There’s no value in free. On the surface it looks like the great free app gold rush is nothing but a race to mediocrity. It wasn’t that long ago paid apps were topping the app store. While most app store revenue is currently coming from free apps, Apple is pushing paid apps in their featured collections. In spite of free apps being today’s business model du’ jour we’re curious if there’s a movement back to a paid ecosystem.
We caught up with Dylan Jones who is part of the team that just launched Battle Group 2 onto iOS. Being a paid game, we recently had a great conversation with Dylan about the state of the paid app business.
Last year Sarah Perez announces in TechCrunch "It’s Over for Paid Apps, With a Few Exceptions". Is she right? Why?
“The industry has proven that the race to the bottom is far from hyperbole. In 2013, developers got a scrumptious taste of a market that proved that the content devs created was worth different amounts to different consumers. Why limit a kid from enjoying the app if he tells his friends or keep an investment banker from pouring money into an experience they view as a fair trade? The free pricing strategy will continue to dominate. However, this won’t mean the quality of the experience will decline, rather the experience of paying will decline. The reality is that we’ve already seen developers shifting resources from goals of solely creating a great product into how to properly ’nickel and dime’ customers.”
Obviously not all apps are created equal, so does this mean more developers are good with mediocre rather than putting the time into creating exceptional? Is there shelf life and demand for exceptional?
“Building an app or a game is like building a sailboat. You’ve got to build the hull and hope it floats. With F2P or free pricing strategies, you’ve now got to sail it, comparable to the journey of analyzing post-release analytics. Some incredibly successful developers just want to build boats, or are most skilled in hull construction and can’t hire a crew to sail it. Thus, we’ll never see 100% of developers embrace this trend of monetization, out of lack of resources or simply moral objections to the “ruined experience” when microtransactions get introduced. Very recently, we’ve even seen Apple itself shift to featuring and highlighting premium games. This change could be as high-level of preemptively addressing concerns held by the European Commision that are quickly growing internationally or as low-level as the increasing education of their consumers in the market.”
Has the consumer come to accept free is ok and good enough?
“Do you want a fast food patty or a locally farmed burger? A question certainly not exclusive to the app space. I know casual iPhone users who played both Flappy Bird and Monument Valley. These days, it takes larger and more experienced teams to gamble on creating a profiting free priced app. Free is no longer associated with a loss in quality, but rather that one must keep pumping quarters into the machine.”
Are apps for the most part simply a disposable feature of our smartphone… almost like razor blades?
“We’ve got to be careful when we generalize apps, while it’s tempting to group such an expansive space of experiences together, such dialogs turn undescriptive and lacks practical use. The answer to this question quickly changes depending on the category. Poorly executed note taking apps vs incredibly visceral interactive narratives will spread the spectrum. For every forgettable throwaway app I download, there’s 2 life-altering-habit-forming apps I can’t live without.”
As a developer what are the 3 biggest reasons I should create an app people will pay for?
“Personally, as is often the case with game developers, I create so that others walk away with a meaningful experience. If that’s your goal with premium games, you can hopefully avoid distractions that break player’s engagement like ads or paywalls. The last thing you want interrupting the emotions you are trying to convey is one of anger during a needed cash grab.”
Why make a premium app one that’s ad free, spam free, all about kick ass content and a premium user experience?
“I’ve enjoyed the F2P space for the psychological rooted approach to design. However, there’s something to be said when a creator can focus on the core of the product. People want entertainment, even just sitting on the bus commute, they want to spend their time engaging in content and not dealing with interrupting ads. While the race to the bottom is a common one, some developers benefit from circumstantial less risk with going premium that includes a marketing plan or feature. One of the bigger benefits of premium pricing is the instant trust from the consumer who knows that the business has been attended to, and it’s now smooth sailing.”
There’s no simple answer to this free versus paid quandary. It’s a lot like comparing commercial TV and Radio to PBS or NPR, filler taking up space between commercials versus dialing into premium programming with negligible interruptions. As a developer know your audience, deliver value and it could be the difference between mining diamonds or chasing Fools Gold.
Each developer needs to figure that out for themselves, but for the industry as a whole it’s not going to be absolute either way. Beside the thin sliver on the high end of price (training apps etc that can go for $10.00 or a lot more than that) there will as Dylan points out always a certain number of developers interested in focusing on their expertise- building great apps, not doing behaviour economic trigger design to drive monetization.
Distribution is at least one order of magnitude on free apps, but that doesn’t mean it’s remotely easy, so if you haven’t “solved” that the value of going free may be wasted on most apps.