App development 'like a drug', says Whale Trail developer

Ustwo: ‘devs should be cautious’ of free-to-play

Ustwo co-founder Matt Miller has urged develpers to be careful about going free-to-play, which will put their game at risk of being burried beneath chart-topping hits.

Speaking to Modojo, Miller explained the reasons why his well-recieved title Whale Trail had failed to be commercially successful, and explained some of pitfalls awaiting small app developers.

"We were selling 200-300 copies a day and as we’re a small sub-team within a big studio we incur big overheads which we weren’t meeting," said Miller.

"We set ourselves the challenge of proving that we could make a game about the joy of flying in a world of make believe and be successful selling it for 69p. Sadly it just didn’t shift the copies we needed for it to sustain its development."

Those 69p were to be a thorn in the side of Ustwo as they took the game free-to-play, and many fans felt they were being punished for having bought the game.

"The simple fact is we failed to anticipate such a strong reaction to the change," explained Miller.

"When we were considering how much free krill to give upgraders we deliberately veered to the low side because we didn’t want to force them to miss out on the early-game experience. I guess it’s obvious we were worrying about the wrong thing!"

But upsetting your playerbase is only one danger inherent in the free-to-play market. Competition is fierce, and an unlucky developer can see a new game smothered before it has a chance to gain much of a following.

"Developers should be cautious about going free as the free charts are probably even more competitive than the paid charts," warned Miller.

"If your game doesn’t have a very broad appeal then you’ll struggle for exposure. We felt that Whale Trail’s chance to shine in the paid charts was over so there wasn’t much to lose by going free, and more importantly a lot to learn."

But development is more than just a business, it is a passion and an art form for which the rewards can be staggering.

"The app business is like a drug for those involved," said Miller, "and every so often wonderful games spring out of nowhere and smash it in the charts. The beauty is there’s always the dream that your game could be one of them."

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