GDC 2013: Capy Games argues the case for paid apps

Capy Games’ Nathan Vella believes that the rise of free-to-play games is good news for developers creating traditional paid apps. Speaking at GDC today Vella, co-founder and president of the Toronto studio behind iOS and Android success Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery, argued paid apps stood to benefit from a better chance of getting seen in the app charts and reaching niche audiences.

While perfectly polite about free-to-play games (“All business models are totally A-OK as long as they are not used in a predatory manner,” he said), Vella admitted that the lure of the “dangling money carrot” seen in games such as Clash Of Clans was hard to resist. Running the audience through some statistics, Vella said that if the estimated app revenue last year was $10 billion, based on the percentage of that which is currently made by paid games, up to $2 billion is on offer to paid app developers.

Importantly, however, Vella argued that apps should be designed first before business is considered, with the requirements for paid apps very different from the requirements for free to play apps. “Paid games launch by trying to generate and entice ‘value customers’ to purchase – the customers who are interested and invested in your project,” he explained. “Free-to-play games are looking to get the widest reach possible at launch.”

However, as they move forward, those needs switch. Paid games come to rely on those ‘value customers’ evangelising to grow the audience to people who would have originally not have considered the purchase, where free to play games start to concentrate on the ‘whales’ who are paying the most, ignoring their original breadth.

The market that paid apps are entering is changing, Vella said, with the “big brands” – such as movie tie-ins and console publishers – being lured to free-to-play.

“This is going to provide smaller companies with less friction for their apps,” he said. “What this means is that you are going to release your small, hard to promote game in the same week as a Dead Space or a Real Racing. That plays a huge role in getting featured on the stores … getting featured on the store is still super important, and one of the biggest things you have to worry about is what other games are coming out that week.”

In fact, when beginning to promote their game developers should consider their promotion “split down the middle” between promoting to fans and “promoting to Apple and Google.”

“Getting your game featured is the fastest route to success,” he said. “But you should consider your promotion to the fans via trailers and social networks as promotion to them too. Both companies have extremely ‘ear to the ground’ editorial teams and if you can make a splash, they will notice.

“But you need to spend time thinking about how you portray your game: why your title highlights features of their device, why your title is ideal for a touch screen, what it is about your project that makes it stand out among a sea of others.”