and up, and snack games are priced at five dollars or less. We wanted Critter Crunch in between the two. We had also seen Shatter, which is another great large appetizer game, break the mold with the $7.99 price point."

"Secondly, we had our eyes wide open about our situation: launching an original, and relatively unknown, game in the puzzle genre on PSN is surely not perfect. We knew we weren't PopCap, with tons of existing knowledge of our product or our studio. So with the goal of drastically reducing barriers for people to get into the game, we thought a nice low price point might help. We really just wanted as many people as possible to both play Critter Crunch, and see what Capy was able to do as a developer."


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