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Stateside: Taking Ridiculous Fishing F2P would be a 'disaster'

Stateside: Taking Ridiculous Fishing F2P would be a 'disaster'

I occasionally hear of commentators in mobile gaming espousing the idea that certain paid games could have been a bigger success if they had been free-to-play instead.

This position is a flawed one because it not only ignores many of the aspects that make paid games satisfying, but also glosses over the work that goes into making free-to-play games tick as well.

Recently, a prominent example that sparked a debate on social media was that of Vlambeer's Ridiculous Fishing.

The game has, by all accounts, done quite well: it sold over 300,000 copies as of August 2013 at $2.99, accounting for over $800,000 split between two-person Vlambeer team along with Zach Gage and Greg Wohlwend.

Since its well-publicised and promoted launch, it has been part of Apple's prominent Best of 2013 feature, featured in a Starbucks free giveaway promotion in the UK, and launched on Android as part of a Humble Bundle.

For a paid game in 2013, it's done exorbitantly well, but Will Luton of TinyCo thinks that the game could have done better.

"If only it had been F2P that game would have had a much bigger audience and those Vlambeer kids would be sunning on private yachts off Monaco by now," he said at the close of 2013. "Not that I think that's their motivation."

Money matters?

If Ridiculous Fishing was free-to-play, it quite likely would have a much bigger audience, but would it have made private yacht money, i.e., more than what the game has already made? I don't think so.

The problem is this: to make it free-to-play, it would have to be redesigned from a base level as a free-to-play game.

Part of the reason that Ridiculous Fishing was a quality success was because of the fact that it was built around a progression curve that let players earn currency in such a way that unlocking all the items in the game was a matter of time.

Much of the satisfaction and motivation for retaining players came from the way it progressed.

Building optional in-app purchases into play would be a disaster because few people would have any reason to buy them.

As well, the game has an endgame where money is pretty much useless at a certain point. Thus, some sort of way to promote continuing to earn and spend currency over the long-haul would have to be created, such as a boost system.

But if the game's progression curve is redesigned, it quite possibly is less satisfying and hurts the appeal of the game. The endgame also works because it becomes a pure skill test, rather than a money balancing act.

The game's positive critical response played no small role in its success - and Vlambeer, while a popular indie developer, still does appeal primarily to a core audience that is often vocal against consumable free-to-play monetisation.

To significantly modify the core of the game risks damaging its essence - one that makes it a notable title to this day.

Appeasing Apple

What's more, Apple overwhelmingly prefers promoting paid games in its weekly features, and paid games dominated the Best of 2013 list.

Rami Ismail, who handles business for Vlambeer, might be a principled person, but he's not an idiot and he naturally cares about making money - just in the way that he feels fits his and his company's principles.

He's very conscious about maintaining his personal brand and Vlambeer's brand as a prominent one in the indie community.

It's quite possible that Ridiculous Fishing as a free-to-play game, as was being considered at one point, might have done more damage to its brand than the potential for additional money might have brought in.

Rami Ismail

As well, while Vlambeer is likely in a better position to financially market a free-to-play game than other indies, getting the word out about a free-to-play game to make it financially successful is not that easy, and there's no guarantee that it gets the same type of attention that it did as a paid game which was key in its success.

In reality, there's no question that a game much like Ridiculous Fishing could be made as a free-to-play game, because it already happened with Ninja Fishing.

To make Ridiculous Fishing and to preserve its essence in such a way that it could have even matched its success at $2.99 is to gloss over much of what made the game successful in the first place.

It would be like suggesting that A Modest Proposal would have made Jonathan Swift more money if it were a cookbook; it's almost missing the point of the original work entirely.

Each to their own

And really, this is a problem that some people looking at the industry have right now: the work that goes in to making a game succeed financially can't be glossed over no matter if it is a paid or a free game.

Free-to-play games have long and arduous design processes just like many paid games. And paid games have to figure out the best way to make money too - it's a very different process, and one that's often built on the factor of 'build a good game and they might come' but it's in the same neighbourhood.

Ridiculous Fishing and Candy Crush Saga are two entirely different games, but they both represent a masterclass in what they set out to do from a business perspective.

Ridiculous Fishing sold on the quality of the Vlambeer brand, the game's notoriety, and then its quality.

Candy Crush Saga used King's resources, clout, and experience with F2P monetisation to become a smash hit. Saying that Ridiculous Fishing should have been a free-to-play game is like saying that Candy Crush Saga could have made a lot of money by being a paid game.

Sure, it's possible, but is it probable? And is it really the same game if it makes the transition?

For developers making games of their own, heed the lessons of Ridiculous Fishing well, even when making a free-to-play game: monetisation needs to be well thought out and it needs to be a core part of the game in order to be a game that can appeal to players and to make money.

Chicago-based Carter Dotson is a senior writer at 148Apps.com, which was acquired by PocketGamer.biz publisher Steel Media in 2012.

Stateside columnist

Freelance writer covering mobile and gaming for @toucharcade, @Gamezebo, and more!

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