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Free-to-play: Shut up about money, talk about games

Free-to-play: Shut up about money, talk about games

Fri 12 Jul 2013 6:51am GMT / 2:51am EDT / 11:51pm PDT
BusinessDevelopment

Free-to-play games have an image problem - and always will, until we stop talking like accountants and start talking like creators

Allow me to state what is probably the most controversial opinion in the video games business right now - I think that free-to-play is a really useful model for certain situations, but I don't think it's the solution to all our business problems. Boom - in one fell swoop, I have alienated both sides of a ludicrously, childishly bitter argument, and I fully expect the warring factions to descend upon me and rend me limb from limb. Should I escape, it will only be because they realise that they despise each other more than me, allowing me to crawl out between their legs as the regularly scheduled hair-pulling and eye-gouging between the two camps resumes.

"If consumers could see just how nasty industry professionals get over new business models, their blood would run cold"

Honestly, if the kind of consumers who engage in regular drive-by flaming of the owners of rival console platforms on web forums and YouTube comment threads could see just how nasty industry professionals get over new business models, their blood would run cold. A 14 year old may seek to calm his raging hormones and dull the emotional pain of his unsightly acne by questioning the sexuality and parenthood of someone dull-witted enough to buy hardware from a different corporation than the one he chose to spend his mum's money with, but that pales in comparison to the sheer acid vehemence with which 34- and 44-year-old advocates of F2P and those convinced of its intrinsic evil lay into one another. On the one side are parasites, philistines and soulless monsters whose eyes are blind to art or beauty even as their fingers scrabble for pennies in a greasy till; on the other are dinosaurs, dreamers and outdated, outmoded idiots whose stubborn insistence on the old ways will run the games business in to the ground.

It's all rather playground. It's also all a consequence not just of a genuine resistance to new ideas (which does exist) or of genuine flaws with the F2P model (which also exist), but of some insanely poorly considered communication. Advocates of F2P, and I cautiously include myself in that bracket, are fairly rubbish at speaking a language which game creators understand or can identify with. There's a shared vocabulary up to a point, because everyone has an interest in a core thing - "making games, and making enough money from them to keep a roof over your head" - but beyond that, the focus of communication gets lost. We peel off in wildly different directions. Game creators want to talk more about making games. F2P advocates, it seems, prefer to talk about making the roof over your head fancier, attaching chandeliers and perhaps putting in a rooflight. Made of diamonds.

As such, they end up talking up F2P using a language which is utterly alienating to many creators. There's a relentless focus on monetisation, emphasising the ability of F2P models to efficiently and effectively extract the maximum possible money from an audience - especially from the "whales" at the high end of that audience. There's talk of how traditional models involving up-front payment leave money on the table, letting players go on forever without paying another cent, when some would be more than willing to continue pumping cash into the game. In business terms, it's all terribly inefficient, the advocates enthuse, conjuring up what seem to them to be irresistible images of games shaped and moulded by data analysis into perfect engines for wringing money out of players who are fed into the machine in droves at the other end by the attraction of free games on the App Store.

"People working at a creative or management level in a games company are not financially motivated. If they were, they wouldn't be working in games"

There's a nugget of truth in all of these things, and even of harsh reality - it's even a very big nugget in some cases (especially the fact that traditional games do leave money on the table, and at the AAA end of the market, can no longer afford to do so). However, these nuggets are about as appetising to a game creator audience as McDonalds' nuggets are to vegans - it's simply the wrong audience. Why? Because on the whole, game creators - a term I'm using in a very broad sense to encompass the majority of people involved in the games business on every level - aren't primarily motivated by money. Yes, they want to keep a roof over their heads, but that is not the thing that gets them out of bed in the morning. Their motivations lie elsewhere.

That's a very broad, sweeping statement, but it's one which I think is backed up by even a cursory examination of reality. Game creators are talented, bright people. Some of the best programmers, artists, animators, sound designers and the like work in video games. Game designers themselves are, often without realising it, incredibly well versed in all manner of fields largely focused around human psychology and behaviour. Producers and studio managers are the world's most proficient herders of cats, displaying extraordinary people-management skills in bringing together these diverse talents and making them - broadly speaking - hit deadlines. Ultimately, just about any one of the people you find working at a creative or management level in a games company is provably not financially motivated, because if they were financially motivated, they wouldn't bloody well be working in games. (Indeed, many of the industry's technical staff, in particular, have a habit of buggering off to work in vastly more well-paid jobs in other sectors once they're in their thirties or forties and starting to worry about mortgages, children and all the rest of it.)

To those people, the utterly relentless focus on monetisation does exactly the opposite to what F2P advocates imagine. It turns them off; it's not why they're working here. Worse, it conjures up the worst stereotypes and examples of abusive F2P. The conversations all too often end with an F2P supporter finding themselves backed into having to defend an egregiously unpleasant F2P game which genuinely is all of the things F2P's detractors claim about the business model as a whole - an exercise not in fun and reward, but in frustration and compulsion, honed to extract payments from those with the lowest impulse control and poorest ability to delay gratification. As soon as the old arch-capitalist arguments roll out ("they're adults, if they want to spend $2000 a month on buying virtual gold from badly animated goblins who are YOU to say they shouldn't?"), you've lost the argument entirely. It's an adult's right to buy all the virtual gold they want, but you can't force a game creator to want to sell it to them. Neither can or should you convince anyone that your hard-nosed commercial reasoning is more valid than their artistic ideals - because beyond the aforementioned roof-over-head test, it's not more valid to value money over creativity, and you're an awful human being for trying to force such a deeply personal value system on others.

Yet here's the thing. I like F2P games - some of them, anyway. Puzzle & Dragons, for example, is actually one of my favourite games of the past few months. It's not deep or meaningful, and when I come to make a mental list of the games which justify my decision to continue devoting a good portion of my life to working in and around video games, it's not likely to feature anywhere on the list. It is, however, well designed and good fun, and it's engaged me for 20 minutes or more on a daily basis for the past three months, which is actually pretty impressive given my short attention span. It's also engaged about ¥2000 of my money (about $20), which is probably the most I've spent on an F2P game. I'm perfectly happy with that sum - it's fair, reasonable, good value and I don't begrudge it in the slightest.

"There are tens of millions of people out there who can be reached and engaged by developers working on free games. That's exciting from a creative standpoint"

The reasons why I, as a game player, like F2P games are utterly disconnected from the monetisation drum which so many experts keep on banging. I firmly believe that F2P has a lot of interesting things to offer game creators - partially in terms of keeping rooves over their heads, but also in terms of a different and interesting approach to designing games and engaging with consumers. Few people in F2P seem to want to talk about that (there are several great exceptions to that, I should add), perhaps because it doesn't fit the hard-nosed-fast-talking-business-guy image so many of them have slipped into by accident or by design, yet it's truth - there are ideas inherent to F2P that can actually improve games, not break them. I'd go so far as to say that it's not F2P that ruins so many free games, but the relentless focus on monetisation and the pursuit of the "whale", often to the point of genuine immorality, that ruins them.

F2P changes the transaction and relationship between creator and player in ways which can be positive. For a start, it's clearly and provably an insanely powerful way to get your game out in front of a huge number of people. It reaches vast audiences to whom payment - any payment - is a significant barrier, yet for many of whom significant investment of time is no barrier at all. There are literally tens of millions of people out there who can be reached and engaged by developers working on free games, yet who are totally out of reach of any developer working on a paid game. That's exciting - thrilling, in fact, from a creative standpoint. Reaching that many people with your work is a dream of many creators and it's suddenly within reach.

But once you've got them, don't you need to aggressively monetise them in a cynical, nasty way in order to keep the roof over your head? No. Here's an interesting thing - the Asian markets from which F2P sprang, so often quoted as proof of the longevity of the model by Western F2P experts, are generally far less focused on monetisation than Western models are, or rather, they're focused on it in a different way. Western F2P pursues increasing the maximum spend of top players; Asian F2P pursues expanding the conversion rate, getting more players to spend a little money rather than trying to pump extra cash out of big spenders. That's a huge generalisation - there are games on both sides of the world which buck the trend - but it's a general trend, nonetheless, and it's worth echoing other F2P advocates here by pointing out that in Asia, F2P is far from a flash in the pan. Perhaps some of its stability and longevity can be attributed to this willingness to keep sharp objects away from geese that lay golden eggs.

None of this is to say, of course, that there's anything wrong with having a clever monetisation strategy. You do want your best fans to spend more - you want them to be happy, delighted in fact, to spend more money, but there's a clear difference between a fan who happily injects $50 of his disposable income into your game because you've added some awesome new items or collectables that he simply must have, and an obsessed player who unknowingly fritters away next month's rent on virtual gems to feed a cynically honed compulsion loop. I know which one makes more money, of course, but I also know which one is, when deliberately implemented, a disgusting business practice - and don't give me the "he's an adult, who are you to say..." line. Not all legal, above board ways of making money are equally moral and easy to stomach, as is easily proved by the fact that Piers Morgan doesn't live in a cardboard box under a bridge.

"Western F2P pursues increasing the maximum spend of top players; Asian F2P pursues expanding the conversion rate"

Within F2P, then, there are a whole host of interesting ideas that aren't focused exclusively on monetisation. There's the notion of pleasing your true fans, allowing them to engage more deeply with the game (spending more money, yes, but in ways they actively want to spend it) and demonstrate their fan credentials. There's a whole host of interesting intermeshing game-meets-business mechanics around retention, the art and science of building a game which keeps people coming back to play again and again - of constructing balances of challenge and reward, of giving players control over their own playing schedules and giving them clear objectives to ensure that a game becomes part of their daily schedule. The whole knack of taking a player who downloaded your game for free because she was bored and turning her into someone who comes back for 20 minutes every day because she's having a great time is a glorious, lovely piece of design and psychology that's absolutely free of the cynical trappings of leeching money from whales, and deserves to be seen for what it is - a genuinely useful and interesting addition to the toolbox of game creators everywhere.

F2P advocates need to understand their audience better, and need to understand that while a relentless focus on the bottom line may appeal to executives, it will never meet anything but hostility further down the ladder - among people who work at creating games precisely because the bottom line isn't all that important to them. This shouldn't be a hard transition to make, because in my experience, most F2P advocates and experts are genuinely game fans in their own right. They see F2P as a way to secure the future of video games, to build it into the universal medium it deserves to be - but to do that, they need to stop talking about how much money we could all make, and start focusing on what's good, interesting and exciting about F2P for creators, not just accountants. Then, perhaps, we can move past the playground insults, consign some of the more awful F2P monsters to the dustbin of history, and start thinking about how these clever new techniques can genuinely improve the industry for creators and players alike.

37 Comments

Eric Pallavicini Game Master, Kabam

329 223 0.7
Now is the right time to release a Popcorn Microtransaction Shop I guess. :)

Posted:A year ago

#1

Tameem Antoniades Creative Director & Co-founder, Ninja Theory Ltd

196 164 0.8
I <3 Rob

Posted:A year ago

#2
Great article! Rob has put alot of what I've always been mulling about into a beautifully woven tapestry. Bravo!

Posted:A year ago

#3

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

925 1,560 1.7
Amen Rob, you're my new hero.

Posted:A year ago

#4

Eric Pallavicini Game Master, Kabam

329 223 0.7
While I pretty much agree with all of the content of the article - and been struggling trying to say pretty much the same with really less talent as Rob did in the past 3 or 4 months here -, after reading it a 2nd or 3rd time, I feel compeled to react on this:
lovely piece of design and psychology that's absolutely free of the cynical trappings of leeching money from whales, and deserves to be seen for what it is - a genuinely useful and interesting addition to the toolbox of game creators everywhere.
This is the only thing I slightly disagree with. I do believe it is also necessary to include a bit of cynism in your design, but pardoxically with ethics. If you don't and your game is really successful, you'll end up in the situation where someone else will exploit the flaws and loopholes you left open for them. You have then two choices, fight an endless war (which also means you gonna have to ban or penalize your own players sometimes and that there will be a cost) and deal with the pirates - who typically won't hesitate to silently blackmail you with DDOS attacks for example if you become too efficient in hindering them and their parasite business (so you'd rather not let them have a presence in your game from the beginning). If you lack a cynical vision (not meaning you have to become immoral yourself, let's be clear) you'll be the easiest prey ever.

Microtransactions offer some means that were not there before, to actually take the wind out of the pirates's sails. In that sense, being able to understand cynism and to anticipate it is necessary in my opinion for the future of "healthy" online gaming. Unless there is a way to have a symbiotic relationship with the parasites, but I very much doubt it at the moment.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 12th July 2013 9:38am

Posted:A year ago

#5

Yannick Van Broeck Game Writer

1 1 1.0
Very well written article! Bravo Rob!

Posted:A year ago

#6

Jason Avent VP, Studio Head, NaturalMotion

139 140 1.0
Great article Rob. Seems very relevant to me because I just gave a talk at Develop that covered loads of optimistic facets for the future of free to play on mobile including the fact that we need to be patient and less aggressive. For example:

"We need to evolve our practices - our art. We shouldn’t con people into spending. We can motivate them just like any other point of sale but we have to be fair and that means deferring payment, being less aggressive and not spamming our players. F2P can still work really well within that understanding. If we don’t behave responsibly and fairly, players won’t trust us and they won’t play our games." Freemium games have to be fun enough to incite people into paying.

I was trying to get across the fact that as developers we're all trying to find a way of evolving free to play to make it less brash, crude and aggressive. That's what many of the Japanese f2p developers have managed and we need to learn from them. I did then link this to the optimistic view that we could then triple revenues and grow as an industry. This is exciting because it'll allow us to make even better games.

What did the press pick up on from all this? "AVENT SAYS F2P GAMES WILL MAKE $10M PER DAY!" - the evil capitalist scumbag! : )

Posted:A year ago

#7

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

2,282 2,481 1.1
We may not have gaming's Roger Ebert, but we do have gaming's George Orwell.

Rob, thanks again for clarifying and distilling another debate into the gist of the matter which is not only acceptable to parties on both sides but explains our positions to each other in a manner neither has so eloquently provided.

Posted:A year ago

#8

Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent

281 814 2.9
@Jason
What did the press pick up on from all this? "AVENT SAYS F2P GAMES WILL MAKE $10M PER DAY!" - the evil capitalist scumbag! : )
The irony. Who's the evil capitalist scumbag; the guy opening a debate among his contemporaries or the website quoting him out of context to feed the highly capitalistic conjunction between clicks and cash?

Also, Rob, I think this is the best feature of yours I've thus far read. Very, very good.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Dan Howdle on 12th July 2013 10:33am

Posted:A year ago

#9

Sam Brown Programmer, Cool Games Ltd.

235 164 0.7
we need to be patient and less aggressive
Agreed. Now who gets to put on the hockey mask and explain that to the investors and shareholders?

I have to admit, when I did my "I do this for the games not the money" rant on the Mattrick Zynga salary thread a few days ago, I was rather depressed at how many people came down on the side of money. I hope that was a vocal minority.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Sam Brown on 12th July 2013 10:39am

Posted:A year ago

#10

Dan Howdle Head of Content, Existent

281 814 2.9
I was with you Sam.

Posted:A year ago

#11

Sam Brown Programmer, Cool Games Ltd.

235 164 0.7
@Dan: I know, thanks! I know a lot of people agreed as well, I just hoped that we all thought like that. ;)

Posted:A year ago

#12

Jason Avent VP, Studio Head, NaturalMotion

139 140 1.0
The f2p market is getting more mature all the time - many of the early games on Facebook were all about the money and psychological trickery and not really about the game at all. I'm now seeing that the most successful f2p games on mobile seem to be more and more game than business focussed. I think that's going to be an ongoing trend as 'casual' gamers (whatever that means) get more sophisticated and discerning. Devs and publishers will have to follow that trend. It's moving to more of an 'if you build it, they will come' mentality now where good games draw people in because they're fun, then they pay. That's much more healthy in my view and more like the traditional gaming business.

I also find it heartening that Limbo got a feature recently on the app store and it's doing pretty well in the iOS top grossing chart. Badland is the number 1 free app too. They're not free to play games but they are bloody good and a bit quirky. I think this is a sign that tastes are changing and maturing. It's all positive.

Posted:A year ago

#13

Adrian Herber

69 23 0.3
Really enjoyed this article, I thought it was a great look at where F2P is going / needs to go.

There was one sentence in there that surprised me though: 'giving them clear objectives to ensure that a game becomes part of their daily schedule' [in a positive context]. I'd always figured the 'daily check-in' systems were another part of the dubious manipulation techniques suite. Am I just too cynical?

Posted:A year ago

#14

Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer

1,269 942 0.7
Really enjoyed the article.

Posted:A year ago

#15

Brian Lewis Operations Manager, Aeria Games Europe

137 84 0.6
I think that the whole cliche that Publishers are just after the money, and Developers are just making games for the artistic value is part of the problem. Any game that is going to be succesful (both fun to play, and enjoyed by many) is going to need both elements. The fact that so many people insist that the responsibilities should be split, instead of shared shows a lack of understanding.

Many (if not most) of the greatest works of art in history are the result of commercialism. They were commisioned (paid for) by wealthly patrons, and in doing so have enriched us all. Is the Sistine Chapel any less inspiring because it was paid for by a whale? Any true artist knows that business is the way that they make the money, so that they CAN do these works of art, else they would never happen (at all).

A good business model (and publisher) empowers a creative developer to bring the best that they can to the rest of the world. Without the money to fund these projects (games) we would never get to see most of them. We would certainly never see MORE of them.

Posted:A year ago

#16
@Brian Lewis "The fact that so many people insist that the responsibilities should be split, instead of shared shows a lack of understanding"

Perfectly said sir.

Posted:A year ago

#17
I've often been categorised as anti free to play, but I'm mostly a f2p sceptic for a lot of the reasons Rob covered in this article, plus some others but I won't get into that. I don't think the current back and forth playground arguments are helping things get better either.

However what I think is really important is that I don't believe free to play is the only path forward for games, it's going to be one of many different business models that's going to support the increasing diversity of game types that are being made now. This is the thing a lot of people on both sides of the argument seem unwilling to accept. There's such a push of all or nothing, which I don't think accurately reflects how the game industry has been developing over the past few years.

F2P certainly doesn't work well with all types of games and obviously doesn't suit all game creators. However if I was making the type of game that fitted F2P better then I'd be seeing if it's something I could make work, even if just as an experiment in reaching a larger audience. Right now I tend to make single payer narrative games where I personally don't think the F2P model works well at all so for now it's not for me.

Now all we need is to find some reasonable middle ground between the two camps. If the f2p advocates could stop trying to convince everyone that this is the only viable path for gaming, and if the anti f2p developers could spend a bit more time with some of the more player-friendly well designed games maybe there'd be less squabbling.

Posted:A year ago

#18

Mark Barney Producer & Project Manager & Game Designer, Firefly Studios

3 0 0.0
Well written, balanced, and very amusing prose!

As a former MMO black-marketeer I often wondered how long it would take the industry to realize the potential of micro-transactions.

Players who want the best gear and best characters are going to obtain those things. Without micro-transactions in your game, a black market develops to provide them with these things. All that money which could be flowing back into the development and maintenance of the game instead goes to unscrupulous individuals who do not care if they ruin the game for other players. Take it from me, I used to be one of those people.

The challenge for developers comes in cutting out the black-market middlemen or making their existence unnecessary and still having a game that is more than the highest payers steamrolling everyone else.

I'll say it again, since I think this is an important fact: Players who want the best "stuff" are going to get it. One way or another. Better they do it YOUR way.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Mark Barney on 16th July 2013 6:31pm

Posted:A year ago

#19

Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital

207 1,122 5.4
Popular Comment
I remember times when games (even mobile games) were products that I consumed to entertain me. Now, when I consider whether or not to play Plants vs. Zombies 2, I have to look up opinions whether or not the game can be played without feeling that I need to purchase something in order to fully enjoy the game.
And that's what's wrong with FTP. The game is no longer my "friend". It's an emotional blackmailer, a drug dealer that let's me fall in love with itself only to make me pay if I want the love to be returned. And it does not matter whether the FTP is "fair" or exploitative. I never play games that do not let me buy a "premium" version without any need to purchase anything to fully enjoy the game.

I want to pay for games, I don't even mind to be a whale, but making the game a lesser experience unless I am force to pay at every corner is unacceptable for me.
But I also know that I am a species that is facing an extinction in this matter. Sadly.

Posted:A year ago

#20

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

925 1,560 1.7
I agree, Jakub.

I try to be a loud voice in the pro f2p camp, but shoehorning this stuff into existing brands is bound to win no friends. They should have kept well away from PVZ.

Posted:A year ago

#21

Eric Pallavicini Game Master, Kabam

329 223 0.7
Decided to remove the comment and "let it go".

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Eric Pallavicini on 12th July 2013 7:26pm

Posted:A year ago

#22

Kim Lund Gaming Consultant

2 0 0.0
Eloquently said Rob!

I'm a fierce advocate of the same views on f2p within my gaming vertical - online poker. Treating players with cynicism and methodically optimizing revenues based on trends on an excel sheet is obviously (and sadly) in my industry's DNA. Coupled with eve more data-driven f2p and all the parts required for a horribly addictive and easily exploitable revenue monster are there.
So it's not an easy fight to convince people to step back a bit.

But I think there are arguments for doing so that stretches beyond the softer, ethical values you focus on. I think a case can be made that the kind of coercive monetization methods you (and I) dislike actually aren't optimal for all player groups anyway. Monetization that is intimately linked to game progression and mastery is very counter-intuitive if you're a true challenge seeking player. Not paying in such games is not just motivated by a desire to save money but also by the desire to beat the game fair and square. Not paying can essentially turn into a meta game. Just as much as pay gates can make people pay I think they can trigger players of a certain mindset NOT to pay. When paying, in the mind of a player, is equal to cheating the drive to play is gone as soon as he or she takes the plunge and forks up. The urge to beat the game is gone once you've read the walkthrough so to speak.

Jakub's comment above reflects this broken relationship between a game and a player. Surely, if your game is designed for such an audience, it can't be optimal to design monetization that encourages players not to pay.

I also think the art of designing monetization can be one of the most fun game design challenges IF it's done right. Finding out ways to couple gameplay mechanics and content to the in-game economy in a just, fair and intriguing manner for an f2p sceptic audience is a ton of fun imho.

Posted:A year ago

#23

Edward Buffery Pre-production Manager

149 96 0.6
Great article! It's certainly a topic that has become more and more important over the last few years, and stories that use extreme examples as representative of the whole business model certainly do not help. I honestly despise games that make users pay to skip waiting times that exist for no other purpose than to generate revenue. I also hate it when games charge money for the most basic functions that should really be provided for free because the game just isn't fun without them.

Having said that, I have no problem whatsoever with the model when it's 'done right'. I've recently sunk a lot of hours into League of Legends and the Mechwarrior Online open beta, both F2P games. Both are enormously fun, and allow you to access just about everything in the game except for cosmetic options for free. Money is used to buy things faster that you could have bought anyway with a few hours play each evening or a solid weekend marathon, cool cosmetic changes, and 'premium' items that have little to no effect on your ability to win a match, but do give you a (not absurd) boost to the rate at which you can earn xp or the non-premium in-game currencies. I've already spent about $15 on MWO even in the full knowledge that some of the things I've bought with that may be lost when they hit a 'full launch' and reset parts of my profile. I'll never regrest that because I've had so much fun with the game in general and the things I spent my premium currency on. I may well spend a few $ on LoL too in time. In fact, if I'm still playing LoL in a month and still haven't spent anything on it, I will actually start to feel GUILTY for having enjoyed it so much without given them a cent, and I will be perfectly happy to hand Riot a couple of dollars for a cool new skin to my favourite champion (and if it happens to be on sale...).

Posted:A year ago

#24

Charles Ellis CEO & Lead Developer, Portalus Games

10 5 0.5
[T]here's a clear difference between a fan who happily injects $50 of his disposable income into your game because you've added some awesome new items or collectables that he simply must have, and an obsessed player who unknowingly fritters away next month's rent on virtual gems to feed a cynically honed compulsion loop.
...
The whole knack of taking a player who downloaded your game for free because she was bored and turning her into someone who comes back for 20 minutes every day because she's having a great time is a glorious, lovely piece of design and psychology that's absolutely free of the cynical trappings of leeching money from whales
I think it's important to realize that anytime you're providing a service which hinges on the psychology of stimulation and deliberately withholding attainment of further stimulation, you run into compulsive play habits. Game design has a very obvious effect on how common that kind of behavior is (I think with strictly gambling games this is most clear), but you can probably never avoid it completely.
The key thing to understand is that the mechanism of input isn't the deciding factor. When you create a game mechanic or collectible that encourages a bunch of players to spend $50, how many people are you encouraging to spend $1000 that they don't have? When you create a mechanic that encourages a bunch of players to spend 20 minutes every day, how many people are you encouraging to spend eight hours that they don't have?

The MMO industry, using the same service model which is basically necessary for F2P titles, has dealt with this since it first began and I imagine still deals with it today, subscription-based or not. I think we should avoid demonizing money-centric business models for the same unfortunate results that can be found in time-centric business models. Furthermore, my instinct (and hope) is that the F2P model allows designers to integrate trade-offs between a player's time and money expenditure to ultimately reduce the total "input demand" that must be built into the design to generate sufficient revenue. How much shorter could the grinds in Everquest have been if they had allowed players to purchase an instant spawn of certain mobs/dungeons to offset the revenue received from monthly subscriptions?

You're spot on however about there being a multitude of ways to implement F2P business models which all have various degrees of meshing with game design, and that the focus should be on that interaction rather than merely the most efficient means of growing revenue. If you want to focus too heavily on the latter I can save you some time and give you some examples to follow: Caesars, MGM Resorts, Double Down, Zynga, etc.

Edited 4 times. Last edit by Charles Ellis on 13th July 2013 3:28pm

Posted:A year ago

#25

Andreia Quinta Creative & People Photographer, Studio52 London

228 631 2.8
I fully expect the warring factions to descend upon me and rend me limb from limb. Should I escape, it will only be because they realise that they despise each other more than me, allowing me to crawl out between their legs as the regularly scheduled hair-pulling and eye-gouging between the two camps resumes.
Pure gold, I was actually expecting the comments to be rants about what's best, turns out it looks very polite and constructive, I guess it's because Rob is such a charismatic writer, if that even exists.

Posted:A year ago

#26

Kevin Corti Games industry consulting, SpiderShed Media

9 8 0.9
Very well said Rob - F2P is undoubtedly leading to a massive growth in our industry but if we're not careful it will come at the cost of talented people, reputation and pride. I saw Jason's talk at Develop last week as well as several other on-topic talks and I left Brighton very much more encouraged that UK devs, at least, are moving towards a much more positive approach to FTP; one that fosters significant prosperity derived from providing genuine player value.

At the end of the day, most players - except those very susceptible to gambling or OCD - will surely tire of the same thin veneer of 'gameplay' interlaced with a hard-edged approach to emptying their bank account. They will become 'FTP game literate' and then they will be demanding ever-more engaging and engrossing entertainment experiences.

If we keep up the collective messaging that you have provided above then I think in 12-18 months 'FTP-flaming' will be the activity of only a minuscule minority of stuck-in-their-ways grumpy gits who probably moan at any opportunity. The industry and the players that it serves will have moved on.

Posted:A year ago

#27
It's not an immature argument. No one is arguing that art isn't commercial. We're also all well aware that games have gone through multiple business models. From arcade, to home, to subscription an now F2P and all have changed game design in the process (we don't have 3 lives anymore) .

But the point is that the changes to the business models DO change game design and are the changes caused by F2P a good thing for games.

I would argue no and I would say that the reason why Plants Vs Zombies isn't as good isn't because existing franchises just don't translate but rather that all games are made worse by F2P, the only reason you don't realize it for the "good" F2P games is because you haven't played a non F2P version.

Posted:A year ago

#28

Jakub Mikyska CEO, Grip Digital

207 1,122 5.4
What I tried to tell in my post above is that the relationship between the game and the player is broken, if the FTP is not 100% perfect and fitting the game. F2P is new and cool and people like to try it. But if the current model continues to be broken, more and more people will put down the pink glasses and will look at other alternatives.
This is not "doom to F2P" call, but rather an opinion that F2P is shooting itself in the leg and the current cash grab can lead to the collapse of the whole ecosystem, with only a handful of extremely successful and trustworthy F2P games and a slew of non-hit games that nobody pays for.

Posted:A year ago

#29

Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development

925 1,560 1.7
Broken:

Earnings from three top F2P games on a mobile phone is about equal to the value of the entire UK console game market. Just three games. Surely there aren't that many mentally retarded OCD children with their parent's credit cards?

No, what is broken is the old model that went from the only game in town to a bit part minority player in about a year. To all those people who just don't get this, please ignore. It'll just piss you off even more and you'll have to try harder and harder to find scapegoats rather than accept that F2P is what people other than you actually want.

Posted:A year ago

#30

Keldon Alleyne Handheld Developer, Avasopht Ltd

454 443 1.0
@Paul: What is the average earning for F2P games, the standard deviation of earnings and market size / number of software developers? Until the maths add up it would be pretty short sighted to call it the economic answer to software development.

Earnings from three top F2P games say nothing about the overall climate of development. And that is not to say that F2P is bad or less than the old model, just that such positive statements are not consequential conclusions derived from the provided data.

Grouping all people as just people is an over generalisation and does not reflect the reality that well. If you just want subjective statements relevant to specific business goals, then perhaps if your concept of 'people' is just the most profitable mass then perhaps that phrase is fine. If on the other hand you want a more objective statement such a grouping of population is terribly incorrect.

Market sustainability and climate are largely determined by those first to factors I pointed out, average and standard deviation (as well as z-score) against other variables such as the market supply, etc. And I won't tone down my response (it's not meant to be demeaning at all): pointing out such a small sample query displays a terrible misunderstanding of the application of data.

Opinions are a dime a dozen, but identifying those variables I mentioned up there are highly valuable.

As to what people want; I won't pretend to have sat down and philosophised about the answer, instead I'd just point out that human decisions are incredibly irrational. Just look at the the correlation between organ donors national percentage versus whether they have an opt-in or opt-out policy. People don't know what they want. Heck we can't even give people their money first at an ATM otherwise they'll forget their cards due to the brain's task-completion bug!!

I like F2P for some games, particularly the ones I enjoy playing but don't think are worth paying for and I agree with the value of games in the old model. I like some mechanics in some games but not all, so F2P payment mechanics might annoy me in a F1 title whereas I wouldn't mind it in something like FarmVille.

Is it the answer to everything? if so then you have found a silver bullet, which I highly doubt. Will F2P outflank the old model? Possibly. Is that a good thing? I guess we will have to wait and see.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Keldon Alleyne on 17th July 2013 8:34pm

Posted:A year ago

#31

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
Free to play on mobile is the gaming industry now.
Console is just a small niche for FPS obsessives. Hence the upcoming consoles trying to be media centres, to break away from the rut they are in.
Mobile provides a rich consumer experience that consoles just cannot emulate. The new main gaming device is the 7 inch tablet.
These are the facts of the market. 20 million people (1 in 3 of the total population) now regularly play video games on mobile in the UK.
2/3 of these play in the living room as part of a two screen experience. 1/2 play commuting to work. 1/4 play on the loo!

Posted:A year ago

#32

Keldon Alleyne Handheld Developer, Avasopht Ltd

454 443 1.0
@Bruce: are you kidding me? because there are so many console experiences that cannot be emulated on a 7 inch tablet.

You are right in that it is a larger market, but it is not a market for the same type of product. It's like comparing Hollywood blockbusters to Bollywood films or European cinema. They are all films but cater for different film experience needs.

It's nothing to do with FPS or obsessives, it's just a different experience like the difference between a go-kart and a remote control toy car controlled by an iPad app. Sure more people own remote control cars than go karts, but they are just different markets.

It is clear that there is plenty of money in the mobile gaming market, but the economic environment for F2P needs to be able to cater for the 2-6 million game developers (I forget the figure, is that it) in the world before you can call it the better and ultimate form of software delivery. Bruce you're in marketing, hit me with some real figures dude.

Posted:A year ago

#33

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
Console has been in fairly rapid decline since 2008.
Mobile has been growing at 30% PA compound and will continue to do so for some years.
Very soon there will be 2 billion active smartphones out there. Eventually there will be 7 billion.

Posted:A year ago

#34

Keldon Alleyne Handheld Developer, Avasopht Ltd

454 443 1.0
Not those figures. I spoke of sustainability of the economy, I even pointed out the specific values because they are more important than the growth and decline. In fact in marketing you should be fully aware of market cycles, etc. and so many other things. Or maybe those are taught more in other disciplines but as far as I'm concerned a marketing consultant or marketing director should be applying some basic maths to their observations of markets.

Seriously Bruce, show some real analytical prowess with numbers. I'll not waste my breath on mentioning your clear amnesia with regards to the console market, you constantly ignore every time I mention it it so I'm guessing it's part of your communication strategy.
Eventually there will be 7 billion.
7 billion smartphones yeah? You mean like those people earning less than $1 per day blowing their entire 8 hour wage on the latest pine hammer in the new SmashVille F2P game yeah?

Posted:A year ago

#35

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant

1,692 594 0.4
@ Keldon Alleyne

There are over 300 separate companies making smartphones in China.
Currently you can get a smartphone for under $50. Soon this will be under $25. Or $1 per month on a two year contract.

There are over 7 billion phones in use in the world today. Approx 5 billion dumb and feature phones and approx 2 billion smart phones. Very rapidly there will be no dumb phones. Smartphones will be offering so much more to their users for only slightly more money.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Bruce Everiss on 18th July 2013 8:25am

Posted:A year ago

#36

Edward Buffery Pre-production Manager

149 96 0.6
Console's have tried to be 'media centres' in a big way since the first Xbox, and Keldon's point about different target markets can't be overlooked. The target market for mobile games is indeed far larger than the target market for console games, and F2P has proved to be very successful for the mobile market. Neither of those facts imply that mobile games can or will replace console games, nor that F2P would be a more successful pricing strategy for console titles. If consoles are in decline, the growth of mobile gaming is just one of many factors, and probably not even one of the biggest. Personally, I spend a little less time playing PC and console games than I used to, but I don't even own a mobile gaming device and have no wish to either, so that's simply not an influence.

With a vastly bigger market for mobile games and far more developers, of course the best of them do better than the top console focused companies. I'd be interested to know how much revenue the average mobile developer of F2P titles makes versus the revenue of an average console non-F2P developer. Even then, it's hard to imagine a result that would imply that the console company's games would have done better on mobile instead and / or on console but as F2P.

Posted:A year ago

#37

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