Sometimes it doesn't feel that great to have made a correct prediction. One of those times is last month when I questioned just how the developers of cute endless runner, Tanuki Forest, expected to make any money given its very friendly nature towards encouraging one to buy any in-app purchases.
While the folks at Mighty Mill explained how they thought going freemium without hassling players would "maximize potential users and only those that would love it would pay something", they've found themselves in an awkward situation. Last week, the developer announced that Tanuki Forest in its free guise had achieved 8.72k downloads but a mere $65.52 before Apple took its cut. With not much chance of being able to survive on such low earnings, the firm took the difficult decision to increase the asking price for the game to $1.99, I chatted more to Jake Gumbleton to see just how they felt about how things have turned out.
148Apps: What do you wish you'd done differently with Tanuki Forest's initial release?
Jake Gumbleton (JG): If we were doing things over we would research F2P a lot more carefully and had a more informed decision about the relative merits of indie premium vs F2P monetisation. As you (and a few others) pointed out in your review of TF, the game was very unaggressive with its freemium monetisation. It basically never asks you for money and everything in it can very easily be acquired without ever spending actual money. We went free so that we would have no barrier to entry and achieve the largest possible amount of players. We hoped those players who loved the game would buy the currency doubler as a thanks. This behaviour is true of forum users etc. but maybe not so true of the wider, more casual games player.
148Apps: Did you consider adding more intrusive in-app purchases at any point?
JG: Not pre-release, no. We really did not want to taint the experience of Tanuki Forest. The game has an immersive, absorbing style and we did not want to harass players to make purchases. After the hard truth of seeing that the game was basically only going to make enough money to buy us lunch we, of course, discussed potential changes and improvements to the in app purchasing.
We would never want to take our games to a very aggressive place with monetization but I do think there is a lot of potential to improve the ‘retention game’ of Tanuki Forest. We have consulted a few F2P experts and have a list of things that we would love to implement in TF that would give the players much more reason to return to the game for more from one play session to the next.
148Apps: Do you think going on sale upon first release would have helped?
JG: I think it might have made us slightly more money but not enough to really change our circumstances. The only real potential benefit would have been that the game would have been perceived as more premium than it was? I think the same elephant in the room is still there whichever way a small indie dev chooses to go, free or paid: Getting meaningful amounts of visibility with the App Store players is extremely difficult indeed.
148Apps: Why did you opt for $1.99 rather than $0.99?
JG: Two reasons: to give us room to go on sale if we want to at a later date and also, in my reading up of F2P monetisation since release, I have read a few times that at the low end of price points it makes very little difference to the number of purchases that get made. The difference in units bought at $0.99 or 1.99$ is pretty negligible. $0.99 does not have the relevance that it did before the dominance of free games since there are so many free games now.
148Apps: Have things improved financially yet?
JG: We are making more money than we were as a free app but still virtually nothing. The big problem now is that Tanuki Forest has dipped in to obscurity just like all apps do after a few weeks on the app store if they don’t go viral. All of our coverage through reviews etc. happened while we were paid. Once an app dips in the charts it submerges in the million other apps and that’s pretty much that!
148Apps: Has there been any kind of backlash?
JG: None at all. People have been incredibly supportive. Ultimately, gamers can’t really be angry for being early adopters and getting the game for free. If it was the other way around I can see reasons for people to be annoyed.
148Apps: What do you think you've learned for future titles?
JG: To push ourselves to have enough originality and content to ensure we can confidently go indie premium up at $5 or so. If Tanuki Forest had been something bigger than a runner we would have just gone the indie premium route straight off the bat. Our next game will be more original and idiosyncratic of us as developers and we will ensure it has enough content to be a real premium indie app like Sword & Sworcery et al.
148Apps: What do you think of the App Store economy? Does it work for developers or is it a consumers' market?
JG: It works just fine if you are Supercell! As a small developer unless you go viral or make a masterpiece then you are in a pretty impossible position. Obviously the guys at the App Store submissions department must face a deluge of content every day. From their point of view I can see why they go for more known quantities. The only games that break the trend and get the features are pretty much the very best games. So my rather obvious advice to indie devs out there is to make sure your game is utter brilliance.
Thanks to Jake Gumbleton for taking the time to answer our questions. Remember folks, if you love playing a free game, sometimes it's a good move to buy an in-app purchase or two from it. Not all games are so desperate for your money that they'll push you into it. That doesn't mean that the developers behind it don't need to be able to eat!
To learn more about the making of Tanuki Forest, check out our earlier interview with the team.