Child's play: Why 7 Little Words dev thinks F2P is a bad fit for kids

Child's play: Why 7 Little Words dev thinks F2P is a bad fit for kids
Having amassed 6 million downloads with its free-to-play puzzler 7 Little Words, you might imagine developer Blue Ox Technologies would be looking to adopt the same model for its follow up.
7 Little Words for Kids, however, will be a paid release.

Why? Because president and CEO Christopher York thinks that, in its current form, free-to-play releases stacked with in-app purchases just don't sit well when their target market is children.

So, is Blue Ox right to adopt a different approach for kids? We caught up with York for his take on the freemium-premium divide.

Pocket Gamer: It's almost a year and a half since we last spoke to you, in which time 7 Little Words' downloads have doubled to 6 million. What's happened during that time?

Christopher York: The last 18 months have been an incredible experience of personal and business growth.

One of the most significant changes is that Blue Ox has transformed from a one-man to an eight-man studio.

That's a huge leap of faith in others for a person that's accustomed to being in total control of every detail, but somewhere along the line I came to the realisation that I couldn't take the company where I wanted it to go without help.

So now it's "us" instead of "me", and it's the best decision I could possibly have made. We have a fantastic team here at Blue Ox.

Together we've been able to continue improving 7 Little Words by adding more content, improving the user experience, and launching a daily puzzle. We've brought our app to new marketplaces such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and we've introduced a free printable download product for teachers to use in the classroom.

One of our more interesting new initiatives is our partnership with Ziosk to put 7 Little Words on the tables of casual dining restaurants across the US via Android-based kiosks.

You've since signed a syndication deal to take 7 Little Words to newspapers and also a book publishing deal. How did these come about, and what benefit do they have on the original app?

We knew that we had a puzzle format that could make the leap from digital to print, so we reached out to Universal Uclick to see if they would consider us for newspaper syndication.

It turned out that they loved our game and were eager to partner with us, so we worked out the technical and logistical details of coordinating our daily puzzle between our app and the print version.

Our puzzle has been thus far been picked up by some large-market newspapers such as the Miami Herald and the Detroit Free Press.

It's tough to measure the actual impact that syndication has had on our business aside from direct revenue, since you can't build analytics into a newspaper! But the extra exposure certainly has not hurt us.

How is the app performing on iOS and Android? Is there a split between the two platforms, or different habits you've noticed?
7 Little Words is still going strong and, with the exception of Nook, all revenue is coming from in-app purchases.

iOS is roughly 70 percent of our business, with Android and Amazon at roughly 20 percent and 10 percent respectively. Regarding conversion rates, iOS users are slightly more willing to spend money with us than Android users.

Your next app – 7 Little Words for Kids – is a paid release rather than a free-to-play one. What's the thinking behind this?

On the surface it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, since free-to-play has worked so well for 7 Little Words.

But we've built our brand identity around being family-friendly and though we use in-app purchase, we've worked very hard not to take advantage of people.

Trying to sell directly to the young children that 7 Little Words for Kids is aimed at just doesn't seem right to us.

We'll let the parents buy the app for their kids, then the kids can play all they want without the parents worrying how many Smurfberries are going to show up on their next credit card bill.

The business model for 7 Little Words for Kids is in harmony with our sense of ethics. Letting our values guide us thus far has worked out extremely well and we're not going to abandon them.

We might be leaving some money on the table right now, but not compromising our brand-identity is more important.

What are your next plans? New formats, new games, or both?

Definitely both. We're currently working on porting 7 Little Words to Windows 8, and we're certainly developing ideas for new games. We're going to have a busy year in 2013.
Thanks to Christopher for his time.

With a fine eye for detail, Keith Andrew is fuelled by strong coffee, Kylie Minogue and the shapely curve of a san serif font.


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Nicholas Lovell
It's a shame that the comment on IAP for kids is so glib. I absolutely believe that there are unethical ways of selling IAPs to kids. I also believe that there are ethical ways. The black and white answer doesn't help people understand how to make new business models that make more money for developers and also delight users without compromising on ethics.

I find it particularly depressing that people often boil their thoughts down to "I have seen unethical uses of IAPs aimed at kids, so IAPs aimed at kids are unethical".
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