Appy Entertainment’s free-to-play move boosted revenues by 150 percent

Appy Entertainment’s decision to convert its game Trucks and Skulls from a $0.99 paid app to a free-to-play title boosted the game’s revenues by 150 percent, increased player retention and surprisingly, didn’t garner the company a single complaint from its previously paying customers.

Appy Entertainment’s brand director, Paul O’Connor, revealed the information during his presentation, Premium to Freemium: Pivoting Monetization Method for Best-Selling Apps at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco last week.

According to O’Connor, making Trucks and Skulls paid capped its install base and limited how much money users could give Appy Entertainment. “Our most committed fans couldn’t pay us more than a dollar,” he explained. “If you sell you game for $0.99, you’ve capped it at $0.99.”

While its common now for paid titles to include optional in-app purchases — with some developers like Germany’s App Zap arguing it actually increases conversion — when Appy released Trucks and Skulls in 2010, the practice was largely unheard of. The game launched strong, garnering an average rating of 4.5 stars and a game of the week feature from Apple, but dropped off the charts quickly.

“We were getting our teeth kicked in by the freemium bomb,” explained O’Connor. “We needed to become a freemium company.”

Appy Entertainment relaunched the game as Trucks and Skulls Nitro, making the risky decision to completely replace the paid app with a new free version. In order to convert the game to freemium, Appy Entertainment added the ability to earn or buy an in-game currency called Coins. The company then retroactively rewarded existing players with a set amount of Coins based on their progress in the game.

The results were impressive — the game’s install base went from 350,000 paid units to 1.5 million free downloads. Revenues increased by 150 percent and the game was downloaded more than 100,000 times in a single day.

According to O’Connor, player reaction was the biggest surprise.  Although the company expected complaints, none came. The ability to earn Coins added mid and long term rewards to the game, and increased player retention. The average review score of the game also increased.

Overall, while O’Conner stressed freemium games are harder to build, have more extensive customer support needs and more post-launch requirements, developers with quality games benefit far more in the long-run by going free-to-play. “You have to accept that the app won’t monetize as well as a pure freemium app,” he said. “But it’s better to be inefficient than to be forgotten and unprofitable.”

O’Connor’s takeaways for developers looking to convert their apps were:

  • Freemium additions must enhance the game. Do not remove existing features to force users to pay for them. Keep everything that was free before, free after the switch.
  • Don’t forget to add expendables like single-use items
  • Don’t introduce ads into the app unless the default for existing users is ad-free
  • Replace your existing app in order to maintain the momentum of your app and user base.
  • Link freemium rewards directly to game play and keep the goals and mechanics of the game the same
  • Err on the side of your players and reward them generously with freemium items. This ensures legacy customers do not feel cheated by the switch to free-to-play