Dinofarm's Keith Burgun on why App Store games lacking a big IP should go free

Studio spells out lessons learned

Dinofarm's Keith Burgun on why App Store games lacking a big IP should go free
| 100 Rogues

According to Dinofarm Games designer Keith Burgun, you don't realise how much the games industry has changed until you try and sell your wares on the App Store.

In an open, honest account of the studio's experience attempting to push its roguelike RPG 100 Rogues on iPhone, Burgun comes to just three conclusions.

The most startling of which is the assertion that, unless you have a big, established IP attached to your game, adopting the freemium model is your only realistic option.

Future imperfect

"While our game was a break in tradition for most players and critics, when it comes to the game's development, team, marketing, and planning, 100 Rogues is very much a traditional affair," Burgun says in an entry posted on Gamasutra.

"It was a bunch of guys getting together and making a game the old fashioned way: a design doc, a ton of pixel art, and waves of iterative gameplay testing over the course 18 months."

Burgun hints that, in total, 100 Rogues cost around $30,000 to develop – an investment he suggests Dinofarm still believes it can recoup.

However, the studio is apparently a long way from breaking even on the project six months on from its launch, with Burgun reporting that sales are largely flat, only spiking when the developer puts out an update.

"The story goes something like this. Sales are sucking. We work our asses off on a significant update and on promotional materials," he states.

"The update goes live, sales increase ten-fold, and everything is great, until we notice that on Day 2 after the update, our sales have reduced by 50 percent or more. Same with the next day, and after two or three days, we're back to square one."

Burgun suggests even launching competitions to try and rouse the community behind the title has, by and large, proved fruitless.

Risk aversion

His conclusion? To get to the top of the ridiculously top-heavy App Store, you have to be selling something consumers are willing to take a risk on. If you don't have a big license behind you, most won't be interested in what you're bringing to the table.

It's not a problem limited to the App Store, Burgun states, but rather the result of the changing nature of the consumer.

"Customers are more willing to experiment and try out your non-fancy-pants-IP game, but only if it's free," he adds.

"Players don't have to invest money to see if the game is well made and/or something that they'd enjoy. Reasonable, fair in-app purchases are a much better way for you to make money."

In essence, Burgun's entire conclusion suggests the freemium model – rather than supporting your game with ads, which he suggests "makes no money" - is the only option for most developers.

Changing times

"The days of, 'Hey, you give me a bunch of money and I'll let you see if you'd like my game' are over, and that's a good thing," Burgun says.

"Give players a great, solid, complete game that they can play forever - for free. Then dangle totally awesome stuff in their face that you know they're dying to use for a fair price. Players will actually want to give you money if they really like your game."

It's worth noting, however, that the comments following Burgun's take on the App Store have been less than supportive.

Many allege Dinofarm's original tactic of using word of mouth to push the game suffered because the game was initially blighted by scores of bugs.

Others also suggest that it's the game itself, rather than the marketing, that is 100 Rogues' problem, suggesting that the typical iPhone gamer doesn't want a title they have to invest hours of playtime into, but rather a quick-fix they can take on in short bursts.

[source: Gamasutra]