REPORT: How Free-to-Play iOS Game Developers Thrive in a Market Forecast to Be 200M by 2012

Many of the most successful iOS games are not sold by big name publishers like Electronic Arts. Rather, they’re from smaller developers and are not even sold at all, but given away in the App Store’s Free section, earning their revenue via in-app payments. Flurry, a mobile app analytics company, recently reported that of the Top 100 grossing iOS games this June, 65% were freemium. This analysis is consistent with data samples taken from AppData.com, Inside Network’s service that tracks app and developer leaderboards. On a recent day, for example, 15 of the top 25 grossing iOS apps were free (and 8 of 10 paid apps were just priced at $0.99.)

What’s more, the total market for freemium iOS games is poised to rapidly grow. It’s currently 75-150 million, and forecast to reach 200 million by 2012. That forecast comes from Jeferson Valadares, GM of games, at Flurry. “The total iOS base now exceeds 300M devices,” he explained to SocialTimes Pro. “We assume that at least a quarter to half of those play freemium games, as games are the most popular category on iOS, and freemium games are the most popular form of gaming. If Apple continues to grow daily activations of iOS devices at 350,000 per day (a conservative estimate based on recently released Apple numbers) over the next two years, then they will add approximately 90 million new devices each year for the next two years. If we assume a quarter of those users will play freemium games, then the market will add over 50 million new freemium gamers over the next two years.”

What kind of games are succeeding in this new ecosystem? SocialTimes Pro talked with two leading developers about the secrets behind their high grossing titles:

Reminiscent of FarmVille with strategy elements, in The Playforge’s Zombie Farm, the player must harvest zombies like they were crops, and then send them to attack neighbors. Since launching 17 months ago, the company reports the game has attracted over 12 million downloads and monthly active users in the millions, The Playforge VP and general manager Thomas Chung told us.

The best strategy for increasing in-app purchases? For The Playforge, said Chung, “[it] has been to seed users with virtual currency and tutorializing them how to spend it.” In fact, he told us, the company gives away six times as much virtual currency as they actually sell.

High Noon is an extremely popular iOS game which mixes first-person shooter and MMO elements with innovative gameplay that uses the iPhone’s internal accelerometer. According to the developer, it currently has about 1 million monthly active users and 250,000 daily active users. It’s performed well in many countries and, in 2010, was the top 10 grossing game of the year in 60+ countries, according to Apple Rewind.

Developed by Beijing-based Happylatte, managing director Bjørn Stabell told SocialTimes Pro that social media is not very important to their monetization rates: “We do leverage Facebook Connect and Apple Game Center to find friends,” as Stabell put it, “but the game is mainly viral through word-of-mouth and in the real world; the funky controls for holstering and reloading makes the very act of playing the game essentially an ad for the game and acts as a good conversation starter.”

Read more about monetizing free-to-play iOS games in the latest SocialTimes Pro report.