Ken Murphy
Ken Murphy

Chances are, if you own a smartphone, you play a freemium or free-to-play game — downloading the app for free, with the ability to unlock features for a price. Whether that’s Candy Crush, Plants vs. Zombies 2, Pocket Trains, or another app, one thing’s for certain: on mobile, free-to-play gaming is huge.

One of the key players in that market is Seattle-based GameHouse, a division of RealNetworks that both produces social games and acts as a publisher for other mobile games. According to a pair of GameHouse’s top executives, the freemium business model still has a long way to go.

“It used to be that cost-benefit analysis was really binary: either you pay, or you don’t move forward. And now, I think what you’re starting to see is a range of choices, or a range of value propositions that are presented to players,” said Ken Murphy, GameHouse’s Vice President of Studios, in an interview with GeekWire at the GamesBeat conference in Mountain View this week.

Because freemium games often work on taking players to what Murphy referred to as “friction points” — where players are faced with the option to put money into developers’ coffers or put the game down — more options could mean more money.

“And I think we’ll see an expansion of that to (the point where) you can pay, or you can engage socially, or you can go back and grind in the game and play with us a little bit longer, or you can watch some advertising along the way, or maybe you can take a subscription on and we’ll let you move forward,” Murphy said.

Keela Robison
Keela Robison

A subscription model might seem to harken back to the era when World of Warcraft was still the biggest game on Earth. But Keela Robison, Vice President of GameHouse Distributions, says subscriptions make sense for people who plan to be playing the same game for a while, and they can help smooth out some of the issues that people, especially parents, have with microtransactions.

“I, for one, would love to see subscriptions start to take better hold. I’m a mom, I’ve got two little kids, and I don’t necessarily want them being constantly harassed by little ‘power ups’ here and there,” she said. “I’m quite happy, if they’re actively playing a game, to pay for that, but I just want to have some semblance of budgetary controls so that we don’t end up with huge bills.”

And for the people who still don’t want to pay, Murphy says that mobile games will be doing more advertising to grow their revenue.

“Unlike the web, I think one of the nice things about bolting advertising models to freemium games is that you have a wide range of potential value to provide to the consumer in exchange for that advertising exposure,” he said.

With freemium powering some of the biggest companies in gaming right now, we’re sure to see innovation continue to drive that business forward.

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