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Giving It Away: Boss Alien And The Future Of Free-to-Play

Giving It Away: Boss Alien And The Future Of Free-to-Play

Mon 08 Oct 2012 6:50am GMT / 2:50am EDT / 11:50pm PDT
PublishingDevelopment

CSR Racing lead Jason Avent on player psychology, the value of one-star reviews, and giving Uncharted away for free

NaturalMotion

NaturalMotion Ltd is a leading games and technology company based in Oxford, London, San Francisco, and...

naturalmotion.com

Jason Avent seems happy, and that's hardly surprising. As one of the more high-profile refugees from Disney's Black Rock Studios and, since then, founder of the iOS developer Boss Alien, he has negotiated a path from AAA tragedy to a very modern kind of success in less than 18 months. Boss Alien's first game, CSR Racing, was downloaded 2.5 million times in its first weekend, generating more than $12 million in revenue within a month. And it was free.

After 15 years in AAA development, most recently as game director on Pure, Avent has found his greatest success without charging a single penny. As he reads CSR Racing's figures to the attentive crowd of the London Free-To-Play Summit, it's clear that the sheer scale of the game's popularity is still difficult to comprehend. On console attracting two million customers is considered a major success; in free-to-play it's no more than a decent start.

"The overall number of [CSR Racing] users now, I can't give it away, but it's just phenomenal. Bigger than anything I've ever worked on all added up together, and then some," he says. " The addressable market that's out there is mind-boggling already, and it's only going to grow once the devices get cheaper."

In a day packed with talks describing the ways in which free-to-play development is different, Avent's is notable for openly addressing the similarities. The structure of free-to-play games like CSR Racing, he argues, with their tight, engaging gameplay loop and persistent drip of rewards, are essentially the same as any number of retail releases. The difference is the need to monetise, but that doesn't have to change the game's design.

"The principles are the same, and that's the key benefit of my experience as a AAA developer," Avent says when we meet after his talk. "You do have to be creative, and you do have to be clever about the way you do things. The stuff you've learned is the same but in a different context."

"The overall number of CSR Racing users now is just phenomenal; bigger than anything I've ever worked on all added up together, and then some"

Like Forza or Gran Turismo, CSR Racing's success is built on its core gameplay, its production values, and the fact that it features real cars. Unlike Forza or Gran Turismo, players can finish the game and access almost every vehicle without paying a penny, but that didn't prevent a wave of negative reviews; thousands of one-star ratings featuring choice phrases like "Freemium Hell". Even now, Avent finds the frustration difficult to comprehend, describing it as a form of "xenophobia" caused by the rapid changes in the industry.

More importantly, the dissenting voices are the extreme minority. So far, CSR Racing has received 5000 one-star ratings, but its five-star reviews are comfortably north of 300,000. Conventional wisdom indicates that unhappy customers are always a bad thing, but they tell Avent something very important about the game's pricing structure: it works.

"If some people aren't complaining, it's too cheap," he says. "It makes sense. If you take a selection of people, some are going to have more money than others, some are going to want your products more than others. Some are going to complain, and some are going to be very vocal.

"Free means free... You need to be able to finish the game, but by that I don't mean be able to complete the game. You can't have everything if you don't pay."

What that generally means for the frugal gamer is a greater investment of time. As with many free-to-play games, CSR Racing features an 'energy' mechanic in the form of your vehicle's thirsty gas-tank, which refills every two hours. This ubiquitous tactic is a focal point for the debate around the model, but Avent believes it enforces a pattern of play that ultimately benefits his product. For the player, short bursts are more tolerable over a longer period, giving them more time to evangelise the game via the free-to-play world's most important form of advertising: personal recommendations.

"You could give Uncharted 4 away. It would take a massive amount of confidence, but you could give it away"

During our conversation, Avent frequently identifies with the common fears and reservations around free-to-play. He was once a sceptic, but his experience with Boss Alien has given him an insight into how far the model could eventually spread. If some freemium games are crude in their methods now - Avent compares them to used car salesman - that only reflects the industry's understanding of how to make the model work. Looking forward, Avent sees sophistcated techniques that use player behaviour to make monetised content a more coherent part of the experience.

"We're just learning at the moment," he says. "We're trying everything, and as a result I think it can come across as quite crude. Because we can control the universe the player is in, there's no reason why we can't start selling to you based on your previous experience, and the experience of others who have followed a similar path that you have. It feels much more natural, but it's the same thing. In many ways, actually, it's more evil, because it's more psychologically manipulative. But it helps you."

Avent clearly relishes the psychology of free-to-play development, but he believes that the model could already fit a much broader cross-section of the industry's output. It doesn't need to be limited to multiplayer shooters and farming sims. Cinematic action games with lavish production values like Uncharted could employ the model right now. In Avent's view, even a story-driven curio like Heavy Rain could be given away for free and turn a profit, not least because it's aimed at hardcore players who are used to paying for their hobby.

"It doesn't have to be turned into Farmville," he says. "It's a little bit different fitting it into a story-based game, and I don't think episodic content is quite the same, but if you were confident enough that the game was good you could let people finish it for free. I think you'd have to pay to complete it - as in do everything - and then there are other ways of monetising, so you could give Uncharted 4 away. It would take a massive amount of confidence, but you could give it away.

"It's conceivable that single-title free-to-play games will be $100 million businesses. It's gonna happen"

"Let's take Call of Duty 4 as an example, because that was the game of this console generation. It seems to have set the trend. You have a six-hour campaign and that's free: if you want a different perspective on that story you may have to pay for it; if you want to unlock all the guns with infinite ammo you have to pay for it. You could do that with co-op or multiplayer. It's just a question of confidence.

"The fear is that you've spent, I don't know, $50 million on a game like Uncharted, and are you ever going to get that back? You've got to get over that fear. These games make that amount of money. It's conceivable that single-title free-to-play games will be $100 million businesses. It's gonna happen. And beyond, because once everyone's got a smartphone in their hand of some form or another, the addressable market is phenomenally big."

"If you do your freemium right, you can make the same [revenue] or more. There's no reason why all games couldn't be freemium."

The exception Avent mentions is the console. Compared to consoles, platforms like Facebook, PC, iOS and Android are relatively open, an essential component of attracting an audience large enough for the economics of free-to-play to make sense. In that environment a free-to-play Skyrim would be feasible, but a console version would require the majority of the addressable market to play the game. If free-to-play evolves as quickly as Avent believes, Microsoft and Sony will need to make decisive changes to their walled gardens.

"Probably everyone who actively plays their game console bought Skyrim. How many did it sell? 15 million? That's not very much when you look at iPhone and iPad. And people at the time said that it sucked all of the oxygen out of the market. It's difficult to see how you could do that as free-to-play on a games console. It's difficult to see how you could be so generous, and give so much away."

45 Comments

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

925 1,560 1.7
Nice one Jason, didn't realise you were behind this.

Posted:2 years ago

#1

Leo Wakelin QA Tester, Zoonou

24 4 0.2
Black Rock were dissolved too early. I really wanted a piece of Split/Second 2!

Posted:2 years ago

#2

Christopher Bowen Editor in Chief, Gaming Bus

459 738 1.6
I was lost - as in, completely disinterested - the moment I read "psychology". Once you start psychoanalyzing video games, I'm done.

Posted:2 years ago

#3

Jason Avent VP, Studio Head, NaturalMotion

139 140 1.0
Hi Paul, Thanks. I lost a few days to Wargame. I liked it a lot.

Posted:2 years ago

#4
"Free to play" really is a marketing term that means nothing.

There are two primary economic models commonly called "free to play", they are micro-transactions and "freemium."

The Microtransaction model is floundering badly. Zynga, once its shining star, posted a $105 million dollar loss this quarter which was their first public report. If you really analyze the financials released when they IPOed Its questionable if they ever really made money at all. The fallacy in the micro-transaction model as implemented by Zynga and slavishly followed by the rest of the game industry is the lack of a lock-in. For more information on that see this blog:

http://worldwizards.blogspot.com/2012/09/why-microtransactions-arent-razorblades.html

"freemium' is just another name for the free-trail model that has been around since shareware. This *can* be lucrative but only if two things are true:
(1) You hit the magic balance point between giving the users enough to excite them while holding back enough to make conversion worthwhile to them.
(2) And your cost of unconverted users is equal or near 0.

Note that on any game with a server component it is difficult to bring unconverted user costs that low because they cost you back-end resources.

Remember too that that game industry is a hit and miss business. If a game developer is going to be in business very long its not enough for a game to make a profit. The studio has to make a profit ,which means the profits on the hits have to be big enough to absorb the losses on the misses.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Jeffrey Kesselman on 8th October 2012 6:43pm

Posted:2 years ago

#5
You have to give credit to this guy. I downloaded CSR on the amazing looking screenshots and it being free. Then I played it. After 5 minutes of wading through stupid, irrelevant menus, I got to the gameplay. It turned out to be a glorified button-pressing... thing. Not a racer at all. Barely a game by my standards.

I kind of laughed and though "what the hell is this. So much graphics and neat design, and all to shroud a non-game piece of crap"

But this guy clearly knows what he's doing. I'd like to think he just got lucky, but that smells of cheap consolation for me.

Posted:2 years ago

#6

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

925 1,560 1.7
Thanks. I'll gladly swap incomes if you like. :)

Posted:2 years ago

#7

Nuttachai Tipprasert Programmer

79 60 0.8
I can see CoD, Battle Field, Gears of War and other FPS, TPS become F2P. But I still don't believe that story driven games like Mass Effect, Uncharted or Heavy Rain can be F2P without toning down the overall gaming experience.

Lets imagine, what will happen if, one day, when you are being in the heat of Drake's emotional confrontation, suddenly, a pop-up shows you that your energy was depleted and you need to rest for 4 hours to recharge or pay to continue your game session. Or, in ME 4, no matter which choices you made, no matter how good you play, you will never get the game's real ending unless you pay for locked contents. Does anyone still remember Oblivion's Horse Armor DLC? That's what I believes what F2P Skyrim will be look like. Instead of pay up front and get all contents, you need to pay for every bits of contents in the game.

I think I have repeated this phase for multiple of time already but I will keep saying. "Not all games can be F2P and they don't need to be."

Posted:2 years ago

#8

Adrian Herber

69 23 0.3
It may have worked well for Jason, but I think the typical energy-meter based freemium model only works by exploiting weaknesses in human psychology to addict players. It's not as bad as poker machines but its in the same territory. I absolutely will not play any energy-meter freemium games, and can only hope more people wake up to how they are being exploited, and then also go and find a game that is actually fun to spend their time on.

Posted:2 years ago

#9

Lee Walton Co-Founder & Art Director, No More Pie

36 11 0.3
Wow- still so much resistance to change in this industry. Great article- really wish I'd been at this conference.
I'm mainly impressed with the innovation and variety coming from start-ups in the UK currently. Just compare Fireproof's "The Room" to CSR from Boss Alien... even the comments from respective spokespeople (Barry at Fireproof has been very vocal about f2p evils) are completely opposite. Both have met with success though, and both are awesome surely? As for the "non-game" argument, that seems a little odd to me. So timing button presses on a plastic guitar= a proper game, but timing some gear changes on a touch screen = a non-game? To dismiss psychology is impressive confidence, as you know, human beings are fascinating and complex things that we should really think about when creating anything for them. Every single other creative (and money-making) discipline on the planet takes into account psychology. Making a horror movie? Decide to dismiss human psychology? Wow, your movie is not going to be very scary. Designing a new Ferrari? Decide to dismiss the emotional, historical and visual legacy and attachment of customers/fans to those cars and how they make people feel? You're design will fail. Dismissing how your artwork/product (another debate) affects your customers, how it makes them feel, is design suicide. Does anyone seriously think that Fireproof didn't consider the psychology of their players- what they would experience and feel while playing The Room? Of course they did- even if that was done intuitively.
Oh- and we at No More Pie are making a so-called "free-to-play" game.... obviously.

Posted:2 years ago

#10

Lee Walton Co-Founder & Art Director, No More Pie

36 11 0.3
So why isn't "making a game fun" considered to be exploiting weaknesses in human psychology? Because that's exactly what it is. Every time you pay for something that you don't actually need (everything except food, water, some clothes/shelter) you are being exploited... Want to pay twice as much for that t-shirt with an Adidas logo on it, rather than no logo at all? You just got exploited- for money, using weakness in human psychology. Welcome to the world!

Posted:2 years ago

#11

Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters

528 788 1.5
Lets imagine, what will happen if, one day, when you are being in the heat of Drake's emotional confrontation, suddenly, a pop-up shows you that your energy was depleted and you need to rest for 4 hours to recharge or pay to continue your game session. Or, in ME 4, no matter which choices you made, no matter how good you play, you will never get the game's real ending unless you pay for locked contents.
It's pretty pointless saying things like that because people just wouldn't bother with it, so it wouldn't be in the interest of the studio to do it. You could equally say about premium games "hey, just imagine this, one day, they charge £1,000,000 for a boxed copy of ME4! How terrible is paying up front?" They wouldn't do that either.

On the other hand, I do hate F2P because I know the designer's always got his mind on "how can I get this sucker to cough up more without scaring him off?" rather than "Ok, he's already paid, best make sure he enjoys the game". It's like the old days of arcade machines and shovelling money in to continue playing. I hated that, and was glad to see it condemned to history as a bad memory. It's so disappointing that it's made a comeback in different clothes.

Posted:2 years ago

#12

Anthony Gowland Lead Designer, Outplay Entertainment

211 733 3.5
"how can I get this sucker to cough up more without scaring him off?"
The easiest way of doing this is to make sure the player is enjoying the game.

The idea that F2P games have such impressive income through some Batman-villain-esque psychological tricks, rather than because people flat out are enjoying themselves is laughable. You think people don't want to put $12million in to CSR a month but find themselves unable to do anything else? Good grief.

Posted:2 years ago

#13

Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters

528 788 1.5
I'm not saying it doesn't work. It clearly does. I just said I hate it - as a consumer, not as a developer. I don't "enjoy" spending money, so inserting that into your game is going to make me enjoy it less, simple. Give me the opportunity to pay a fixed amount once, unlock everything, then never be bothered about money again, and then I have a better shot at enjoying your game.

Posted:2 years ago

#14

Nuttachai Tipprasert Programmer

79 60 0.8
It's pretty pointless saying things like that because people just wouldn't bother with it, so it wouldn't be in the interest of the studio to do it.
I think that was my point? The guy in this article suggested that "we should give Uncharted for free" but I cannot see any freemium models that can be fit into that game, so, I came up with some examples to show him that "freemium might not work with some kind of games".

I'm not against freemium in particular. As the matter of fact, I'm working for social game company right now. There're plenty of F2P games out there that do very well without exploits on player psychological weakness; TF2 and LoL are one of the best examples. But, at the same time, I still don't believe that F2P is the holy grail of game development. I don't think all games need to be transformed into F2P. Use the right man for the right job, use the right tool for the right task, use the right business model for the right product. There's don't need to have the only solution for every problems.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Nuttachai Tipprasert on 9th October 2012 10:34am

Posted:2 years ago

#15

Nick Parker Consultant

298 174 0.6
I was at the f2p conference and Jason also said that free to play games should be just that, FREE. The choice is with the gamer, play it for free but if you want a better experience, pay. If gamers thought that it would cost $50 for the triple A boxed or downloaded version to fulfil their needs, then those gamers could equally budget $50 for f2p items or enhancements while playing - again f2p empowers the gamer to make the choice but I also believe that evolving gamer habits and getting publishers to take a risk on their multi-million developments will take a while.

Posted:2 years ago

#16

David Amor CEO, Picnic Games

25 22 0.9
An interesting set of comments. People lamenting the fact that Split Second 2 didn't happen, that CSR is barely a game, that it should be looked down upon for using psychology in game design. Whatever you think of the game personally, it's clear that it's popular and commercially successful. Split Second was probably ~500K; CSR is probably ~30M. It feels sometimes we're too busy telling consumers what they should like and not listening to what they actually want. Adrian, perhaps you could go through my music collection and tell me what I should be listening to?

I find it really interesting to consider whether more traditional types of videogame can be monetised using Free to Play. If we can crack it then we'll have succeeded where the music and movie industry have so far failed. Nuttachai, while I agree that not all games need to be (The Room is a good, recent example) it's clearly a great way of removing friction. Transposing the energy mechanic into a story game sounds indeed like a poor experience that probably wouldn't work commercially. So what would? It's clear that a $60 pricepoint doesn't work well either. I find it an interesting creative challenge.

Posted:2 years ago

#17

John Bye Senior Game Designer, Future Games of London

484 455 0.9
Like any genre or business model, there are good and bad F2P games.

I think what annoys a lot of traditional gamers about F2P is that a lot of the most successful F2P apps are almost completely devoid of what we would describe as gameplay. CSR is a glorified reaction test with pretty graphics where all you do is tap the screen three or four times when a green light flashes. At least it involves skill though. In Rage of Bahamut you literally just tap the screen to win, over and over again, and get rewarded with pictures of scantily clad cartoon women every few taps. Legend of the Cryptids is an almost pixel-by-pixel rip off of Bahamut, and instead of being sued into oblivion it's probably raking in millions of dollars a month for whatever sweat shop made it. And the rise of bingo and slot machine games in the app store charts is downright depressing.

Judging from the evidence, I'd suggest that for F2P the meta game (collecting and upgrading cars in CSR and cards in Bahamut / Cryptids, for example) is often more important than the actual second-to-second gameplay. If you can get someone hooked on the meta game, they'll keep tapping the screen when prompted to get their Pavlovian pay-off, however mundane that action is.

I wonder if that's what Peter Molyneux's "Curiosity" project was meant to experiment with? Although judging from recent showings, he seems to have fallen into the trap of adding some actual gameplay to it instead of just getting players to mindlessly tap away at a giant cube for days and pay for the privilege. Now that would have been a work of genius, especially if the life changing message in the middle of the cube just said "sucker".

Edited 2 times. Last edit by John Bye on 9th October 2012 11:12am

Posted:2 years ago

#18
Popular Comment
For me it's simple: its just my own fat bias. The pay offs that F2P gamnes excel at delivering - social gaming /leader board position/upgrading your diamond elephant or whatever - say nothing to what I'm after from a game. So playing an F2P game stripped of this 'charm' I am brutally confronted by the naked money sucking tactics. So it feels less like an engaging distraction and more like being repeatedly punched in the face by a used car salesman. I find this hard to enjoy. Luckily however the world is bloody huge and for every lummox with no interest in social anything there's an elephant fancier busy polishing its hide with dollar bills. So happily no used car salesman needs to go broke :P

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Barry Meade on 9th October 2012 12:06pm

Posted:2 years ago

#19

Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game

1,254 421 0.3
@John Bye "I wonder if that's what Peter Molyneux's "Curiosity" project was meant to experiment with? Although judging from recent showings, he seems to have fallen into the trap of adding some actual gameplay to it instead of just getting players to mindlessly tap away at a giant cube for days and pay for the privilege. Now that would have been a work of genius, especially if the life changing message in the middle of the cube just said "sucker"."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cow_Clicker

Posted:2 years ago

#20

Lee Walton Co-Founder & Art Director, No More Pie

36 11 0.3
Extra points for making me chuckle Barry, as usual! That's precisely why The Room is liked I suspect, because you guys made it for you- and by chance that instinctive love of the "craft" has created something that many many like-minded people are enjoying massively. The revenue however is finite...
Over on Gamasutra there's an astonishing lecture about Chinese f2p games, and the quite commonplace $100,000 whales!! Seriously- a player spent $111,000 on one game- for no other reason than to show-off to other players. Exactly the same reason that young affluent Chinese consumers are currently Ferrari and Lamborghini's largest market! Pure consumerism, undisguised in any way.

The commenter above somewhere saying they don't enjoy spending money?! Wow- you need to talk to a woman.. in a shoe shop.. or a hipster in an Apple shop. There are many many people in this world that absolutely love spending money, it's almost a hobby for them! As an artist, I know I have wasted so much money on useless, expensive toys. Even useful stuff can be overspent, I have 2 Macbooks, and buying them made me worryingly happy... disturbingly happy! I could've bought a PC laptop for half as much, similar spec. But I wouldn't enjoy it as much.

Posted:2 years ago

#21
I think on some level, we wonder if Uncharted 2 F2P could work.

Nathan drake does a impressive jump across the ravine...oops, to see what happen, please insert more coins..(insert a larger amount and the jump can be more effective)

*evil grin*

Posted:2 years ago

#22

Felix Leyendecker Senior 3D Artist, Crytek

184 204 1.1
The only way I can see traditional SP games work with F2P is by tacking on some forced Coop-Mode. Then you can sell cosmetic items like in Portal2's Coop. It seems that as soon as other people are involved, players get the urge to one-up each other with cool items.

As soon as the competition/show-off element is missing, it becomes problematic finding a justification for microtransactions. Adding them basically puts a price tag on individual gameplay elements, pricing them against each other. The game stops being built around a core idea which is becoming more fleshed out and iterated on as the game evolves, and becomes a series of mini-games with their own pricetag and measured worth.

Posted:2 years ago

#23
What if in SP mode, your co players (with latest specs/equipment) become NPCs to reinforce that level of show-boating?

Posted:2 years ago

#24

Jason Avent VP, Studio Head, NaturalMotion

139 140 1.0
League of Legends totally plays on psychology. Rivalries, Competition, Co-operation with friends to beat a common enemy - they all drive spending. Then the key hook is that you grow to love a character and then they threaten to take them away unless you pay! That's brilliant, inspired but actually extremely psychologically manipulative.

Players use psychology and taunts to put one another off or rage quit. That's all psychology and part of why LoL is so great.

My point really is that a good designer will be able to create a F2P model that works for any type of game including those with story. They'll just have to be inventive and clever about it. They probably won't use an energy mechanic. : P

Posted:2 years ago

#25

Laurens Bruins Jaywalker, Jaywalkers Interactive

135 158 1.2
Popular Comment
There are businessmen and there are gamers.

Businessmen make a profession of games because they want to make money, which evidently they can. Gamers make a profession of games because they are passionate for what they do. No real gamer, for which the game itself is most important, would ever design a F2P game. As a gamer and developer, I hope the urge to create something because you are proud of what you do and want to entertain people with something you think is cool, will remain a viable business model. Even if I'm the last person on earth defending pay-to-play, I will. Because, to me, it's the only way games can be created for the sake of the game. Gaming has been my hobby and passion since I was a little boy, and I'm starting to fear these F2P suits sucking the life and soul out of it. If the prophecies of doom are correct, I guess I need to find another hobby and job.

There's nothing particularly wrong or morally objectionable with F2P. It's the way the world works. If you want to make money and you can find enough people willing to pay you, by all means, go for it. But don't compare trying to make something you think is genuinely fun and worthwhile in the hopes people want to support you, with trying to squeeze pennies out of people with your cleverly designed monetization scheme. And don't go about saying you're doing it for anything other than money, because if u didn't have to, would you?

And please, stop trying to convince everyone the market for proper games is dead. If only you'd do it for me. A gamer. ;)

Rant completed. :)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Laurens Bruins on 9th October 2012 4:41pm

Posted:2 years ago

#26
I think World Of Tanks is great F2P from a user point of view. You don't gain anything much that wasn't earned through XP, you are never directly asked to pay for anything, and it only costs you when you want more than what you have, as opposed being denied something you need to progress. And of course there's the fundamental crucial part - its a bloody good game to play.

Posted:2 years ago

#27

Tim Swan Technical Director, Boss Alien Ltd

10 9 0.9
Laurens, Jason and the rest of us at Boss Alien are some of the most hardcore gamers I've ever had the pleasure of playing with. Your first statement is just as much a false dichotomy as saying that any one business model should rule them all. I spent most of my youth in arcades, most of my young adulthood playing console games and most of my adulthood playing WoW, Planetside, AC, BF, Quake, etc. I even play games on my N7 and iPad occasionally. I can attest that Jason is sometimes capable of beating me in a game or two. If you are trying to persuade people that we somehow don't love or understand "games" then you're flat out wrong.

Posted:2 years ago

#28

Laurens Bruins Jaywalker, Jaywalkers Interactive

135 158 1.2
Hi Tim,

I absolutely didn't mean anything personal, so please don't take it that way. :)
I was mostly responding to the notion of making something like Uncharted F2P.

I'm not trying to persuade people that you don't love or understand games, I have no way of knowing and the one (making money) doesn't exclude the other (loving games.)

I'm saying that in the interest of the game, F2P is not the way to go. It might be of interest if what you're after is making a lot of money, which like I said, is all fine by me. I'm not part of the anti-F2P crowd which finds it morally objectionable or anything.

My point is, did you design the game around F2P because you thought it would result in the best game or because you thought it would make you the most money? So, the question I asked was; If you didn't have to, would you?

There's no shame in trying to make money. But at the moment, I'm having my gamer's hat on. ;)

Posted:2 years ago

#29

Felix Leyendecker Senior 3D Artist, Crytek

184 204 1.1
It's a bit of a slippery slope. Every game is somehow artifically stretched and blocks content from players to extract money from them, even traditional SP games. There is almost always some carrot on a stick progression scheme involved to keep the player motivated. There are always unlocks, or XP points that slow down your progress.
It's tricky to make the argument that full-price games somehow take the moral high ground when it comes to making the player spend money. No games just hand you all the gameplay elements, upgrades and content on a silver platter to let you enjoy the core mechanics to their fullest.
In the case of traditional SP games, the point of the progression is to lengthen the duration of the game, to make the customer feel that he's got his money's worth. In the case of F2P, the point of the progression scheme is to become the business model.

Posted:2 years ago

#30

Tim Swan Technical Director, Boss Alien Ltd

10 9 0.9
Laurens, my personal hero at the minute is Mr Krabs - I aspire to be as successful as he is in business and in life and have his poster on my wall.

That aside, Jason's point in all his recent talks is that this is very early days in how people approach making money from making games, there is a lot to learn and there surely must be ways that do fit with making accessible and enjoyable game experiences. Current mechanics and purchase gating may feel crude and intrusive and what we would all like to see is games where they feel like a true integral part of the game experience.

Given that the vast, vast majority of people playing CSR Racing have done so for free (and seemed to have enjoyed it for the most part) I'm pretty happy with how we designed it - there's absolutely no way it would have been played anywhere near as much if people had to pay for it up front.

Posted:2 years ago

#31

Laurens Bruins Jaywalker, Jaywalkers Interactive

135 158 1.2
Laurens, my personal hero at the minute is Mr Krabs - I aspire to be as successful as he is in business and in life and have his poster on my wall.
Can't tell if being sarcastic or proving my point?

Posted:2 years ago

#32

Jason Avent VP, Studio Head, NaturalMotion

139 140 1.0
He's being ironic without being sarcastic. :) Showing empathy and understanding for your point but hopefully expanding on it too.

This stuff is new to us and its interesting. I really don't think freemium is going to destroy gaming or ruin Christmas! It'll have to mature and change to convert guys like you though Laurens. Hopefully freemium will change so you don't have to. : )

Posted:2 years ago

#33

Paul Gheran Scrum Master

123 27 0.2
In F2P when has the player contributed 'enough'? At what point does enough of the game (features/mechanics/content) become accessible that you ensure the same experience as a pay to play game? With most F2P titles, not just social and mobile, but PC based MMOs and action titles the consumer's game experience doesn't really improve, the modicum of content is just consumed more quickly.

When that changes, the attitude towards the model will change.

With constant upkeep costs associated to any one account, the F2P model suggests that the player will have never paid enough, as there will always be a marginal cost to cover any one player.

That is why the model sucks, anyone using it is a suckee, and anyone playing a game under it is a sucker. At least with banks you can buy a perpetuity.

Posted:2 years ago

#34

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

925 1,560 1.7
There are many ways to level your gunsights on the player with ftp. You can try and get 10 bucks out of them over a year, or you can try and bilk the odd mug for a coupla hundred. It's really down to the sensibilites of the developers as to how much it actually costs the player to get the full experience.

However, the basic model itself will not go away whilst mobile games cost peanuts. Not because the players want it, but because the developers need the money to exist. You just can't sell a deep game for a proper price on mobile, period. I know, I have one for 3 bucks with a great metacritic, great user reviews, and crap income.

Our future titles are all going to be "mild" FTP because that's just a better model to keep my business running. Finding those people prepared to pay more than $3 to access several man years of work has to be done somehow, and you can't cast a wider net than just giving stuff away to everyone.

I'm a gamer at heart and set up a small studio because I wanted to make the games I care about, my way, in my own time. But I need to keep this studio running to achieve that, and that means turning a profit. And the argument kinda ends there really.

Posted:2 years ago

#35

Adrian Herber

69 23 0.3
To be clear, the only game models that I'm disturbed by are those that depend on 'whales' - the 0.1% of users who get sucked into the game so much they spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on it. I'm all for developers making a fair amount of money on the games they make, and on mobile platforms that is often by offering 'freemium' as Jeffrey Kesselman described it, which can have a lot of benefits for both gamers and developers.

Posted:2 years ago

#36

Oliver Birch Director of Marketing, Hothead Games

16 0 0.0
Congratulations to all at Boss Alien for creating a game that millions of people obviously enjoy. At its launch I was and still remain super impressed with CSR. I did, however, mess up the nitros boost on the 2nd boss and nearly threw my phone across the room at my terrible error of judgement in the heat of the battle...that was real emotion! Allowing free downloads of your game certainly opens your development and publishing options and I think Boss Alien deserve huge credit for their excellent execution and the successful achievements with this game.

Posted:2 years ago

#37
How about a option, to change a F2P game into a one time fee and for all updates, for those not wanting to have any monetary barriers

Posted:2 years ago

#38

Doug Paras

117 61 0.5
@Dr.Chee The problem with that is many F2P games are like the Face Book Angry Birds, where you can play most if not all the lvls, but if you want power ups to get high scores you have to buy the power ups in certain quantities. I as straight up gamer would rather just pull out my DS and play a game thats paid for; then falling into the trap of spending far more on those F2P games then a single cartridge can cost quickly.

Posted:2 years ago

#39

Nicholas Lovell Founder, Gamesbrief

200 215 1.1
Wow. You must not understand psychology.

Valve is the absolute master of exploiting pyschological weaknesses. Let's take Team Fortress for an example. Valve lets you use a weapon for a week for free, then it takes it away. Since we value things we own more than things we don't, and we hate losing things, Valve triggers "loss aversion" in us, making us really want that thing that they let us have for free.

So they say "Hey, we've got to take back the uber-mega gun, fancy buying it. We're so nice we'll give you a 25% discount, provided you buy it right now."

They've hit loss aversion, scarcity and the way we value things more when we own them. Boom. Sold. Suckered by psychology.

It's just you *like* Valve and Team Fortress 2, but don't like other F2P games. Fair enough. Nothing to do with not exploiting you.

See http://www.psychologyofgames.com/2012/02/two-lessons-from-team-fortress-2/ for a much better explanation of how Valve is exploiting your psychological weakenesses.

Posted:2 years ago

#40

Andy Bastable Lead Programmer, Microsoft / Rare

12 22 1.8
My main issue with F2P is the limitless cost of playing to fully "experience" the game. Maybe it's just me, but as a cost-conscious gamer, I want to have a fixed price to ensure I can experience everything that the developer has curated for me to enjoy.

Virtually all of my F2P concerns would vanish if there was a "infinite energy for £X" option. That there isn't seems to re-affirm my suspicion that F2P relies on getting more people to spend more than they normally would if they were able to rationally size up the cost/benefit - and I find that a bit unsettling.

Posted:2 years ago

#41

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

2,282 2,481 1.1
I really wish F2P studios would stop trying to make us foresee a future where all game genres utilize the F2P model.

It's just not necessary. Model A works for situation A. Model B works for situation B. Model C works with situation C. Stop trying to spell "success" with the letters "fail".


And to echo the concern of a lot people here already, I don't like the idea that I can keep paying and paying and paying and still not have the full experience of a F2P game. I can spend $1,000 on a F2P game, stop playing for a week and then it's like I never paid a dime. Advantages are gone, play field now equal or that week off has reverted the $1,000 in time boosting products I paid for.

With a $50-$60 game, I buy it....done. I get to experience it all. I progress at my own pace. I'm not keeping up with the Joneses. I'm not being forced to pay extra to play longer. I unlock things based on skill, not $.

But that's all just me and there's a lot of people that don't mind doing all that. But that takes me back to my first point. The people that don't mind all that are not the people that play my kind of games. I am situation A, they are situation B. They want your model, I don't. They want those kind of games, I don't.

I don't want your F2P in my MarioGodOfWarZeldaBattlefieldGTARPG. Don't put your "fail" in my "success".

Posted:2 years ago

#42

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

925 1,560 1.7
Jim, if a ftp game is making you feel that way, that's a classic example of said game getting its monetising wrong. There will be some games that aren't worth pumping cash into in the same way that some $60 games aren't worth $60.

Another way to look at this is to consider that ftp could also mean pay what you want. All the ideas we've been leafing through have a finite cost in either time or dollars and its down to us to put some numbers in there and then let market forces decide if we got it right or not.

Not all ftp games need you to constantly buy bags of fertiliser. "FTP" is a very large catch all term that encompasses many things. I've spent 0 dollars on zynga games, but at least $50K on MTGO

Posted:2 years ago

#43

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

2,282 2,481 1.1
Then we are in agreement with the model A working best for situation A, model B working best for situation B, etc....

The problem seems to be that too many F2P developers are wanting that model to take over everything. I welcome F2P so long as it works well in the situation.

Some game genres simply don't lend well to the F2P model. Consider how arcades excelled at only a few specific genres for the same reason. I'm just not looking forward to seeing some of those genres get pushed into the F2P model when it's not warranted. And I'm quite bothered by those that proclaim F2P and similar models as the only way to the future and that they'll eradicate something in their path (portable console, home consoles, boxed retail, etc...). That kind of mindset from those people, and they seem to be the vocal segment of that market, are the kind of people that will cause another market bubble that will eventually pop and take out many things with it that would have stayed healthy using the right model.

Posted:2 years ago

#44

Laurens Bruins Jaywalker, Jaywalkers Interactive

135 158 1.2
@Jason Avent

Cheers mate. I'm not that into Spongebob so I had to google to find out who Mr. Krabs is. Excuse my ignorance. ;)
Anyway, I hope so too and congrats on the succes!

Posted:2 years ago

#45

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