Why I’m Trying the Freemium Model With Starship Captain
My biggest app game ever, Starship Captain, launched today. It is a throw-back to the strategy/adventure games I created earlier in my career, Space Pirate and Rebel Dawn. But with the old comes something new: a new revenue model to try out.
“Freemium” is a term used to describe an app that is free to download, but has in-app purchases that you can buy. Some freemium games are little more than trial versions of themselves until you make the purchase. Others can be played in full, but in-app purchases make it easier to advance or speed up parts of the game. I’m going with the later model, which is used in a lot of games from Clash of the Clans to Candy Crush.
In Starship Captain, the planets on the map are grouped into clusters. You can travel to nearby planets with hyperspace warp jumps that take less than a minute to complete. But to jump to a planet in another cluster, it can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 12 hours. Still beats the hundreds of years it would take to do it in real life, though!
If you want to speed up jumps, you can use “relativity crystals” in the game. Each crystal equals one hour of time. You get 20 crystals to start. You can purchase more.
It was important to me that you would be able to play the game without paying anything. I do this all the time with these kinds of games. I just start a long process, like upgrades or buildings, in the evening and then let the process finish overnight. The same can be done with Starship Captain. You can plan your long jumps for the end of the day, and then resume playing in the morning.
Most of my games use advertising as the revenue model. You can get them for free, and there are no in-app purchases. I have a few games that have no ads in them and you pay for more content (jigsaw puzzles, Push Around levels). I have a few where you just pay up-front.
But if you are a developer and follow various blogs and discussions that go on in the industry, you hear that the freemium model is the best one. Just look at the “top grossing” list in the iTunes store. They are mostly freemium games. So it was about time I tried this model.
One of the big downsides to this model is the hate I will get. Some people get absolutely furious when they see a game use this model. In fact, within hours of launching the game I received my first anonymous hate email about it.
Of course people would prefer that games be free, with no in-app purchases and no ads. That would be nice. But that’s not realistic. I have bills to pay and mouths to feed just like everyone else.
My “job” is to create these apps. And just like other people want to get paid as much money as possible to do their job, I want to make as much money as possible doing mine. So I’ve got to look at the ways these apps make money and figure out what will do the best.
The argument most haters use is that they would rather pay upfront for the game than have in-app purchases. I like that idea too. But it isn’t the way reality works. App developers have tried and tested these and find that the freemium model works better, way better. No matter how many people say they would have rather purchased the game, the truth is that they wouldn’t have purchased it. Developers have tracked this. I’ve seen it myself.
Maybe one person saying that is telling the truth. Fine. But that $2.99 is not going to pay the bills. There would need to be thousands of people buying the game for it to make fiscal sense. And unless you have a huge marketing budget or a big brand, that isn’t going to happen.
And there is an upside to the freemium model for users too. People really do get to try the game before they spend any money on it. They may not think of it as a try-before-buy, but it works that way for them if they want to see it like that.
So I am trying the freemium model for on simple reason: I want Starship Captain to succeed. I want lots of people to play it and to have a nice revenue stream. I want the revenue to be good enough so I can justify spending time updating the game. I want to add to it, improve it and expand it. But that will only happen if the bottom line looks good. And the best chance of that, is to make the game freemium.