Now, $15m is fantastic, especially for a small studio. But high-production value F2P games from bigger studios cost around $3-5m to make, not including marketing/UA, so its pretty clear to see why studios aren't investing in premium titles at all, unless they are ports of existing content.
Whether or not that's a good idea is hard to determine without hard numbers, though.
Of course that works for them because they're a small studio with small budgets aren't looking for Clash of Clans levels of success. The ceiling is so much lower on a premium game, but it's plenty high for their current situation, and the competition is so much less severe (so the risk is way lower for such a quality game, which again fits their situation).
One is based on some sense of immutability, another is the result of constant iteration and community.
Just because they both end up being games doesn't mean they serve the same purpose
This is opposed to a game like Magic the Gathering, Hearthstone or even DOTA 2 where the strategies change because the game itself is constantly being changed
Its apparent that the definition of gamers isn't what some suspect it to be. Which means, which segment are you aiming for and are you hitting it. Again, make sure you are hitting where you want to and don't use the low sales as proof.
Meanwhile, there are multiple F2P games with
over $1b in revenue
If you haven't played a F2P game in 2016, I strongly recommend taking a look. Game like Clash Royale, Hearthstone, and Kingdom Hearts are fair and are not aggressive/condescending toward in the goal of generating revenue. Mostly because developers finally realized that making a good game is just as important as monetization.
With that strategy alone, they're likely to surpass a $20 million prize pool this year, which means $60m in pure profit for Valve.
The impressive part is that none of the compendium affects gameplay whatsoever. It's solely things like cosmetics that make your character look cool.
It's tempting to call Dota a one-off, but I think this model could be followed by many other games: make your game competitive, then fund a yearly tournament. The reason Dota is so huge today is because Valve personally seeded the first International's prize pool with a million dollars, which was simply unheard of at the time.
I play DOTA still when I can, but have lost a lot of my willingness to believe they're not just as evil as everyone else. What keeps me playing are the people I play with, no longer the game.
It's definitely taken some inspiration from the F2P mobile gaming market.
You're never going to play 123 champions all the time anyway, so dropping money on them doesn't make much sense until you're already deep in the game. You absolutely don't need to unlock 100+ to enjoy yourself with it.
Speak for yourself. As a veteran of both hon and dota, I'm a frequent player of "all random" mode. In both games, this means you get a different experience every game. You may say that you'll never master all of them by doing it this way but that's besides the point. By playing a character you learn all of their abilities and how they work, what their cool downs, mana costs, attack and ability ranges are etc. Doing this at least once for every character gives you a much better grasp of what you're up against than trying to learn only by way of opposition.
Sure, ARAM exists - but like I said there's an always-changing array of free champions, so it's not like you'll never get them. And again - if you're just starting out, there's going to be some time before you even get around to trying every champion for the first time. Even if you go with ~30 minutes per game(below the average length in normal modes, slightly above average on ARAM) - you're looking at upwards of 60 hours of playtime just to try everyone once.
You can complain about F2P games all you like, but I don't think for a second we'd have had as many new champions released if they'd been on a pay-once model. I don't think that's exploitative, just different.
-edit- before my play patterns are criticised again, I should say I've been playing LoL to varying degrees of intensity for about 5 years. I think it's more accessible in terms of champion acquisition now than it was then.
There's a thriving competitive scene in both games, so maybe the effect isn't so bad in practice. But if you want to play soccer, you'd find it difficult if you didn't have access to certain parts of the field unless you pay money. That seems like an accurate description of League's model.
The central issue is this: If you want to follow the strategy of making a new game competitive and then funding a yearly tournament, your game is more likely to fail if it uses League-style "pay for access to the competitive landscape."
League works for League. It's largely thanks to history and timing that League grew to such a degree: When League launched, there was no Dota 2 and no HoN to compete with them. League's model is less likely to be replicable to a new game.
ARAM in League is totally different. It's not even available to players until they have purchased/unlocked enough champions to have a pool, a situation that could take a very long time to resolve for players who have no money to buy them.
You gave an estimate of 60 hours for a new player to try all 120 heroes in hon or dota. That could be accomplished in one week by a dedicated new player. How many hours do you think it'd take to unlock every champion in league? Thousands upon thousands, at least.
Edit: I'd also like to point out that in hon/dota you get to play a hero at their full power and effectiveness from the very beginning. This means that a veteran of one game who switches to another is not at a disadvantage, unlike a new player to league playing against people who have played long enough to max out their summoner level, runes, and masteries.
Clash Royale is very aggressive about getting money. It does appear passive because it's better for revenue if non-enthusiastic players progress slowly, but trying to do anything but play a few games a day without spending money is intentionally made difficult as you'll run into progress blocks faster that way. It's quite clever. It also benefits from increased sophistication of players in that it can signal when to make the premium purchases more subtly than was necessary a few years ago.
I haven't played Assassin's Creed, but it makes sense to me that a AAA game franchise has a better chance standing out on mobile as a premium game, rather than associating with less prestigious IP. I certainly think Ubi has learned from its poor attempts to milk its lower-priority IP by farming it out to F2P developers, so a transition has been made in the company overall.
A little more context: Assassin's Creed was F2P during soft launch, but player feedback drove Ubisoft to retool it as a paid title without typical F2P gimmicks (although online-only requirement remains): http://toucharcade.com/2016/02/24/assassins-creed-identity-b...
In contrast with many games which are nearly pure skinner boxes, Clash Royale's gameplay itself is fun and there are skills to be mastered.
The monetization scheme is just as bad as other games in that it lets you put in exponential dollars for linear gain. But the refreshing thing is the base game is fun and can be played freely without any time limits or other barriers.
That said after about 100 hours I may have finally reached my top skill and may get bored of the game before I unlock any new cards.
But the fact remains that 95%+ of F2P games build their entire business model around dark patterns, and as long as that remains true, new games will reasonably be expected to prove themselves better than that.
 http://darkpatterns.org/, if you're not familiar
Their games are basically marketing for their real business.
Most of their employeess are making other things than Monument Valley making money in many other ways.
Not sure what the problem is.
But how many make near to nothing? I'm told that some, small-to-medium players particularly, are moving back towards premium because the initial effort of generating sufficient content (or tweaking and testing the algorithms that generate content programatically, or fine-tuning the balance of PvP/co-op segments) is quite a risk.
The bigger players can afford to invest in a number of such projects on the risk/value analysis of one or two being successful will more than cover the cost of the ones that aren't, and very small players (individuals, small indie groups) do it by sinking time not money (i.e. products that start out as an experiment or side project), but in between it becomes harder to justify.
MV is less about making money than it is about challenging oneself, delivering a creative vision and being outside the mainstream.
The conventional wisdom around much of the internet about f2p is, while true for many titles, just incredibly myopic as a general pigeonhole. F2P games can be great. Clash Royale, on which I've spent nothing, is by far the best new mobile game I've played in over a year.
I've also enjoyed playing Clash Royale, and have nothing against F2P as a model, generally.
Is that true? I thought (even though it says 2015) that the ~5m ish was total revenue for the project? This seemed pretty good, and clearly I was happy for the devs as over a 3 year period if you back out the costs and divide by 3 it was ~$1.4M profit a year, a nice bottom line. $15m would be better, but again not the mega block buster.
Where did that $15 number come from btw?
less office/backoffice/distribution ect...so not really a bottom line.