Can Apple's promotion of paid games stem the rising tide of F2P?

Carter Dotson on losing control of the App Store

Can Apple's promotion of paid games stem the rising tide of F2P?

I feel like we're seeing an attempt to shift our attitude away from free-to-play games and toward paid games.

A large part of this is Apple's doing: there's the much-publicized "Pay Once & Play" feature on the App Store that featured games without any in-app purchases.

Also, take a look at two games that recently got Editor's Choice.

Tempo from UK studio Warchest, is paid without in-app purchases, while AG Drive, from Zorg, is a game that was soft-launched as free-to-play, and then went worldwide as a game that had no in-app purchases at all.

Apples and oranges

Of course, Apple isn't afraid to feature free-to-play games too, but they do promote a surprisingly large number of paid games.

Part of this might have to do with the App Store editorial team being headed by long-time ex-IGNer Matt Casamassina.

While I can't speak for him, I do believe that as someone who is familiar with traditional video game culture, he may be guiding the team to have a special focus on the pay-once experiences that core gamers are used to.

AG Drive - once F2P, but now live and paid without IAP

I think people who are used to traditional gaming prefer what they know - the pay-once experience.

Apple now has limited power to control the beast that is the App Store.

But here's the real problem. Apple now has limited power to control the beast that is the App Store.

They can feature games, and that can go a some way toward a game's success or failure. But right now, the most successful free-to-play developers have so much money, they can promote their games through other advertising channels. They can even advertise on TV. They don't need an Apple feature.

Indeed, it's not clear if Apple could make a free-to-play game a top grossing game, even if it wanted to.

As we all know, the game that got the most marketing love from Apple recently is Vainglory and it hasn't found a sustained presence on the top grossing charts.

Apple can push a game near the top of the paid charts or the download charts for a week or two, but they only have so much influence. If Apple wants paid games to be a major financial factor once more on the App Store, they're going to have to rethink their approach.

Vainglory hasn't clicked with mobile gamers despite Apple's promotion

For, the situation is free-to-play has become the new normal.

After all, it was only abnormal in the west because gaming has historically been so console-centric. But as I said in my previous column - give it time, and we'll see free-to-play take greater hold.

What's the trend?

The other big issue comes from the developers' point of view. Making a paid mobile game is a stupid financial risk.

On PC, you might find a large enough niche audience. If you're a 2-person studio, making a $10 game and selling 20,000 copies gives you a decent chance to feed your family for the next year, and you have the opportunities for sales and bundles to drive further sales.

On mobile, you have to hope for an Apple feature, and make a game that resonates enough to sell many more copies in a market that has shown it prefers free-to-play. Good luck with that!

Monument Valley - an outlier or a trendsetter when it comes to paid mobile games?

Why do you think big companies are going free-to-play on mobile and indies are increasingly shifted to releasing their paid games on PC?

What's next?

My view is that free-to-play is here to stay. In an era of endless content, giving things away is a vital business option.

The only way paid-up-front experiences will carve out a niche is if they can demonstrate they are 'better' games.

The only way paid-up-front experiences will carve out a niche is if they can demonstrate they are 'better' games.

But right now, the trend is that paid games are becoming a rounding error in terms of the revenue generated by mobile games globally.

If AG Drive or Tempo are the next Monument Valley, then I'll have more confidence in the future of paid games in a free-to-play world, but that doesn't look it's very likely.

Paid games won't completely go away, of course, as there are still people willing to pay up front. They're just not playing on mobile, they're increasingly becoming a niche audience, and they're a tougher niche to sell to on mobile when $0.99 is still a regularly-used entry point

After all, a game like Radiation Island which boasts an incredibly lengthy campaign, top-notch visuals, and PC-quality gameplay is priced at a meager $2.99.

In that context, if Apple is really serious about promoting and encouraging paid games in a wider context on iOS, it needs to do more, especially in terms of enabling and encouraging higher price points.

At the moment, I don't think a few successful paid games and a few Apple features is going to stem the tide toward the 99 percent free-to-play future.

Stateside columnist

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