Radian Games: Fair doesn't work with free-to-play

Bombcats' struggle exposes flaws in the freemium model

The independent developer Radian Games has questioned the ability to be "fair" to players and remain successful with the free-to-play model.

In a post on the company's blog about its iOS game Bombcats, Radian addressed two idealistic notions about freemium: namely, that quality and generous access to the game's content are reliable drivers for financial success.

In 100,000 downloads of its game, Radian received less than 100 in-app purchases. "I don't know exactly how much Bombcats needed to make to keep Radiangames in business, but these numbers aren't close... I can't foresee any likely scenario that would boost the game up to the daily revenue needed."

The key problem, the post explained, is that, "making a free-to-play game that's not pushy about purchases and signing into Facebook or whatever else just doesn't work without many millions of downloads." For independent developers with limited reach and marketing budgets, like Radian Games, free-to-play developers are reliant on explosions in popularity that may be beyond their direct control.

"In terms of making money from it, I tried to straddle a line between free-to-play but fair and it's failing financially as a result"

Radian Games

Radian's tentative solution to this was generosity, but, "it's obvious now Bombcats is just too generous with everything. It's more generous than many paid games. I was hoping the quality and value of the game would draw people in, make them happier to spend some money on it as they further along, and more likely to tell others about it. The second may still happen, but the first is barely happening.

"I tried to make a fairly unique, very high-quality physics puzzle game, and I think I succeeded very well there. But in terms of making money from it, I tried to straddle a line (F2P but fair) and it's failing financially as a result."

The struggles of developers like Radian Games cuts against the notion that free-to-play needn't hinder the creative process. Radian is now preparing to convert its game to a paid app rather than alter what it believes to be a good design to be more mercenary with its players.

A similar concern was raised by Sid Meier in an interview with GamesIndustry International last week. Meier, who has just launched his free-to-play iOS game, Ace Patrol, claimed that making monetisation a part of a game's design is, "not a totally comfortable thing."

"We really don't want to get into a situation where the two are in conflict," he said. "Where to make my game more fun I would do this and to make my game earn more money I have to do this. I'm looking for places where those two are in agreement.... The game should be as fun as it can be."

"Don't worry about the top-grossing charts, they are not a metric you should be following. Throw out the idea of building a game around a business model"

Nathan Vella, Capy Games

In a session at this year's GDC, Capy Games' Nathan Vella expressed concerns that too many independent developers are rushing into free-to-play based on an idealistic view of its creative utility, and the revenue of top games like Clash of Clans. Not only does it favour a larger scale of users, he argued, but it also strongly favours a limited number of genres.

"Don't worry about the top-grossing charts, they are not a metric you should be following," he said. "They are not a metric that you should be caring about. There is still a massive amount of revenue to made, even outside of the Top 100 chart... Throw out the idea of building a game around a business model."

Of course, a number of the most popular and lucrative free-to-play games on platforms like iOS and Android started from humble origins. However, the reasons for a breakout success are often inscrutable, even for the developers responsible for the game. In an interview with GamesIndustry earlier this month, Gungho Entertainment's Kazuki Morishita attributed much of Puzzle & Dragons incredible success to simple good fortune as much as quality.

"If everyone focused on sales and they came up with a solution, then every company would make money," he said. "We really think that, in terms of sales, it has to do a lot with luck, and we believe that as long as we focus on the creative side and make sure that the game is fun, at least among us, that's something that will transition to sales as well sooner or later."

For Radian Games, however, that advice will seem fatally flawed.

Latest comments (6)

Anthony Gowland Consulting F2P Game Designer, Ant Workshop4 years ago
Yeah, it's definitely the free to play model, and not that the video you use to advertise your game on your article (and so, I'm extrapolating, probably the majority of your marketing materials) make the game look dull and something that I've played versions of a hundred times before.

Also I see the article is sharing installs and sales, but not retention metrics. Curious that he's focussing his efforts on "the game is too big and limiting my installs" as the problem to fix in update 1, rather than "my conversion rate is bad".
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Brian Smith Artist 4 years ago
When I bought my nexus I installed equal amounts of F2p and paid games on it. I think I had an icon page full on each. In the few months of this year I've seen my f2p page gradually become less and less populated with icons as I uninstalled things that cheesed me off. F2P needs to go somewhere and shrivel up and die. Too many titles are compromised in their enjoyment by their integration of payment systems. Too many titles try to pry too much from individuals to make up for poor uptake.
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Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus4 years ago
In another post on their blog today, Luke Schneider said that 1) he feels better, and 2) he will be making his game more aggressive about drawing revenue.

That sucks. Luke's been making great games since XBLIG, so I hate to see him having to balance things like this. Furthermore, I wonder if that kind of aggression is going to work out. It seems there has to be a sweet point between the carrot and the stick in terms of F2P development, and when that seeps into your game design, at that point, you're no longer making a game, you're making a sociology experiment with cute cartoons.
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Show all comments (6)
Jason Avent VP, Studio Head, NaturalMotion4 years ago
These download numbers are not high enough to tell whether the game monetizes well or not. This project has neither proved nor disproved that non-aggressive monetization can work. Aggressive monetization doesn't always work either. Theme Park for example was pretty stingy and very aggressive. It's not in the top grossing chart despite having a massive brand and large publisher behind it. Sorry guys but it seems like Bombcats was just not popular enough.
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Murray Lorden Game Designer & Developer, MUZBOZ4 years ago
I'm impressed that a developer has managed to get this news in front of my face, when this doesn't seem like news at all.

"Average free to play game doesn't make much money."

There must be a billion stories the same as this. I'm impressed this developer has made it into news that I'm looking at, even if it cheese me off in equal measure. :)

All the best, all.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development4 years ago
Agree with Murray. As a fellow small indie about to launch an F2P game I really wanted to be on this guys side and was scared his experience would be a general indicator rather than some local issue.

But it is just that. The game looks kinda dull and brings nothing new to the table. If that's not true then I would suggest a new video and marketing push before changing the model.

100,000 paying customers should be plenty for a small team, but that number of just downloads isn't nearly enough. When we dropped one of our $2.99 games to free for a weekend, we got more than that in one hit and its not even that popular a game in the wider scheme of things.
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