Premium Not Freemium: iPad Game Monument Valley Passes 1M Downloads

Going against the freemium gaming grain, Monument Valley, the sumptuously designed, premium priced iPad game which launched back in April and snagged its makers an Apple Design Award at this year’s WWDC, has now passed one million downloads, TechCrunch can reveal.

The title is normally priced at $3.99/£2.49 — although it’s currently half that on the iOS App Store in a promotional discount.

Although London-based designers’ ustwo’s initial idea was to make a game that made the most of the iPad’s larger screen, Monument Valley launched for the iPhone too. It was then expanded to Android back in May — after racking up 500,000 iOS downloads.

Although launching onto Android has clearly expanded the game’s reach, producer Dan Gray told TechCrunch it’s had a much higher percentage of downloads on iOS.

“But that’s kind of indicative of the two marketplaces,” he says. “We knew that creating a game for $4 is a big ask in comparison to the competition on Google Play.”

Interestingly the Amazon app store Android version of the game has done pretty well — accounting for around a third of the overall Android downloads.

The game has just 10 levels in total, which has led some to complain of its brevity. However ustwo’s intention for Monument Valley was always to create a highly curated experience, with a focus on design aesthetic, first and foremost.

That focus has worked out — not only grabbing Apple’s attention (and the benefit of platform promotion) but winning the game players from outside the usual gaming crowd. One anecdotal sign of that is that the team has been sent all sorts of fan art for Monument Valley — including various cakes and a handmade 3ft high plush totem, according to Gray.

Encouraging breadth of usage was built into the design process of Monument Valley, with ustwo conducting plentiful user testing sessions with age-groups ranging from toddlers to grandparents. There’s also intentionally little text in the game — with a strong visual aesthetic providing the cues and clues.

“There’s this idea that we don’t confuse people with text tutorial,” says Gray. “There’s only about 20 lines of text in the game — and that’s just the story. So the audience has generally been pretty damn broad.

“A lot of people say is it a game, is it just a visual experience/journey… We like to describe it as an interactive experience.”

The title made its development money back within a week — rather than the 12 months Gray and the team had originally hoped it might. “To say it blew our expectations out of the water is an understatement,” he adds.

ustwo is now spending some of its unexpected MV windfall on building out some new levels. There’s no confirmation on exactly how many it will build yet — although Gray says the aim is to roughly double the gameplay time with a sequence of ‘lost scenes’. (Average gameplay time worked out at around 90 minutes.)

There’s also no firm release date but they’re loosely working to an October/November release target. “We don’t mind pushing things out,” adds Gray. “We don’t want to lock ourselves in.”

They also haven’t decided whether the new levels will be a paid download or a bonus freebie. However they end up being priced (or not), they will be incorporated into the existing game in a way that doesn’t disrupt the original narrative — so will sit in a separate section as ‘lost scenes’.

“Because we put so much time and effort into each one of these chapters, we don’t duplicate ideas and mechanisms on each… But we still had some ideas in our heads that we wanted to venture into further,” says Gray, explaining why ustwo is putting in the time and effort to build some extra levels.

“It’s sort of unfinished business,” he adds. That and existing MV users clamoring for more.

Despite the extra levels pack incoming, there’s no appetite to turn MV into a ‘fast fashion’ franchise to be immediately milked with a sequel. There may be a Monument Valley 2 in time but that’s not going to happen immediately, says Gray.

“We won’t be doing a Monument Valley 2 unless it’s actually Monument Valley 2 and not Monument Valley 1.5,” he says.

“People have a love and passion for this game — people really care about it… One thing we don’t want to do is run the IP into the ground. Monument Valley 2, if it ever gets done, it’s not going to be done for a good while,” he adds.

That means the team doesn’t yet know what it will be working on when it puts these lost scenes to bed. But it will be going back to the same “vigorous prototyping process” through which Monument Valley, and its silent protagonist Ida, was born.

“Ken [Wong, MV’s senior designer] does a lot of sketches and art,” says Gray, explaining the process. “The studio allows space and freedom to riff on ideas. We will go back into that phase again.

“We’re not going to make another isometric puzzle game… We want people to say they don’t know what’s coming next from us — and we don’t, as long as core principles remain — a high level of visual quality and polish and originality. The rest is malleable.”

Check the gallery below for a sneak peek at the forthcoming Monument Valley lost scenes design process:

[gallery ids="1031614,1031615,1031616,1031617,1031618,1031620,1031621"]