The Charticle

Is a free-first monetisation-second strategy as practised by Agar.io and Vainglory the next UA trick?

Is a free-first monetisation-second strategy as practised by Agar.io and Vainglory the next UA trick?

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In a world where few companies have the means or the operational expertise to successfully play the LTV>CPI game, other ways of generating a lot of downloads are now the hot topic.

Recently we've seen everything from deals with YouTubers, merchandising hookups, Apple Watch launches, and sponsorship with football clubs being employed.

Indeed, all those four moves are from one single developer, Finnish outfit Seriously.

Other methods include traditional marketing such as TV and the side of buses, to brands and celebrity hookups.

Harder to do in the short term but an excellent long term plan is the viral power of networks, something Tencent-invested UK publisher Miniclip has demonstrated with its recent hit Agar.io.

In keeping with Miniclip's history as a Flash games portal that's moved into mobile gaming, Agar.io started life - and continues to be - a popular Flash game.

(You can play it here.)

Free-for-all

Ported to mobile and launched in early July on iOS and Android, and promoted though Miniclip's network and on channels such as Reddit and Twitch, Agar.io shot to the top of the download charts in key markets on both platforms.

Miniclip claims it hasn't spent any money on UA, but has generated over 10 million downloads.

Indeed, four weeks later, Agar.io is still in the top 50 downloads iPhone charts for iPhone for key western markets such as France, Germany, UK and US, and in the top 20 for those countries on Google Play.

Yet, there remains a big issue for Miniclip to solve; at present there's no direct monetisation in the game (other than advertising), which is why it doesn't feature in any top grossing charts.

Hence the audience reaction to the introduction of monetisation, which is currently being worked on, will be fascinating to see.

Because, if Miniclip can convert a decent fraction of the game's massive audience to spending money, it will open up a new launch strategy for companies - launch with totally free gameplay to build the biggest audience you can, and then once the fans are retained, enable them to spend cash in a game they already enjoy.

Pivot this

It's a similar move that US developer Super Evil has also just announced with its mobile MOBA Vainglory.

As we've previously covered in the Charticle, and debated with the developer, the game hasn't monetised yet (or been monetised yet, depending on your point of view).

But now, a $26 million funding round will see the Super Evil pivot to promote the game as the mobile eSports equivalent of PC Twitch behemoth League of Legends.

Effectively it's betting bigger that it can build an ecosystem with a small number of professional players inspiring a mass-market of spectators and wannabes; not a dissimilar strategy to MIniclip's.

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.

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Mark Johnson
Hardly a UA trick, and not at all new. Its lean product development. Develop a minimum viable product (fun enough) and see if it can get good downloads. If yes, invest more in the game including monetization. If it doesn't get downloads, move on to the next title and not too much was lost.
jon jordan
I respectfully disagree. Previously monetisation has never been left out as part of a MVP approach.

Indeed, while MVP was popular 3-4 years ago, the very high quality level now expected by gamers means that very few companies talk about taking an MVP approach in terms of product features anymore.