Lately, free-to-play games have taken a lot of heat. In just the past few months, Pocket Gamerdebated the viability of the model on its website, and Business Insider published an article referring to the consumer experience with freemium games as “downright cruel.” Even South Park got in on the conversation with the episode “Freemium isn’t Free,” in which it was theorized that the “-mium” suffix originates from the Latin for “not really.”
Yet despite this criticism, there’s little to indicate that the freemium model is losing steam. Free-to-play games retain a firm grasp on top of the App Store charts, helping them become some of the highest-grossing apps year after year. Earlier this month, three of them even ran commercials during the Super Bowl.
And this is what makes Apple’s recent introduction of a “Pay Once and Play” curated collection so intriguing. The featured games are generally higher in price, ranging from $1.99 all the way up to $15.99, but promise no additional in-game charges. It’s a model that more closely resembles traditional PC or console go-to-market strategies than what we’ve come to expect from mobile gaming.
While “pay-once” mobile gaming is not new, specifically drawing attention to its benefits is. In fact, Apple’s description of the collection—“Enjoy hours of uninterrupted fun with completeexperiences” (emphasis mine)—seems to echo the growing consumer frustrations of choosing between paying for content or waiting an extended period of time to continue playing.
The change comes the same week as Apple’s announcement that it will be increasing the maximum size allowed for an app from 2GB to 4GB, a limit they haven’t budged on since 2008. Although this gigabyte increase is applicable to all apps, its benefits are more largely felt among bigger, more complex games.
Regardless of whether or not these changes are indicative of a coming move away from freemium and towards more “traditional” gaming models, one thing remains constant: visibility. Because of their upfront costs, paid games are downloaded far less often than free games, which means they never shoot up the ranks the way free games can. With Apple deliberately calling attention these titles, there’s a chance they could enjoy some of the same success as free-to-play giants.