A few success stories aside (like Star Wars: The Old Republic and Star Trek Online), I don’t think developer ever really wants its game to go free-to-play. There are lots of hurdles to overcome, both technically and perception-wise, and it’s uncharted — and scary — territory for developers who planned one thing for their game and then had to dramatically shift gears to appease a probably dwindling player base, just to stay in business.
Add Spacelords developer MercurySteam to that list. In speaking to GamesIndustry, owner Enric Alvarez was frank in his dissection of his company’s missteps during its time as Raiders of the Broken Planet. As Raiders, it made its first episode free and then charged for the rest, but that confused some fans who were expecting a fully free-to-play game.
“It was kind-of a premium product, but not 100%, it was kind-of free-to-play, but not 100%. People didn’t get it. Not to blame the people, for we were to blame.”
Sometimes a hybrid business model can work, but that usually requires the game to be a hit right out of the box — usually backed by a big studio or big IP. When that doesn’t happen and lightning doesn’t strike, you get something like the first incarnation of All Points Bulletin, and that seems to be where Raiders was headed, albeit not as precipitously.
Still, the relaunch and rebranding to Spacelords has been relatively successful. While PC numbers are still fairly low, Alvarez said that console is “much, much bigger,” while conceding that the work isn’t over yet. “We need to have a plan for the next year or two years.”
As for the free-to-play switch itself, Alvarez called that a “nightmare” from both a technical and store point of view. He’s also discovered one of the nasty side effects of going free-to-play and having intricate monetization: It’s not just about the game any more:
“I don’t remember the last time we decided something just because of the gameplay. We always have to consider the progression, the conversion, the acquisition, the monetisation… you need to look at everything from so many different angles.”
Welcome to the club, Enric.