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GDC: Surviving High School creator talks clever, profitable microtransactions

In early 2009, Centerscore co-founder Oliver Miao was assigned an extremely daunting task. His studio had recently been acquired by EA Mobile, and his higher-ups had requested an iPhone version of the studio's successful teen-dating sim series, Surviving High School. The difficulty didn't come in developing the title, but rather, in monetizing it.

During his GDC panel titled "Surviving the iPhone: EA's Original Game Bet," Miao recounted the different business models Centerscore proposed to EA Mobile for SHS. The initial idea was to sell the game for 99 cents, and then hand out additional weekly "episodes" for free. While this would help build the brand, EA Mobile didn't anticipate enough return on the investment. It was denied, and Centerscore was sent back to the drawing board.

The second idea was to offer the current episode of the game for free, but charge 99 cents for bundled episodes from previous weeks. This idea was also shot down, and Centerscore's project was threatened with cancellation. Finally, the two parties came up with a solution that's proven to be fairly lucrative: give the current episode for free, charge for previous episodes, and offer the next episode in advance for an additional 99 cents -- quite an innovative business model.

Of course, Centerscore could have easily raked in the cash by simply charging $500 for one of its first mobile titles, Garfield Bowling. We can't think of a price we wouldn't pay for that gem.

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