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20 May, 2014

Is the Paid Market for Mobile Games Broken? Bardbarian Dev, Treefortress, Thinks So

The lute-shredding, tower defence/RPG/strategy title Bardbarian, from indie dev Treefortress, is a fantastic title that belongs on every iPad. In our review in Episode 4 of Grab It, we called Bardbarian one of the most cheerful and engaging games we’ve played in awhile, citing the super fun mash-up of genres and the charm oozing from every pore as its big attractions. Sadly, it seems too few people have experienced the awesomeness of Bardbarian, with Treefortress making the switch from paid to free because the game simply wasn’t making money.

Bardbarian’s price at launch was a mere $0.99; less than an apple. But even at this price, it seems people weren’t particularly interested. In a post over on the Touch Arcade forums, Treefortress details how Bardbarian hasn’t even come close to breaking even. What the dev has noticed, however, is that a significant amount of people who bought the game purchased IAPs. By dropping the price to free, they’re aiming to get Bardbarian into as many hands as possible, and hope that those IAPs bring in strong revenue.

Interestingly, the devs put it out there that part of the reason for Bardbarian’s lacklustre reception is that the paid market for mobile games is broken. It's an interesting statement to muse on, but is Treefortress' response reasonable or just bitter disappointment that its title performed below expectations? This is a difficult question to answer. However, what is clear is that it is becoming increasingly common for developers to make the switch from paid to free. In recent times, other titles that have followed the same path from premium to free include Sonic & All-Stars Racing and Asphalt 8: Airborne - both excellent games, the latter even starring in our Top 50 Indie iOS Games of 2013 awards.

Maybe the answer isn’t so much that the paid market for mobile games is broken, but that developers simply need to adapt to consumers’ changing preferences. Just because consumers weren't willing to part with their cold hard cash up front for Bardbarian, doesn't mean Treefortress won't see success with IAP-based revenue. But, only time will tell on this front.

Despite the disappointment, Treefortress is still showing a lot of love to its baby. Apart from the switch to F2P, a pretty sweet update has just rolled out for Bardbarian with the addition of three new quirky units. Previously only available on the PC version, players can now pick from the stars of other indie games, including Octodad (Octodad: Dadliest Catch), Shellrazer (Shellrazer), and Meat Stack (Binding of Isaac/Super Meat Boy). It’s also worth noting that players who purchased Bardbarian before it went F2P will not see any advertisements and will receive the Golden Axe IAP for free.

If you’re interested in reading our full review of Bardbarian – which we awarded 4.5 out of 5 stars – and an in-depth interview with Treefortress, be sure to pick up Episode 4 of Grab It. But go the extra mile and show the devs your support by picking up Bardbarian (grab it here), too.

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