The Charticle

The Charticle: From Kingdom Conquest to After Burner - how has Sega handled its move into mobile?

The Charticle: From Kingdom Conquest to After Burner - how has Sega handled its move into mobile?
Sega's Kingdom Conquest hit the App Store in November 2010, and accumulated more than a million downloads in the months that followed, and since hitting over three million total installs. 

It was Sega's first big hit on mobile, and since then, the Japanese company has been releasing a steady stream of iOS games – including, most recently, After Burner Climax.

But while Kingdom Conquest was a freemium smash, Sega's subsequent mobile titles has more-often-than-not adopted premium price-points, often backed up with IAPs, too.

So why is Sega doing this, when industry wisdom, and its own past successes, suggest F2P is the way to go? And have Sega's premium titles performed well?

This week, the Charticle investigates.

Peaked too soon

Sega's latest foray into mobile, After Burner Climax, is priced at $2.99 and seems to be enjoying the typical trajectory of premium priced products.

Franchise recognition, featured spots from Apple and – most likely – marketing dollars saw After Burner Climax quickly ascend to #30 in the US App Store's top paid games chart for iPhone.

The game moved up to #24 the following day, and held its position for a further 24 hours. Then, on 10 February, After Burner dropped to #27, and then dropped another place the next day.

It's the same story on the top grossing games chart. After Burner Climax climbed the rankings from #107, to #84, to #78. Then, the game's position began to slide, dropping first to #82, then to #87.

Analytics graph showing the top grossing games chart performance of After Burner Climax in the US App Store. Analytics data courtesy of App Annie.


Another notable premium-priced title in Sega's portfolio is Jack Lumber, the first product of its Sega Alliance mobile publishing initiative.

The game was developed by Owlchemy Labs and released in August 2012 at a 'special launch price' of 99c.

Speaking at the time, Owlchemy Labs 'chief scientist' Alex Schwartz explained that "we'll be able to introduce Jack Lumber to a much wider audience than we'd originally hoped thanks to the resources provided by Sega Alliance."

But even this marketing support didn't help Jack Lumber generate steady sales. The title peaked at a very respectable #36 in the US App Store's top paid games chart, but one month later, Jack Lumber had left the top 1000.

Analytics graph showing Jack Lumber's performance in the top paid games chart in the US App Store.
Jack Lumber's peak in the top grossing games chart was #249. Within four weeks of that high-point, the game dropped out of the grossing charts for good.

The big names

Sega has had more positive experiences with premium pricing, though.
Total War Battles, for instance, launched April 2012, boasting a hefty price tag of $6.99. Nevertheless, the association with a well-known and well-liked brand, as well as a healthy dose of critical acclaim, saw the game climb to #43 in the top paid games chart at launch.

But even though each player was paying $6.99 up front, this only translated into a position at #69 in the top grossing games chart.

However, Total War Battles continued sales and IAPs saw Total War Battles maintain a place in the top grossing games chart for months to come.

Analytics graph showing Total War Battles' performance in the grossing charts in the US App Store.

The blue line describes overall grossing charts position, the red line describes top grossing games chart position, and the orange line describes top grossing strategy games chart position.

Similarly, any game with the word 'Sonic' in its title tends to fare markedly better than its stablemates.

We still see a similar overall pattern for Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2 – with an early peak in chart performance followed by slow decline – but the tail is considerably longer.

Analytics graph showing the grossing charts performance of Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 2.

The blue line describes overall grossing charts performance, while the red line shows top grossing games chart performance. 

So it would seem that Sega can still rely on its old mascot to generate sales, although it's clear that the same strategy doesn't suit its lesser-known or entirely new IP.

Lumbering giants

For all of their innovation on home consoles and PCs, it often seems as though big publishers come over all conservative on mobile platforms.

There seems to be an unwillingness to fully embrace free-to-play despite the clear evidence of the model's earning potential. Perhaps it's the boxed game heritage that causes this reluctance, or perhaps it's simply that bigger companies are often slower moving.

But it's worth noting that After Burner Climax isn't Sega's only recent release.

On 17 January, Sega launched Kingdom Conquest II, the sequel to its first big hit on iOS.

And although the game is only ranked at #452 on the top grossing games chart right now, it's significant that Kingdom Conquest II – which follows the same freemium model as its predecessor – is showing steady growth.

Analytics graph showing grossing charts performance for Kingdom Conquest II.

The blue line describes overall grossing charts position, while red shows top grossing games position.

Rather than an early peak followed by gradual decline, Kingdom Conquest II is still ascending the charts four weeks after release.

It may not enjoy anything like the same level of brand recognition as Total War or Sonic, but this freemium follow-up may yet end up being the most sustainably successful title in Sega's mobile portfolio.

Staff Writer's news editor 2012-2013


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Will Luton
Ahh... I think Sonic Jump jumps (yeah) between free and paid. Ostensibly Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing was a paid success also.
James Nouch
Hiya Will. Good point regarding Football Manager - perhaps one for a future Charticle to take a look at. At the time of writing this piece, though, Sonic Jump is priced at 99c, and follows a broadly similar chart trajectory to the other premium-priced Sonic games.
Will Luton
I would suggest Super Monkey Ball was SEGA's "first big hit on mobile". Also Football Manager, which is paid, is consistently at the top of the top grossing. They have recognizable brands that make money at premium price points. Going F2P would requiring lots of changes to the mechanic associated and on a port like After Burner Climax could be hamfisted.

However, no mention of Sonic Jump - F2P for a big character like that is a huge move for the company.
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