The freemium model for mobile games was a major innovation, but interest in it peaked in 2015 and has arguably been declining ever since. While certain titles have used the marketing scheme well and pleased customers, others have unveiled cracks in the system which has led to resentment of “pay to win” games. Freemium is unlikely to exist as a credible marketing strategy for developers for much longer. Instead, they may need to think of new innovative pricing schemes to attract players.
Clash of Clans was one of the early pioneers of the freemium marketing model. The game from Supercell was released for iOS in 2012 and Android in 2013. By October 2018, it had been downloaded 606 million times and was the highest revenue-generating app in the App Store.
The MMO allowed players to play for free but gave them the option to pay money for upgrades and speedier advancements. Not only did this game inspire other titles like the Cash of Kingdoms online slot where there are medieval treasures to be won in classic online slot style gameplay, but it also led to other freemium titles such as Vikings: War of Clans, available for iOS and Android, as well as web browsers.
While these games have been hugely popular, some people have still found fault with the way the progression of players who choose to play for free is often hindered. While it largely depends on the individual game, there have been titles that have left a sour taste in the mouths of consumers for being even more brazen about their demands for cash injections.
Dungeon Keeper is one such game. The reimagined fantasy title, which was such a classic in its original version from 1997 and second installment from 1999, was met with widespread disapproval when it was remade for mobile audiences in 2013. The game was packed full of timers and popups which told players they needed to spend in order to progress. Other examples of classics that were deemed to have been ruined when they arrived on mobile include Theme Park and Tales of Phantasia.
The question then is, what are the other options for developers? One of the reasons that freemium marketing has been so successful is because it provides a way for players to get hooked on the games. It is when they are more involved than they start to spend money to advance further.
What’s more, once you’ve spent real-life money on a game, it’s not as easy a decision to stop playing. For this reason, giving players a free trial before they have to pay could be fruitful. This way, players know exactly what they are signing up for and won’t feel hard done by if they pay money and the game isn’t what they expected.
Another option could be to give players a one-time fee but tell them exactly what they will receive for that. Transparency is key, and players don’t like it if they get into a game and later discover hidden costs. Even a SaaS style subscription fee would arguably be a better solution than certain bad examples of freemium, such as the games above.
With sales in freemium games declining, it seems that the success of the model is coming to an end. A new pricing scheme is likely to hit the gaming industry soon, and whichever developer comes up with the most innovative model will be set to reap the rewards.