EA: The market has spoken, freemium is the future
Nick Earl, the senior vice-president and general manager of EA All Play, has revealed that the freemium payment model is not just what the games giant wants, its what mobile gamers want too.
EA All Play is one of the largest players in the app games business, with a significant catalogue of titles available on the iTunes App Store for iPhone and iPad and a rapidly growing number on Google Play. Some of those games, such as The Simpsons Tapped Out and Real Racing 3, have been very successful and that is down to the company adopting the much criticised freemium model.
"The market has absolutely spoken so loudly that freemium is the future," Earl told Pocket-lint when we caught up with him at E3 in June.
"There’s only one premium game in the top 50 grossing, so the market has spoken."
The freemium model, as used on most of Electronic Arts' and several other developers' and publishers' biggest mobile games, basically means that the initial download of a title is free. However, further content, levels, collectables, power-ups that allow you to progress faster and so on, cost money. Often, you can play or even complete a game without having to pay a single penny, but that takes much more effort, time and dedication.
It was most criticised by parents and tabloid newspapers recently amid accusations of encouraging children to spend vast amounts of money to buy virtual, in-game items. Some have racked up enormous bills, and parents have been subsequently advised to keep track of what in-app purchases they allow their kids to access, if at all. It could be argued that a majority of fears around freemium abuse are exaggerated, but that hasn't deterred a very vocal minority.
Earl did admit that freemium games and in-app purchases have their haters, but there are also major positives for the player - ones that cannot be enforced with a premium, all-in-one payment game.
"We spend a tremendous amount of money and investment on updates. Which we wouldn’t have if it wasn’t a freemium game," he told us.
"It changes the whole mentality of having these teams that make the updates. There’s no guarantee that you’re going to make a penny, because they are free. You just do it on faith that the content is good enough that the people largely spend money. It’s not 100 per cent of them. In fact, it’s single digit percentages. But they’re enough to drive the economics in a way that make it worthwhile in continuing the investment."
If a game were developed and then sold, much like on console, Earl revealed that it was unlikely that new content would be generated.
"There is tremendous motivation for us to put our best foot forward with these updates," he said.
"A case in point is the waterfront update to The Simpsons Tapped Out. It’s a game that has got bigger, bigger and bigger. It is our biggest game. In terms of revenue it’s as big as our big console games."
In addition, if part of the game doesn't work so well when released to the wider world, the company can improve it.
"We have the luxury of launching a game and then perfecting it when it’s already out on the market," said Earl.
"In the console business, you’re rolling the dice to the tune of $100 million, give or take $50 million, and it’s got to be right on day one. You can’t really update – well, you can but it’s painful.
"Mobile, we can take a lot more experimentation into play."
It's still unlikely to appease the core gamer, however.
"I understand that everybody has a right to their opinion. And the core gamers that don’t like in-app purchases are the ones that are happy to pay a significant amount of dollars up front," Earl added.
"But there’s just no mechanism to satisfy both."