Keeping the game going
I was coming into this week trying to figure out what I wanted to post about today when 2 things happened.
First, Dragon Fantasy's 1.1.0 update came out. And second, I came upon this post from fellow iDevBlogADay'er @rizergames on creating value for your users.
Coming from the world of "traditional" games, this whole business model took me a long time to get behind. The idea that you could charge a user a small amount of money once, and then just keep giving them new stuff, for FREE. Or even crazier, the idea that you could go ahead and give away the entire game for free and still make money. When this company first started...those ideas were about as foreign to me as Zimbabwe (note: Zimbabwe just happens to be my random "fill-in" location when I need to think of somewhere far away...plus it's fun to say. Try it. Zimbabwe... Zim bob way. You know you love it).
We even tried to get behind this idea in the past. In 2009 we released both Master Jumperton and The Battle of Pirate Bay. We even went so far as to add a menu in the game where users could vote for what new feature they wanted in the next update. But it didn't work so well...Master Jumperton was sadly a failure financially and while The Battle of Pirate Bay did well for us it fell much more quickly than we had hoped. Looking back, the why is sadly obvious...
We stopped too soon
That pretty much sums it up. We did like 2 content updates, didn't immediately see any real huge spike in sales and made the call FAR too immaturely that it was time to give up and work on something else. We had this grand idea of "let's just update continuously" and then we'd update...2 or 3 times and say well that's that, I guess this doesn't work. In reality doing 2 or 3 updates isn't news...it's standard...it's expected, so it gets you nothing.
And honestly, while the voting seemed like a good idea...we did it wrong. We'd release an update, and there'd be a new poll up on our server, and people would start voting. But that meant instead of working on the next update (other than bug fixes) we were waiting to see what people voted for before we got to work. This ate not only a week or so of Apple's review time, but also a week or two of waiting before we'd start on whatever new feature won. Plus, we were fairly convinced Harbor Master was just watching our poll and implementing whatever won...and they to beat us to getting those new features out! No we're not actually accusing anyone here...just saying there were a few consecutive coincidences...
And with Dragon Fantasy...
And now we're trying this method again with Dragon Fantasy. But instead of these content updates being small things like a new power up or a new enemy they're much bigger, like here's an entire new RPG adventure to embark on. And we're just getting started. The game launched with a 6-10 hour quest (we're hearing numbers in that range). We just added another 2-3 hour quest for free. And we have 10s of hours of additional quests we still plan on adding. Why? Because we love RPGs, and the people who have bought this game love RPGs. And we honestly believe that if we continue adding value to this game, more and more people will find it.
And then there's the question of why are we adding this for free. Honestly at one point we had thought about adding these extra stories as in-app purchases but the call was made to kill that. The reason? Because even if we assumed high percentages of users to buy each and every content update we do, we wouldn't make their cost back. Adding a bunch of for-cost content means each piece of content needs to justify the cost. Adding it for free on the other hand simply increases the value of the overall product, which means over time it's going to appeal to more and more people. There's a huge difference between a 10 hour game (with 30 hours of additional for-cost content), and a huge collection of 40 hours of gameplay. It's different to the people considering buying the game, and honestly it lets us think about it differently.
The importance of adding value
So why is it so important to keep the game going...to add constant value to a game you've already released? Because there are a ton of people who chose NOT to buy your game. They didn't feel it justified the cost, or it just wasn't so compelling they had no choice but to click the buy button, or honestly they just didn't care enough to find out enough about it. Your game offers what it offers, for whatever you choose to charge for it. We released Dragon Fantasy offering 10 hours of old school RPG love for $3. And there are people that looked at it and said wow...$3...that's way too much. Seriously, that happens. It STILL baffles my mind, but it does. So people feel a 10 hour RPG isn't worth $3 (that they'd have paid $40 for 20 years ago). Well what about when it's 20 hours? 30 hours? 40 hours? There are tipping points for people where at some point they'll say wow ok I don't care what it costs there's so much awesome here, I just have to break down and buy it.
The more value you add, the less people can say no. And when you're competing with the hundreds of thousands of other games on an overly crowded platform, you can't leave people a reason to say no. And when they do, you push an update making your game an even better value proposition until they don't.