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The Future of Games: F2P Is Not Evil Nor The Only Solution

The Future of Games: F2P Is Not Evil Nor The Only Solution

Thu 18 Apr 2013 8:15am GMT / 4:15am EDT / 1:15am PDT
BusinessDevelopment

A them-and-us mentality over free-to-play is making fools of us all, argues Will Luton

Free-to-play has fractured the industry, creating smug preaching zealots in the column inches (hello, mum) and neo-luddite reactionaries decrying the advance from the conference podiums. Anti-F2P rhetoric from the bleeding hearts is just as much the mind-numbing wibble as "the only way" lectures from the moneymen.

"Public discussions and formalisation of concepts such as Skinner Box experiments and core loops seemed shallow, cold and greedy"

This nonsense of drawing us-and-them divides and speaking in unwavering certainty is making fools of us all. F2P is divisive when it needn't be. This is a call for the inevitable restoration of common sense.

F2P Is Not Evil

The "evil" trope has been persistent since early 2011 when Braid creator Jonathan Blow was quoted as saying on social games: "there's no other word for it except evil". Just last month Ridiculous Fishing dev Vlambeer said "non-evil freemium is almost impossible". Today Googling for the phrase "F2P is evil" returns 14,200 results.

Firstly this incredibly flippant use of the word damages its meaning for when it is truly applicable (see recent world events) and secondly, it's bollocks. I believe this pomposity stems from a seemingly misaligned focus of free-to-play from those most evangelical in past years. Free-to-play blindsided many businesses as the industry scrambled to explain "how it works", with a big emphasis on the hows and whys of player spending.

This financial emphasis was mixed with the scientific method afforded by new always-connected platforms and lean start-up culture, ostensibly turning much of a designer's craft in to what appeared to be soulless machine-like science.

Public discussions and formalisation of concepts such as reward schedules (often linked to the Skinner Box experiments) and compulsion loops (thankfully now more commonly called core loops), whilst allowing us to more accurately understand the components of the games we see and their relationship with players, seemed shallow, cold and greedy.

Money from, rather than the pleasure of, our players seemed to many to be the singular goal of free-to-play. Meanwhile the wide appeal and non-skilled based gameplay of early F2P darlings, such as FarmVille, irked the snobbish gamer. To this end F2P can be seen to be uncaring and, to those partial to such magniloquence, the evil label should be suitable.

However, F2P is not about tricking players in to spending money or eroding gaming, but a currently clumsy, yet ever more refined, renegotiation of the deal we as game makers offer to our players owing to the changes digital delivery brings. Today we don't have to put a disc in a box to let a player play, so why should we attempt to charge them like we do?

F2P Is Not The Only Way

I am such a big believer in F2P that I wrote a book about making games for the model. However, F2P is patently not the only way of making money in our industry today.

Subscription, ad supported, paid and paymium games are all profitable for the right game, on the right platform and for the right audience. Part of the renegotiation we've entered is about which bits of these models are acceptable and in which context.

"What we have now isn't the endgame in making money from games; it's just the best next step of a long march"

In fact free-to-play is a fast evolving hybrid of lots of the above models (and them of F2P). What we have now isn't the endgame in making money from games; it's just the best next step of a long march. F2P's biggest advantage is in dropping the barrier for players, allowing anyone to play and decide if and how much they wish to spend. Fans can sink hundreds for dollars, whilst those that hate your game leave with a full wallet.

Whilst I fail to understand why any developer wouldn't want that democratising of their content (unless of course they make shitty games), the facilitation of it brings creative limitations and restrictions that cannot be ignored. F2P simply makes making games more difficult.

The current wisdom dictates that a free-to-play title must have a checklist of mechanics, including recursive infinite gameplay, a scarce limited resource that can be indefinitely bought and social interactions that drive demand for the resource. How then do you reconcile those criteria with, for example, a classic third-person action adventure? You simply can't.

Whilst I believe that these challenges make F2P the most exciting place to be as a game designer right now, it is also a hindrance. Not only does the model limit genre decision, but also it increases production time by complicating design and necessitating features.

Spunking out a game and sticking a price tag on it, not out of indignation but because it's easier and creatively freeing, is off trend but a fine course of action.

Two-man indie Frogmind announced they sold 100,000 copies of Badland at $3.99 on the App Store in its first week. A reasonable payoff for a year's work. However, this success should be given some context: the title only just managed to scrape in to the top 50 grossing in some of the most meaningful regions, peaking at 52 in the US. Whilst providing Frogmind with a living, it is certainly a way off being much more than a blip or an outlier amongst the corpses of other indie releases.

Today in the UK only two apps in the 25 top grossing apps are paid (FIFA 13 and Minecraft), the remaining 23 are free with in-app purchases. However, iOS is not the only platform. Steam, Facebook and consoles all have different permissible models and different types of games and players, making them each unique propositions.

The Balance

I believe it is inevitable that the F2P model will continue to evolve as our creatives gain a fuller understanding of how to use it and move to apply it inventively to new and ever better games. In a year's time the model will have shifted, with new platforms embedding in player's lives and games we never envisioned.

The history of video games is littered with hard to predict outlier successes that lead to retrospective rationalisation, imitation and eventual trends that iterate, evolve and merge. Business models have remained relatively unchallenged in the industry since inception, so F2P and all its associated changes bring with it the shock of the new.

A fanatical reaction to free-to-play in the positive or negative, which I have been guilty of myself in the past, clouds the picture. We must avoid partisanship and the accompanying generalisations that simplify complex situations and stop us from making decisions that are positive and well considered.

Will Luton is a free-to-play designer and consultant. This is the first in a regular series of features for GamesIndustry International looking at the future of the video game business. You can follow him on Twitter and visit his personal site here.

56 Comments

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,136 914 0.8
Sorry, shouldn't that be neither/nor?

^_^

Posted:A year ago

#1

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

555 607 1.1
Great article Will and a lovely call for common sense. I totally agree with your call for burrying the hatchet - there is no need for hatred for either sectory. We are all trying to make entertainment products for various audiences and make a living from that.

There will always be different tastes, but we need to learn to respect that. And we should not shoot down teams, developers and publishers for trying different avenues and new things in order to broaden their portfolio and market position. A lot of developments teams over the last 10 years have folded because they did only one thing for example - it's good for those to experiment with new models, not only in revenue but also project and team size.

One thing i have noticed is that there is a lot less volatility (recent news about playfish being the exception) in the F2P and social development area compared to AAA development for example. Many games in that segment are self-funded and published as well. So it is no surprise this is an attractive route for many developers.

Posted:A year ago

#2

Dan Howdle
Head of Content

277 797 2.9
Popular Comment
F2P stops being evil the moment you remove the word 'free' from whatever storefront users choose to buy it. P2P (pay-to-play) would be more apt in the majority of cases. The only reason it is perceived as evil is this usage of this word, which I believe will soon be legislated against. It's underhanded and misleading no matter which way you slice it; I'm with Blow on that one.

Just call it what it is and everyone's happy.

Posted:A year ago

#3

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

555 607 1.1
Dan, i can't see this being legislated. Not when many of the games (you probably have in mind) are indeed free to play. Get any king.com game and you can play the entire game for free.

Get Real Racer 3 and there is not a single time where the game forces you to pay. You can enjoy the entire experience free of charge.

Get World of Tanks or League of Legends - the same is true.

I think any legislation would have huge resistance against it, with a very powerful argument: only a very small percentage of every user who downloads a F2P game actually spends money in it (a fact many gleeful anti-F2P people often point out). That clearly shows that you CAN play them for free.

Posted:A year ago

#4

Anthony Gowland
Lead Designer

169 498 2.9
Popular Comment
P2P (pay-to-play) would be more apt in the majority of cases
Not at all, the majority of people don't pay to play.

Posted:A year ago

#5

Paul Jace
Merchandiser

868 1,273 1.5
F2P is not inherently evil. Saying your customers are just as bad as pirates for buying and selling used games or forcing something on your customers without giving them a choice and then telling them to "deal with it" --those two things are evil. Very evil.

Posted:A year ago

#6

Bruce Everiss
Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
Game console were just an answer to piracy. They serve as an anti piracy dongle. So the NES beat the Amiga and ST because it had a working business model.
Steam is an answer to piracy and has totally replaced the boxed PC games that suffered 95%+ piracy.
FTP is an anti piracy mechanic that evolved out of MMORPGs

When your customers have a high propensity to theft to the point that your business becomes unsustainable then you have to change your business model.

Last year Angry Birds passed the one billion download milepost. Very many digitally distributed games get past 5 million downloads these days. It is almost routine. Games are achieving a bigger reach than books, films television etc. The whole commercial world of products and services is waking up to this. So now there are huge opportunities for innovative business models. Dream Weddings is just one example of how this could be done: http://www.dreamweddings.eu/press

Posted:A year ago

#7

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

259 165 0.6
That clearly shows that you CAN play them for free.
And still contribute to the game's economy (both in-game and real one) and community (user base).
The only reason it is perceived as evil is this usage of this word, which I believe will soon be legislated against. It's underhanded and misleading no matter which way you slice it; I'm with Blow on that one.
I do not see where P2P model cannot be misleading as well in some aspects. Just as an example, check what happened recently with the trailer/game Aliens Colonial Marines. This was misleading (admitted by both sides involved) and the game is not a F2P.

Fact is, what the author is calling for is common sense/balance of views. And common sense/balance of views is definitely not about having prejudice or making general rules out of exceptions.

We're humans, we do mistakes. But we still did not jump to a general statement like "because we're humans, we only do mistakes".

Edited 5 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 18th April 2013 11:46am

Posted:A year ago

#8

Robin Clarke
Producer

297 681 2.3
This reiterates a lot of points made in this article last year: http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2012-12-21-mobile-wont-kill-console-f2p-wont-kill-full-priced

But it's welcome as the message apparently still isn't getting through.

Posted:A year ago

#9

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

517 734 1.4
@Paul Jace - Actually I don't think those things are "evil" either. The customer always has a choice. Just don't buy what they're selling, vote with your wallet. No one ever puts a gun to your head and forces you to buy anything. If someone puts a product out that doesn't make sense for the consumer, someone else will.

F2P isn't inherently wrong, it just doesn't work for me as a player. Besides having that constant uncertainty about how much money I'm going to pay distracting me, it also leads me to distrust the game mechanics. It doesn't matter whether it's true or not, how do I know whether your game is subtly tweaking the mechanics to sabotage my game and make me fail in a way that directs me to wanting to spend? If I play a paid for game with no in-app purchases, there's not really a motive to do that so I wouldn't consider it. Once the customer is playing the game, the only motive the designer has beyond that is making sure you have fun so you want to buy whatever they make in the future.

Posted:A year ago

#10

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,136 914 0.8
P2P (pay-to-play) would be more apt in the majority of cases
Not at all, the majority of people don't pay to play.
How about Freemium?

Posted:A year ago

#11

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

259 165 0.6
But it's welcome as the message apparently still isn't getting through.
I guess this won't change... no matter how much sense one can speak here. Some opinions are tenacious and lasting in the other.

But even if only one gets elevated, then it is worth trying it.
How about Freemium?
@Adam
I am tempted to say "potato-potato" there but this saying doesn't work well in its written form. It is (Freemium) a point of detail, a shade. Main and core issue there not being about that.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 18th April 2013 3:01pm

Posted:A year ago

#12

Jeremie Sinic

43 18 0.4
Popular Comment
Congratulations on avoiding the extremes and acknowledging that F2P is one of several monetization models.

To me the issue of F2P is that it is hardly compatible with originality and creativity. You cannot allow crazy things to happen in your game when those crazy things could threaten your game balance, thus your revenues. When people pay upfront, this is a non-issue and designers can focus 100% on fun and creativity.
I believe this will change when F2P monetization models evolve towards less impact on gameplay. LoL is a good example, but it's a rare example.

In my opinion it's not mainly a problem of being evil or not (although that is sometimes the issue), but rather creative and fun or not.
More on this here:
http://www.ethicalvideogames.com/2013/04/16/can-games-be-free-to-play-ethical-and-fun/
Would love to get your reactions.

Posted:A year ago

#13

Anthony Gowland
Lead Designer

169 498 2.9
How about Freemium?
We were talking about free 2 play, not freemium.

Posted:A year ago

#14

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

259 165 0.6
To me the issue of F2P is that it is hardly compatible with originality and creativity.
I don't, and never will, get the causative link. F2P as a business model is NOT affecting creativity. What is true is that some F2P developers choose deliberately to not be creative in terms of art/gameplay/story/etc. to deliver a standard recipe with loads of selling options, or they use creativity only to support the business part of the product (the issue with that being that some people, including in the industry, think that it is a general rule or maybe just like to troll about it...).

If you are creative (and working on a decent project, although even there I do not see any obstacle for creativity - by it's very nature and essence, creativity leads to innovation and overcoming obstacles), if you are truly creative, then F2P won't stop you from keeping/focusing on being creative. Period.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 18th April 2013 3:17pm

Posted:A year ago

#15

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,136 914 0.8
How about Freemium?
We were talking about free 2 play, not freemium.
Sorry and correct me if I'm wrong but it seemed like that part of the discussion was about terminology.

Many of these games are free to play but offer premium features for a price, which seems to describe a freemium model. The word freemium appears to be less deceptive than simply 'free' to play. Pay to Play as a way to describe it, does suggest most people are playing when they're not.

That's what I got from the quotes anyway and hence suggested freemium in place. But yeah, its written conversation and all...

:)

Posted:A year ago

#16

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

555 607 1.1
@Jeremie: fun, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder (or the gamer so to speak).

Personally i have a ton of fun playing clash of clans, candy crush saga and others. At the same time i had no fun at all playing Max Payne 3, the last Modern Warfare or Defiance for example.

So to say that when people pay upfront creativity and fun is the primary focus is a. not necessarly true and b. depends on the customer. Which is pretty much exactly what the original article is about - there are all kinds of people who embrace and play all kinds of games, with various different payment options. We, who make these games, should not argue, but just accept the fact.

If some of us don't want to play a particular game because of payment options, that is absultely fine. But we should not judge games, companies or people based on their preferences.

Those out there who don't like F2P (or freemium or whatever you prefer to call it), you have an option: don't work on them and don't play them. Nobody is forcing these things on you.

Personally i did not buy the last call of duty game, and as i said i don't think they are fun or particularly creative, but millions of people would disagree with my opinion, and i don't judge them for it. Let people play, and make, games they want and pay for however the want to pay for it.

Posted:A year ago

#17

Nick Parker
Consultant

279 143 0.5
The game must be free to play and be seen to be free to play. If you can play the game in a way which entertains you for free, without hindrance or interruption and if you wish to accelerate or personalise your gameplay in the same game for a fee, you should be able to without any coercion from the developer, that is how F2P games should be designed. F2P should be a viable and trusted business model, without challenge, but if there are games where there is blatant in-game progress prevention in order to secure payment, these games may tarnish the integrity of F2P. How do we police these or is it up to the consumer?

Posted:A year ago

#18

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

259 165 0.6
Sorry and correct me if I'm wrong but it seemed like that part of the discussion was about terminology.

Many of these games are free to play but offer premium features for a price, which seems to describe a freemium model. The word freemium appears to be less deceptive than simply 'free' to play. Pay to Play as a way to describe it, does suggest most people are playing when they're not.

That's what I got from the quotes anyway and hence suggested freemium in place. But yeah, its written conversation and all...
Well Freemium is an hybrid variant of the F2P model and the subscription Model. Additionally, Freemium present similarities with some P2P model games offering DLC's. In on of the other topics about the F2P and Microtransaction models on this site, I've made a list of the different types of in-game microtransactions. One of my category was exactly what Freemium is (when it is not assimilated to simplying being the same things as F2P).

So, yes, you have a point Adam, in the fact there is a terminology issue here.

A Freemium game is typically a F2P game, with an option (or multiple options preferably) about a premium subscription (should it be for whatever thing that will affect the player temporarily: access to special zone, bonus in earning currency or experience, improved UI/UI visuals, etc) and is typically time/duration based (opposed to "permanent" content, which can be compared to DLC's). So basically Freemium is the inclusion of a subscription offer within a game that is free to access and play (while again, they are tons of hybrids "Freemium" Microtransaction possible and existing and probably more to invent). So, even the more and more known World of Tanks has Freemium options in it, as you can spend coin for a subscription offering various advantages.

Now I don't really see the point of arguing about terminology regarding those neologisms (Freemium, F2P, Pay2win, etc.), except that this is distracting from the core issue. Core issue being that many F2P haters, don't even know what they hate and for a good reason since they convince themselves they hate it, they don't get to know it and unfortunately are not reasonable enough to not talk about it since they obviously don't know the topic. Maybe a bit of Sun Tzu could help :

If you know your enemy and know yourself, you will not be imperilled by a hundred battles. If you do not know the others but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one. If you do not know the enemy and do not know yourselves you will be in danger in every battle.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 18th April 2013 3:32pm

Posted:A year ago

#19

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

259 165 0.6
The game must be free to play and be seen to be free to play. If you can play the game in a way which entertains you for free, without hindrance or interruption and if you wish to accelerate or personalise your gameplay in the same game for a fee, you should be able to without any coercion from the developer, that is how F2P games should be designed. F2P should be a viable and trusted business model, without challenge, but if there are games where there is blatant in-game progress prevention in order to secure payment, these games may tarnish the integrity of F2P. How do we police these or is it up to the consumer?
Well this does even happen in the traditional P2P model, should it be MMO or boxed titles. The DLC's are to those exactly what Microtransaction are in a Free-to-play game.

Maybe it is time that some stop seeing the mote in the other's eye and start acknowledging that there is also a beam in their own eye.

So if you wanna remove motes and beams, remove them everywhere not only in whatever group you identify yourself as "better as".

I've recently played Total War : Shogun 2, and I played every single previous instance of the TW series. I remember very well that on previous instances you were supposed to beat other factions to unlock them. Now you need to buy a DLC to get to play the faction. Additionally, those factions are pretty powerful and once you get them in multiplayer... well, I do not need to detail. And it is not about SEGA or CA here, this is just an example I do know. So if there is a problem, it is related to the whole industry (with many exception fortunately and hopefully) and not the F2P model ONLY.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 18th April 2013 4:03pm

Posted:A year ago

#20

Jeremie Sinic

43 18 0.4
To Eric
Well Freemium is an hybrid variant of the F2P model and the subscription Model.
Now I don't really see the point of arguing about terminology regarding those neologisms (Freemium, F2P, Pay2win, etc.), except that this is distracting from the core issue.
To the risk of sounding like nitpicking, well, maybe that is your definition, but be aware that it is not a fixed and universal notion. What I don't get is your focus on the subscription part. There is no official definition of freemium that I know of, so basically I understand freemium as a game free to access, play and containing paid elements (subscription, in-game cash, items, etc.), and that's it.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freemium
Your definition seems pretty much detailed, so would you mind sharing your source?

Personally, I just prefer freemium because it sounds more honest to me, since the "mium" part conveys that notion that there is something for sale in there, unlike the more common term free-to-play.

Posted:A year ago

#21

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

259 165 0.6
Your definition seems pretty much detailed, so would you mind sharing your source?
@Jeremie
First of all, my definition of the Freemium has it source in the very same place as yours and you gave the link. Secondly I did not attempt to give a definition of Freemium,

I made a correlation with the subscription model for MMO's, that is all, in the sense that the base concept of the subscription model is to provide full content over the game as long as you have subscription paid for X days/weeks/months. In that sense, some Premium microtransaction of the F2P work in the very exact way (except the content is spread through multiple possible transaction, with a possibility for the player to customize it's experience, and of course in terms of business a pricing policy that makes it even more profitable to sell things that way, but that is another debate within this debate). On the other hand, they are purely Free2Play games (see Kongregate for example, which provides quite a lot of them and that is why I mentioned the notion of "variant"). That is all I meant.

It seemed necessary to me to distinguish this kind of "come back to get more" options from the "buy one and use as long as the game doesn't close" options, which are still premium indeed and which are basically "inspired" from "pay once" titles and "subscription" titles respectively.

Now, no matter how you prefer to name something, it will stay what it is. My point here being that we are orbiting again around the issue and not dealing with its core. Core being exactly the point of the thread's author. F2P is just a business model, like others before it that made us have the career we have. There is nothing better or worse in terms of morality, creativity in it as such. It only opens (with the digital era) more options, and more options means more opportunities... to do it right, or to do it wrong, just like before when we had less opportunities and could also do it right, or do it wrong (and anything in between if it was to mention).

Once you accept that there are multiple paths possible, and not only the one you alone see, then you can make the choice to stay on your or to try venture on others routes. But one should do that for himself, not choose his fellows routes and let them follow you if the path you did choose seemed attractive to them (and if you are successful, you'll be successful too in getting followers who did not find their own path, but that will be their choice not you telling them from the beginning that they are on the wrong path or that yours is bigger and better and they have to follow you).

PS Jeremie, please understand this last statement is not aimed at you in particular, it's more about a "way of life" and a general statement.

Edited 6 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 18th April 2013 5:11pm

Posted:A year ago

#22

Jeremie Sinic

43 18 0.4
To Andreas

I think you make totally valid points, especially regarding the lack of originality in games like Modern Warfare and other lookalike FPS games. I do have a lot of fun playing Clash of Clans too.
However, my point is not that creativity and originality is not a guarantee of paid games, but that the paid model at least gets less in the way of creativity and design freedom than a model where the designer has to think to adapt game design to monetization models.
Which Will also alludes to.

Also:
Those out there who don't like F2P (or freemium or whatever you prefer to call it), you have an option: don't work on them and don't play them. Nobody is forcing these things on you.
Don't play them: well, you can't blame people for at least trying and telling what they don't like about it and why.
The point is that there are many fans of video games who see their favorite developers suddenly chasing the F2P model like it's the new holy grail and as such, I can understand the negativity.
Don't work on them: that can be tricky. Not everyone can decide to quit their company because said company decided to suddenly make or market only freemium titles.

Posted:A year ago

#23

Graham Simpson
Tea boy

219 7 0.0
Call it whatever you want but it's still Pay to Win.

Posted:A year ago

#24

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

259 165 0.6
Call it whatever you want but it's still Pay to Win.
I am wondering how... let me mention the less known Path of Exile, a F2P ARPG... how this game that sell mainly cosmetics and comfort options (that you can overcome with management skills) is a P2W ?

Also, the more known League of Legends in which the only options are also cosmetic and timesaving (meaning that if you play a lot because you like the game, you can achieve the same as a paying user) are Pay-to-Win ?

Those two are just a few examples on the so called F2P market. I mentioned Shogun 2 (a Pay-once" title) in this thread, and there again, even if the clans you can unlock by paying real money for the DLC have strong abilities/units they are not so overpowered that you cannot match them with base game clans. Just like Creative Assembly did a great job there, F2P developers can achieve that too and F2P is therefore not synonymous either of Pay-to-Win.

Although Pay-to-Win games exist (to a more or less acceptable extent) and some are commercially successful, they are not representative of neither the F2P industry, nor the whole video-games industry and are to be considered as a genre. Typically, Diablo 3 RMAH is also some Pay-to-Win option, in a AAA title from some of the yet most successful and still very much respected company of the industry.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 18th April 2013 5:15pm

Posted:A year ago

#25
I agree with Dan, dont call em FREE and the argument ends.

As for Eric's question of, are time-saving options pay to win? I say, of course they are. Time is money after all, and you are paying to avoid a mechanic and feature that others that do not pay have to endure, it is an advantage. A distinct advantage.

Now if a game was entirely free, and the only options are some sprite skin changes to a character, then I would have no problem with any of this, but this just isnt the case.

Posted:A year ago

#26

Al Nelson
Producer

32 47 1.5
Zealots, Luddites and money-men? Fools, rhetoric, bleeding hearts?
Um, ok. I am just going to back away beyond the arm-waving strike zone and the "spit when I talk excitedly" range.

Soon you will realize that you cannot convince everyone to adopt your moral code. Some people believe that owning a casino is just another job while others consider it amoral. Some consider interest on loans bad, some dislike charging children to revive dead, virtual goldfish. You can't change that.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Al Nelson on 18th April 2013 5:34pm

Posted:A year ago

#27

Brian Lewis
Operations Manager

124 67 0.5
I am afraid that this may show my age a bit.. and I apologize if I sound like the old man taling about 'when I was young'.

Free to Play or F2P only has one simple definition. It means that the game has no initial cost. Everything else is just an add on. There are multiple types of monitization that are added onto a F2P game. These include monthly subs, microtransactions, direct sales and/or others. None of these have any effect on the F2P status of a game.

Why do I say this? Well, back when F2P was new... and being defined by the companies promoting it, the most common combination in the West was F2P + Monthly Sub. At the same time, when this was being done in the East, the most common combination was F2P + TimeCard. There have since been many combinations introduced, but the definition was set (for MMO's) in the early years.

'Free' is not a new concept. In fact if you look around, you are likely to see it advertised, and made clearly visible on your local grocers, and retail outlets. It is a very common advertising approach... and very rarely comes without any attachments. I find it humours that people have an issue with the 'Free' in F2P, but dont even notice it when it comes to the items that they buy daily.

Bottom line is this. Free is not evil. Free is not new. Free is not defined by the monization tacked onto it after the fact. It is just a marketing approach to get customers to try your product. It does not change anything in of itself. It is just one tool (of many) to advertise your product.

Posted:A year ago

#28

Jeremie Sinic

43 18 0.4
@Eric
Thank you for your detailed answer. I get your point regarding freemium.

As for the rest of your answer (and also as a general statement), I am just conflicted regarding F2P.
Let me back this up.
I have worked on F2P mobile titles (including successful ones) and even pushed for the adoption of F2P in certain titles where it made sense while recommending against it in other titles.

That does not mean that I find it a great model as a player.

Let's not forget that one of the main reasons people develop free-to-play games is because it makes sense from a business perspective. To many publishers, it doesn't matter to irk the long term fans of a franchise if the swap to F2P is projected to generate a little bit more sales (e.g. Real Racing 3).

We would all love to give the best to our customers, but unfortunately and with all the talks about F2P done right, customer satisfaction rarely comes before sales targets in the mind of the business guys (i.e. the decision makers most of the time).
I took part in business meetings with prominent F2P publishers who had the approach "hey, we aren't a charity", implying clearly that customer satisfaction and ethics were not their main concerns, so I feel like F2P done right is still an exception.
While I agree that developers need to make ends meet, the mindset that F2P allows to milk players in a way never seen before is something that exists and is, I would dare say, widespread.

And that pollutes the whole industry while providing ground for Vlambeer and Blow's claims.

Posted:A year ago

#29

Tameem Antoniades
Creative Director & Co-founder

196 164 0.8
Dear internet, please can we call it "Free to Pay" from now on to avoid further knicker-twisting!

Posted:A year ago

#30
Brian, I will show my age happily, been around as long as this industry has, and in the old days, the first f2p were called.... demos.

all this new nonsense is very recent.

... now someone go fetch me my slippers..

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 18th April 2013 6:26pm

Posted:A year ago

#31

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

259 165 0.6
As for Eric's question of, are time-saving options pay to win? I say, of course they are. Time is money after all, and you are paying to avoid a mechanic and feature that others that do not pay have to endure, it is an advantage. A distinct advantage.
Well, yes time is money. So basically an unemployed person, after he did his job searches and administrative tasks, is much more richer in the virtual worlds of gaming than a employed married person who has to spend time at work and time with his family. The first getting little money from the state (should there be a social security institution there) and the latter has money but little time. Both can equally enjoy the same game, and one because he has less time may want to put some of his hard earned money into easing his experience. I see no problem in that, if time is money, money can buy you time too. And this has happened before in many non-F2P games and in various shapes. Was it Everquest or Ultima online in which the first bots/goldfarmers/goldsellers appeared ?
Now if a game was entirely free, and the only options are some sprite skin changes to a character, then I would have no problem with any of this, but this just isnt the case.
What is free is the access, and in that sense everyone is free to play. Charities employees get paid too (and some in managerial positions get indecent wages considering what they publicly praise) from the money the volunteers in the streets collect from the people (which means that at the end, only a portion of the donations goes to the "cause"). Do you have any issue with that ? Now I can only see a free game as one developed by a passionate person (like the good old times of sharewares) anything that is business oriented is a product. And most of us have no problem getting paid for making products and then buying the ones we want for ourselves. Let's not be hypocritical on that, either you are in the matrix (system/society) and accept how it works, either you get out of the system and find a tree from which you can hunt your game. If there is a compromise to do here, it is between ideology and reality, but you can't compromise the reality with itself because it will beat you (unless you have some magical powers).
Soon you will realize that you cannot convince everyone to adopt your moral code. Some people believe that owning a casino is just another job while others consider it amoral. Some consider interest on loans bad, some dislike charging children to revive dead, virtual goldfish. You can't change that.
@Al Nelson
I know it before I even try. But if we give up before trying, we'll never change anything. Winning an argument, a debate, doesn't change the way of life of the "opponent" I agree (especially that when we get lost, we tend to come back to what we know because it is easier than attempting to find a new way). But it may change the way the spectators see things though (while it won't change their way of life either). Additionally it is still important as a social species that we interact, and on my side I know I don't have the strength nor will to become a lone hermit, so I'd rather interact even if sometimes it is painful.
Bottom line is this. Free is not evil. Free is not new. Free is not defined by the monization tacked onto it after the fact. It is just a marketing approach to get customers to try your product. It does not change anything in of itself. It is just one tool (of many) to advertise your product.
Exactly.
That does not mean that I find it a great model as a player.
As a player I don't find it a great model either (and while I tried and somehow still play many F2P titles from time to time, I am still an old-school gamer that enjoy very much the solitude of a single-player campaign). But what I express here is only my professional views and if I use any player experience to back it up it has to be about fact and objectivity, not about my feelings as a player (since in the end, no one is threatening me to get something out of my wallet and I am free to choose what I want to do with the F2P game model).
Let's not forget that one of the main reasons people develop free-to-play games is because it makes sense from a business perspective.
Well, it does make sense for a specific market share. But fact is there are also other slices of the pie and considering some of the recent "top-level" executives from the most renown companies commenting their vision of the market (although those comments where probably all meant as "future strategies announcement" and not as "analysis on the industry as a whole"), which are easily proven wrong in practice and by observation, there are other strategies that make sense too. Typically, the indie market is bursting with new ideas and they find customers early on, even by just providing a concept rather than a product (kickstarters for example - although there as well we could ask ourselves "what happens if the developer goes bankrupt before the release?").

Our industry is complex, our audience is diversified. We need to understand our own complexity and provide diversity for our audience (identify it first). And all this has been, is, and will be valid business strategies. The only question is not about the validity of a strategy here (especially when as we highlighted it, there is in fact nothing really innovative there) but is about the size of the market share and the related money you can throw into your product development considering a realistic return on your investment and a realistic forecast in sales (and yes some will fail, some will achieve beyond expectations).
While I agree that developers need to make ends meet, the mindset that F2P allows to milk players in a way never seen before is something that exists and is, I would dare say, widespread.
Well, we sell products. You don't need to buy fizzy drinks, you need H2O, but hey fizzy is more funny isn't it ? And as Mr Brian Lewis mentioned it in the post above yours:
Free' is not a new concept.
Buy one get 1 free, 3 for 2, 25% extra lemonade for the same price... this is our everyday life.
And that pollutes the whole industry while providing ground for Vlambeer and Blow's claims.
Well, sorry I have to be facetious here, but welcome to the real world were nothing is as pure as one can imagine.

We're an industry, we do business. Yes creativity is involved, yes art is involved, yes we have an influence and some sort of social responsibility on what we convey. But to achieve whatever "superior" goal we may be aiming at (if any), we need to work as business to keep playing in this world, in this reality and in this dimension longer than just a game. We are free to criticize "the system" in our games, using dystopian story lines, in our fictional universes, but as corporate institutions we need to work by the rules that are bigger than us.

Edited 7 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 18th April 2013 7:54pm

Posted:A year ago

#32

Brian Lewis
Operations Manager

124 67 0.5
@Todd

Actually Demos were not marketed as F2P... they were marketed as Free. There is a difference. Let me rephrase.

All Coca Cola is soda, however, not all soda is Coca Cola. Coca Cola is a marketting term used to diferenatiate themselves from other sodas. The same applies to 'Free to Play' and 'F2P'. The use of this as a marketing term was new to the MMO market in the late 90's early 2000's. It was used to differentiate these games from others that charged up front (i.e. 'P2P').

In the recent years, the usage of this term has expanded quite a bit. There is currently a 'fad' to make all new/old games 'F2P' to cash in on the percieved trend. This is really a marketing change, not a change in the game industry. The reality is that most of the games still make money the same way that they did when they were called 'P2P'.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Brian Lewis on 18th April 2013 7:50pm

Posted:A year ago

#33
Popular Comment
Sorry Brian and Eric dance around the subject all you want, it still comes back to what the most popular comment in this thread states, The use of the word FREE with these type games is a misnomer and a deceptive marketing practice. We should as an industry be better than this. We shouldnt have to use gimmicks, tricks and misnomers in order to get paid.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 18th April 2013 8:07pm

Posted:A year ago

#34

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

259 165 0.6
Actually Demos were not marketed as F2P... they were marketed as Free. There is a difference.
Agreed but marketing approach is not the only difference of course, far from that (while to backup your statement I'd like to mention that many of the demos still had quite aggressive marketing/advertizing/pushing incentives when you were willing to exit them, or for example the EA demo Kingdom of Amalur : Reckoning required you to create an Origin account which we can easily understand had some marketing advantages as well).

In many F2P games (not all again, there is diversity there too) you can access the full content of the game for as long as you wish, where demos were (and still are) typically (much more) limited either in time or features/content.
Sorry Brian and Eric dance around the subject all you want, it still comes back to what the most popular comment in this thread states, The use of the word FREE with these type games is a misnomer and a deceptive marketing practice. We should as industry be better than this. We shouldnt have to use gimmicks, tricks and misnomers in order to get paid.
Well, while I like the idea very much, I don't consider it sustainable in regards of the competition. It can be achieved by particular companies and even their ethical approach can be used as a marketing argument (yes... funny init?). But as an industry ? It simply won't work, the world is not ready for that.

Just like we say about arms, that guns don't kill people, people do. F2P is not evil, but the one making it may be.

As long as we focus our effort in fighting the symptom and not the cause, we won't achieve anything. So if you are involved in a F2P project, you have a chance to do it right, with your morale, with your ethics, with respect of the people who are hopefully going to play it and be grateful to you for providing the experience. That is the best one can do since we cannot stop evolution. Hopefully, if you do that, you'll show the right way and the audience will follow you (and maybe the competition too).

Forbidding things rarely had good results in the history and I guess I don't have to remind Chicago in the twenties and to what it led.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 18th April 2013 8:59pm

Posted:A year ago

#35
You miss the point with demos, the point was for the most part they were honest about what they were.

Posted:A year ago

#36

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

259 165 0.6
You miss the point with demos, the point was for the most part they were honest about what they were.
Most free to play are honest about what they are too. If you do what no one does, read the Terms & Conditions you agree to by registering... everything is stated.

The problem being Terms&Conditions do a pretty bad slogan, a bit Too Long Didn't Read I guess.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 18th April 2013 8:24pm

Posted:A year ago

#37
if you have to hide behind the small print and lawyer speak, you arent being upfront and honest.

Posted:A year ago

#38

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

259 165 0.6
if you have to hide behind the small print and lawyer speak, you arent being upfront and honest.
Well, you can play the game for free and freely, I fail to see where this "Free-to-Play" etiquette is not being upfront and honest there.

Posted:A year ago

#39

Brian Lewis
Operations Manager

124 67 0.5
@Todd

Please explain how the use of 'Free' in this context is more deceptive than the use of 'Free' for other advertising. I will heartily agree that advertising in general is deceptive. The purpose of advertising is to present an image that is appealing to the customer, but may not fully represent the drawbacks.

I am not sure when the use of the word 'Free' began, but I can say with some certainty that it has been used in advertising longer than there have been computers.. let alone computer games. Does this make it right? Most certainly not, but it does mean that this is not an industry issue... but a much broader issue.

Posted:A year ago

#40
Brian, I dont have to explain anything because I never said it was more deceptive than other slimey industries. the point as you well make , is how sad it is to have this industry climb into the slime with other industries with relying and use of deceptive tactics. ( To be fair, there has been and always will be some that push out shovelware regardless of pricing models)

But my final point will be this..
Real game designers and developers just want to make honest to goodness fun games, and hopefully make a living doing it. All this fine print price modeling crap is just useless MBA suits nonsense.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Todd Weidner on 18th April 2013 9:33pm

Posted:A year ago

#41

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

799 996 1.2
Popular Comment
Well that's how it all works. You posted a free article and I just bought your book...

Posted:A year ago

#42

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

555 607 1.1
@Jeremie:

I don't think the paid before you buy model necessarily gives more creative freedom. It can be quite the contrary (and i have experienced this in the past). High development and marketing costs usually mean that a game is made as mass market as possible, design decissions are taken that might not make the ultimate best game, but rather the best selling game. Being bold and creative does not always pay in AAA - playing it safe and catering to the masses might be better to recoup huge investment. Fortunately not all companies are like that, but some are. I actually feel that in the mobile and social space (regardless of payment options) there is more chance of being creative and generating good gameplay - the financial risk involved is lower. Look at Hunters or The Room. Both were slightly risky ventures, something different for the handheld market, but they paid off. How often, these days, do we see that kind of risk for consoles (and then, often, it is an XBLA/PSN title).
Don't play them: well, you can't blame people for at least trying and telling what they don't like about it and why.
The point is that there are many fans of video games who see their favorite developers suddenly chasing the F2P model like it's the new holy grail and as such, I can understand the negativity.
Don't work on them: that can be tricky. Not everyone can decide to quit their company because said company decided to suddenly make or market only freemium titles.
Of course people can have opinions! Dear me, who would i be to deny them that :) The key here is, i think, to realize that it's a personal opinion and that this personal opinion does not necessarily mean it is an absolute truth. And it's no reason to go on a crusade, voting games down on metacritic, spamming forums or wishing developers and publisher go bancrupt.

Regarding working: i know people often have financial and personal commitments. But IMO there are 2 choices. If i really dislike something i work on, if i have a moral or personal problem with it, then damn the consequence - i will be off (and i have done that once). If i absolutely need to stay to pay the bills and support a family, then (again IMO) i need to shut up. as long as take the money these products generate, i would have no right whatsover to talk badly about them.

Posted:A year ago

#43

Adrian Herber

69 23 0.3
Although opposition is usually expressed to F2P in general, I believe it is usually intended to be directed at those games that are primarily comprised of 'reward schedules (often linked to the Skinner Box experiments) and compulsion loops', which are seen as preying on weaknesses of the mind. For me personally, my opinion of a game is low when these techniques appear to be the core of its game play. Other arrangements of F2P, like how LoL offers paid content, don't seem to have so many detractors and perhaps show one good direction for F2P to take.

Posted:A year ago

#44

Adam Campbell
Associate Producer

1,136 914 0.8
I can see terminology has stirred a little trouble but it always finds itself confusing and changing views in the games industry.

Anyway, I totally agree, "Free to Play" most definitely isn't evil, its just one of many different business models available. People get very emotional about the use of certain ones but we all have a choice whether or not to buy into them.

On this particular topic, the advantages are clear. Companies are able to extend the life of their product, evolving it, providing more features and increasing their profits over time. Consumers can access a large portion of a game, enjoy and even 'complete' it to an extent, where paying will give you even more features, content etc. There are obviously the disadvantages to counter all that but what doesn't have disadvantages?

My short time working in MMO did open my eyes to just how amazing a free to play model could be from both a business and customer perspective. A paid element needn't punish a player or rip them off, but offers a great way to get even more out of the game with an increased scale, more storage, more items, skills and so on. For the rest, you still get an awesome game for free and benefit from the fact it will continue to sustain itself and evolve.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 19th April 2013 11:07am

Posted:A year ago

#45

Will Luton

8 1 0.1
That was a great decision, Paul. Thank you very much,

Posted:A year ago

#46
Great article, Will. I very much agree with your view on this.

For me the question is about forming a relationship of trust with the consumer and that that in turn is best achieved by being transparent with them, especially in terms of making clear what they can or have to pay for and what they get for their money so that they can judge for themselves if there is value for money - this has always been one of the features of any good retail practice. If you do that you can use any combination of game design and business model that makes sense for your game. You can certainly play with the components of the accepted F2P model to get something new.

Posted:A year ago

#47

Paul Johnson
Managing Director / Lead code monkey

799 996 1.2
You're welcome, Will. I hope the writing style in the book is the same breath of fresh air as in the article. A spade is not after all a manual labour tool for transferring soil from one place to another.

We're doing a game at the moment that will have a free download, unlimited play time with a limited selection of free stuff, and the option to buy lots more options to expand the core experience. I really need that book to explain to me what I'm allowed to call that business model so as not to offend all these pedants and bleeding hearts liberals cropping up everywhere. Might just call it a game...

EDIT: I've learned one thing from this thread. My game will cost zero dollars to download and install and play, even the multiplayer, forever. But because a relatively small number of players will buy stuff inside to get more choices, this does not qualify as a free game. FFS people, get a sense of proportion.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Paul Johnson on 19th April 2013 10:34pm

Posted:A year ago

#48
How bout a alternative defintion: Free to Prey or Fleece to Play :)

Posted:A year ago

#49

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

259 165 0.6
[...]

Posted:A year ago

#50

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

555 607 1.1
You want evil? Look no further than this:

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/190865/Peter_Molyneux_may_have_just_monetized_trolling.php#comments

Monetizing the fact that players can actively hinder the progress of others. I think this is the first microtransactions system that i came across where i really feel this is wrong.

Posted:A year ago

#51

Dave Herod
Senior Programmer

517 734 1.4
@Andreas - How is that any different from regular non-coop multiplayer? If you buy a gun in a FPS, you're buying something to hinder someone else's progress by killing them with it.

Posted:A year ago

#52

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

259 165 0.6
@Andreas - How is that any different from regular non-coop multiplayer? If you buy a gun in a FPS, you're buying something to hinder someone else's progress by killing them with it.
@Dave
Well if you buy a razor mouse or keyboard, you may also become more efficient and hinder the others progress. Nature did not made us equal either, equality is an utopia we created. I don't know which game you referring too, but most F2P FPS I've tested had paid guns that had both pros and cons compared to purely free gear and then it was just a question of style/gameplay preferences (and also "badass look").
Monetizing the fact that players can actively hinder the progress of others. I think this is the first microtransactions system that i came across where i really feel this is wrong.
@Andreas
Next step is maybe to sell some kind of protection against that, so at the end it won't be a game anymore, but a cash sink. Anyway, I agree with you regarding this type of MT and I am surprised a veteran and famous designer like Mr Molyneux has gone there (while of course there is already the excuse of "it was an experiment").

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 22nd April 2013 10:20am

Posted:A year ago

#53

Andreas Gschwari
Senior Games Designer

555 607 1.1
@Dave: i think the difference to me is the type of game really. in a multiplayer FPS i expect opposition, that is exactly why i play it.

Correct me if i am wrong, but when Curiosity was first released the fact that others could pay to add parts to the cube was not a feature? i have never read about it before, but as far as i can see that was added later on.

The equivalent to your FPS example would be if i played the single player version of it and all of a sudden, instead of a scripted experience i can beat (through learning and training) i get random human players instead of AI that consistently try to stop me from finishing the experience i paid for.

Posted:A year ago

#54

Yiannis Koumoutzelis
Founder & Creative Director

358 187 0.5
If some traditional Studios had embraced F2P earlier and they were not slow and stubborn like dinosaurs, they would still be around us. An amount of F2P titles has the ability to provide a significant cash source while working on your next masterpiece. I never saw F2P against traditional and i feel this is a fundamentalist way of seeing things. F2P if you run a traditional studio can work in a complimentary, supporting manner. My professional background, and experience as a gamer is on traditional games, but also, and significantly so on CoinOps. F2P is similar in many ways to the arcade games of the past. INSERT COIN TO JOIN! :)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Yiannis Koumoutzelis on 22nd April 2013 1:33pm

Posted:A year ago

#55

Eric Pallavicini
Game Master

259 165 0.6
F2P is similar in many ways to the arcade games of the past. INSERT COIN TO JOIN! :)
That is only one kind of F2P games you are talking about, and even then, you should be able to play without paying but the game mechanics tend to push you to pay to get more or to ease your experience (or it would not be called F2P at all).

Most F2P I've tried (nearly a hundred), should they be mobile, browser, client based are indeed free to play and you don't have to insert any coins at any time. Additionally many of those F2P do not have game mechanics that either limits your own experience if you don't pay, split the communities in paying/non-paying users or hinder non-paying user game experience. Also, not all those games spam you with pop-ups and advertizement inviting you to play nor are they all full of shiny buttons or whatever more or less smart incentive on every screen that invites you to the cash-shop on every opportunity.

But to know that, you need to get your hands dirty, and try and play those games (I recommend trying various publishers and game types also, as policies and mechanics may vary greatly). And the good news is, you don't need to spend any money to do that.

P.S. You can also read Will's book, which shall have pretty nice insights.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 22nd April 2013 3:42pm

Posted:A year ago

#56

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