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Angry Birds Action! dev Tag Games on the challenges and opportunities of going F2P

Angry Birds Action! dev Tag Games on the challenges and opportunities of going F2P

In May 2016, Tag Games is celebrating 10 years in business, but also 5 years of making free-to-play games.

In that context, CEO Paul Farley explains why Tag made the early decision to go free-to-play and discusses why many UK studios are still reluctant to adopt the model.

Why did Tag Games decide F2P was the way to go?

Back in 2011, we saw the F2P trend emerging and social Facebook games begin making the transition over to mobile.

We opted then to make F2P a fundamental part of our strategy and it's a decision that we have never regretted.

Despite the steep learning curve, being specialists in F2P has enabled us to work with the likes of Activision and Rovio on some very exciting projects.

How did the company have to change?

F2P brings with it a world of meta-games, monetisation and heavy backend integration on top of regular development. All of this requires skills, tools and specialists in your team that you've never needed before.

We brought in data analysts and server engineers to build our F2P infrastructure as we moved towards running our games as live ongoing services.

Alongside people and processes, another big hurdle was really the mindset change.

When you're putting your all into creating something, it can feel both counter-intuitive and risky to then give that away for free.

Monetisation becomes key and designers can't afford to be precious about their favourite features. If something isn't helping drive revenue or provide a positive player experience, you have to question its place in the game.

What do you think prevents studios from getting into free-to-play development?

All the changes involved make it a difficult to get right. It takes time, investment and has significant risk.

It's not a case of simply making your game free and bolting on some IAPs.
Paul Farley

It's not a case of simply making your game free and bolting on some IAPs. We learned that ourselves very early on!

Add to that the daunting prospect of the cost of user acquisition and you've got barriers to entry that can seem insurmountable.

In this context it's easy to understand why many developers simply find it more comfortable to stick with the "traditional" world of paid game development.

Some of the best premium games on the app store hail from the UK and that's something we should be proud of, but outside a few true breakout hits there's a limit to the commercial success you can expect from a premium title in today's mobile market.

Because Tag is an entirely independent studio our decision to dive into F2P was based on a long term view of the market without the pressure of investors, or shareholders.

We've had to invest retained profit back into the team, process, tools and to enable that transition. It's a big leap of faith and one that I know some studios struggle to take without either the freedom of independence, or the benefits that come with profitability.

Since going F2P your projects have mainly been work-for-hire. Does this approach mean sacrificing creativity for the sake of the bottom line?

That's a reasonable concern but we feel we have got the balancing act right.

The projects we undertake for our partners have evolved from the old "work for hire" model to the situation now where our experience and expertise provide the opportunity for us to be co-owners and put our own stamp on the games.

We have a history of developing our own IP and our first ever F2P title Funpark Friends was one we self-published as an original IP back in 2011.

Having worked with some major publishers since and learned a lot in the process, we're now keen to bring our own games back into the mix.

We have a concept team working full-time at the studio and recently received funding from the UK Games Fund for our next original IP, Misfits & Monsters.

Once we get this past the prototype stage we'll be looking to bring a publisher on board.

The market has changed so much in recent years that whether it is in development, marketing or funding most studios have to work alongside other partners to generate success.

To stay relevant in today's market we have to be more creative now than we were in the past, both in terms of ideas development and business strategy.


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