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Free-to-play offers creative freedom over consoles, says dev

Free-to-play offers creative freedom over consoles, says dev

Wed 26 Sep 2012 3:43pm GMT / 11:43am EDT / 8:43am PDT
Free-to-Play

Fuse Powered producer and Capybara Games co-founder dig into issue at IGDA Toronto panel

While some developers lament the design constraints of free-to-play games, one industry has found the business model to be quite freeing. Speaking at an IGDA Toronto panel titled "Dr. Gamelove, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Freemium" last night, Fuse Powered senior producer Rob Sandberg said working with the publisher of free-to-play fare like Zombie HQ and Universal Movie Tycoon has given him more creative freedom than he ever had in the traditional gaming space, when he worked as a producer on games like Freedom Force, UFC: Throwdown, and The Shield: The Game.

"When I was making console games, we were so limited in terms of creativity," Sandberg said. "We had so many people, it was design by committee. We had publishing partners influencing our designs and our games, and we had no control over it. So we were making crap products, and we couldn't get good deals because our last games were crap products."

"Get over it. We're not the video game club, we're the video game industry, you know?"

Rob Sandberg, on free-to-play backlash

However, Sandberg acknowledged that a significant segment of the development community holds a dim view of free-to-play projects. And to those developers, he said simply, "Get over it. We're not the video game club, we're the video game industry, you know? We're here to make money. We're not saying freemium is going to take over and every piece of entertainment you consume is going to be freemium. All we're saying is right now there's a great piece of the pie being carved out if you're wily and you're smart and you want to take advantage of it…All I have to say is don't drape yourself in the flag of being a core gamer just because you don't like it. There are a lot of very excited, energetic gamers out there that really love these games and enjoy this entertainment."

Sandberg later added, "One of the biggest challenges I have as a producer is getting game development teams to get on my side. Because they are there for the vision. They're there for the art. They want to make a kickass game, and it's my job as a producer to convince people that you can have your cake and eat it, too. You can create high art. If you look at the top grossing games right now, a lot of those games are amazingly good looking, phenomenal games, from an artistic perspective."

1

Capy's hit Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery is available on iPad, but only as a $5 download.

The panel also had a voice from outside the free-to-play community in the form of Capybara Games co-founder Nathan Vella, who said that the games are too often designed with money as the first and foremost consideration.

"It's interesting that when free-to-play is discussed, it's only ever discussed as a business model," Vella said. "It's never discussed as enjoyment factor, like, "How do I make the best game possible? The only way to do it is free-to-play." That's never in the dialog. The dialog is consistently and permanently about how to monetize."

While Vella namechecked games like League of Legends and Puzzle Pirates as admirable examples of interesting free-to-play models at work, he lamented the sea of Farmville-like clones that pursued the same fundamental compulsion loops to hook gamers.

13 Comments

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,282 2,481 1.1
Rob Sandberg gives me hope for the freemium segment.

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Hugo Dubs Interactive Designer

163 24 0.1
Without reading the article, I don't understadn the link between F2P and hardware consoles?
PSN and Xbox live are using micro payments for a while and nobody is preventing studios from launching consoles f2p ?

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

925 1,560 1.7
I'm with your Rob. We've been making premium mobile titles and it's pretty depressing atm. Each of our games was bigger and better than the last, with evermore sterling reviews and growing brand awareness and all that good stuff you want to happen. But per-game income has been dropping instead of increasing, and we've kinda realised what we need to do to reverse that trend - give stuff away!

Selling stuff for a buck or two to people is one thing, but it doesn't help the bottom line when everyone is out there doing the same with other good quality gear. What you need to do to thrive as a business in mobile is find those people willing to drop 50 bucks into your game. It doen't matter how many others are playing it without paying, we don't even have to pay for the downloads.

There are two ways to make money right now.

1) Get a buck from x amount of players. Some of those players would've spent 50 but can't.
2) Get bupkis from tons of people who really didn't want to spend that buck, and 50 from those that would happily spend 50.

We've yet to prove that 2) is better than 1), but it's where we're focusing from now on and all the anecdotal evidence points that way. The top grossing chart looks absolutely nothing like the top paid downloads chart.

The old rules still apply though. Even giving it away for free, you still need to be the best in class to get the masses playing and find those 50 quidders.

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Nuttachai Tipprasert Programmer

79 60 0.8
"It's interesting that when free-to-play is discussed, it's only ever discussed as a business model,"
Maybe because F2P is exactly a business model? When will player stop confusing about this? Consoles is a platform. F2P is a business model. It as simple as that. No one can stop you from creating console F2P. F2P doesn't exclusive belong to mobile or social network platform and premium price games doesn't exclusively belong to console neither.

And, no, it's not the platform fault for your lacking of creativity. It's the result of bad management in your own company. You think people at GREE or Zynga has more freedom to express their creativity than traditional console developers? I don't think so.

Posted:2 years ago

#4

Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters

528 788 1.5
We're not saying freemium is going to take over and every piece of entertainment you consume is going to be freemium.
Actually, that's exactly what a lot of the supporters of F2P constantly rave on about.

My objections to F2P don't come from being a game developer, it's the consumer side of me that hates it.

Posted:2 years ago

#5

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,282 2,481 1.1
Actually, that's exactly what a lot of the supporters of F2P constantly rave on about.
Indeed they do. But hat's exactly why I like this Rob guy. He's not trying to grandstand the model, shove it down out throats or proclaim it will take over the industry as others do. He's simply found an option that works for him and is exploiting it. He seems to understand that all models can coexist.

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
FTP games have to be better than paid for games:

1) Paid for games get their money up front, regardless of quality, before the consumer plays them. Millions of gamers have been sold pups this way.
2) FTP games must create emotional engagement to earn a single penny.
3) The better the FTP game the more it earns out of a given pool of players, a very high incentive for excellence.

Also @Jim Webb FTP is not a segment. It is a business model that can be applied to any connected platform. And in less than a year it has grown from nearly nothing to dominate mobile games. Thus it is fair to conclude that FTP would dominate other platforms if it was available on them. There are very many ways of implementing FTP and more are being invented all the time, so some of the generalisations about its implementation fall very far from the mark. Overall it is far better for the consumer because paying becomes an optional way of enhancing a gaming experience that they are already enjoying.

Posted:2 years ago

#7

Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.

2,282 2,481 1.1
Popular Comment
Also @Jim Webb FTP is not a segment. It is a business model
I'm pretty sure I said model twice in my last post. Do you read all the comments first or do you immediately start a reply to the first comment that pushes a button?

As for it being a segment, indeed it is. Until it offers the same gameplay and genre options at the same level as the standard business model, it is a segment.

And here you go again, talking about how it would dominate if it were on other platforms. The exact opposite verbal approach that Rob is taking. Coexistence, Bruce, coexistence. It's a beautiful thing. Embrace it.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jim Webb on 27th September 2012 1:24pm

Posted:2 years ago

#8

Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 942 0.7
When free to play games offer the level of quality, storytelling, gameplay and production features of AAA games then we are talking. And Im not just saying big graphics, but deep characters and immersive stories on the scale of mass effect, metal gear and assasins creed.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 27th September 2012 5:36pm

Posted:2 years ago

#9

Hugo Trepanier Senior UI Designer, Hibernum

156 144 0.9
Let's not forget that free to play has mostly (so far) been the story of a few massively successful games, most of which have not necessarily been very deep or meaningful products with limited interactions. Their main appeal often resides in their pure availability. Now with more serious competition and more quality products on offer, the game will hopefully change for the better, both for consumers and developers, and entice truly good titles to stand out from the lot of crappy energy-based Z clones.

I'm a bit worried to extend that model fully to more traditional console games. I quite enjoy the episodic nature of The Walking Dead but I would hardly imagine myself enjoying to pay for access to individual section of a city in Assassin's Creed or pay on a per-map basis to keep the storyline going. No one reads a book in individual chapters. We'll make different experiments, we'll see some successes and some failures, and we'll learn that coexistence is very likely to appeal to different genres.

Posted:2 years ago

#10

Dean Russell Co-founder, eSports-Network

4 2 0.5
When free to play games offer the level of quality, storytelling, gameplay and production features of AAA games then we are talking. And Im not just saying big graphics, but deep characters and immersive stories on the scale of mass effect, metal gear and assasins creed.
I don't think free to play will ever really be a big thing for single player games. You would either have to lose too much money making it, or force players to miss out on the story which is the key reason to play a single player game.

For multiplayer platforms however, I certainly think that it's going to be dominant in the future. It allows developers to get their product out to more people a lot easier. I wouldn't have played games such as League of Legends had I had to pay for it before I played, as I had no idea what it was. By it being free to play it allowed me and my friends to try it out, all of who have spent more on it that a typical upfront payment.

Posted:2 years ago

#11

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

925 1,560 1.7
>> Let's not forget that free to play has mostly (so far) been the story of a few massively successful games, most of which have not necessarily been very deep or meaningful products with limited interactions.

There are some headline grabbers, just like there are in the traditional paid avenue. (I'm looking at your, Rovio). However if you ignore the ego chart (paid downloads) and instead look at the real chart (top grossing) you probably won't actually recognise most of them. It isn't just the top few.

It might seem very odd that all the top earning games don't get much press, apart from the occasional "OMG" sensationalism, but that's mainly because the people playing and paying for them don't join forums or read toucharcade/droigamer/kotaku/etc. Therefore they don't get any press because the owners of said press need to appeal to someone else - the crowd that wants a game for a buck only but still expects lots of content. That has to change because it's becoming less viable to develop those games now.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 27th September 2012 9:50pm

Posted:2 years ago

#12

Chuan L Game Designer / Indie Developer

22 0 0.0
If developers don't like playing "free to pay" games ., then what gives us th' right to foist such a shitty model onto our audiences? It's just another bubble anyway an' people are having success now because they were first to market. In 6 -12 months time when everybody has gone "free to pay" then attaining / or maintaining committment from players is going to be immensely difficult as people just churn from one novel experience to another.

Does anybody even think o' longevity with regards to th' "free to pay" model? I really think it's just another bubble like social games last year ., an' gamification th' year before. Th' industry seems to thrive on these kinds o' developments when there's a lack o' real innovation an' ideas elsewhere. How about making better games? That are not just rip -offs o' other games that people will actually want to purchase an' spend time with? Imagine that.


-- Chuan

Posted:2 years ago

#13

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