I frequently get asked what WarLight’s strategy is for generating revenue. So far, I’ve avoided giving an answer, mostly because I was still trying to figure it out.
While I love free things, it’s obvious that WarLight cannot continue forever in its current situation. WarLight costs almost $300 per month just in hosting fees, and (unfortunately) I’m not nearly rich enough to afford this for the rest of my life. There are several different strategies that could work, let’s examine them here.
One option is to rely strictly on donations to keep the site alive. This is similar to the Wikipedia model. Several people have already asked if they could donate to WarLight, but I’m not convinced this would work for WarLight long-term. Wikipedia barely gets by as it is, and WarLight has a significantly higher hosting cost per user than a site like Wikipedia, since most of Wikipedia’s traffic is static content which allows them to make heavy use of caching. WarLight has extremely high CPU and memory requirements compared to most sites, which is what makes it expensive to host.
I also really think the kind souls that donate should get something in return for their money. If a site starts giving a reward for donating, then they’re just kidding themselves calling it a donation. What they’re really doing is selling the reward along with the good feelings that come with donating.
Another option is to put ads on the site and use that revenue to keep it going. Targeted ads work great, as shown by Google’s business model. Unfortunately, WarLight’s audience is far too diverse to get any sort of decent ad targeting to work.
Another form of advertising that works are the annoying ads. These are the ones that fly accross your screen, make noise, pop up, or force you to watch a video. These are all the rage these days in other Flash games, however I’m not a fan of these. Users hate them, and I would only consider this as a last resort. I really hope I never have to subject anyone to this.
Unfortunately if you can’t target and you aren’t willing to use annoying ads, you’re looking at an extremely low revenue-per-user from advertising. These ads can still work if you’re a high traffic site serving “easy” content (static pages), but unfortunately WarLight is not.
Some sites are set up to recieve small payments that enhance your gamimg experience. This is the Farmville and Evony model, where you can pay money to grow your farm/empire faster. Although WarLight could certainly sell things like additional armies, additional cards, more territories to pick or order priority, these would diminish the value and competitive spirit of the game. WarLight is fundamentally a competitive strategy game and I want players to win based on their strategy and not their wallet.
Freemium is just the latest term for having a free service with a premium paid mode that offers more features or a better experience. In a freemium model, WarLight could offer premium features to paying players — things that the more hard-core WarLight players want. For example, WarLight could give premium users more control over their game settings or the ability to play in ladders, while still allowing free players to play the core game.
For WarLight, this model makes a lot of sense since the players that like WarLight tend to really like WarLight. This is the model I have ultimately chosen for WarLight, which will launch with 1.0.
Rest assured, WarLight will always be free to play. You can think of this as you would a retail game releasing a free demo, except “WarLight free” will never expire or limit how much you can play, it will only limit what features you can use.