$60 retail price "exploitative" says EA free-to-play boss

Easy Studios general manager sees "platform agnostic" future led by "open" platforms

Traditional retail has been described as a "harsh business model" and $60 price tags "exploitive", by EA's Ben Cousins, general manager of the company's free-to-play division Easy Studios.

Speaking to Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Cousins admitted that the business model for free-to-play games in the West was "not set yet", but he admitted failing to understand why the concept continues to attract controversy.

"I've been doing this for four years now, so it feels kind of normal to me but I can't think of anything more exploitative than gating all of your content behind having to pay someone $60. That's a really harsh business model if you think about it objectively.

"What we do is enable everyone to play the game, and figure out if they like it. If they don't like it they can walk away and they don't lose anything. How many times have we all bought crappy games for $60, right? And the majority of people in our game spend less than that the cost of a full-priced game," he said.

Cousins also predicted a future where "open" platforms such as the PC, Mac, Linux, Android, and Chrome would lead to developers becoming "platform agnostic".

"You are seeing that with HTML5, Unity, the Molehill version of Flash, these are 3D engines with high level features and hardware graphics support, and they will run on any of those platforms," said Cousins.

"I see the future being guys on PCs playing this stuff, but they will be playing with guys on Android Tablets and Mac Netbooks, etc, etc."

The next game from Easy Studios, which already operates Battlefield Heroes, Lord Of Ultima and Battleforge, is Battlefield Play4Free - based on 2007 hit Battlefield 2 and using assets from Battlefield: Bad Company 2.

According to Cousins the business model is broadly identical to Battlefield Heroes, with the company's experience leading it to expect that only 10 per cent of players will purchase paid-for-content.

Of those that do use microtransactions Cousins characterises 50 per cent as purchasing items to give an advantage in gameplay and the other half as buying items purely to improve the visual look of their characters.

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Latest comments (11)

Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game6 years ago
Now my experience of Freemium model games is that crap not fun elements are purposefully added in just so people pay to negate them (energy points farming/slow regen, long travelling times). Now obviously people accept that companies have to make their money, and it is free after all. But on the other hand there will always be people willing to pay upfront (whether that's 15 or 40) for a game which hasn't got purposefully crap bits in it.
Or there's items that give a competive advantage, but some people prefer level playing fields.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Andrew Goodchild on 23rd March 2011 10:15am

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Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 6 years ago
I agree with Andrew. Some people are gullible enough to perceive value in buying upgrades to free to play games to make their experience more enjoyable. But Id rather personally fork-out 60 and have a premium experience staright out of the box and achieve my upgrades through play, rather than through my wallet (in MP games for example).

And also I find it rather amusing EA's free-to-play boss is pissing in his own backyard, or maybe he doesnt know EA publishes those $40-$60 titles by the dozen a year.

And ALSO "50 per cent as purchasing items to give an advantage" is a definate horror in my book. I like a level playing field, not a game where your ability to pay dictates the balance.

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I tend to play games I purchase, much more than games I can play for free - because they are much, much better games. There are exceptions, but they *are* exceptions.

It was cool to play (& finish) the entire of Angry Birds for free - but I wouldn't play it again (repetitive in the extreme). If they "made money" off me being forced to watch some ads ... good luck to them.

And 'older' retail games can be purchased for just a few $: one of the best (and most enjoyable) DS titles I played, was Dragon Quest: Joker - which cost me $5 (AU).
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Show all comments (11)
Private Industry 6 years ago
I see a trend here.

Tried bf free to play. Its not horrible bad, but having to pay real money and no other way to get stuff like a kevlar west to survive more than 20 seconds isn't my idea of fair play. If i get killed because somebody has a higher level and better equipmebt fine by me, if i get killed because somebody spends more money thats not fun or fair in my books.

The last two games i regret to buy for fulk price where test drive unlimited and the first dragon age. So thats like one per year.
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Max Clayton Clowes Studying Computer Science, Durham University6 years ago
It's a good point, but a 60 price tag isn't really exploitative if the game is actually good. Freemium models can be just as exploitative, if not more so. At least with console games you know you will not be encouraged to spend more money - though thats not strictly true now with the release of map packs and DLC- though it wont make the game experience any worse not to own this extra content.

An example - Infinity Blade. Whilst technically not free, it's price tag seemed to be fair given the high quality of graphics and fantastic gameplay. I invested a reasonable amount of time playing the game because it was fun and challenging, and I liked buying and mastering all the weapons/ armour. In the previous update, the introduced a service where you could pay real currency for in game currency. This didn't effect me, and I was able to get all the items released in the update without spending any real money. However, in this latest update, the new items are disproportionately expensive compared to the other items, and these items are really no better. Cleverly, the levelling system relies on you constantly using new items (you can't gain experience otherwise), so either you are faced with a slow, tedious grind to unlock disproportionately expensive items, with little reward for your time, or you must spend some serious money (for example, the FOURTH best sword in the game costs 11.99!)...

Or you can just stop playing.

Also, game reviews exist for a reason. If you get tricked into buying a terrible game, you obviously didn't do your research.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 6 years ago
I agree that retail game prices should come down. I really dont understand, if so many games come down in price shortly after they come out, why not sell them at that reduced price from the get go and sell more copies? Hardcore gamers will surley purchase it, but it makes non hardcore gamers more likely to pick a game up.

BulletStorm was a game I was looking foward to. However, once I saw that the single player campaign lasted roughly 7 hours, i was really put off, even more so when DLC was announced days after release, had i purchased the game on launch day i would have felt scammed. So aside from spending 60$ i have to purchase DLC in order to have the "Full" game expirience. Bullet Storm is a great game, but with so many great games at such high cost, frankly their are games I can live without.

Free to play is a nice idea. It lets a person check out the bulk of a game without having to pay and if they want new features they pay as they go. However what I disagree is with the approach to this. I think the total cost of unlocking features on a free to play game, should not exceed the total value of a full game. I really feel sorry for people who spend hundreds of dollers on a game like farmville to simply have the same recycled expirience. It feels more like a scam then something worth your money. I think paying a free to play game should be divided simply in free to play and premium. I feel the gaming expirienced is ruined if you have to pay everytime for every new feature added or every ability you need to get through differant parts of the game. So just make it free to play or premium, end of story.

I almost fell victem to farmville, but in deciding to wait, I saw how the business panned out and decided it wasnt worth it.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Rick Lopez on 23rd March 2011 1:43pm

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James Prendergast Research Chemist 6 years ago
@ Max

"Also, game reviews exist for a reason. If you get tricked into buying a terrible game, you obviously didn't do your research."

I'd contest this point. Most useful reviews (aka, word of mouth on forums) come out after the game has been released since publishers control the flow of information so tightly for their games. Also, annoyingly, is the relatively recent propensity for "front-loading" the buying incentive which is "rear-loaded" in Free to play games.

To make that a bit clearer:

Dragon Age 2 had minimal and very tightly constrained marketing (as did DA:O) which meant that you, the buyer weren't sure what you were getting. At the same time, the preorder bonuses (things that should just come with a new copy of the game) were all linked to a time point before the game was released. So if you pre-ordered the game before January, you got some (unless you preordered in multiple places) of the bonuses..... but if you preordered after the reviews came out you got nothing except the bog-standard "rewards".
Similarly, you see/saw the same thing with DRM as well, with publishers and developers being cagey enough about what restrictions were on their games before release....

Personally, i don't think this sort of thing is very fair for the consumer. It's "stick and stick" mentality and it isn't healthy for the industry's relationship with their customers. As a result of being burned multiple times this way, i no longer pre-order games (well, except the Portal 2 PS3 version) as 1) I don't know what i'm going to get because i can't trust the publisher/developer/media and 2) I refuse to be part of the "trick" being played on consumers by the companies involved.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game6 years ago
As for moving to open platforms, the general public don't seem to give a damn about open platforms. There have always been open options, but closed systems always sell. Closed systems make money for the owner, who in turn can spend this on marketing. That's why you see adverts for the DS and not for Pandora.
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Private Industry 6 years ago
Poor people who buy those 60 bucks games. You can cheat people out of a lot more money with the facebook games or free to play games compared to selling them Mass Effect 2 for 60 bucks. I see those as a lot more exploitative, because people are like "oh a new building for my farm and only x amount Zynga coins, oh a new type of tree for only x amount of coins" and before you know it with all those little micro transactions you get the people to spend more than the 60 bucks, because who really keeps track when they spend like 99 cents or how much all that stuff costs in real life money. Obviously having that fake currency helps even further because they don`t know how much 200 Zynga coins are or whatever currency they use or BF. But sure keep telling yourself the fixed price of 60 bucks are exploitative unlike all the social networking stuff because they don`t exploit people at all, whatever makes you sleep better at night.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game6 years ago
Not only can you spend more than $60 on a FB game, you pay it on a game that you were only playing becuase it was free, that you wouldn't have paid for in the first place.
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Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager 6 years ago
Mr Cousins seems to have resigned now.
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