So there was some very interesting news to show up today thanks to a recent look at the iTunes games market. Turns out the top grossing iOS games and apps of 2012 all had one critical point in common.
What was that particular point? As it turns out, they were all free to play. In the entirety of the top ten for iOS games downloaded from iTunes, they were all free to play. In fact, the first paid game on the list reportedly shows up at number 16. A huge variety of games are represented, from puzzle to action and strategy, but they all come in with free to play.
Turns out the free to play trope is bringing in a lot of advantages for game players and designers alike. It turns out that it's not easy to get players to pay for a game up front, but giving it to them free, and having them pay for bonus items and advantages in said game, is proving to be a fairly impressive business model when it comes to iOS.
It's a strange concept, with just 17 out of the top 81 games being pay to play as opposed to pay during play. Things only get stranger when you consider what the titles that were paying and still in the top list actually were. Four of them were part of the Angry Birds franchise, and four of them involve the words "With Friends
". Throw in the major names you'd expect--Minecraft
, Plants Vs. Zombies, Fruit Ninja--and that's pretty much it. Most everything else is free to play.
It's not hard to blame a bad economy for the odd sea change. Having less disposable income than normal makes people look for value in pretty much every part of their lives, especially in less than essential things like video games
. The thing about free to play is that they can be free, and stay free, or they can get enhanced with for-pay as disposable cash becomes available. That kind of flexibility is valuable, and in a bad economy especially so.
Free to play likely isn't going away, especially when it comes to iOS. Can the model find any ground elsewhere? That may not happen, but it will be interesting to see if 2013 is as big a year for free to play as 2012 was.