Americans are accustomed to paying for our entertainment by purchasing something, and then enjoying that product later. There are exceptions, of course, like broadcast television, which is free but supported by ads. We don't usually associate this model with games, but Backflip Studios in Boulder is changing that with its iOS and Android games.
The last time we checked in with the studio, they finishing up work on Army of Darkness: Defense; since then, they've been hard at work on a number of games, most of them billed under the free-to-play model. It works like this: you download the game at no cost, but you can make in-app purchases of virtual gold or experience. The game is also paid for by advertising within it.
The switch seems to be working, the company is now serving one billion ad impressions a month and has expanded its workforce to around thirty employees. Backflip is also getting ready to move to a new building in Boulder and take on publishing duties for other games not developed in studio.
Take Boss Battles, a game that launched last week for iOS and is free to download and play. The game has an ad ribbon on the top of the screen at all times and you can also purchase upgrades with real world cash. The company's other games use a similar model. The recently launched Dragonvale, which is essentially a light simulation game with dragons, lets you purchase food, cash or gems inside the app with real world money.
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The purpose of it is to offer players a chance to experience a game to its fullest without really working that hard for it. Generally speaking, in Dragonvale, Boss Battles or any other free-to-play game, you can crunch through the game just fine without paying a dollar. If you don't want to grind, you can purchase gold or whatever you need to continue the game.
The company is betting on this model being the future of mobile games. It works well and provided there is always a means to get through the game for free, it's not a bad model. It might be nice to have the option to remove ads (something that'd be nice on broadcast TV too, actually), but as it stands, it's hard to complain about free entertainment.