Mobile pricing discussion


This is a companion thread to the article we recently put up on the devlog: Mobile and pricing. If you’d like to throw in your two cents, please do so here! I’ve no idea how you’re supposed to respond to comments on Tumblr, hence the forum thread. :slight_smile:

At the moment, we’re leaning back towards selling Mini Metro mostly untouched (apart from usability and interface changes of course) on iOS and Android (and WP8, etc.) as a paid app with no ads or in-app purchases. We’re entertaining the idea of a second Mini Metro app that was free, or possibly freemium, built in a different style—as a series of puzzle maps and challenges to get through, for example. Just an idea for now, getting the main game ready for mobile is our primary focus.

Mobile Game (App Store)
Mobile Game (App Store)
Mobile Game (App Store)

100% sell it as is, paid app with no ads or in-app purchases. I have several in my wishlist like that that I plan on purchasing one day. The only exception to the no in-app I would make, as a suggestion, is to have only one map (maybe the original proof of concept, London?) for free, and the rest of the maps for the “real” purchase price as an in-app; I believe Apple allows this kind of thing, no? I think I’ve seen that. That would make my purchase of the games I have in my wishlist “easier”; I’d get to try it before buying, just like in the good old days with demo-ware.


Then that exception would be labeled as an in-app purchase. There’s no gray area in between. It’s either an in-app purchase, or non-in-app purchase.

100% paid app. No ads. No in-app purchases. All maps, with potential for updating to have newer maps in the future. No hassles. No risks.

You wouldn’t like it if you did a risky move where the consumers will get confused when the game has in-app purchases for a no in-app purchase, full release game. From a business point of view, the best tactic you should consider is to minimize the potential risk completely, even 3 years from the day Mini Metro is released.

Unrelated, have you ever considered Reddit as a social media for giving the game more exposure?


Male, early 30s, avid game player here. I would personally be willing to purchase the game for 3.99 on mobile.

A good demo of the game would probably be to release the London map for free.


Then that exception would be labeled as an in-app purchase. There’s no gray area in between. It’s either an in-app purchase, or non-in-app purchase.

Ah, I guess I need to be more explicit by what I mean. An in-app purchase that takes the game from a “demo” to a full game with all maps etc is fine; in-app purchases for additional maps, additional special items, additional levels, etc are usually not fine.

At the same time, I understand that game devs need to make a living; so for example, when the maker of Phoenix HD comes out with new ships at 99 cents, I buy them. That’s because the game already comes with several ships when you buy it, and they come rarely enough (one or 2 a year, maybe 3?) that it doesn’t feel like a constant upsell to get us to shell out more money. So, if the Mini Metro devs were to release the game as is, with 10 maps, and then 6 months or a year after the game is released, they add another X maps for an extra 99 cents, I’d be fine with that, it’d be paying for their time investment; otherwise, why would they spend time making more maps? Fixing bugs, sure, I always expect responsible devs to fix bugs and update their games without additional cost to the end-user, but new content? That takes time. I don’t know what number for X maps would be ok; 1? 2? 5 extra maps? I love the game so much that I personally wouldn’t care, but from more casual players, my gut says 99 cents for every extra map would feel like it’d be too much.

Lastly, it goes without saying: this is my opinion, in an ideal world, and I by no means want to sound like I’m arguing with you. :smile:


Even I don’t want to argue with you. Sorry for wording it in such a way, it sounded like it’s harsh. :smile:

I do not wish the Mini Metro developers to engage themselves into a place where they are blamed for having ads or in-app purchases. Both of these are regarded by the gaming community as “parasitic investments”.

I would suggest using a straw poll and let the community decide how it should be monetized. That way, the developers can link future angry customers with the straw poll link, put blame onto us, and they’ll happily accept.


I think there should be 2 versions. Free version could have limited selection of maps and ads. Paid version should be fully featured without ads and IAP.


If we’re going for two versions, then have one full standalone no-ads no-nonsense paid version, and one free version be accessible to all maps, but can only play each map for up to 3 weeks/3 upgrades.

This strategy was used by Kairosoft Co. JP, who had a successful run with Game Dev Story and other variants of their apps. It was also used by appfour GmbH, who developed AIDE, Android Integrated Development Environment, where they limited the users from building and compiling codes if the project has more than 5 Java classes files.

To be more precise, please take a look at all Japanese Android games. Since the Japanese mobile market is more competitive and more intuitively designed for consumers there, aiming for convenience and casual, you can find monetizing strategies that brings you to a win-win situation on both business/consumer sides.


I support the idea of one “demo” (free) app and one “full” (paid) app, as long as the full app has no ads/IAPs and is the version obtainable through Humble.


I’m going to add some of the comments from this link to this post. Adding more insights and opinions on this discussion may be helpful in the long run:

OhUmHmm said:

I agree with the users who posted about the demo and full length versions. The free version can sell levels as IAP or you can buy the game as a whole bundle and never think twice.

Edit: I think this monetization strategy should still work, its just that the IAP buy-to-save-time brings in more revenue.

Threes was not a complete enough experience to use that strategy and too easily replicated. I doubt a mini metro competitor that threw in microtransactions would somehow best the original if it has a free version.

I guess the real problem there is that there may not be enpugh motivation to play past the first level… but I think after enough replays, some users will want new variety.

IWantUsToMerge said:

This may sound extreme, but yeah, I’d say it’s selling out. None of the mobile games I’ve been exposed to that I would consider Genuinely Good are fremium. They might have a demo, but it’s not called a free version, it’s just a demo. If you hold the line, we very well could win the battle over the dominant pricing model and keep the medium clean.


One thing to consider is that there are various research projects that suggest releasing a demo might hurt sales. On mobile the situation is probably different, but if there was a limited but still working demo available, I wouldn’t buy the full game, since the demo provides me more than enough for those 5 minutes I need to fill with a game.


I agree with you here purely because of that nasty ‘Offers In-App Purchases’ label that an IAP-enabled app is tagged with on the App Store. As soon as I see that, I can’t trust the app. I instantly assume the worst. In-game currency, predatory IAP, energy, stretched gameplay, etc. It may be that the app is a demo with a single purchase to unlock the rest of the game, but that’s not what I assume. It would be nice if the App Store differentiated between games offering consumable and non-consumable IAP.


Interesting, I wonder if the web demo on the Mini Metro website helps or hinders sales?


Posting from Reddit:

NXMRT says:

Being sticklers for a more traditional sales model will only hurt adoption of this game, which would be a shame since it’s so amazing. If they could get the first version in peoples’ hands for free, I believe that this seriously has the potential to become one of the most popular games on the app store. The simple gameplay and the incredible visual style will hook people immediately.

For an endless game where you play until you lose, ads between games seems like a very reasonable way to monetize, but I can see that not being enough. And I’m sure they can come up with things to sell if pressed. The arcade-style cheat code methods where you can pay for an extra engine/line/carriage if you are about to lose seems obvious. Unfortunately, the game design seems to rule out some of the more traditional sales items like maps and cosmetics.

H1bbe says:

IAP is dying due to it’s massive exploitation. Even whales eventually give up on games. Hitman Go is the future (if you ignore their hints packs) and Mini Metro fits that model well. Except a “level pack” can’t be one city, it has to be several.

dukeofwhales says:

I’m not sure what they mean by Freemium exactly - are they suggesting that some modes or maps are locked off with IAPs, or are they suggesting X games per half hour with paying money to unlock extra games (the absolute worst of Freemium), or just shareware/demo style where you can play for half an hour and then must buy it?

I would see no issue with the third option.

Mini Metro is a good game, btw, if anyone hasn’t checked it out. It’s about $6 on Steam.

NXMRT added:

Probably something like selling cheat code-equivalent stuff like extra lines, extra carriages or locomotives, etc. The game is simplistic enough that there’s not a lot you can even sell.

kewlsnake says:

We still to-and-fro. Would freemium be selling out, or merely adapting the game to the platform? Is releasing as paid on mobile idealistic, or using a dying business model from desktop and consoles?

Didn’t Apple recently release and promote a “pay once and play” section? I would say the freemium model is one of the reasons that people are put off by mobile.

I had written off the whole mobile platform as beyond salvation in the last couple of years. It’s only in the last couple of months that I found some great games and the only money I spent was either on complete games or episodic content (Hitman Go, Layton Brothers Mystery Room, Threes, Valiant Hearts).

I guess I’m now part of the “mobile gamers” demographic.

The thing is that, as a general rule, mobile gamers don’t pay for games. They pay eventually of course. Just not up-front. If it ain’t free to download, then 99% of people won’t even take a second look at the icon. But you gotta pay the piper. Advertising, in-app purchases, energy. Banner ads, interstitial ads, incentivised video ads. Two-tier currencies.

I’m not sure if that would go over well for the type of game that Mini Metro is. Having a demo and purchasable levels would seem like a better fit.

NXMRT added:

Nobody would buy additional levels. They add no variety - the only thing they change is the river layout, forcing you to use more or less tunnels. Buying the other game modes could potentially work, or buying other gameplay elements like additional unique symbols or more lines.

TheRealDethmuffin says:

Don’t worry about selling out. If your game is designed from the ground up to be a freemium game, sell it that way. Otherwise, don’t waste your time trying to bolt on freemium unless you really think the design could work well with it. With the emerging “premium, pay once” category in the app store we might start seeing a bit more traction for games like Mini Metro. Looks amazing btw!

RandomRedPanda says:

Just to add one more voice to the idea of releasing two versions, demo and full game. It seems perfectly valid to leave any upgrades like lines and carriages as features for the full version to guarantee that the experience is limited but not limiting in the demo.

Maybe if the size of cities (i.e. the number of stations) was capped and you could only have 3 lines, 4 at most, it wouldn’t make the game horribly frustrating and prevent it from feeling like ‘pay-to-win’.

pokAtok says:

The Jonathan Blow talk that he posted was also pretty insightful on the whole f2p model and how it relates to television in the past and present. That connection to network television vs premium channels reassures the idea that while freemium mobile games won’t go out of style anytime soon, there is still a market for quality mobile games.


Ah, I hadn’t thought of that. In that case, I agree with you. I was thinking only in terms of mechanics: “How to let folks play a demo so that they can be convinced to buy the game?” which Apple just doesn’t do well.


PLEASE no freemium. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves about a game - and it very quickly shows that the ultimate point of the game is monetization, not the creation of a user experience. I would pay up to 3.99 for a mobile version of mini-metro.Granted, this is because I was hooked on the free betas for desktop some time ago, but it would radically cheapen the mobile experience to have it with ads and things like that.


That’s hard to tell. There’s an interesting article on Gamasutra about the sale figures of Ethan: Meteor Hunter, and the impact of a demo, and it looks like it depends a lot on the platform.

While not exactly the same, I think you can see these different ‘cultures’ also on mobile platforms: generally speaking, people pay up front for a game on iOS and/or Windows Phone, whereas most Android games are freemium/with ads/limited until something was purchased. Personally, I think the impact of a demo will be a lot bigger on iOS and Windows Phone, since people aren’t used to ‘free’ games.

(Also, the web demo probably doesn’t do much at all - most people over at the Steam discussion boards don’t even know it exists.)


Let’s just see the recent games that have made an impact on the mobile gaming industry recently:
First there’s Monument Valley, doubtfully a gigantic succes.
There are my other favorite, Hitman: Go. Revolutionary gameplay.
Both are “regularly” priced. If your game is good enough you should go for the full price. In other words, if you go full priced you think and belive that your game is good enough that you don’t need freemium to get people to play it.


Windows Phone 8 Store lets you try an app before you buy. Developers may choose the behaviour of the app while in trial period: Some games, like Plants vs Zombies, disable Xbox Achievements while in trial mode, for instance.

Amazon Store seems to also allow trying Android Apps before buying:

Strategies like the 2 app versions or single in-app purchase to unlock full game should only be used on stores that do not allow trying na app before buying.


i think it is really simple, you have to choose a target for your game!

In-App purchrase games are for really, really , REALLY miser users, a small part of the user base will buy “the upgrades” , the most will play your game until they reach the “free game limit”

Games like Clash of Clans ( whose i think destroyed the mobile games market ) make a lot of money becouse their user base is HUGE , but if you think to the equation totalearnings/users a paid game will always win , if you cannot reach a very huge marketshare

Games like League of Legends are beautifull games where developer respects users , and users respects the developer, BUT there aren’t games like it on mobile… there is not a game on mobile which you “can win easily” without paying

Some weeks ago on the App Store was released “Kings of Thiefs” from the creators of “Cut the rope” , i was REALLY entusiastic , then i went to the app store and i saw “With in-app purchrase” , and i’ve closed the page, because nowdays if a game comes with in-app i’ll already know that i can’t enjoy properly , and this sucks…