The Ninjabot

Categorized | Games Editorial

Pay-to-Play Mobile Games’ Viability in the Marketplace

Posted on April 8, 2016 at 6:38 am by David "Snackbar" Edmundson


A recent poll by Develop-Online on the future of mobile gaming showed some pretty interesting data. One of the games discussed, Assassins’s Creed: Identity, was sited as an example of a game that launched free-to-play, before moving to a paid platform. The transition didn’t appear to hurt the game, as developer Ubisoft is reporting high profit margins for the title.

“If you want to generate profit, that’s clearly possible. If you want annual revenues of $20m for a couple of years? No chance. The top paid games are not present in the top grossing charts,” said Dennis Rohlfing of InnoGames.

This might explain why so many games are going free-to-play. Paid games are perceived as a big risk for developers; and not just the small developers. The failure of a game can just as easily hurt or even cripple a large studio with years of production experience. Paid games frequently have short prime shelf life and even launching the wrong week can be disastrous. At face value a free-to-play game may be a bigger risk in comparison – the production costs of making a game-as-a-service and the testing, support, and monetization work that they require are often greater than making a pay-once game – but the reward can be orders of magnitude greater. And when you factor in that the attitude on mobile in particular has become that the mass market wants free-to-play, it makes sense for publishers and developers to go that way.

But it doesn’t make sense for everyone – paid games can still be profitable, in part because there is an audience there still. There are just as many people happy to pay their money once as there are people looking to have fun with no deposit slots. There are still stories of developers being profitable with their paid games – and especially smaller developers can afford to take creative risks. I’ve often thought that paid games on mobile, while practically a rounding error at this point, will someday have a viable niche for the people that enjoy them and developers that want to create those games. But it may involve a lot of shifting attitudes and more console/PC gamers accepting mobile platforms.

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