You’re Doing it… Right.
Hello everyone and welcome once again to Patch Notes, starting this week Patch Notes will now be posted on Mondays.
What better way to start off your week than by reading about all the fancy downloadable games and content out there. In this week’s column I’ll be talking about a two titles that are nailing the freemium business model.
First a little background on freemium. When something is described as freemium it means that there is a digital product or service that is offered free of charge but features in-application purchases for other features and in some cases content. This model has been used in many industries but has found great success when it comes to games. There are tonnes of free games available for mobile devices, but more often than not you’ll find that these games are actually freemium games. Some popular examples include: The Simpsons: Tapped Out (iOS), Tribes: Ascend (PC), and Trade Nations (iOS). While all those games are good, especially Tribes, today I’m going to focus on two games which, in my opinion, are nailing this model.
The first title which I feel is nailing the freemium model is a game from Backflip Studios called DragonVale. The premise of DragonVale is simple: You have a dragon theme park and it’s up to you to bring in throngs of people. This is accomplished by decorating your park, or more importantly, by breeding dragons. In DragonVale breeding is done by selecting two different dragons and seeing what the pair produce. Each egg has a breeding time and an incubation time which are processed in real-time. This means you can end up waiting 48 hours for a dragon or egg, if you don’t have any gems that is. This is where the freemium idea comes in, in DragonVale you can pay real money for gems, the in-game currency, which you can then use to speed up construction, breeding, or incubation times. This is all well and good for all the impatient people out there but where Backflip really gets it is by allowing players to spend gems on other items or upgrades. In DragonVale you can upgrade your Breeding Cave or other buildings with gems or buy rare dragons instead of breeding them. Anything that can be bought in the game can also be earned which I feel is the more satisfying option.
There’s more to how DragonVale is doing things right but I want to get into to my other example first. Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with first-person shooters or PC gaming in general has definitely heard of Team Fortress 2. TF2 has been around since 2007 when it was released alongside Portal and Half-Life 2: Episode 2 as part of the Orange Box. When it was released, TF2 was a tightly balanced, amazingly fun, multiplayer first-person shooter that sold for around $20 on its own. Then in 2011 likely due to the game’s enormous success TF2‘s publisher/developer Valve Software decided that they had made enough money off the title and decided that it should be free, for everyone, forever. I said that the shift to the free-to-play model was due to the game’s success but in truth it probably had more to do with the introduction of the Mann Co. store. Can you guess what the Mann Co. store added to TF2? Well yes, more hats would be correct but it also added microtransactions. So, since the game is free and is monetized by microtransactions that makes it? Yup, you guessed it, freemium. At the Mann Co. store players can purchase all sorts of goodies like hats, weapons, hats, mini-games, hats, paint, hats, labels, and I’ve heard you can even get hats.
We have two very different games employing the same business model and doing it fantastically well. This is most likely due to many factors but both games have one element in common which does what every freemium game needs to do, keep people playing. That one element is…new content. I have played many freemium games in my day but none have been as compelling as DragonVale and TF2. The whole reason that I keep coming back is because I want to see what they’re going to do next. TF2 is probably one of the best supported titles in videogame history. Even now, five years after release Valve is still releasing new content for TF2. In fact, the game just received a massive update which adds new maps and a whole new way to play. It just astounds me that Valve continues to support this title in such amazing ways instead of doing what most publishers do, which is to move on to the sequel. DragonVale also doing essentially the same thing. Backflip Studios regularly adds updates to the game sometimes without even telling players. Over the past nine months that I have been playing DragonVale Backflip has added so many new dragons that’s I’ve lost count. Some are limited, meaning they have to be bred by a certain date, while others have been made permanent. Often dragons are tied to holidays which are happening at the same time or real world events. For example, around St. Patrick’s Day players could breed a Clover Dragon and more recently the Olympus Dragons were introduced at the same time the 2012 Olympics got underway in London, England. It’s the fact that these two titles keep releasing meaningful content that keep me and a lot of other players coming back for more. While it may be an old saying from the days of mafia run Vegas casinos but “ The longer they play, the more they’ll pay.” In addition to the regular content updates that I feel make these games successful and compelling there isn’t much you can get in these freemium games that cannot be earned by good ol’ fashioned hard work. Almost everything that can be purchased in these games can also be earned by playing the game. All you have to do is have some patience and be willing to put in the time. If you do that the rewards are all the sweeter. Why? Because your earned them.