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The free-to-play model fails for iOS hit  Punch Quest
The free-to-play model fails for iOS hit Punch Quest
November 15, 2012 | By Mike Rose

November 15, 2012 | By Mike Rose
More: Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Design, Business/Marketing

"More high-end purchases, a coin doubler, a non-coins IAP option, a clearer buy button -- didn't work. That leaves one simple thing: The game is way too generous to be a single currency free game."
- Kepa Auwae of Rocketcat Games discusses making iOS hit Punch Quest a paid download after previously launching as a free-to-play game.

While the free-to-play model has worked wonders for numerous games and studios, other developers are finding that in-app purchases don't work so well in all scenarios.

In Punch Quest, for example, players could buy in-game coins via real money in-app purchases. Yet after 600,000 downloads, the game only managed to make north of $10,000.

Even after introducing an update that aimed to tweak the in-app purchases and made the items for purchase more obvious, the game only saw a small boost in sales. "The update improved things for like a few days, and then it sank, hard," says Auwae.

Hence, the studio has now slapped a price tag on the game. "It's 99 cents or increase the price of everything by 8x or more, really," he added.

Seeing a free-to-play game switch to the paid model is unusual. Earlier this year, Madfinger's Dead Trigger went free-to-play due to the terrible piracy rates on the title.

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Matt Robb
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My observation has been, as sad as it is to say, that to really succeed at free-to-play, the game has to okay but flawed in a way that is fixed by paying.

Grindy games let you buy your way past the grind.
Pay-to-win games require you to pay to compete on an even play field.
You can make your game really good but really short, so people will pay for the rest of the content.
You can give the player a "basic" character, then pay for the more interesting characters.

If you get everything you really need to enjoy the game for free, there's little incentive to pay anything.

Kellam Templeton-Smith
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Yeah, I don't really get why they keep feeling the need to inform us that they're good at making fun games (Punch Quest is honestly a pretty fun twist on the endless runner), but terrible at basic business decisions.

I think your latter option, more cosmetic options, would probably have been the safest bet-It certainly has worked well for Nexon.

Eric Boosman
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I love Punch Quest! I play it quite often as it's so easy to jump in and out of.

I've played for a few hours of total running & punching time, and at no point during any of that did I need to pay to get the experience I was after. The ramping for loot and powerups was rewarding enough, and the default customization options were plenty to make the guy I really liked.

I never hit a wall, never had to "grind" (although I did play lots of times without upgrading anything just because the core mechanics are fun), and really don't find the paid customization options that compelling.

That's not to say it's a bad game. Quite the opposite, it's a fantastic game! Just too friendly for the player to fit the f2p business model, it seems.

A recent related article that I think has some relevance is here:

Jeremie Sinic
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Did they try a "Donate" button? That might be more compelling than non-compelling IAP.

Shay Pierce
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Apple doesn't allow In-App Purchases to be pure donations; not sure what their policies are for linking to an external donation website or something like that, but I wouldn't be surprised if they reject apps for doing that as well.

I keep expecting some of these free games to display, at launch, a "thermometer" with notches on how much money they need to make to cover costs of making this game, then to cover costs for their next game. In other words, put your financial needs up-front and "guilt" people into buying things in the store, effectively as donations; once the thermometer is full, it goes away.

I know that "guilting" in this way would annoy a lot of people and maybe isn't the right way to go. But it seems like plenty of people would "donate" if they realized the developer was a small team in real financial need.

And it seems like this is the time for experimentation; I'd certainly be fascinated to watch the results if someone tried this route. Everyone's struggling to find what works in the world of F2P.

Lennard Feddersen
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I've never seen a report based upon a successful donate button - it's just not a business model.