I love free smartphone and tablet apps, especially free game apps. It's nice to take a quick mental break and not have to pay for it.
Free game apps are a staple of any gadget's app store, and offerings like Candy Crush Saga, Angry Birds, Flappy Bird, Crossy Road and others have brought their developers fame and fortune. Wait, fortune? Aren't they free?
Yes and no. While you don't have to pay for the games, most free game apps include ads. Those can give developers a nice little revenue boost. For example, the creator of Flappy Bird was making $50,000 a day at its peak popularity.
Where the real money comes in, though, is in-app purchases. These let users pay real money to get more lives, unlock levels or get other in-game perks. But seriously, who is paying real money to get ahead in a free game?
If you think that a lot of people don't make in-app purchases, you'd be right. Up to 97% of game players make little to no purchases and just play for free.
However, the remaining 3% of players spend billions and make up two-thirds of in-app revenue. According to the Wall Street Journal, a single hooked player can spend up to $100 a month. That's almost as much as I was spending for cable before I ditched it.
So, how do game companies get these types of players? It's about crafting an experience that makes the player feel accomplished enough to trigger the reward center of their brain. Then you release the game for free so it finds its way into their hands.
While you start with a low barrier to entry, you then put in some kind of barrier in later that an impatient player is willing to pay money to pass. Candy Crush gave you a limited number of lives per day, Angry Birds gave you power-up options to make clearing levels easier.
The psychology of this is in many cases very similar to gambling. In fact, I'm betting a large number of that 3% of players would also spend a lot of money in a casino.
So, have you, or anyone you know, ever spent a lot of money in a "free" game? Which one? Let me know in the comments.