The mobile version of Vampire Survivors rolled out a month ago, fully and completely free (opens in new tab)—and I don't mean free to play, just free. In a 2022 wrap-up message on Steam (opens in new tab), developer Poncle explained why it opted to give it away, and why that means that some features on mobile, and the Legacy of the Moonspell (opens in new tab) DLC, may take longer than expected to arrive.
Poncle didn't plan to make the mobile version of Vampire Survivors itself, but after spending "months" looking for a mobile developer, it just couldn't find one willing to embrace "non-predatory" monetization, it claims. Eventually, the studio's hand was forced by the appearance of a large number of clones (opens in new tab), many of which were "actual 1:1 copies with stolen code, assets, data, [and] progression."
Poncle thus took on the job to get the real mobile version of Vampire Survivors out as quickly as possible. But because Poncle hadn't planned on dealing with mobile development at all, there are still some missing or unpolished features, chiefly cloud saves and save transfers. "Since we're still without a backend/full stack engineer, this might end up taking longer than expected," Poncle said.
Poncle also explained why it opted to make Vampire Survivors on mobile devices free, a decision that's great for players but also the cause of some headaches for the studio.
"If you're like me, then if you wanted Vampire Survivors on mobile you'd have been happy to just pay a couple of bucks for it and call it a day," Poncle wrote. "But the mobile market doesn't work like that and by making Vampire Survivors a paid app I'd have cut out completely a lot of new players from even trying the game.
"This is why we ended up with a free-for-real approach, where monetization is minimal and is designed to never interrupt your game, always be optional and in your control through a couple of 'watch ads' buttons, and doesn't have any of that real money sinks that mobile cashgrabs are usually designed around. It's just the full game, playable offline, in landscape or portrait, with touch controls or with a gamepad."
It's a valid point. Most mobile games are free to play, with relatively aggressive monetization schemes that rely on "whales"—the small percentage of the player base that spends significant amounts of money—to survive. Not even Nintendo (opens in new tab) tries charging up-front for mobile games.
At the same time, Poncle provided no insight into how it defines "non-predatory" monetization, how many developers it actually spoke to, or what sort of terms it offered for taking on the job of porting Vampire Survivors and charging $0 for it.
Regardless of the specifics, the fully-free approach has left the studio uncertain about how to deal with future updates and the release of the Moonspell DLC. "The problems we're facing are the same mentioned above: how do we make it fair, but also accessible to players who are only into free games?" Poncle wrote. "We'll figure something out and publish the DLC ASAP!"
As for bug fixes on mobile, Poncle said the process is slow because it doesn't have access to devices it needs to replicate "niche" problems. "We're working on it and have been scouting even the dodgiest possible places to find the devices we need," the studio wrote.
The mobile version of Vampire Survivors is available now on the App Store (opens in new tab) and Google Play (opens in new tab). I've reached out to Poncle for more information on the development of the mobile game and will update if I receive a reply.