Apple’s announcement that they are going to start letting free applications sell in-app content seemed to be a big one. Even game changing.
But, the more I think about it, the more I think there will be great hesitation for many developers (and I’m thinking mostly of game developers) to make the plunge.
Now, some apps clearly benefit from this. Comics for example is a comic book reader that sells more downloadable comics. It was $0.99 before today because they had to be. But now, they are free and will make their money on selling individual comics. Same with book readers, or other similar models. Even a game like Tap Tap Revenge 3 would benefit…. though sitting at the #1 spot at $0.99 makes me think they aren’t going to change their price anytime soon.
So are game developers suddenly going to release free games with add-on purchases? I don’t think so, and here’s why.
Lite versions aren’t always in your best interest.
I know customers want there to be a lite version of every game that exists… but, depending on the game itself, a lite version is not in the best interest of the developer. Lite versions can hurt the sales of a full version. This can be for a number of reasons, primarily that people simply didn’t like the game as much as they thought they would. For this sub-section of games, Lite’s hurt.
Now, if you release a Lite game and find it’s hurting sales. The easy solution? Pull the Lite game. But if your Lite is your Full version too, well, there’s not as much you can do about it, nor will you even likely know it’s a problem.
Lite Versions are a Good Second Push
Most games don’t come with a Lite version on Day #1. This isn’t an accident. Your game is going to get the most press on the day it launches, and you want people to buy it sight unseen.
So, instead, you wait until the game has lost momentum, and release a Lite version then — hoping for a second push up the charts.
Here’s the slow decline in ranking of Gameloft’s Modern Combat: Sandstorm game:
When did they release a Lite version? Yep. 7 days ago. Exactly when their game fell off the top 100 paid apps (dark blue line).
No Promo Codes for in-app purchases
Apple offers free promo codes for people to download full versions of apps. This is the primary tool developers have to promote their games with review sites and forums. Without these, it’s going to be harder to convince people to try your game.
Now, I don’t personally care. At TouchArcade, we pretty much buy every game we consider, but for a small time developer, looking to get the word out, this will be a major handicap.
The next thing is that the Top 100 lists matter. They drive a ton of sales. Are you better off competing for a spot on the top 100 Free apps or the top 100 paid apps? I’m not sure what the answer is, but top 100 free requires some insane volume of downloads. Most people have focused on the marketing to the Top 100 paid. I’m not sure what drives sales into the Top 100 free, and most developers probably don’t either.
This also makes it strange to release both Full and Lite + DLC versions, in that you are splitting your sales across two apps. Maybe it’s not going to be a big deal, but this is uncharted waters.
Now, Apple has gotten Ngmoco to take the plunge and offer Rolando 2 as a free + DLC game. And a game like Eliminate is a natural fit for this plan.
But, unless there are some real success stories from smaller devs, I’m not sure how much this will affect most developer’s short term plans.