Last week, I wrote about Playond, a service by Bending Spoons that has been acquiring the mobile publishing rights to premium games and re-releasing them behind a subscription paywall. Since writing the piece, I received quite a few replies about the service, and most of it was negative.
The complaints mostly centered around how certain games didn’t actually verify old purchases properly and would also reset player progress. This definitely makes Bending Spoons seem like a shady player, and so it’s no wonder I started seeing chatter from players wondering why trusted developers would get into bed with such an operation.
Instead of just looking at anecdotal evidence, I decided to follow up on this. Is Playond really that bad? Are developers being tricked? Do said developers actually care about mobile anymore? I started trying to find these answers by reaching out to developers who agreed to be part of the service, and here’s what they said:
“I'm happy with Bending Spoons and their ability to bring a wider audience to my game. As a group of people to work with technically they're responsive and helpful, not pushy in any way. I am just as curious to see if the model can work as the players are.” -Andrew Chia, One Up Plus
“Playond approached me a few months ago, looking at a bunch of our games to include into a subscription service. For many of the games which were older, the revenue was next to zero, so it was kind of an easy decision to include them to breath some life back into them again. There were some struggles during the transition phase, and we had to change a few things to make sure the original players still get to keep their games and all that. For example, some of the games will come back to normal as premium games AND be on the Playond service. I think those kinks are worked out now, and it should be a good value for players trying out the service. I'm pretty excited about the possibility of giving a completely dead premium iOS market some new life.” - Josh Presseisen, Crescent Moon Games
“We chose to move MUL.MASH to the Playond service because we felt that it never reached the audience it deserved, and we believed that the biggest obstacle was that MUL.MASH was designed and released as a paid game. Our company had held out for a long time, making only paid games, but it became clear that the paid model was no longer sustainable for us on Apple platforms. Playond gave MUL.MASH a chance to re-release as a free-to-try game that is part of their subscription service. We re-released a couple other games on Playond as well, hoping that new players will get a chance to see and enjoy them. Bending Spoons and the Playond team have been a pleasure to work with, so we are glad we made this decision.” - Paul Stevens, Riverman Media
There were other developers I reached out to that declined to comment, and then there was Seth Coster from Butterscotch Shenanigans, who provided a very lengthy and detailed perspective. His key observations include the change in the mobile market that has forced premium developers to “adapt or die,” saying that “[developers] who had previously launched extremely successful mobile premium games that had sustained their studios for years, had recently launched games that earned less than 5% of the income of their predecessors years ago, despite their new games being more critically acclaimed and getting plenty of featuring.”
As for the deal with Bending Spoons, Coster seems pleased with the arrangement, citing it as a “win for all parties, including players,” particularly because of a special arrangement he made with the company. “Crashlands on mobile will exist as two versions going forward. There will be a pay-up-front version as before, and there will also be a version of Crashlands that is free-to-try as part of Playond's new service. With the free-to-try version, we expect to see a new wave of players who previously wouldn't have considered checking out the game, due to its up-front price tag.”
All in all, it seems like Bending Spoons and Playond is trying to make its service as friendly as possible. They even seem to be up for keeping the old pay models for some games as an option for the developers they’re working with. Obviously, this is something that would be easier to swallow if Bending Spoons communicated this upfront instead of just updating games to their subscription service, but the company seems to be aware of that.
I know this because—after posting my initial story—a representative from Bending Spoons actually reached out to me directly to clear the air on some issues players have been having, stating that they’re working on their problems. “We are reading many people complaining about Playond blocking games that people already have paid,” wrote Mauro Bolis, Technical Lead at Bending Spoons. “We don't want to do it: it would be unfair. What's happening it's [sic] a combination of multiple problems and technical limitations of the platform.”
Further, Bolis mentioned he is working on fixes for troubled Playond releases by making arrangements like the one Bending Spoons made with Butterscotch Shenanigans and others. “[We are] asking developers and publishers to bring back their version of the game (it has been done, for instance, for Morphite). From now on, we’ll try to always publish a ‘Playond Edition’ version of the game, as well as keeping the paid-upfront version live in the store (for instance, we’ve done it for Barbearian). This approach should reduce the confusion, as well as giving players more options (buy the single game or access the whole catalog).”
As for the problems themselves, Bolis admits they’re a product of undertesting, and that they could do a better job at communicating with players. “Truth be told, we underestimated the complications (especially in communication) that come from [our] practice[s]... players think we’re scamming them.” To fix this, Playond encourages anyone experiencing problems with their games to reach out, as some of the problems they’re encountering are game-specific.
None of this really guarantees any future success for Playond (or any subscription game service for that matter). That said, it seems clear on all sides that Bending Spoons is legitimately trying to help the mobile space as opposed to harm it. And perhaps they will. Bolis mentioned some things they’re working on to help make Playond more competitive, like a price drop and additional features “to make the service more inclusive and open to players.” Perhaps between these coming additions and fixes to their existing problems, Playond will have what it takes to be a worthy Apple Arcade competitor.