The Free To Play Movement: Interviews With King, GungHo, Ngmoco


The Supercell organised event 'Free Your Play '13' that took place in Helsinki last week gathered a lot of attention in the gaming industry. Which is only natural as it was focused purely on Free To Play games, had amazing speakers from the most successful Free To Play gaming companies such as GungHo, King, Wargaming & Ngmoco and had a lot of punch to it with great bands such as The Sounds and Phantom.

ArcticStartup was present at the event and got the chance to speak to GungHo, King and Ngmoco about trends in the Free To Play industry, Finland as a gaming hub, making great companies and more.

As Tommy Palm, Games Guru of King, put it: “This event is super important, because it is focused on Free To Play and that is obviously where the market and the trend is going. There are still a lot of companies that have not yet picked up on that.

There are a lot of students coming out of school who need to see how big this trend is. This is shaping the industry right now.”

Indeed, Free To Play is massive and not just in Mobile Gaming, PC games such as League of Legends, Dota 2, Need For Speed World and others are also joining the party.

The premium model existed for so long, why are all major gaming companies entering the free to play market?


According to Ben Cousins from Ngmoco:

“There are various economic explanations why this is happening. In the digital age the cost of distributing something is basically zero.

When the cost of distribution is zero, there is always going to be one guy in the market that is going to say ‘Screw it, I am going to give away my product’.

As soon as one guy created a good free to play product, it forces everyone else to compete with them to do the same.

This is a fascinating thing where the two biggest PC gaming companies in the world, Blizzard and Valve, have been forced to make F2P versions of their next games (Blizzard All-Stars and Valve Dota 2, respectively).

In the old days they could sell those games for €50. But because League of Legends exists, because this little scrappy company decided to say ‘Screw it we are going to give this game away for free’, they are forced to do the same.

This is what we see in appstores, everything was premium early on and a few games came in and said: ‘Well you can pay 5 bux for Tetris, but I can give you a free one’. The majority of consumers are going to pick the free one, kind of irrespective of quality.

That’s probably what is driving this."

Tommy Palm of King added:

"another thing is that Micro transactions are now getting mature and that app stores on smartphones have been making this happen faster than it could be otherwise.

We have seen that the battle between different companies that have forced their prices down to like 99 cents. Then it just makes a lot more sense to make the game free and charge for services within the game, where you better control the experience.”

Now that we are moving in this direction with full speed ahead, how do you survive?

Companies such Supercell, King, Gungo are dominating the market at the moment, but there are many new comers that would like to make stand. What is it that makes a truly great free to play company? 

As Ben Cousins comments, there probably isn’t a way to “100% codify a particular way of building a hit.” However Cousins continues to compare the approach of King and Supercell to give us an insight into how you could go about it:

“If you look at King and Supercell, they are both doing kind of a similar thing.

King had like a hundred games on their website. They put around 10 of them on Facebook and then they put the most successful two onto Mobile. They let the audience decide which games were good.

It would have been difficult to look at King games 5 years ago and say “Candy Crush” is going to be a big hit.

Supercell have a different approach, they do not even release those failures. So, I think, at the moment the key to trying to create a massive hit is to either be extremely lucky, like Rovio. Or to have some kind of method to test things either internally, or to actually launch those ideas and to see which has the most stickiness.

Thinking out-loud, there is probably a model right now where you can release 10 very small versions and chunks of game ideas into the app store for 2-3k installs each and see which has the percentage in terms of the potential of return rate.”

Tommy Palm commented on the same theme that:

”one of the keys is balance. Its very game dependent. You have to know your users, properly gather data and analyze what is going on exactly and from there find something that users are willing to pay for while still feeling that they have a premium game experience.

Feeling that the developer is generous with content and hence they can recommend it to their friends.”

But how does Finland tie into all of this and how is it different to the rest of the gaming world?

Perhaps it is most interesting to ask GungHo about it, as they have travelled over 9000 km to get to Free Your Play. When asked how they ended up in Finland, the Tomotaka Motoyoshi and Daisuke Yamamoto simply answered “With a plane.”

But when talking about the gaming industry in Finland and Europe compared to Japan, they noted that:

“Basically Europe has a lot of languages and a lot of cultures in just one EU. There is all respective legal issues in each country. We see that the European countries are really attractive but we might have to prepare a lot of things before we go into European markets. Since we have to do culturalizations and localization, we see that its a bit of a hard market compared to just US.”

They do plan to launch Puzzle and Dragons in Europe sometime this summer anyways, not to mention a 3DS version of the game.

Tommy Palm mentioned that Sweden and Finland are both quite similar in terms of the gaming industry and the specifics. “We have a very good teamwork-engineering culture, where we do not promise too much and we try to stick to the core. Its one of the key factors.

Obviously Finland also got their stuff together on the Financing side, which is super important and not available in Sweden right now. So thats where the Swedish gaming industry is still hampered a bit.”

Ben Cousins also compared Finland to Silicon Valley and noted that here, there is “a focus on slower growth and profitability. There were not always the big exits that were available for Silicon Valley Companies.

I look at a company like King that are taking it very carefully and slowly and they are dominating each of the platform that they choose to focus on rather than pushing themselves as fast as possible to an IPO or an acquisition and buying a big yacht. Its great to see proper companies being built. “

All in all, it was a great event that people sincerely enjoyed and could take a lot from, as can be seen from the ArcticStartup picture/video taken during Free Your Play:

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