Freemium or premium? That is the question…or is it?

Mobile games for many years have been simply pastimes which came free on your mobile phone. Back in the day of WAP and Nokia, games like snake etc, where very basic graphically poor (rich in their environment) games came free with your phone. And so they were amazingly successful. The same is said for the most successful computer games every (by game play) which was and is solitaire. A game played by bored office workers the world over.

Smart phones have changed all this and created a multi-billion dollar industry from practically nothing from 5 years ago. Many developers didn’t notice the change, but others made games that were social from their very beginning. Games that went viral, games people shared, games people had to share in order for them to enjoy them fully. This social factor, was built into the very DNA of the companies.

Now the understanding that social is all is also being questioned with many giants of this space, Zygna etc, starting to find that Facebook has a saturation point. And not only that but that the freemium model which many modern mobile games developers take almost as THE given route to market may not be the only way to move the industry forward. That being said , for iOS, freemium provides 65% of top 100 most profitable applications and research shows that approximately half of total mobile gamers download only free games (Mintel, 2012). So the past thinking was simple, create social games, make them free, playable through Facebook and on mobile devices, on which people can buy in app purchases to either save time or become more (status wise.)

However, the issue was / is prolonging freemium customer playtimes. As this is not a simple task to achieve as freemium users tend to switch the games fairly often given that any new games are relatively easy to acquire. Unlike those dedicated premium mobile games produced by console – based developers where the gamers have to pay the price in order to download, freemium gamers do not need to give in any tangible value in return for their everyday freemium games hence will switch the game instantly right when they experience boredom.

Yet, for some social games, the hook is in the social nature of the game, the emotional connection, the very first premise, the ease of understanding and then the platform itself. But it is NOT the same for all platforms as the mobile – game spending pattern between Apple and Android users are completely different. Apple users are more likely to purchase premium games, while Android users are more likely to purchase virtual goods inside the freemium games, for example in-game currency and items that alter character competency or appearance (Guo & Barnes, 2007).

So perhaps it is the combination of Android handsets mass penetration (up some 20% year on year from 2011) along with the fact that Android user is more likely to undergo micro-transaction to enhance their mobile gaming experience, means that developing freemium games on the Android platform might be the optimal pathway for all mobile game developers.

The popularity of ‘Android – Freemium’ combination has attracted game developer to shift focus toward free-to-play business model as evident by the recent decision from ‘FishLabs Entertainment’, a high profile Germany-based developer, to import its masterpiece – premium Galaxy on Fire from iOS to Android as a freemium game.

Interestingly, even in the none game world, like WhatsApp Messenger, which has traditionally always monetized through a $0.99 paid download, adopted a freemium subscription model with its newer Google Play version launched a year ago, where a $0.99 per year subscription kicks in after the first free year has passed.

Could the same be done for our iOS games like Home Bear and SoccerZillionaire – which we have converted into a free mobile download game for a while to celebrate spring in April in the UK. Could bringing these mobile titles into “freemium” for a month with an upgrade afterwards make sense and make us money?

What do you think? What kind of changes are you making to your games?

 

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