Witching Hour Studios Co-founder Ian Gregory outlined the benefits of the premium and free-to-play/freemium model during this year’s Casual Connect Asia event, so that Asian developers can decide which model is better for their game. The mobile game developer took two distinctive strategies with its two titles: the US$10 Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion and free-to-play multiplayer-focussed Ravenmark: Mercenaries. Each of these models has its own perks and flaws.
According to Gregory, premium games are focussed on core gameplay instead of money-making, are paced towards an end or a closed loop, and are able to let its dev team work on other projects once they’re completed. Free-to-play games have unlimited revenue potential (bolded and enlarged significantly on Gregory’s slide), and have lower barriers of entry, though they require monetisation thoughts and designs and frequent updates from the developer. Because of the current gaming industry favouring free-to-play these days, publishers have asked more about Ravenmark: Mercenaries more than Scourge of Estellion.
It’s harder to find success in the freemium market due to stiff competition like Supercell and Rovio, that have a lot of money for user acquisition, and misleading articles about free-to-play data. While big data is prevalent and useful in the market, it’s information is on things that have happened, not for things that are going to happen. “It doesn’t necessarily apply to what you are trying to make,” said Gregory.
Before deciding on what model to settle for, Gregory said that game developers need to know what kind of games they want to make, and figure out their demographic, financial situation and goals. “Without that research, you are going to make little old ladies pay $50 for a game they don’t understand, or give hardcore players the impression that your game is pay-to-win when it’s skill-based.”
Going into premium means picking a particular group or demographic to focus on, getting your game mechanics right so that it’s meaty enough to keep players on it, and understanding a player’s needs. But most importantly, pricing is everything: Gregory mentioned that when Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion was at a sales price US$2.99, customers were okay with that. “When the game reverted back to its US$5 price, people were going ‘Bloody hell, why is it so damn expensive?’ We went to the other direction and put it up to US$10; the reviews were like ‘It’s so worth it!’ It’s about setting that value of your game. If you treat it well, it will return favours.”
Going into the free-to-play space requires more studying on economics and terms like ARPU (average revenue per user) and MAU (monthly active users). “It’s not about game mechanics,” Gregory said. “There are far larger parts of business and game economics that’s involved. You also have to design your game ahead to implement in-app purchases and ads. Screen space, timing, when are you going to haggle with the player — these are things you need to think about way early rather than tack them on at the last minute.”
Gregory warned developers not to be in the middle of both models; this will result in an identity crisis that players will criticise about. He brought up an anecdote of Punch Quest, an endless runner action game that tried to do free-to-play in a fair way. “Fair is not the way you make money in a freemium market. You have to be a bit of a mercenary.” He even brought up the fact that Ravenmark: Mercenaries wasn’t doing as well as the company had hoped because they also were being fair with the game’s F2P model.
The takeaway from this panel is that developers need to decide their model early on and design their game from the ground-up on the chosen model. “At the end of the day,” Gregory said, “(Creating both Ravenmark games) were pretty much training us to be able to do bigger and better things. The intellectual property is what we’re most proud of. ”
*Disclosure: e27’s games editor has worked with Witching Hour Studios on a part-time basis.