Rovio Says It’s Taking Free-to-Play Slow. Uh, Sure.
Angry Birds Go / Rovio
Free-to-play is new for us. That’s why we are taking it slow.
— Jami Laes, Rovio’s executive vice president for games, in an interview with WSJD.
That Rovio quote comes from this article about Angry Birds Go, the first game designed by the Finnish mobile company to be free at launch. And it’s a natural business decision: Free-to-play titles generated 90 percent of mobile games’ overall revenue in 2013, according to Distimo.
But taking it slow? Not a chance.
Even when compared to many mobile studios that have produced dozens of free-to-play titles, Rovio has designed Angry Birds Go to monetize very aggressively.
The car-racing game primarily makes money in three ways — through virtual currency, one-time in-app-purchases and an energy mechanic — all of which are tried-and-tested business mechanics. Players earn coins and gems while racing; gems can also be purchased with real money, and then traded in for packs of coins.
Coins are used to upgrade cars or buy new ones, but some cars are only unlockable with cold, hard cash. In fact, as Re/code’s Lauren Goode learned last year, two of the cars cost $50 — each. No, you didn’t read that wrong.
Meanwhile, the titular birds get “tired” after a certain amount of playtime, but players can recharge their energy by spending 10 of those purchasable gems. Got all that? Yeah, me neither.
But wait, there’s more. The game also includes extra content sponsored by third-party advertisers like toymaker Hasbro, and encourages players to buy Telepods, 3-D figurines that can be scanned into the mobile game a la Skylanders or Disney Infinity.
Part of the appeal of the free-to-play model for developers is that, when done right, it can greatly extend the life cycle of games and bring in more money in the long run (App Annie link; free registration required). However, Rovio’s other free titles released last year — Angry Birds Star Wars II and particularly The Croods — have seen revenue trending downward since launch.
It’s still too early to predict how long Angry Birds Go will be around, but those in-game monetization techniques are doing something. Since its Dec. 11 release in the U.S., Angry Birds Go has hovered between the mid-teens and the high-50s in the iOS top grossing chart.