Free to Play is Not a Guarantee of Success, as Ski Champion Shows
Releasing a game as free with in-app purchases is not a guarantee for for success. The developers of Ski Champion learned that the hard way, as they attest to in their recent blog post on how their game did. The game was somewhat successful in a downloads sense: they amassed over 200,000 free downloads in a two-month period. They were let down by their in-app purchase performance, as the game made only US$566, converting free users to paid users at a rate of .1%.
Yes, that’s a decimal in front. Despite the commonly-quoted average conversion rates of 1–5%, Ski Champion shows that not everything will fall in that range. Nicolas Godement-Berline of Majaka says that this may have been due to the flaws in the design that was intended to monetize the game. They used a mechanic similar to the ‘energy’ mechanic seen in many free-to-play games, that were called Ski Passes in this game. What happened was that they may have given out too many Ski Passes to start out, and automatically refilled Ski Passes at a rate that was too quick. As well, while they admit that they avoided some elements, such as player upgrades and consumable items, that may have helped increase the game’s ability to monetize.
David Ngo of Loqheart (Cannon Cat) reiterates that getting people to play a game is just the first step. “Gathering an audience is a whole different beast from monetization. You can’t just throw in IAP or copy someone else’s store, and hope people buy. You have to carefully consider the value proposition you’re offering for your specific audience and your specific game.”
However, the impermanence of the App Store must also be kept in mind. The initial launch of an app isn’t necessarily the end. It’s possible to tweak a game after launch to try and change the monetization strategy. It’s something that Whale Trail has been well-publicized as doing, and Ski Champion plans on tweaking the game to try and improve its revenue. David Ngo adds: “In general though, we found one of the best ways to improve your monetization is to reduce the friction to purchase. This means keeping interfaces super simple and allowing one-click purchasing for impulse buys. Also, buyers either purchase a little or a whole lot. Not many people are in-between. So adjust your price points to match this behavior. Just keep iterating and looking at your numbers.”
So, it’s not inherently the end for Ski Champion if Majaka wishes to keep working on it. Thankfully for them this was not a mission-critical project, as they were not expecting the game to do extremely well. The game’s underwhelming performance is a lesson that all developers designing free-to-play games can heed: just having IAP is not enough. It still requires smart design to actually make money.