I got to run through almost all of EA and Chillingo's upcoming titles at E3 a few weeks ago, and one theme was very clear: The company is investing heavily in the freemium business model, and plans to use its quality and expertise to convince customers to generate an ongoing cash flow for its developers. Earlier this week, Chillingo invited me to speak with COO Ed Rumley and the company's Head of Production Andy Needham. We discussed this current trend in monetization as it applies to Chillingo's titles, and how the company approaches publishing in general.
"The pay per download market is a challenging market right now," Rumley tells me. Chillingo's goal with each title it publishes is to "bring out the star rating and polish the diamond in the rough." Rumley is proud that Chillingo has hosted a very quality catalog so far, with high ratings all around. But the only way the company can do that, he says, is to "make sure the best game is delivered for the consumer in the right way." That often means that games need a strong, ongoing flow of income via in-app purchases, rather than just an initial bit of profit at sale.
Chillingo will soon publish Icycle: On Thin Ice, which is one of the best games I saw at GDC. I was, however, disappointed to see that the company had added freemium options for E3. Needham called it "a game that will influence people one day, and it's a game that we want to make sure we get right. No sort of bolt-on freemium model would work with this game." Instead, Needham and his production team have tried to come up with some freemium elements that leave the game itself untouched. "Anybody could play this game fairly all of the way through it [without paying]," Needham says. "You can even unlock an additional game." And you can do that all without having to pay a cent.
Instead, the freemium elements are there for convenience, Needham says. The freemium currency can be used to buy a "spare wheel," which allows the player to restart in place after a loss, instead of having to begin at the start of the latest level. "The in-app purchase is there really to help people enjoy the experience by not having to step back all of the time," says Needham. "What we wouldn't do is compromise the gameplay in order to get those dollars."
Other than the work around freemium titles, Rumley says Chillingo is finding plenty of new games to publish, both from current and new partners. "(The number of) unique developers is actually up about 60 percent year on year," says Rumley, "so a huge amount of developers are coming to us."
Current developers are choosing to re-publish with Chillingo, too, says Needham, and a big part of that is the company's acquisition by EA a few years ago. Chillingo's production team routinely works with EA. "We're able to share and learn a lot of the findings that they're making, and they're able to view our games and recommend them," says Needham.
In the end, says Rumley, Chillingo is focused first on quality. "We know how to deliver that four-and-a-half star quality rating," he says, and make "the games that treat the consumers the way they deserve to be treated." Icycle: On Thin Ice is indeed a beautiful game, and Rumley says the company is dedicated to making the developer's talent and experience shine through, all while making sure he's compensated as well as he can be. "At no point will the monetization distract you from what it is," promises Rumley. "It's a beautiful game and it's exceptionally playable."
Icycle: On Thin Ice is due out sometime later on this summer.