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The standard business narrative these days is that premium games switch over to a free-to-play model to reinvigorate download numbers and revenue streams. That’s true of massively multiplayer online games and even mobile titles like Angry Birds.
Mobile publisher Gun Media is traveling against the current for its upcoming turn-based tactics game Breach & Clear, which is launching this summer for around $4 on iOS and Android devices. That price is new, as Gun Media originally intended to release the game as a free-to-play title.
GamesBeat spoke with Breach & Clear executive producer Robert Bowling, best known for his work with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare developer Infinity Ward, about why Gun Media made the switch.
“We really had to step back and consider what our goal is,” Bowling told GamesBeat. “Is it to build a business, or is it to build a good game?”
Some people feel that a lucrative free-to-play model is antithetical to what makes a game fun. Bowling came to a similar conclusion, at least concerning Breach & Clear — and it’s not like he believes that making money and a good game are mutually exclusive.
“I fell back on my traditional thinking that if you make a good game, you’ll ultimately lead to a good business,” he said. That’s how it worked with the Call of Duty franchise. That $60 first-person shooter found an audience that is even willing to throw down $15 for regular map packs.
With Breach & Clear, the producer said that he and his team found themselves making decisions for the wrong reasons when designing the mobile title.
“There are several free-to-play games that I play — that I really enjoy — that often times I’m forced to stop enjoying because I run out of resources or I run out of something that was enabling me to have fun,” said Bowling. “The type of game we’re making in Breach & Clear — it didn’t benefit from that.
“It really all came down to gameplay. As we were designing the game, we had to make decisions between gameplay and free-to-play. With the type of experience that we are going for that has a very deep progression and a lot of weapon unlocks, and a lot of gear unlocks — we had to keep making these decisions about whether to scale something back to make it the optimal free-to-play experience.”
Bowling’s team considered making players wait between missions and putting up other in-game barriers with paywalls to help generate revenue. That’s something a lot of gamers hate having to think about when playing the game, and it’s something the Breach & Clear studio didn’t want to think about while making it.0
“None of that benefited the gameplay,” said Bowling. “Coming from my background, I feel that the gameplay always has to be fun, it always has to be addictive, and it always has to keep you wanting to stick with it. As we were making more of those decisions, and hearing what our audience was saying, it was clear that we were building a very premium-style game.”
Abandoning the free-to-play model does present its own issues. Breach & Clear is a new property, and the quickest way to get that into players’ hands, especially on mobile, is to release as a free download. For Bowling, getting the most people playing the game as possible is incredibly important.
“Free-to-play was the answer to that,” he said. “But as the gameplay developed, and we got six months into development, [we had to go premium] to make it the most fun it could be. At the end of the day, that’s what is most important. I’d rather have 20 people buy the game and have the most fun rather than 100,000 people download it and not get anything out of it.”
Gun Media wants to set up Breach & Clear for the long run. Turn-based tactics games, like X-com and Fire Emblem, have a dedicated following and produced many sequels. Mobile devices are ripe for a strategic franchise that a developer builds from the scratch to work with touch. Bowling didn’t want to spoil that opportunity with a business model that just doesn’t work.
“It was a tough call to make, but it was one that better served the game,” he said. “In the long run, it will set up the franchise to be more well received.”