Over the last few months, mobile game developer Imangi Studios learned the power that the free-to-play model can hold, firing its game Temple Run
to the peak of the top free and top grossing iPhone app charts.
The game was originally launched as a 99 cent app with in-app purchases back in August, and quickly moved into the top 50 paid app charts. While it was Imangi's best launch ever, the game rather rapidly began to slump in sales.
"At this point, we had little to lose, so we decided to try going free, which is the option we had in our back pocket from the start," Imangi co-founder Natalia Luckyanova tells Gamasutra. "If nothing else, we figured we'd have more people playing the game. If the revenue is similar, it's always better to have more players."
The company's tactical business model allowed it to see whether a paid app worked for the title, and if it turned out wrong for this particular release, it was then easy to fall back on free-to-play with IAPs.
was made free-to-play in September, just over a month after the initial launch. As it turns out, it was most definitely the right decision, as the game has now seen over 20 million downloads
, with 7 million DAUs and currently half a million downloads every single day.
"When we initially went free, Temple Run
climbed to number 2 top free app," explained Luckyanova. "Our highest day of downloads was about 300,000. After the initial burst, it dropped off to around the number 100 top free app and stayed there, which was pretty incredible given how competitive the market is."
She continued, "At that point, it was getting around 50,000 downloads a day. This is definitely a huge number. We've made other apps of ours free before, and it's difficult to get more than a couple thousand downloads a day. We were really happy with where we ended up. Also, the revenue immediately went up about 5x when we set the app free. Keeping it free was a no-brainer."
However, this wasn't the end of the story for Temple Run
, as it continued to climb up the charts, and eventually began seeing huge success daily from Christmas onwards.
"We did a couple of small marketing pushes -- mostly cross-promotions with friends," noted Luckyanova. "However, except for a couple of small bumps, it was slow organic growth from number 100 to number 1."
"The game is extremely sticky: once people start playing it, they play for a while. That means that day to day, the number of daily users is growing. Not only that, but people really like talking about the game and competing for high scores. There were a lot of Temple Run
mentions on Twitter right away. So we think it pretty much spread by word of mouth."
"It jumped from around number 5 to number 1 right after Christmas, after the top charts unfroze," she continued. "We think a lot of the people with new devices downloaded it right away, contributing to the jump. It has stayed at number 1 since, and the growth trend actually continues."
"Although we're not moving in rank since we're number 1, our daily downloads, daily users and revenue continue to grow," she revealed.
There were other smaller factors involved too, such as game reviews from big iPhone review websites -- although Luckyanova noted that the majority of these appeared around the launch of the game.
"I'm sure all the reviews helped," she said. "It's hard to tell, because all the reviews are clustered around launch, and we were also featured on the App Store, so it's hard to tell what made the most impact."
"In general, for our other games, if things are pretty quiet and we get a review from a big site like TouchArcade or TUAW, it definitely makes an impact on sales, although it's generally temporary."
Would the Imangi dev recommend the free-to-play model to other developers then? "I don't think free to play necessarily works for everyone," she admitted. "The business model needs to fit the app."
"I would just urge every developer to be very aware of what's happening on the market, which apps are successful with what business model and try to figure out why. The market is very different from 2009, and developers would be doing themselves and their work a disservice to ignore all the new avenues they have to sell their apps."
As for the future of Imangi and Temple Run
, the developer is currently working to bring the game to other platforms, with the Android release penned in for a February launch.
"Not sure how we'll launch games in the future, but for now, our instinct is to stick with free," she concluded. "It's an amazing feeling to have millions of people playing your game!"