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Ustwo: Monument Valley "left money on the table" with premium pricing

Director of games Neil McFarland on the creative benefits of avoiding free-to-play

Ustwo's award-winning Monument Valley has earned more than £1 million in revenue, though director of games Neil McFarland accepted that the studio "left money on the table" by avoiding free-to-play.

In a great talk at the Gamelab conference in Barcelona, McFarland revealed that, as of last week, Monument Valley has been downloaded more than 660,000 times, earning around £1,099,000 in revenue.

That's no small amount, but for a team of eight people based in London it won't stretch far beyond ustwo's next project.

"We got enough to take the same amount of time again, with a little bit of safety in case the next game is a complete flop," McFarland said, acknowledging the likelihood of that fate in the fickle environment of the App Store.

"Freemium effectively focuses on a niche - they just happen to be whales who spend unlimited amounts of money"

"We have to accept that we're leaving money on the table - I hate that expression, but you hear it a lot when you release a game for one price that doesn't let players spend any more money."

McFarland's frustration with the prevailing standards in mobile gaming was evident throughout his talk: specifically the dominance of free games that demand huge amounts of time to progress.

By contrast, Monument Valley is composed of 10 levels that can be completed in around 90 minutes - a conscious "all killer no filler" philosophy that traded repetition, gating and extreme difficulty for brevity, atmosphere, and richness of experience. The only way to achieve those ideals was to charge people upfront, and forget about further monetisation within the game itself.

McFarland stated, with no small amount of regret, that premium pricing on mobile is now regarded as niche, but he posited that the opposite view is every bit as valid. "Freemium effectively focuses on a niche - they just happen to be whales who spend unlimited amounts of money. Despite freemium games being seemingly for everyone, they're not really."

Ultimately, the team agreed on a price-point of $3.99, which McFarland described as "premium" with good-humoured disbelief.

"It's clearly not the best business model," he said. "But it was about our passion and the need to communicate something about gaming; a meaningful contribution to the medium, and to not overstay our welcome. Just give people something and that's it - we're not going to press you for endless hours of your time.

"We just stuck to our guns, this is what we wanted to do. If you believe in what you're doing, listen to that. If you're right, it's so worthwhile."

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Latest comments (11)

Phil Hindle Technical Director, FreeStyleGames7 years ago
They should release an update where you get an option that says "SHUT UP AND TAKE MORE OF MY MONEY, THIS GAME IS AWESOME!" when you complete the last level. It'd be like tipping the waiter after eating a great meal at a restaurant.

Beautiful game, and well done on their commitment to the All Killer... credo.
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Matthew Handrahan European Deputy Editor, GamesIndustry.biz7 years ago
It seems appropriate to mention here that Neil quotes an email exchange from a disgruntled user who expressed basically the opposite sentiment - it was equal parts funny and depressing. We should be getting videos of the sessions from Gamelab, so keep 'em peeled.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Matthew Handrahan on 27th June 2014 2:03pm

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Patrick Frost QA Project Monitor 7 years ago
I've very recently completed this game and by the way it was designed I don't see any way in which you could extend the game easily without it being detrimental to the experience. It has an inherent linearity in the current design but that being said, I don't see any reason why they couldn't create a group of different stories following different characters that could overlap with some kind of hub between as a sequel.

I'd love to see more of this and the game was a joy to play. Keep at it guys!
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Show all comments (11)
Sometimes, a game or movie or story is just right. no more is needed.
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Nicholas Lovell Founder, Gamesbrief7 years ago
I think Neil is wrong about F2P games being just focused on the whales. The free players provide the context and social glue without which the superfans will lack the will to spend, and nor will they get the satisfaction. A F2P play game that caters to high spenders and doesn't work really hard to keep its non-spenders happy is not a sustainable business.
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We ought think about players first, always. Historically Dev studios tend to learn their way to greatness - similar to authors or musicians, it's title three/four/five that hits the big time with the audience. I can't see any way to make that happen without making the best, most audience-pleasing game you can every single time you have a shot and in this case that meant making exactly the game they made. The starting plateau for any new game is the bar you set with your last one and by thinking short term you fuck up that future. Don't bother listening to those who want to systematise what we do, who advocate taking every crass deal possible just to add cents on the dollar - these people are embarrassed to make videogames, only see value in money and deep down want to hang out with bankers.
Ustwo did the right thing, it paid off for them and if they continue building on excellence first it will pay off even more down the line.
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Jed Ashforth Senior Game Designer, Immersive Technology Group, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe7 years ago
Very pleased UsTwo made this decision for the game, it wouldn't have appeared on my radar as a F2P game, and that would have been a shame because it's a really lovely title and deserves plenty of success.

Keep up the good work guys, and keep sticking to those guns of yours. There are those of us out here who really appreciate it!
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Charlie Cleveland Game Director/Founder, Unknown Worlds7 years ago
Cheers man, we love your strategy. I wish there were more gamedevs doing the same. But there is a tweak you could do your business model - it's not too late.

You could release the first level or two for free, and then allow the player to buy it for $3.99 to get the rest. It wouldn't mean ongoing revenue, but it would mean you could take advantage of the low barrier to entry.
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Oscar Escamilla Perez Game Designer 7 years ago
Ive been in Gamelab these 3 days, and it was depressing hearing some of the F2P speakers. Nothing of what they say has nothing to do with what I grew up loving about videogames. Retention, user adquisition, whales...blah, blah, blah. Horrid. Hearing these guys talk makes me want to do a Devolver and scream dirty words at them

Tim Schafer and Alex Rigopulos made the 2 first days bearable. Richard Lemmarchand and Rami Ismail (what a speaker!) closed brilliantly the last day, but this morning mr.McFarland saved the day for quality mobile gaming with a great talk about a wonderful game. I would throw money at my phone if titles like this appeared more often at the app store fronts instead of being relegated by the constant influx of F2P fluff
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Rogier Voet IT Consultant 7 years ago
I'm glad that there still developers out there that do business this way. There are far too many piss poor F2P-games out there already. We don't need more of them.
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Jon Rissik SVP & GM, Dovetail Games7 years ago
It's a sad fact that we have found ourselves at a place where a 3.99 price point can put off players. To me, FP2 generally means low quality software coupled with insidious promotion/selling. Not all games conform - but the majority do. Part of the joy of Monument Valley is that it did away with any on-screen distractions and focussed every effort on delivering a sensational moment-to-moment entertainment experience. Yes it was short, but that was okay too, because it made every moment count. I would gladly give Ustwo another 3.99 for a sequel. Not sure I'd both if it was F2P...I'd be too busy looking for the catch.
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