On March 1st, Polymer went free for the first time since launch last year on April 26th. For a long time, I'd thought about doing a free promotion, but didn't want to do it without support. When I read about TouchArcade Free Play, I knew it was perfect for a number of reasons:
1. It's TouchArcade. They inevitably lend a lot of credibility to any app they talk about.
2. The TouchArcade Free Play description lends the whole promotion itself a ton of credibility. Eli Hodapp writes,
"We're only going to be featuring games that were well reviewed by TouchArcade, and we aren't receiving any payment for featuring them... We are also going to try to find quality games that have never been free before... They are all going to be real games, as they were originally meant to be played. Not games that are promoted as part of a stealth update implementing loads of IAP and in essence turning it into a free to play game in the process.”
This is a huge difference from a lot of free-app-a-day type sites out there.
3. TouchArcade Free Play was new. At the time of the Polymer promotion, only two apps had been featured for it. I felt that if I got Polymer in there, it would hopefully get a lot of attention not only because of the free game, but because people still might not be aware of Free Play in general.
Well, sure enough, the promotion got a lot of attention, at least compared to what Polymer was getting before. Not only was there a TouchArcade article about it, but their sister site MacRumors posted about it too. On top of that, it was of course picked up by some of those apps that track price drops.
Because of its success, I was then contacted by AppGratis a few days later asking if I wanted to run a promotion with them on March 6th. I agreed (I would have been an idiot not to). It came at just the right time too, because Polymer was falling in the charts right when the AppGratis promo happened. This pushed Polymer back up, and even higher in the charts. The best it got to was 94th free in the U.S. app store. It even "beat" Minecraft for a bit!
And now for data, everyone's favorite part of these posts. The month before the free promo, Polymer was at $1.99 and was being downloaded about 5 times a day on average, resulting in an average profit of $6.99 a day.
Download numbers before the promo
During the two weeks that Polymer was free, it was downloaded a whopping 531,332 times! An average of 37,952 downloads and $61.18 profit per day. That's 804,948% higher than the two weeks before. Just mind boggling! From Polymer's initial launch last April to the day before the free promo (10 months), it had been downloaded about 13,000 times. In just two weeks, Polymer's user base was 41 times bigger. That's the power of free.
Download numbers during the promo
The first day of the TouchArcade promotion, Polymer was downloaded 67,910 times and earned $71.10 in profit. A quick and dirty calculation indicates that it made about $1.05 per thousand users.
Profit during the March 2nd TouchArcade Free Play promo
The day of the AppGratis promotion, Polymer was downloaded 266,979 times and earned $121.38 in profit. While it made nearly double what it did during the TouchArcade promotion, there are two caveats: first, at least some of the IAP purchases on March 6th were probably from people who had downloaded it during the TouchArcade promo; second, it appears that AppGratis users spent less than half than TouchArcade users did (about $0.45 per thousand users).
Profit during the March 6th AppGratis promo
Before it went free, Polymer was averaging 147 daily active users (DAU).
Daily active users before the promo
Once the promo hit, DAU of course skyrocketed. The coolest thing about this is that just yesterday — almost a month after the promotion ended — there were still over 6,000 DAU. While it is steadily decreasing, I love knowing that so many people are still playing Polymer every day. Heart warming!
Daily active users during and after the promo
The coolest thing about the rankings charts is how clearly you can see the two humps for the TouchArcade and AppGratis promos.
Rankings in the U.S. during the promo
Highest iPad rank: 72. Highest iPhone rank: 94. It even pulled ahead of Minecraft Lite for a little while!
Just the overall rankings during the promo
Once the promo ended, I decided to make a couple changes. My first hunch was that because Polymer got so much attention, it might still get more downloads than it used to after it went back to paid. Because of this, I put the price at $2.99 instead of $1.99. Secondly, because I was now charging more, I felt even worse about my in-app purchase (IAP) scheme than I did before. I took out every single IAP and replaced it with one: a color scheme pack that unlocks all color schemes from now until forever. This just felt much more fair to me. And now no one can accuse my game design of being corrupt.
And speaking of my IAP scheme, I'm just not happy with how it was at launch (and for a long time after). I got a lot of complaints from people upset that once they bought the game, they were asked to spend even more on gameplay.
While the IAP debate can at times get out of hand, I've come to realize that I definitely agree in this case. I originally created Polymer without planning on adding any gameplay IAP. You had to progress through the game by earning points and unlocking game modes, pieces, and color schemes. I love games with unlock systems because they usually keep me coming back for more. Near the end of development, I decided to add a "Buy" option to skip earning points to unlock things. I figured that people who didn't want to play the game could just skip on through and earn everything immediately. The problem with this is that many people (fairly) felt like the unlock system was designed to entice people to buy (which it wasn't).
To fix this problem, I have decided to switch to charging $2.99 with just cosmetic IAP's instead of charging $1.99 with optional gameplay IAP's. This is what I plan to do from now on. I do not believe that gameplay IAP's are evil in any way, or that they are wrong. They work for many games and are clearly very successful. But unless something goes terribly wrong, I just want to make premium games without any possible way someone could see my game design as corrupted.
So far, it is working very well. Since the free promotion ended, Polymer has been downloaded an average of 19 times a day (up from 5 the month before). It has made an average of $32.43 profit per day (up from $6.99 the month before).
Download numbers after the promo
After the success of Polymer's free promotion, a lot of people came to me asking why I didn't put ads in the game. Well, there's no way in hell I would put ads in a paid game. Yes, it was free temporarily, but what about all the people who bought it before? I could never do that to the users who bought the game in the first place.
However, talking to people about this whole thing has certainly helped me realize how successful ads can be. I simply had no idea. I've spoken to people who have said that 4,000 DAU results in about $40 of profit a day. Imagine what I could have made on the day of over 200,000 DAU! Obviously profit from ads varies wildly, but it's still an enticing thought.
And so, I decided to do an experiment. I've launched Polymer Free.
It is a lite version of Polymer with ads and one game mode (the Two Minutes one from the premium version). The gameplay itself is completely unaffected by the ads (they only pop up in menus and after the game ends). Further, according to my Flurry analytics, the majority of people play the Two Minutes game mode anyway. Thus, I'm hoping that Polymer Free can reach the casual user base while Polymer can remain a premium experience. I'm excited to see how it all works out!
Lastly, I want to give a shout out to Adam Steppens. According to Flurry analytics, he is the only person in the entire world to ever make a polymer containing every single piece on the iPhone 5 board. 84 pieces! Just look at this monstrosity.
Whitaker Trebella is the creator of Polymer for iPhone and iPad. He has also composed the soundtracks of multiple critically acclaimed games, including Nimble Quest, Super Stickman Golf 1 & 2, Tilt to Live, and more. He currently lives in Chicago with his wife Dana and goldendoodle Chester. He is working on his second game and hopes to release before the end of the year!