Forgotten Shores and the Storm in a Teacup

On November 12, 2014, after seven months of hard work, we finally released Forgotten Shores, eight new chapters for Monument Valley. It's available as an in-app purchase (IAP) from within the original Monument Valley, at a price of US$1.99.

At this time, the team was completely exhausted. For the past few weeks, we'd been working weekends and late into the night to get the expansion up to the standard of the original game. Every spare moment we had we were fixing bugs, polishing visuals, and streamlining the experience.

Until the release, we really had no idea whether we'd achieved that, until we started reading reviews and tweets.

A few days before launch, Wired published a sneak peek, announcing the name of the expansion and debuting a behind-the-scenes video made by fellow ustwobie Ben Powell. This news quickly spread to other websites and thrust Monument Valley back onto the best-selling charts. TIME's article listing Monument Valley as one of the 15 best looking games of 2014 happened to be published in this same span of time.

 

 

On launch day, Touch Arcade posted a rare review of an update, awarding us 5 stars. PocketGamer gave Forgotten Shores 9/10 and their Gold Award, noting 'this game has a better "gasps per minute" record than pretty much anything else on mobile'.

At TechCrunch, Darrell Etherington wrote that the new chapters were "like delicate gifts artfully wrapped", singling out The Oubliette as "one of my best-ever experiences in gaming in terms of pure satisfaction". Andrew Webster at The Verge agreed "The penultimate chapter might just the best video game level I've played all year". Kotaku solemnly declared Forgotten Shores "even more best".

A few days later the App Store refreshed and we were extremely happy to see a coveted big banner for our expansion. In the original release we had elected not to ask the user for permissions to push notifications like "New levels available!" to players' devices. This very visible banner was therefore important to getting the news out to the public that more Monument Valley was ready for them.

This amount of press and good reviews would have been an absolutely terrific launch for a new game. For the launch of an update to go this well, putting us into the Top 10 paid games in many countries, was simply incredible.

  • On November 19 we made Monument Valley free for a day through the Amazon AppStore.
  • On November 20, Forgotten Shores arrived on the Amazon AppStore.
  • On November 24, Forgotten Shores arrived on Google Play.

 

Storm in a teacup

At the risk of derailing the story of our fantastic launch (again), let's talk about that one star review incident. A few hours into our launch celebrations, we noticed some interesting behaviour on the (Apple) App Store. So we tweeted about it.

We then jokingly threw our hands up in the air and said we'd quit making premium games and focus on micro-transactions instead.

Two interesting things happened as a result of this getting retweeted over 1400 times (our most popular tweet ever).

  • Within minutes, hundreds of people left Monument Valley 5-star reviews on the App Store, in support of the game. For a while, our average on the US Store was 5 stars (before Forgotten Shores it was 4.5 stars).
  • Both gaming and mainstream media picked up on the story, using it to examine how mobile game players perceive value. What makes some players angry at the idea of a $4 game with a $2 expansion?

While you can read for yourself the many write ups about this incident, for our part we want to stress that the number of one-star reviews was always relatively small, and we never actually got upset, much less angry. 

Our Producer Dan Gray wrote a few days later on PocketGamer:

Let’s just say this whole thing is a bit of a storm in a teacup and the one star issue lasted around 30 minutes before everyone jumped on board and bumped it back to its past rating of 4.5 - 5.0 stars worldwide. It’s been amazing to see the reaction from our own fanbase and how strongly they feel about supporting this kind of game in the marketplace.

It did act as a catalyst to a wider discussion on player expectation and value though, which is always a good thing.

The main thing we as developers can do is bring people content so beautiful and well crafted that the quality difference between spending $2 on 500 coins and $2 of content for your premium game is a no brainer.

So far the data suggests that we managed that.
— Dan Gray

Striving for balance

So why did Forgotten Shores cost $1.99?

First of all, Monument Valley was always intended as a complete product. We had no idea if it was even going to break even, so we never committed to work on it beyond the Android release. It wasn't designed with gaps to be filled in later, or additional stories to be tacked on afterwards. Despite some people claiming otherwise, we never stated that we would provide free content updates for Monument Valley.

 May 9, 2014: A very early list of ideas for forgotten shores levels, then called 'the cerulean shore'.

May 9, 2014: A very early list of ideas for forgotten shores levels, then called 'the cerulean shore'.

We did, however, internally discuss what we would do, if we wanted to add more content, and if we felt there was a demand for it. This became the starting point for what eventually became Forgotten Shores.

  • New chapters would have to be just as special and unique as the original chapters.
  • The end of Monument Valley is the end of Ida's story. Additional chapters would take place within the same chronology, sort of like deleted scenes on a DVD. The ten monuments Ida encounters in the original game are not the only ones she visited...
 september 1, 2014. still so many unanswered questions. most of the levels are still incomplete, and many of these current 'chunks' will end up being cut, including all of 'tree' and 'mill'.

september 1, 2014. still so many unanswered questions. most of the levels are still incomplete, and many of these current 'chunks' will end up being cut, including all of 'tree' and 'mill'.

When Monument Valley did very well and we agreed that we had the energy and ideas to make new content, we discussed several possibilities, including giving the expansion pack (the term we prefer) away for free.

In the end, there's no single reason why we arrived at the price of $1.99. It's a balance between what we believe people will pay, the time and money and love we invested in this new work, and our gut feeling.

There's one other factor that helped us arrive at our pricing – the immense pressure to make all mobile gaming free. Not every game suits the free to play model, and not every developer can afford the immense costs it takes to build up the millions of players required to make a profit. Ultimately, we believe it's best for everyone when the creators are free to choose the way their work is sold.

 September 27, 2014: the game is shaping up. oubliette and nocturne are still being mapped out. note the rejected 'chunks' on either side, some of which would be reworked for ida's (RED) dream.

September 27, 2014: the game is shaping up. oubliette and nocturne are still being mapped out. note the rejected 'chunks' on either side, some of which would be reworked for ida's (RED) dream.

As with the original purchase of Monument Valley game, we think Forgotten Shores is a fantastic value proposition. It's roughly the same amount of content as the original, for half the price, still with our emphasis on quality over quantity.

If our 'premium' approach to mobile games doesn't suit you, that's cool! There's plenty of games out there with alternative value propositions. Having a variety of ways of buying entertainment encourages creatives to explore and innovate.