I've been working for a couple of months on a dungeon crawler focusing on fast-paced fights for Windows Phone 7, and its now time for me to make a decision about how to release it.
About the game
You progress room by room in a labyrinth, open chests to get new and better gear and keys to open closed doors :
Sometimes when you move to a new room a random encounter triggers, and sometimes you have to defeat a boss to continue your progression :
The battles are in real-time, you tap on the skills' icons to use them and they need some time to reload, pretty much like a MMO.
That's it for the features, the rest is just content: maps, items, weapons, monsters, skills, etc.
So, how should I release it?
Plan A : episodic with the first episode free and the others for $0.99
I originally planned for an episodic game, the dungeon is a big tower and I thought about each episodes featuring a given amount of floors and adding new mechanisms, spells and monsters.
The first episode would be free to serve as a demo or "Lite version".
The reason why I wanted it to be free is because I need to attract the players in the first place and the game is still relatively short on features compared to other dungeon crawlers. I plan to add more of them (like buying/selling equipment, etc) but it takes time and I want to release it as soon as possible to gather feedbacks.
However, with time has come concerns about this plan.
First, I'm not sure anymore about the episodic stuff. I was inspired by Pocket God, each episode adding a new feature and it sounded like a cool idea. But I'm not sure if it's going to work because they will essentially be sequels instead of extensions.
The number of them and their scope is a difficult balance too.
I can't charge less than 80 Microsoft Points (~ $0.99) so the updates need to have enough meat to match customers' expectations. And I can't do too much of them because I doubt the players are ready to pay $10 for the full game.
Also, the "Episode 1" may be intimidating for newcomers, and it suggests an incomplete game. It can hurt reviews as well if they don't consider it as a whole.
Plan B : free game with free updates and later $0.99-priced spin-offs
So maybe it's better to release the game in "beta" for free and doing frequent updates to add content and features (still for free).
This way the players can understand that the game is not finished and that new features will come, and I can continue to work on it while gathering feedbacks and improving the recognition of the game.
Once the game is fully featured, I can release spin-offs featuring the same mechanics but with a different setting and new content.
The idea being that players who are hooked enough will buy the new games.
The fact that the full game will be free is an advantage as it will probably gather good reviews and rank quite high for that simple fact, but it's also an inconvenient.
It will probably be enough for most players and they won't want to buy the other games.
Also the time needed to make an update, submit it to Microsoft and have it pushed on the player's phone is probably long enough for them to forgot or loose interest.
Plan C : keep it simple, just a game for $0.99, eventually sequels if all goes well
It's easier to wrap my head around such a plan, but I don't know how successful it will be on the Windows Phone Marketplace ecosystem.
I still think that my game needs a free demo, which can be done with the trial mode but I don't think it will really be effective.
It's probably better to make the demo a fully featured game, with a beginning and a end (shorter than the paid game, of course).
I guess a lot of people will just look the 'Free apps' section anyway, so they will completely miss the trial version.
The problem with this plan is that it's going to take a lot more time and I won't benefit from player feedbacks. There is a lot of uncertainty around all that.
Plan D : a mix?
I could also release the 'incomplete' game for free as a "pilot" to gather feedbacks and build recognition and then switch to Plan C with a full paid game and a proper free version.
What do you think?
Writing all that helps, but that's not the only reason why I'm here. I'm still quite inexperienced with selling games, and it's even more true for mobile games.
So what do you think? How would you do it?