We didn't want to 'shoe-horn' in F2P: ustwo's mills on opting for ads in Blip Blup
But monetisation experiments will follow
It's been some time since ustwo graced the pages of PocketGamer.biz, with the media bubble that formed around the user-interface specialist's iOS debut – endless runner Whale Trail – now long past.
Despite the studio's own protestations at the time, however, Whale Trail was something of a success in most people's eyes, and still boasts daily downloads in the region of 5,000.
It's a mystery to some, then, why it's taken almost two years for ustwo to make a return.
And what a return its made. The firm's new game – iOS and Android release Blip Blup – comes from a new dedicated games studio, signalling an intent by ustwo to make even more of an impression on the games market second time around.
We caught up with the firm's self-proclaimed 'chief wonka' mills for more on the return of ustwo.
Pocket Gamer: It's coming up for two years since Whale Trail was released. Why the big gap between games?
mills: We continued working pretty much full time on Whale Trail for over a year after launch, adding the challenge levels and then re-inventing the game with upgrades, costumes etc.
We also launched Whale Trail Junior - alongside the eBook published in collaboration with Penguin - last December. Last summer we spent doing a bunch of prototyping - Blip Blup is the first result of this approach to making games.
Whale Trail in its original form on iPhone
During this time we also convinced the business that we needed to focus more diligently on game development, and started the process of looking for the right team with the relevant experience and capability to take ustwo games to the top.
Since our new team members joined in March we have been running another prototyping phase out of which has come two titles we're very excited about.
What's the thinking behind partitioning off a dedicated games studio? What advantages will that give you?
We wanted to blend our own home grown skills with those of the games world thoroughbreds.
This is driven by the need to surpass ourselves with every game we release therefore the only solution was to hire the best people around and not Jacks of all trades but masters of the none.
The team has come together really well, and we can't wait to get the new games that have been formed out for the world to see.
Whale Trail generated a flurry of press coverage during its first few months on sale. What did ustwo learn from the experience?
As everyone knows, the prime marketing channel for studios without deep pockets is through Apple and Google's store promotions, but the great coverage we received seems to have helped solidify the games reputation in the long run.
The combination of great press and glowing user reviews was invaluable in encouraging us to keep at it, and I don't think the team would be where we are now without it.
The game is now downloaded over 5,000 times a day and has brought huge exposure to our studio.
You've taken on three members of staff for the new studio. Any plans to expand further in the near future?
The team is built on tight relationships between talented people. We want to make sure we keep that energy and efficiency, so we will think very hard about expanding much beyond where we are now.
You previously suggested that Whale Trail's paid downloads weren't good enough, and that premium was dead for the firm. What's the thinking behind the different pricing strategies for Blip Blup on iOS and Android?
We will be experimenting with super high premium, alongside free-to-play going forward. It's all about tailoring the monetisation to the experience and the audience.
We always wanted Blip Blup to be a simple proposition – straightforward puzzling and nothing else. We feel it also offers a premium experience that is ultimately aimed at a niche audience of puzzlers over the mainstream.
We also wanted to let as many people try it as possible, so it was natural to have a free ad-supported version alongside the 'full' experience. We think that showing one advert before each level is a simpler solution than trying to shoe-horn a freemium mechanic into the game.
The only in-app-purchase we seriously considered was a hint system, but in the end we decided to wait for player feedback before choosing additional features.
Our Android version on the other hand is a whole different beast. With piracy a possibility on Google Play, releasing a fully unlocked premium version of Blip Blup would have increased the risk of that version being ripped on day one.
We decided the best approach would be to release a free ad-supported version as the only SKU, with IAP used to unlock that game with all features.
The cost is the same but with a different delivery method. Our ambition is for Blip Blup to break the top 100 in both the paid and free puzzle categories.
On both platforms within our first year, we’d love to sell at least 10,000 paid and 200,000 free versions of Blip Blup.
Finally, are you planning to launch on any additional platforms? The UI side of ustwo has always had lots to say about Windows Phone...
Blip Blup is made using Unity, which doesn't yet officially support Windows Phone 8. Once it's possible, we'll be strongly considering it!
We have however just launched our latest anti social photo sharing app Rando onto the third platform – Windows Phone 8 - and we will be using that as a yardstick for any future plans.
Thanks to mills for his time.
You can read a detailed account of ustwo's 'journey into puzzle games' with Blip Blup on the firm's website.
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