Sometimes you read something on a blog that’s like a punch to the gut:
I don’t know exactly how much Bombcats needed to make to keep Radiangames in business, but these numbers aren’t close.
That’s a comment from Radian Games, in reality indie dev Luke Schneider. He recently released Bombcats, which has enjoyed plenty of downloads, but IAP conversion of around 0.1 per cent. On one day he mentions, he states 100,000 downloads resulted in a couple of hundred bucks in income—figures likely to drop as the game fades from view over time.
I had no idea Schneider was on his last throw of the dice, but it’s doubly sad to see him being generous about IAP (the game isn’t pushy and provides plenty of content for nothing) and then finding out that this method doesn’t work.
I wrote about the pros and cons of freemium/free-to-play/IAP on iOS recently. Every developer I spoke to said the same things:
- IAP in and of itself is not a bad system, and can actually be beneficial in providing income over time that can be reinvested in a title’s development and/or new projects.
- IAP has a somewhat poor reputation because it’s too often exploited.
- IAP can fail if you are not aggressive enough.
You can see the disconnect. In order to create a good user experience, you’re better off being generous; but in order to survive, you have to be a bastard. There are exceptions—Hero Academy comes to mind—but for the most part, those IAP titles that thrive are the ones nickel-and-diming you at every turn.
It’s also pretty depressing to see the comments in the Radian Games post. Some people say they won’t even try the game purely because it’s free-to-play, and, well, that never means free. That’s sort of how I used to think, but a comment by indie Ste Pickford sums up why I changed my tune long ago:
I think the move to digital distribution meant that a drift towards a purchase of price of zero was inevitable (as the ‘cost of goods’ is effectively zero), so now we’re here on iOS we might as well get on with working out how to make good games—and make a living—within this landscape, rather than clinging to the old business model.
Following on from that, gamers also have to understand these changing business models and support those developers embracing IAP if they’re going about it the right way. People who loved Punch Quest should have thought “Wow, this is amazing—I’ll fling the dev a few bucks just because”, rather than “Wow, this is amazing AND free—WOOOO!” The thing is, as Alan Downie recently wrote, customers won’t give you money unless you ask, and in iOS gaming, it seems you really have to ask rather hard.
I hope there’s a balance to be found. I hope the future of gaming isn’t developers increasingly getting consultants in from the gambling industry (yes, this is happening, and, no, it’s not a good thing) rather than simply creating great games. I hope that, somehow, Apple will one day embrace making smaller games more discoverable rather than so often flagging games that are guaranteed hits already. Right now, despite some devs finding they can’t survive the iOS lottery, there are still fantastic titles arriving by the day, but the manner in which aggression is becoming a requirement makes me uncomfortable and concerned for the future of what’s otherwise an amazing gaming platform.
It’s at this point I wish I were a Daring Fireball or The Loop, with the kind of readership that could make a difference. I could say go and buy Inferno+ (Robotron meets Gauntlet in neon) and Slydris (futuristic well-based block-falling puzzler), two of Radian’s best titles (for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad). I could say fling a few bucks at Bombcats, knowing that it could change the course of events. But my readership is small and so I’m effectively powerless; I can only imagine how the likes of Schneider feel.
Still, go and buy those games anyway, because you never know and—most importantly—they’re really very good indeed.