Whale Trail developer defends game-changing freemium update

"We failed to anticipate such a strong reaction."

Whale Trail developer ustwo has admitted it did not predict the strength of fan feeling against its recent transition to being a freemium game.

Whale Trail 2.0 launched on iOS last week with a newly free price tage and a variety of in-app purchases to buy power-ups and the like.

"We didn't anticipate how many people would be so put off by their initial taste [of Version 2.0] and in hindsight we should have done a better job of helping players through the transition," ustwo co-founder Matt Miller told Modojo.

"We do award existing players with free krill [the new in-game currency] to get a head start, but I think it's fair to say that it hasn't cushioned the transition enough for most people."

But the update was necessary to counter-act flagging sales for the game's initial version, Miller argued.

"Sadly it just didn't shift the copies we needed for it to sustain its development. We were selling 200-300 copies a day and as we're a small sub-team within a big studio we incur big overheads which we weren't meeting.

"The app business is like a drug for those involved and every so often wonderful games spring out of nowhere and smash it in the charts. The beauty is there's always the dream that your game could be one of them."

Allowing the game to be released for free meant Whale Trail could move into the iOS App Store's free-to-play section. It also allowed the developer to start charging for the title's new in-game currency.

"We felt that Whale Trail's chance to shine in the paid charts was over so there wasn't much to lose by going free, and more importantly a lot to learn," Miller explained.

"Change always brings reaction. The fundamental game play is the same and we've spent over a year working on it, agonising over various details. Perhaps we should have given up, but we felt there was a user base out there that we were unable to reach without tweaking the game to make it faster to play and engaging for longer."

Veteran players who previously paid for the game will be given more in-game currency as an olive branch, due in a forthcoming update.

"We failed to anticipate such a strong reaction to the change. When we were considering how much free krill to give upgraders we deliberately veered to the low side because we didn't want to force them to miss out on the early-game experience.

"I guess it's obvious we were worrying about the wrong thing! We've got an update in the pipes to fix a crash on some iPod Touch 4Gs, and as part of that we'll be giving more krill to old players. Hopefully that will help some people get back into the game."

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Tom Phillips

Tom Phillips

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