Ustwo Games' title started as an Apple Arcade exclusive but has now become available as a free-to-start game. This change allows players to experience the game's opening chapters at no cost with no ads and places the game in front of a new, non-Apple subscriber audience for the first time.
We spoke with Ustwo Games CCO Danny Gray to discuss the reasons behind the game's Apple Arcade beginnings and this latest change, and the studio's approach to publishing in the future after accumulating experience with different models via the likes of Apple and Netflix.
Pocketgamer.biz: You originally released Assemble With Care in 2019 as part of an Apple Arcade exclusive, the game has now shifted to a standard release on iOS and Android and is now a free-to-start game. Tell us about the game's journey to market.
Danny Gray: We’re really looking at this as an exciting experiment with a game we love, with the goal being to have even more people play the game. We’re not sure if free-to-start is a viable business model to launch a brand new game with yet, but we’re looking forward to the results on the iOS and Google Play stores.
We’ve had so many comments from fans about wanting to try the game, but they don’t believe in paying for subscription services and want to own their media.Danny Gray
What benefits do you see from having the game as free-to-start?
Access is the main one. Now anyone with a half-decent mobile device can go and try the game for free, and if they like it, it’s a one-off small payment to own the whole thing. We’ve had so many comments from fans about wanting to try the game, but they don’t believe in paying for subscription services and want to own their media. Now’s their chance.
What feedback have you received from gamers regarding this change?
From our existing audience, it’s been nothing but positive. The unlock price is the same as a traditional premium game, so at the end of the day, they’re just getting a try before you buy with no downside.
The team has published games on Apple Arcade and Netflix before. What have you learnt from both?
They’ve both given us great opportunities to continue to make innovative and risky games in a way we just wouldn’t have been able to on the open app stores, where we’d be competing with free-to-play games. Assemble With Care, Alba: A Wildlife Adventure and Desta: The Memories Between are all vastly different games that do things in unique ways, and it’s been a fantastic journey to flex ourselves in that way. Apple Arcade and Netflix also both provided a financially stable way to make these kinds of games for mainstream audiences.
How do you plan to approach publishing in the future? Will each game have its own approach, or is there now a single platform you feel suits the studio's output best?
We’ve already moved into multiplatform titles by releasing five different games on PC, and a few of those on consoles - most recently, Desta’s Dream Team Edition was released for Switch and Steam back in April after its September 2022 mobile debut.
We’re still firmly committed to mobile though and continue to design our games with those players being our top priority. Whether that’s on subscription services or a future foray into free-to-play depends on what concepts we come up with.
Looking at the free-to-play charts and seeing the same games that’ve been there for years; it’s a space that’s really struggling for innovation.Danny Gray
What do you see as the biggest challenge currently facing the mobile games market?
I think right now, we’ve got two sides of a coin that are both missing something. On the scale side of things, you’re looking at the free-to-play charts and seeing the same games that’ve been there for years; it’s a space that’s really struggling for innovation. Then, on the other end, you’ve got the subscription services that are trying to showcase different types of experiences, but they lack the same scale that it takes to break through to the mainstream.
And on the flip side, what about the mobile gaming industry excites you most?
More so than past generations, younger people really care about the value of the products they buy and the companies they spend money with. I truly think this leads to more games that have something meaningful to say and shine a light on real-world causes. We’re seeing this with the success of Alba, and it gives me hope for the future. The young people are amazing in what they’re capable of.
Finally, what should we be on the lookout for from Ustwo Games in the future?
Well, we’ve got three titles in development, some known and some unknown. We’re looking forward to experimenting further with new business models and exploring new ways to reach our players. As spoken about previously, we’ve prided ourselves on surprising people with how different our games can be, so we’ll have more news on that front in 2024!