Developer Blog: Do free giveaways work?

Epic War Game screenshot

You might remember my piece about small companies gaining market visibility, how hard it is, and the announcement of our little PR stunt. If you don’t, or didn’t happen to read it, go and have a read now.

To recap, we declared that sales don’t really work anymore in terms of gaining press attention – so we were going one better by making all of our paid mobile titles completely free for a weekend to see what happened.

I promised a follow up, so here it is.

So, did it work?

I’m trying not to look like I’m dodging the question, but it’s actually hard to give a definitive yes or no as we didn’t really have any specific targets to measure against. This was experimentation in its purest form – suck it and see.

In broad terms we got something positive out of it, so I guess a yes is in order. However there was no miracle breakthrough, so it’s a lower-case yes. I would cautiously recommend others give this a try, as long as they don’t come moaning at me if it doesn’t work out!

Show me the money

Great Big War Game screenshotThis is an odd one. It’s hard to make any money when all your wares have a zero price tag, so we were obviously expecting nothing in the way of income during the giveaway weekend. That’s fine – we accepted that as a price worth paying to run the experiment. (Sadly for us, one weekend’s worth of income isn’t actually that much money, so it wasn’t a massive sacrifice.)

But that’s not what happened at all. We actually earned more than a typical weekend’s worth. Given expectations of nil, this felt like a massive win. Whilst we don’t nickel and dime people with pay walls and timers etc., most of our apps do come with some in-app purchases for content expansions and so forth, and they were get purchased at well above the usual rate.

Obviously, being paid apps that are now free and with some attendant press attention, we got a tremendous boost in download numbers across the board during this weekend. But running the numbers against our norms, this increase wasn’t enough to account for the number of IAPs we were selling – so something else was going on there.

I like to think that it was our new users appreciating getting something for nothing, with no strings attached, and kicking back a little in our direction to say thank you. There could probably be more mundane explanations, but the optimist in me prefers that version, so if this was you then thank you very much for your support!

Meet the Press

Despite what I said above, we did have one defined goal – and that was to garner some press attention for the giveaway event itself.

We got coverage from 23 different sources, including some of the larger mobile-dedicated sites, so that was all good stuff for which we’re grateful.

To temper that, it was hardly a media frenzy away from mobile gamer sites which was a little disappointing if I’m being honest. There was very little twitter activity, no new “lets plays” on youtube despite the free access, nothing in the wider media – beyond our gracious hosts on Continue Play, of course.

In summary, given that we were giving away our entire catalogue, I must admit I was hoping more would come of it. However, as explained in my previous article, getting any press attention at all is a blessing, so I’m still glad we did this and Great Big War Game screenshotit was still a net win, albeit not as big as it could’ve been.

Longer term benefits?

The ultimate long term PR goal for any small company is to get yourself into a position where anything you say becomes news just because you said it. (I’m sure you can all think of someone who ticks that particular box.)

To become a “media source” takes more than one round of news stories though. We’re not going to have reporters camping out in our car park just because we gave some games away a while ago, so we’re not really expecting a longer term benefit just from that one stunt.

However, the hope is that the next time we announce something, journalists might remember us from the last time we were visible and be more inclined to feature our news over someone else’s. It’s a long process full of maybes and unknowables, but you have to do what you can and just hope for the best.

With that in mind, anything you do that gathers a bit of PR should always be considered a win.

Otherwise, it’ll drive you crazy.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson

Paul is the head of Rubicon Development, the BAFTA-nominated independent game developer behind Great Little War Game and many others.
Paul Johnson

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