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Mobile shifting away from consumables - X-Men dev

Glitchsoft CEO Andrew Fisher says brands are becoming more interested in free games with for-pay expansions

The future of free-to-play games may look more than a bit like the past of premium. Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz at the Montreal International Game Summit this week, Glitchsoft CEO Andrew Fisher said he sees the industry shifting away from the consumable energy schemes popular in many free-to-play games, and toward a model that sounds more than a little like the old PC shareware model.

"You're going to start to see a pattern where they are starting to move more to durables," Fisher said, noting that publishers like Disney Interactive, Gameloft, and Electronic Arts have already taken some steps in that direction.

"[W]e can still fan it out as premium, but to hit the numbers we're trying to hit and the objectives we have with Marvel, really we want to start ratcheting it up into a different model."

Fisher said many publishers are already backing away from the consumable approach to free-to-play design, where users' purchases provide temporary boosts, like shortening timers or providing more health for characters. Glitchsoft's own Uncanny X-Men: Days of Future Past game launched earlier this year as a premium game with no in-app purchases, but an update next spring will see the core game made available for free, with additional expansion packs available for fans who want to pay to play through other storylines from the comic series.

"We still make money every day as premium," Fisher said. "It's not like it's not selling. And every market we take it to, we get a very warm response. So we can still fan it out as premium, but to hit the numbers we're trying to hit and the objectives we have with Marvel, really we want to start ratcheting it up into a different model."

Fisher said the approach has proven popular with fans. Even at its current $2.99 price point, Days of Future Past maintains a 4.5 star average customer rating on the App Store, with plenty of raves not just for the game but its lack of in-app purchases.

"What we're building is more of a chasis for us to be able to allow fans to experience different storylines within the X-Men universe, and the core fans are happy to pay for those things," Fisher said. "They don't want to be nickel-and-dimed. They don't want consumables, power-ups, energy, or gas. But when it's a value pack that gives them more experience for a one time [purchase]..., when you look at the reviews, they all say, 'We'd be happy if that's how you augmented your model.'"

"You can try [our model] with a minimum viable product, but I think what you're going to find is you're going to get lots of great data and lots of great fans, but you're not going to convert probably anything."

Beyond its fan-friendliness, the approach has other benefits for Glitchsoft. Without having to worry so much about monetization, designers can just focus on making the game fun. And while this durable free-to-play approach means the studio's minimum viable product might have to be a bit more fully realized than with a standard free-to-play title, it does relieve some of the live operations headaches, like doing early launches in a handful of countries to work out the monetization kinks.

The downside to the try-and-buy model is that it requires a significant investment in content up front. When Days of Future Past switches over to the model, it will have more than 5 hours worth of gameplay available in the initial free download.

"You can't just have an hour of (free) content," Fisher said. "You can try it with a minimum viable product, but I think what you're going to find is you're going to get lots of great data and lots of great fans, but you're not going to convert probably anything."

Fisher sees the move to free-to-play as just another strategy to overcome the big challenge in mobile: Discoverability. When the company launched in 2009, they worked on original intellectual property, and found that the games simply weren't getting enough attention to be successful. So they switched approaches, and began seeking high-profile brands to work with on licensed games.

The first of those licensed titles was He-Man: The Most Powerful Game in the Universe. It would eventually launch in October of 2012, but first Glitchsoft had to convince Mattel to entrust the studio with the brand.

"They really wanted to see that you understood the brand, the canon, the context, the system around the brand," Fisher said. "It's not just a guy running around with a sword. You have to understand the story, the context."

"Most of the brands we're going after are character action IPs, and that's not their core value point, to be exploitive."

To show Mattel just how well the studio understood that context, Glitchsoft put together an exhaustive 120-page proposal for the game.

"We provided them an incredible amount of detail about what we knew about the brand, how it would best be represented on mobile, and how we could leverage our skillset--both from an art style and gameplay perspective--that would map to those things," Fisher said.

Glitchsoft got the job, and switched its business model in the process. Fisher said the company may dabble in original side projects here and there for morale purposes, but the next 2-5 years is all about "helping brands engage in mobile." After He-Man and X-Men, Fisher said the company has a third such game on the way, one which has him working with his personal dream licensor.

In working with these licensors, Fisher says he's seen how sensitive the brand-holders are about their image, and how aware they are that exploitive mechanics may not be the best fit for their properties.

"Most of the brands we're going after are character action IPs, and that's not their core value point, to be exploitive," Fisher said. "In fact, the ones we tend to appreciate more as kids are the ones that have a classic good versus evil [theme]. And I would argue the exploitive monetization is the evil side, and the good monetization is something that treats your fans with respect."

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Latest comments (10)

Gareth Martin Senior Progammer, Coconut Lizard5 years ago
About time they realised how much in-app-purchase consumables piss off customers!
Without having to worry so much about monetization, designers can just focus on making the game fun.
Corollary: Pervasive monetisation (e.g. in-app-purchase consumables) makes the game less fun. At the extreme, the game is "not fun" and this means people don't play and you lose your monetisation altogether.

It's the same as the old price/sales curve. Too high of a price (too much monetisation) and you actually make less money than if you had a lower price (less monetisation) due to lower sales.

On another note, this article goes from a subtle to a blatant advert for Glitchsoft part-way through when it starts talking about how good they are at handling licensed IPs, which doesn't even have anything to do with the article title...
Perhaps try being a little more subtle :P

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Gareth Martin on 17th November 2014 4:49pm

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About time they realised how much in-app-purchase consumables piss off customers!
Really? At any given day there's no more than one or two games in US Top100 grossing and never above rank 60 or so. At the same time there are 80+ F2P games in the Top100 grossing.
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Anthony Gowland Director, Ant Workshop5 years ago
About time they realised how much in-app-purchase consumables piss off customers!
Look at the top selling IAP for any game - if they have them, it's consumables.
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Show all comments (10)
Kristina Rothe Game Development Evangelist, Microsoft5 years ago
Well, durables can be just as bad when it comes to public opinion - for example if you shell out 70 (that is almost 90 USD) for a game - and that's a standard price here - then it can come across as a nuisance if you have to register for additional game services and possible buy additional extensions (story chapters, maps, treasures...). Even more so when this is connected to the ability to unlock certain achievements.

Let's face it, it's all about good experience and game design. Consumables can work just fine, unless players run into paywalls on a regular basis and as long as the game remains to be fair if you choose not to pay.
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Gareth Martin Senior Progammer, Coconut Lizard5 years ago
Let's face it, it's all about good experience and game design. Consumables can work just fine, unless players run into paywalls on a regular basis and as long as the game remains to be fair if you choose not to pay.
Yes that is true. However very few games are fair to non-paying customers because non-paying customers are not a direct source of income. I appreciate it's hard to get money out of the mobile games market when there are so many good games being given away for little or nothing, but making your game less fun to try to force people into paying more money is not the right approach.

Either you entice people to pay through advertising or through the game (or demo) actually being good (ideally both), you don't get people to pay by giving them a crap game and saying "but if you pay it will be fun".

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Gareth Martin on 18th November 2014 5:04pm

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Michael Sellers Chief Alchemist, Online Alchemy5 years ago
The problem with durables in F2P games is that they're durable: players only need to buy them once, or once in a great while. Players may complain about those less (theoretically), but using this kind of model doesn't increase the number of players who pay anything, and greatly reduces the lifetime value of each player. This means the games are far less profitable, if they're profitable at all.

I believe there are ways to monetize F2P games that don't require annoying players at every turn, but there are mountains of data that show that games that rely on in-app sales of durable items have a much harder time sticking around -- and thus so do the companies that make them.
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Darius Tan Sr. Publisher Relations Manager, Vungle5 years ago
There was a poll on reddit about how much people spent on DOTA 2 so far here: http://ampoll.com/poll/rv3lcdbu85

It's pretty impressive that ~38% of users polled have spent $80 or more on purchases that are not only durable, but purely cosmetic as well. This may be a function of people liking to peacock whenever there are other people around and reddit may not be indicative of gamers as a whole (maybe they're more wealthy etc).

I have talked to a couple other developers where their users paid for purely cosmetic changes (hats, outfits) as well. This is pretty clearly a small sample size, ha.

@Michael - Is there any data to support your statement re: durables < consumables in terms of LTV? I'm super interested and I'm sure others are as well. My hunch would be that if you make a great game - requiring purchases or waiting a long time would churn users MUCH more than if you didn't. Personally, I churn almost every single game that requires me to buy IAPs or grind through wait times.

Maybe the DOTA model only works for multiplayer games, where the "content" is different each time due to the skill levels of players and vast number of characters to play reducing the need for fresh content. However, they ARE always developing / balancing, so I don't think that would be true. In that sense, it's not too different from any other successful mobile game out there.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Darius Tan on 19th November 2014 1:01am

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Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd5 years ago
I'd really like to see some evidence of someone making this model work. It could open the door to some different kinds of games being viable on mobile.

I do slightly suspect that it's being talked up as a way that big traditional publishers can push out smaller devs and F2P-native devs, like "console quality" 3D mobile games perennially are touted. Episodic-style extra content isn't cheap to build.
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Nicholas Lovell Founder, Gamesbrief5 years ago
I agree with Robin, and I suspect some of the people on this thread are saying "I don't like it, and nor do my friends", which ignores the data that consumables are a much stronger revenue model for games companies.

More broadly, why does it makes sense to take expensive content and lock it away from the majority of your audience when you could instead give that content away for free, as a customer acquisition and retention tool, and make your money from selling database entries that people value?
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Darius Tan Sr. Publisher Relations Manager, Vungle5 years ago
To continue around my previous point of my personal experience churning and DOTA's seemingly insane spend numbers, there was a great article on gamesindustry that talks about the LTV of users that spend 10 hours or more on games - http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2014-11-17-mobile-shifting-away-from-consumables-fisher#justposted

Those that spend 10 hours or more actually end up spending 300% more than the average. This data supports the high spend DOTA players have as well.

This should be at least some food for thought. I'd imagine it's worthy of experimenting optimizing for long term retention vs. the short or even medium term paywall/waitwall type mechanic that is rampant in games currently.
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