When you go to the mall you don't pay to go into Macy's or Sears do you? You shop around, may have some sales clerk pester you for a bit and then you either buy what you need, make a note to return or have a terrible experience and vow never return. If you're a regular customer of one of these stores you shop there but you don't always buy something. Ideally though from the retailers perspective, if you enjoy the experience of shopping at that store that you will buy things there and continue to spend time and money in that establishment.
In the mobile app world this notion is essentially what the free to play or freemium games offer as the alternative to the pay for play app games that ask you from anything from $1 to $5 on average. The idea is that essentially if you like say, Temple Run , and you play it a lot, then at some point you might spend a buck or two to get more coins or upgrades or in game goodies. Granted this is not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination as this has been the the norm in online gaming from some time. The thing is, the numbers don't lie.
Numbers from Flurry Analytics show that last year, more than half of the revenue generated from mobile games were from freemium games. Not to dismiss the paid apps as a non-revenue source, but people just like downloading free stuff then spending money later .. like browsing your favorite store then spending.
The Bottom Line
It's not just about the amount of downloads you can acquire at $2 a pop like a musician would look for on iTunes downloads. What users are communicating in their habits and what some developers are seeing in their success (see the aforementioned Temple Run ) is that winning the favor of the user with a quality, free game that they enjoy, offers a better opportunity to:
1. Convince the user to spend a nominal amount to make their game better, unlock new things, etc.
2. Pass on the enjoyment of the game thus creating a viral element to help market the game beyond traditional means.
The challenge is how to navigate these complicated, temperamental waters of users who can dispense with your game in the blink of an eye if they don't like it, free or not. The trend it would appear is leading more toward the freemium model but ultimately you have to decide what will work best for your long term goals. Paid games, and mobile advertising still have some impact but clearly the road ahead is paved with freemium bricks.
Regardless of what path you take, the first step should in developing a quality app that engages your target audience so they keep coming back. Key word - engaging.