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The mobile game Whale Trail has been released on the Android platform this week, following steady sales of the iOS version late last year. With a refreshingly candid approach, developer UsTwo has talked about how much the game cost to develop, and whether it is likely to see a return on its investment.
UsTwo co-founder Matt Mills has expressed his disappointment with Whale Trail sales to date. There have been 140,000 paid downloads of the iOS version of the game so far, but at a price of 99 cents, these haven’t yet covered total development costs.
Speaking in August last year, Mills explained, “We’ve chosen to spend upwards of £100,000 (roughly $153,000) creating a premium game … and by premium I mean selling at a mere 69p (99 cents). We made sure that for our first release, we remained as far away as possible from the F-word – freemium.”
Mills described the reason for avoiding a freemium model, where a game is initially free to play, but has extra features that must be paid for. “The freemium model doesn’t lend itself to our approach of making nuggets of quality perfection. We don’t want to hide the really good elements of what we’ve created behind a series of gated doors. We want to give the user the complete and best experience from the very first touch.”
Whale Trail has now cost UsTwo £250,000 (roughly $383,000) to develop and update across the iOS and Android platforms, and Mills is looking for strong Android sales to help recoup that investment. “We simply need to see ROI [return on investment] over a shorter time period. I’m praying that I’m wrong and Whale Trail is a hit on Android. But, we’ve been here numerous times before. The likelihood is this will be the final UsTwo nail in the premium games coffin.”
Based on its iOS performance to date, Mills is not convinced that the premium model was the correct one to adopt for Whale Trail. “We had invested a lot of money making and marketing a game for the masses and it failed to reach the masses. Although we’re still getting around 500-700 downloads a day on iOS, we quite rightly feel it’s not enough for a game of such quality. So our conclusion is that we were wrong to go premium.”
While the success of Whale Trail is obviously important to UsTwo, the design studio has other projects on the go, including a partnership with Sony for a GoogleTV app . Speaking to Develop, Mills admitted that while he would like the game to do well, if it isn’t a financial success then the studio “would be fine with that.”
Other independent developers will no doubt be paying attention to Whale Trail’s performance, to see whether premium mobile games with high production values can still be a success on iOS or Android. When as many as 88 percent of iOS apps being downloaded are free, charging any upfront fee for its games may be something that UsTwo shies away from in the future.
The developer is hoping for paid downloads in the region of 45,000 in the first few months on the Android Market. Failing to hit that mark could mean the end of the premium pricing model for UsTwo, with Mills saying, “If we shift less than this, then we can safely say premium is no longer sustainable for UsTwo and others like us in terms of investment.”
UsTwo is a digital design studio that delivers pioneering user experiences as digital partner to the world’s leading brands including Sony, Sony Ericsson, Intel, H&M, BBC, Turner and J.P.Morgan. It currently has studios in London and Malmö, Sweden, with a New York studio coming soon.
You can listen to the suitably psychadelic Whale Trail theme song, by Gruff Rhys, formally of Welsh rock band Super Furry Animals, below.