One of the hardest decisions we had in making Zombies, Run! was the pricing.
For newcomers: Zombies, Run! is a running game and audio adventure for the iPhone, iPod Touch, and Android (coming May/June) co-created by Six to Start and Naomi Alderman, in which you run in the real world while getting a story and zombie chases through your headphones.
Should we follow the lead of almost every other successful game on the App Store and make it freemium or $0.99 - or... well, it didn't seem like there was any alternative.
So, how did we end up pricing it at $7.99, a price that isn't just more expensive than most games - it's the most expensive game in the Top 200 paid apps, and for apps overall, it comes behind only Apple's own $9.99 offerings such as Pages and Numbers.
In fact, it's insanity. A lot of developers and investors we've spoken to after launch do a double-take when they hear that the game isn't the standard $0.99 or $2.99 and they wonder how on Earth it's possible that such an expensive game with zero brand name, zero marketing spend, and zero advertising spend could even hope to breach the top 200, let alone top 100 grossing, for any extended period of time.
Yet here we are - Zombies, Run! has been out for over a month, during which it held the #1 position in Top Grossing Health and Fitness apps for two weeks (it's still at #3) and has been settling down comfortably into the Top 200 grossing apps, having been in the Top 100 for most of the time. We're on track to sell 100,000 copies in the near future and, crucially, it's had fantastic critical priase and user reviews, with great word-of-mouth.
So why can we charge so much?
1. We Deliver Value
Compared to a game, Zombies, Run! is expensive. Compared to a gym membership, or to any sporting or fitness good you could name, and you realise that $7.99 isn't a lot - especially if it works and gets you running more than you were before.
Of course, this is because Zombies, Run! is not just a game, it's also a health app, and we know that people will pay more for those as well - but even comparing against those, we're still the most expensive. It helps that the game has as many missions as it does.
2. We're Unique
Zombies, Run! isn't just "it's X but with Y" - there are literally no other running games or health apps out there that even attempt to tell a story (at least, not that we've heard of). This means that Zombies, Run! effectively has no competition whatsoever. It also seemed unlikely to us that brands like Nike would try and mimic the game, since they have a very different positioning.
However, we fully expect that to change in time, which is why we're pushing out updates on an aggressive schedule, and why we focused so much effort and resources on Naomi's story. It might be easy to copy the concept, but it's not so easy to just whip up a good story.
3. Existing Fan Base
Zombies, Run! is brand new IP, but that doesn't mean it came from nowhere. We funded the game via Kickstarter in September 2011, raising $73,000 from 3500 backers and becoming the most successful videogame on the site - until a certain Tim Schafer came along, that is...
That meant that when we launched in February, we already had tens of thousands of people eagerly anticipating the game and already knowing what it was, along with press coverage ready to go.
4. High Quality
We feel that Zombies, Run! is a high quality app - we used professional actors and spent the time to get it right. The story is as good as any you'll find in videogame today.
Despite all this, we were still thinking of a freemium or $3 or $4 price point. There was one major snag with this: we didn't want to undercut our Kickstarter backers, the vast majority of whom pledged $10 in return for the game plus all Season 1 add-ons (which we stated would be $20+ of value). Pricing the core app at $3 would make that promise much harder to fulfil.
But let's assume that we're horrible people - what if we don't care about our backers and we just want to maximise revenue? Well, Kickstarter and subsequent pre-orders had shown that there was massive demand for the game, with several thousand of people willing to buy our game for $10 or $12, sight unseen. They didn't know Six to Start, didn't know Naomi Alderman, they just thought the concept was cool and that we could execute it.
Under those circumstances, it would have been crazy to charge it at a low price.
I became more convinced of this over the winter, when I tried out the alpha builds. Even at such an early stage, I remember thinking that we'd made exactly the game I imagined it to be when we started, and I would not have any problem paying $7.99 for it.
Could we have made more if we charged less? Maybe - it's impossible to know. But we're happy with where we are at $7.99. It's earned us enough money to continue releasing updates and new features for our very loyal fanbase, and we feel that upholding our promise to our Kickstarter backers was crucial. When we release other games in future, and if we ever run another Kickstarter campaign, we want people to know that we've got their backs. That's not the mention the extra support costs that come with a bigger player base.
That's Fine For You...
You could say that being able to charge $7.99 is a one-off, only applicable to health games*. But that's not the case: there are other interesting health games out there. And there are other 'must have' games that have done very well at high price points - not just Infinity Blade or GTA III, but the likes of Swords and Sworcery and various good board-game ports.
No, the issue is that people think freemium or $1 is the only way for games to make money on the App Store. As a result, developers feel they must make a game that appeals to the lowest common demoninator - in other words, casual games. And clearly that works very well - Zombies, Run! is never going to make as much money as Cut the Rope or Tiny Wings. But we're doing pretty well where we are without competing against ten thousand other developers who are also making casual games.
Ultimately, success at higher price points is about making a 'must have' game - not something that everyone must have, but some people. How do you start? Do it with yourself - what game would you really like to play? And from there, get people to be brutally honest about your idea. Not just your friends, because most of the time they don't want to hurt your feelings, but the public. Kickstarter works pretty well for this, because it allows you to gauge the level of demand very quickly.
It's also useful to let your ideas stew, not just for days or weeks, but for months.
*(I have heard it said that we were successful because we featured zombies. A cursory examination of the App Store and Kickstarter would reveal exactly how wrong that is.)
Ending the Race to the Bottom
At $15 for a 2 hour experience, Journey for the PS3 seems like an astonishingly expensive game - one that exceeds the developer's previous title, Flower, by 50%. But I am perfectly happy I paid $15 because it was such a fantastic experience - more memorable than any other game I've played in the last year.
Perhaps they could have made more money at another price point or with a slightly different game design, but I suspect they're selling well as it is, plus they get the vital satisfaction that they have made something good that's true to their vision.
No-one wants a future where games are only $1 or less. Not developers, not Apple - not even gamers, if they realised at what cost it came. We want to deliver unique, high quality, amazing experiences that are good value for money and that offer some kind of social benefit, however small. We hope that Zombies, Run! demonstrates to developers that there is another route to take than $0.99.
Get Zombies, Run! on the App Store for $7.99 - it's worth it!