Throughout the two editions of the F2P Campus, all the mentors have focused on sharing experiences and tips to make the best free-to-play games possible. All except one: Amir Rajan.

After hits like A Dark Room, A Noble Circle and Mildly Interesting RTS, Rajan is certain that there is life beyond free-to-play games. “I came here to be the 10th man, the one that tells the previous nine that they’re wrong,” he said in his public talk.

These days, the vast majority of the mobile videogame industry agrees that the most successful model is free-to-play. But that doesn’t mean that good results cannot be achieved by doing things differently. 

Developing that goes against the tide

As Paul Graham mentions in his article Beating the Averages, “If you do everything the way the average startup does it, you should expect average performance.” This is what Amir Rajan calls going ‘off-meta’.

A good example of this strategy can be found in Faith, a pixel horror game inspired by the era of MS-DOS, Apple II, Atari, and ZX Spectrum classics. The developer not only went off-meta by choosing an unusual genre like horror, but also made it totally retro. In spite of (or maybe because of) this, it managed to be one of the best horror games of 2017 according to IGN.

Departing from the usual way of doing things is not only a matter for genres or art; it can also be applied to the business model. “There are developers who have created premium paid games in 2019 that have done very well,” Rajan says, although this is not the only option:

  • Custom free-to-play: Google is developing tools to allow targeting of in-app purchase ads and displays depending on the player’s profile and whether or not they are likely to pay.
  • Subscription services: Apple has just launched Apple Arcade, a kind of Netflix for premium mobile videogames.

This strategy is also valid when attracting the attention of the press and players. “In contrast to games as a service, games such as Subnautica chose to share their progress in real time on a Trello board. The community loved it.”

Another example can be found in Roblox: they published their first version almost 16 years ago and since then they have continuously improved it, which has led them to amass an immense number of players and close a funding round of more than $150 million in 2018.

Find your gap and try to get those 1000 loyal fans to support your work,” concluded Amir Rajan.