Monument Valley shows free-to-play is not the only way

Monument Valley developer Ustwo has published an infographic showcasing the mobile game's success and a profit of $4.5M since the game's launch.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
3 min read


Gamers have a real love-hate relationship with freemium games -- that is, games that are free to play, with purchasable in-game content. Vocally, players claim to hate them. But when it comes to the kind of games that earn the most money, freemium games are overwhelmingly in the majority.

That doesn't mean there's no place for lovingly crafted, premium indie experiences: Ustwo, developer of Monument Valley, had been criticised for releasing the game with premium pricing. However, it recently announced an impressive $4.5 million profit in an infographic that breaks down the game's success, showing that the premium price point has its place in the market.

Since its launch in early April 2014, the $3.99 game -- plus its $1.99 expansion -- has brought the developer $5.9 million in revenue. After costs, it's brought in $4.5 million in profit.

This is excellent for a premium app from a small team of just eight developers. At time of writing, the game was the 158th top grossing game for iPhone in the US, according to mobile marketplace analyst App Annie. For paid apps, it was placed 16th, earning around $17,500 per day. The top paid app, Minecraft Pocket Edition, earns $52,100 daily.

And, for a little bit of context compared to freemium, the top grossing app, which has held that position for quite some time, Clash of Clans, was bringing in $5.2 million per day as of February last year. It's currently sitting around $1.6 million per day.

Yet there are many reasons for a developer to opt for premium pricing; for one, it signals to users that this is a specific type of experience.

Monument Valley is like a work of art (pictures)

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"For Monument Valley, a premium price made sense, because we were developing a traditional/premium product," explained art direct Ken Wong. "Our value proposition is actually more similar to a film, rollercoaster ride or museum exhibit: pay once, see amazing things for two hours, then reflect on the experience."

According to the infographic, Monument Valley resonated with a lot of players. It has been officially downloaded 2,440,076 times (that doesn't include piracy; only five percent of Android installs are paid, and 40 percent on iOS, Ustwo said), and installed on over 10,000,000 devices. The expansion was installed 575,608 times -- a rate of around 24 percent of Monument Valley players -- and it was Metacritic's most reviewed mobile game of 2014.

These numbers also demonstrate that there is room for a variety of app store experiences -- that developers can achieve substantial success, even if the games they want to make seem niche. There is a growing demographic of mobile gamers who actively seek those kinds of experiences -- and the ecosystem, Wong said, is more than capable of supporting them.


"It's dangerous to think of 'games' as a single entity that follows trends, and the same is true of 'mobile gaming'. It can be multiple things at once. Clash of Clans succeeding doesn't stop Flappy Bird from existing. Desert Golfing doesn't impact Candy Crush. Even 2048 (etc) and Threes! can coexist, they are aimed at different users," he said.

"So just because the vast majority of mobile downloads and revenue comes from freemium, doesn't mean premium can't exist. I'd suggest it's equally difficult to succeed in either. What developers should do is be honest about the types of games they want to make."

You can view the infographic in full on the Monument Valley blog.