Adult Swim Games didn’t release a premium-priced game on mobile in 2013, but the publisher is changing that to start 2014 — and it has high hopes for its first paid app in more than year.
Earlier today, the comedy network’s gaming division released Castle Doombad for iOS. It’s a tower-defense title that has players taking the role of a video game boss who must fight off waves of hero characters. One of the things that sets Castle Doombad apart is that Adult Swim decided to eschew the popular free-to-play model in favor of a $3 price on the App Store.
“Castle Doombad is a tower-defense game with a bit of a twist,” Adult Swim Games producer Chris Johnston told GamesBeat. “You play the evil-doer who has captured the princess. Her screams power his castle, and you must defend your tower from an onslaught of hero characters that are trying to scale the keep to rescue the princess.”
Players must fight off those heroes by setting up traps. Different types of enemies present different challenges. A knight will charge ahead recklessly, and the player can easily take them out by laying down some floor spikes. A ninja hero, however, will climb along the ceiling and can completely evade the spikes.
It’s an interesting concept, but to make exactly the game they were envisioning, Adult Swim and Grumpyface Studios knew they couldn’t begin cramming in free-to-play mechanics.
“With this game, we talked about it internally — we talked about it with Apple — our sense is that for a tower-defense game, there are a lot of fans of the genre that are willing to spend a few bucks to get a great game experience,” Adult Swim Digital vice president Jeff Olsen told GamesBeat. “For myself, I’ve played a lot of Fieldrunners. It’s a game that I love, and I’ve played that more than any other game on my phone, but I wouldn’t necessarily want to spend money in the game.”
The challenge in a game like Fieldrunners and Castle Doombad is to have a limited number of resources to complete a level. Weaving in free-to-play spending opportunities into that design could potentially spoil the entire experience.
Instead, Adult Swim and Grumpyface wanted to give players a complete game from the outset — a finished product that has balanced stages that make sense whether you’re spending money in the game or not.
“Every game is different,” Olsen said. “But for a tower-defense game, we feel the best model is premium. We believed that if we built Castle Doombad in such a way that people felt like they were constantly forced to monetize — the kinds of people that like these games might not enjoy our game as much.”
So Castle Doombad comes with 45 levels across three chapters. Each chapter presents a twist on how the game works, and Grumpyface designed it all so that the average player could get to the end of the game without resorting to cheap pay-to-win tactics.
That doesn’t mean you can’t spend money in Castle Doombad. It does feature in-app purchases that enables players to upgrade their traps faster. How is that different from a free-to-play game? Well, according to Adult Swim, it comes back to balance. While the average player can get to the end of the game without spending any money, others might want to take a shortcut or powerup their castle’s traps to an absurd amount. Those options are available but are completely optional and possible without spending money.
The in-app purchases aren’t intrusive from what I’ve seen in the game so far — that’s already much different from the “monetization opportunities” that most free-to-play games rely on.
“Freemium is great for building word of mouth because everyone can try it and talk about it. More people will download free-to-play games, and with the right mechanics you can make an almost unlimited amount of money,” said Olsen. “But it can be a challenging payment strategy if the genre or balance isn’t exactly right.”
With Castle Doombad, Adult Swim felt that things weren’t exactly right and felt that an upfront price would make for a better game. The company also hopes that, if this game is successful, it could potentially make more games with a premium price that it will release alongside its future free-to-play games.