From Premium to Freemium: AppLift's top tips for making the transition
Walking the line
Like it or not, free-to-play seems here to stay. In a couple of years, it has clearly asserted itself as the leading revenue model for mobile games.
For indie developers who have poured their hearts and souls (not to mention time and money) into making a great game, opting for the freemium model is understandably scary.
As having your game downloaded is only the first stop in a long and perilous journey, getting to efficient monetisation can be really tough. To paraphrase Reid Hoffman, it's like jumping off a cliff and assembling a plane on your way down.
The purpose of this piece is not to claim that all mobile games should be free-to-play, and there certainly is a market for quality paid games.
However, if you are tempted to turn to the other side of the force, or if you've actually decided to roll up your sleeves and walk the line, fear not! Here are a few tips on how to achieve a smooth and efficient transition.
Drop it while it's hot
Transitioning to a freemium model comes with a nice perk on the App Store the capacity to drop your game's price to zero which is a great tactic to generate free installs.
The main effect might seem obvious. Making your app free will automatically have a positive effect on volumes thanks to price elasticity.
That means your game will likely be picked up by the bots and algorithms screening the app stores for paid apps made free (so called "paid-for-free" apps).
Where it gets interesting is that this will potentially lead to your game being featured by influential blogs, app discovery services and promotional apps. They can provide you with great visibility as well as the ultimate cherry on the cake free installs.
Free doesn't mean cheap
Offering great value to all your users is just as important for a free game as it is for a paid one.
The time when you could just release a half-baked product with aggressive and abrasive monetisation mechanics is definitely over. Expectations from players have raised, and so has the general quality level on the app stores.
Not making any compromise on quality is important for two reasons. First, it will increase retention and engagement for your players which will automatically lead to improved monetisation down the road.
The free-to-play model requires you to take a holistic approach to the user lifecycle and, while this comes with risks, it also exposes you to an (almost) unlimited upside potential.
Second, it's important to know that the review and discovery services mentioned above are essentially built around content. Because the quality of the apps they feature is essential as it helps the retention of their own audiences, you have to believe the mantra that content is king.
To achieve a smooth and successful transition it's essential to plan and coordinate the steps leading to freemium.
In case you game is truly premium and doesn't already have any monetisation items, you should start thinking about how to implement them later and define your monetisation strategy.
Decide on whether you'll have in-app purchase (IAP), ad offers, or both and then work out how to integrate them in your game experience.
Then comes the highlight of the whole process: the price drop to zero. In order to maximise your chances of profiting from a feature on an app discovery service, leave a bit of time between the paid release of your game and the price drop, as many algorithms are programmed to factor that element in.
Finally, when you submit the update with the monetisation elements, don't make the Apple review time a variable as it could take a couple of weeks to go through. Get the approval early and launch only when ready.
The most challenging part in the transition process is obviously avoiding disappointment among your existing user base, which is both the users who paid for your game and the bigger chunk who downloaded it for free but without any monetisation items.
Take advantage of the communication platform that the app stores offers you the update notes.
The trick is then to strike the right balance between disappointing your users upfront and saying nothing to later deceive them. As is so often the case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Add some awesome new free features and communicate it to your users. These will appeal to the users who already know your game and will understand their value. Then, mention the monetisation items in a way that fits your game's experience.
For instance, if the items you had previously integrated could only be obtained through game achievements, highlight the introduction of in-app purchase as a way to accelerate the process and enjoy the experience quicker.
Embrace the new world
Hopefully this article has provided some insights on making a painless and even beneficial transition to the freemium model. However, walking that line is only the beginning.
Among other things, you'll need to figure out how much you earn and therefore can spend per user, as well as choose your advertising channels.
Transforming a great game into a great service is a big challenge and you'll only succeed by embracing the mindset that goes with it.
So good luck and see you on the other side!
For more information on AppLift and the services it offers, check out the company's website. For more from Thomas, take a look at the AppLift blog.