从《Trucks & Skulls》看免费模式运营成效
作者：Paul O’Connor（iOS游戏开发商Appy Entertainment品牌总监）
自2010年11月发布之日起，《Trucks & Skulls》一直是Appy Entertainment销售最快的游戏。
《Trucks & Skulls》构建起忠诚的硬核粉丝基础，吸引他们的是物理题材、iPad版本中的全功能关卡编辑器等独特功能以及每周四向玩家发布的免费关卡。
从直接反馈和《Trucks & Skulls》的App Store评论中，我们得知当玩家在尝试这款游戏时，他们觉得自己获得了比预想更多的内容，这使得我们相信玩家间的直接推荐会让游戏得以成长。
了解到推荐的强大作用，下一步就是增加《Trucks & Skulls》的玩家基数。2010年当游戏进驻榜单高位时，它每天都持续不断地为Appy Entertainment产生大量盈利。但我们深信，随着市场不断成长，《Trucks & Skulls》还有大量盈利增长空间。
首选，我们决定在《Trucks & Skulls》中添加免费增值型的货币和应用内置付费功能，更好地从现有玩家处盈利。其次，我们决定限时免费提供游戏，以使游戏的安装量增加并提高玩家间的推荐。
我们的用户期待《Trucks & Skulls》能够稳定地提供免费的更新内容，因而我们在游戏发布的头六个月内发布了上百个免费的关卡。这些更新项目是对忠实玩家的承诺，所以我们决定在游戏的大型免费增值更新版本中也添加15个全新的关卡，我们随后还会继续添加更多的免费关卡。
我们也需要小心谨慎，确保完成游戏不一定需要付费内容。《Trucks & Skulls》仍然未发生改变，还是能够提供6个多小时的游戏体验和价格仅99美分的上百个关卡。我们的免费增值商店只是构建于基础游戏之上，游戏内容并没有减少。
我们决定在《Trucks & Skulls》中添加软性的付费专区。《Trucks & Skulls》的工程师Quinn Dunki将玩许多免费增值游戏的体验描述成“掏空她的钱包”，我们不希望玩家有这种感觉。
免费增值系统引进的另一个关键部分是对现有玩家的忠诚奖励。玩家升级至新版《Trucks & Skulls》后会得到根据以往游戏表现提供的金币奖励，多数情况下奖励的金币数为数百或数千，但某些顶级玩家会发现他们获得的金币奖励数目已经足以购买商店中提供的所有东西！
结果表明玩家的反馈都是积极的，不断出现5星的iTunes App Store评价，而这显示我们从预付费到免费增值的转变取得了成功。
以下AppFigures图表显示了《Trucks & Skulls》上个月的总体盈利。图表的第一部分显示的是游戏作为传统的99美分预付费应用时带来的稳定盈利。《Trucks & Skulls Nitro》加入免费增值商店后，我们的日盈利提升了150个百分点，6月份下半月的销售随工作日和周末交替波动。
我们将《Trucks & Skulls》这个最初的预付费至免费增值的转化阶段视为调整期。我们评估玩家的反馈，迅速修正某些发布时存在的漏洞，并密切注意玩家的购买行为以评估应用内置购买选择的成功与否。
随着玩家越来越钟爱《Trucks & Skulls Nitro》，而且商店也格外繁荣，我们就准备开展战略的第二个阶段——将《Trucks & Skulls》转变成免费应用。
之前我们同Free App A Day合作推广《FaceFighter》，获得了巨大的成功，7月4日的假日周末是个向更广大受众推广免费《Trucks & Skulls》的绝佳机会。
正如我们所想的那样，当游戏从99美分转变成免费之后，下载量急剧攀升，其效果比Free App A Day推广高出50倍。盈利也获得了显著的增长，在7月3日周天时达到顶峰，那时游戏的下载量已超过10万次。接下来的一周盈利有所下滑，但是免费游戏带来的盈利还是比99美分时要多。
现在决定《Trucks & Skulls》是会维持预付费兼免费增值模式还是永久转变成免费应用还为时过早，但直接的预付费定价模式无疑是个较为低级的选项。
我们受《Trucks & Skulls》从预付费转到免费增值所获成功的鼓舞，决定在我们最流行的游戏《FaceFighter》中使用同样的商店机制。
《FaceFighter Ultimate》目前正在接受苹果的审核，预计将在7月末发布，代替《FaceFighter Lite》成为公司游戏阵容的一员。
Appy’s Paul O’Connor on taking Trucks & Skulls from premium to freemium
Since its introduction in November 2010, Trucks & Skulls has been Appy Entertainment’s fastest-selling game.
With the iPad and iPhone versions of the game spotlighted by Apple as its Games of the Week over the US Thanksgiving holiday, it benefitted from extraordinary exposure and made a strong run up the charts, with the iPad version reaching #2 Paid App status in the United States.
Building on our base
Trucks & Skulls has built a loyal and hardcore following that appreciates our signature take on the physics-launching genre, along with distinctive features like the full-featured level editor in the iPad version, and the free levels distributed to our players every Thursday.
From direct feedback and App Store reviews of Trucks & Skulls, we knew that when people try the game, they find they get a lot more than they bargained for, which led us to believe that direct recommendations from our player base were bound to help the game grow.
For the impact of recommendations to be felt, the next step was to grow the Trucks & Skulls’ player base. After that heady run up the charts in 2010, the game generated consistent daily earnings for Appy Entertainment. Nonetheless, with the overall market continuing to grow, we were convinced there was plenty of room for Trucks to increase revenue.
We needed more players, and we needed to do a better job of monetising the players we had.
First, we elected to add freemium-style currency and in-app purchases to Trucks & Skulls, to better monetise our existing players. Second, we decided to offer the game for free for a limited time to grow our install base and goose player-to-player recommendations.
Adding a freemium store to a strong-selling premium game was a challenge, a bit like that old commercial about building a plane in flight.
Our customers already expect a steady stream of free updates in Trucks – we released more than 100 free levels in the game’s first six months. The update program is a promise to our loyal players, so we decided that our big freemium update for Trucks would also include 15 new levels, and that we would commit to supporting the app with more free levels on a continuing basis.
We were also careful to ensure that completing the game did not require paid content. Trucks & Skulls remained Trucks & Skulls, still offering six-plus hours of play and hundreds of levels for 99c – everything offered in our freemium store was built on top of the base game, and nothing was taken away.
Building a paywall that doesn’t suck
We decided that Trucks & Skulls would have a soft paywall. Trucks & Skulls’ engineer Quinn Dunki characterised the experience of playing many freemium games as “getting groped for her wallet,” and we didn’t want to do that to our players.
Rather than bolting our store onto the game as a separate system, or using the store as a gatekeeper preventing players from experiencing everything Trucks has to offer, we wove gold rewards into our existing reward system, deepening play experience and encouraging players to replay levels.
An essential element of the game allows players to earn gold just by playing – completing levels, setting high scores, and winning gold challenges by bettering their scores on past levels.
Our approach was that players could get rich slow by earning gold during play, or get rich fast by making an in-app purchase. We’re still finding our way in to ‘fix’ the way freemium games are designed, but we’re encouraged by early reaction to a system that pays players to play, rather than the other way around.
Ultimately we hope to make games where players pay us because they want to, rather than because they feel they have to.
Also critical to introduction of our freemium system were loyalty rewards for existing players. Players upgrading to the rechristened Trucks & Skulls Nitro received gold for their past play – in many cases this was hundreds or thousands of coins, with some of our top players finding they were awarded enough legacy gold to immediately purchase just about everything on offer in the store!
Even with free levels and free gold accompanying this update, we still held our breath when we pushed the update live, fearing that our player base might object to a freemium store being added to their favorite game.
It turns out player feedback was very positive – 5-star iTunes App Store reviews continued to appear – and the numbers indicated that our pivot from premium to freemium was an unqualified success.
The AppFigures chart below shows total revenue for Trucks & Skulls for a bit more than the last month. The first part of the chart shows the steady revenue from Trucks as a traditional 99c premium app. With the introduction of the freemium store in Trucks & Skulls Nitro, our daily revenue jumped 150 percent, and held through the latter half of June with the usual peaks and valleys of weekday and weekend sales.
We viewed this initial premium/freemium period for Trucks & Skulls as a shakedown cruise. We evaluated player feedback and rapidly patched some release bugs, and kept a close eye on player purchase behavior to evaluate the success of our in-app purchase options.
Value of in-app purchases
Unit sales of gold were as what we expected, sorting themselves by price. Our introductory $1.99 bundle of 150 gold outsold others by a considerable margin, with the $4.99/400 gold option coming second, and the $14.99/1350 gold bundle placing last.
Gold revenues tell a different story. Here we see that the $24.99/2400 gold bundle has generated vastly more revenue for Appy than the other options.
The other options have been solid earners, but with the $14.99/1350 gold bundle place last on both charts, we will likely have to examine that pricing tier going forward.
Going free, going wild
With players enthused for Trucks & Skulls Nitro, and with our store pretty much dialed-in, we were ready to enact the second stage of our strategy – changing Trucks & Skulls over to being a free app.
We had previously experienced great success partnering with Free App A Day to promote FaceFighter, and with an opening in its calendar for the July 4 holiday weekend, it was the perfect opportunity to promote a free Trucks & Skulls to the wider audience we desired.
As expected, downloads surged when Trucks dropped from 99c to free – more than 5,000 percent as the impact of the Free App A Day promotion was felt. Revenue also substantially increased, peaking on Sunday July 3, when the game was downloaded more than 100,000 times. Revenue declined during the week we remained free, but remained greater than the revenue experienced during Trucks & Skulls Nitro’s period as a 99c app.
Going back To paid
On July 13 we returned Trucks to 99c. Our data is limited since that time, but it appears the game has returned to the revenue levels experienced prior to our free period, perhaps experiencing a slight decline.
It is encouraging that the very last data point on our graph shows a sharp revenue uptick on a Monday, as it is practically unheard of for Trucks revenue to increase coming out of a weekend. We hope this is an indication of a follow-on effect from past players electing to make in-app purchases after they have played the game for a while and deciding that Trucks is fun enough to be worth a few extra dollars – this would be an important vindication of our soft paywall strategy. Time will tell.
It is still too early to determine if Trucks & Skulls will remain a premium+freemium title, or if we will make it free on a permanent basis, but it is certain that straight premium pricing is the inferior model.
Our freemium store has allowed us to better serve and monetise our players and has liberated our daily revenue from a strict correspondence with download volume, allowing for pleasant surprises in our daily sales reports, such as that Monday that saw revenue increase, even as downloads of the app dropped off.
Let’s do it again
Encouraged by the success of pivoting Trucks & Skulls from premium to freemium, we are reintroducing our most popular franchise – FaceFighter – using similar store mechanics.
FaceFighter Ultimate is in approval with Apple right now, and will replace FaceFighter Lite in our lineup when it is (hopefully!) released near the end of July.
Featuring the same soft paywall and pay-to-play mechanics employed in Trucks & Skulls, we hope that this new version of FaceFighter will be more fun for our players, and better monetise the base of an app that has already been downloaded over 4 million times.
Our next original title – an as-yet unannounced role-playing game set for release near the end of this year – will employ our freemium play principles from the ground-up, and we look forward to developing this underlying system of monetisation and reward with our future games in 2012 and beyond.
Respect your existing customer base – reward them for past play, and don’t reduce the current functionality of your app.
Integrate in-app payments with the mechanics and strategy of your game. Reward skillful players with currency when they play the game well.
Make certain that freemium additions enhance and extend the base game without being required to advance.
Don’t turn customers away with a hard paywall. Let them play as long as they like and trust the quality of your game will generate revenue on its own.
Continue to support game your with free updates. (Source: Pocket Gamer)