Despite being featured on both the Apple and Google marketplace storefronts, BugByte’s mobile title Battlestation: Harbinger couldn’t bring the up-and-coming studio the hit they anticipated. In a guest editorial on Polygon, company CEO Aksel Junkilla says his team is now battling to keep its doors open and blames the state of the mobile marketplace for his game’s tepid commercial response.
“We have a problem in the mobile gaming sector, thanks to you,” Junkilla writes, arguing that players would rather spend their disposable income on Pumpkin Spice Lattes rather than a premium-priced mobile game. Junkilla implores players to make a shift, one that can change the course of mobile games where players put a premium on high-quality titles rather than spending money on a freemium’s in-app purchases.
“As the industry stands, there is no room for creativity anymore, no room for the passion projects. There is only room for those who want to build games that milk their customers without making them angry, because that is the only way we can survive. It is not about making good games right now — the consumer doesn’t care enough,” he writes, hoping players can come together to change the industry before the effects become irreversible.
In response to the article, Xav de Matos — Director of Editorial + Community at Gaming Insiders, asked mobile experts in the community to react to Junkilla’s article. Is the CEO wrong or is the mobile marketplace really a mess?
Christian Calderon, Head of Marketing at Dots | @caldie
“The freemium economic model is just better than the paid access pricing model.
In a paid access model you will only capture players willing to pay the upfront cost to play your game, whereas in a freemium model you can attract any player along the demand curve.
Because of this the freemium model is better for two main reasons:
1. A player that displays interest in a paid access game, for several reasons, may not want to pay the upfront cost to download a game.
2. The freemium model can capture value far above the paid access price point
And the truth is, for most successful top grossing games, the cost of distributing a mobile game far exceeds the cost of developing the game, and because the cost to download a free game is $0, it is much easier to market.
The reason that the most popular games are free-to-play is because a free game has less barriers to download than a paid game, anyone can download a free game. In addition, the law of demand states when the price of a product increases, the demand for the same product will fall.
This is not classical conditioning, this is the law of demand, and any product with the price point of $0 will command more demand than the same product with a higher price point.”
“Aksel (the author) and his team built a paid game, Battlestation: Harbringer. That game received featuring from both Apple and Google after its launch. Yet that featuring wasn’t enough to make the indie company profitable. Aksel argues that because freemium games people are not willing to drop few dollars for a game with “quality content”.
Aksel’s main argument is that only games that appeal to the masses can succeed in the current market. And you know what, he is right. We take it as granted. In the freemium model the amount of active players in the game translates directly to success of the title. So the more downloads you get and the more players you keep the more profitable your business will be. This means that you have to create games that both accessible and engaging. Games that are easy to get into but difficult to master. And by benchmarking the top titles we end up creating games that are same but different.
Unlike freemium games, which can afford paid user acquisition due to high life time value, paid games are fully dependent on Apple’s featuring and word-of-mouth. And as Aksel points out, we have taught players to expect free games instead of dropping few dollars for a new game.
In the end, I think we can all relate with author Aksel Junkkilla. He has to layoff team member because the game they built ended up being a commercial failure. Maybe because of this harsh disappointment he blames the industry for his failure where in fact his product was simply wrong for the market. We have made it close to impossible for paid games to coexist next to freemium games. Whether that is good or bad is for each of us to decide.”
“This article trots out the standard program of anti-free-to-play platitudes in a way that’s both unimaginative and transparently disingenuous, given that the author sticks his hand out at the end of the piece to ask for contributions to a Kickstarter campaign.
At a high level, the author simply seems to have missed a market shift: freemium dominates mobile gaming. If the author made the wrong game for the market, he really has no one to blame but himself. That the author’s game receives glowing reviews from a niche of players that is too small to represent significant revenues (enough to cover development costs) simply signals that the author didn’t perform enough diligence in modeling the game’s business case. He should have better evaluated the market he was about to enter.
The fundamental flaw in the author’s view of the market is revealed in this statement: “This model — one that many old-school players find very fair, a try before you buy — is not a model that works well these days.”
The author still thinks of “gamers” — that is, true gamers, real gamers, the people that deserve to be called gamers — as the people that obsessed over games in the 80s, 90s, and aughts: reading Nintendo Power cover-to-cover, following developer blogs, upgrading to the newest console every 18 months.
The market changed; the world changed. Nearly 2 billion people have the equivalent of at least a Nintendo 64 in their pocket now. Everyone is a gamer. Combine a global market for gaming products with the ease of producing these gaming products (with tools like Unity 3D, anyone can create a game) and you have a millions of apps chasing billions of potential consumers. This noise and hysteria creates a winner-takes-all market. There is no “middle class” in gaming as a result of the way the mobile gaming market has evolved: either you make millions (or more) or you make nothing.
The market is never wrong; it simply exists.”
Xav de Matos is the Director of Editorial + Content at Gaming Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @xav.