Team Meat co-founder furious at freemium sales tactics

Super Meat Boy and Blinding of Isaac developer unhappy with mobile gaming sales trends

Edmund McMillen of Team Meat has lashed out against the current mobile gaming monetization schemes permeating much of the mobile landscape today. McMillen believes that there is a complete lack of respect by developers towards their customers, something that is inherently breaking the values that game developers should hold.

"There is an ongoing theme these days to use a very basic video game shell and hang a 'power up carrot' in front of the player," said McMillen on his blog. "The player sees this carrot, and wants it! All the player needs to do is a few very rudimentary repetitious actions to attain it, once they get to it, another drops down and asks them to do more... but then the catch... instead of achieving these 'goals' by running on the tread mill, you can instead just pay a single dollar and you instantly get to your goal! Better yet pay 10 and unlock all your goals without even having to ever play the game!"

McMillen's words relate to a gaming trend in free-to-play monetization. The central idea of free-to-play is that gamers have the choice to pay for content within the game, rather than pay for a game outright.

"Words cannot express how f***ing wrong and horrible this is, for games, for gamers and for the platform as a whole... this business tactic is a slap in the face to actual game design and embodies everything that is wrong with the mobile/casual video game scene.

"I've gone off on a tangent a bit but what I'm trying to get at is, we are approaching development to [Super Meat Boy: The Game] with very open eyes, we want to make a game that WE would love to see on the platform, a feature length reflex driven platformer with solid controls that doesn't manipulate you with business bullsh*t in order to cash in."

"We want SMB:TG to show the player we respect them, not only by not manipulating them, but also by understanding they want a real challenge and they want a real sense of fulfillment when they have achieved something that's difficult... you know, like real games do."

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Latest comments (7)

Darren Adams Managing Director, ChaosTrend5 years ago
All fine words but... games sold on the AppStore at the cheapest price point net you around 30p per unit which is pretty poor. Now freemium can give developers a little more back by simply adding adverts (which you can pay to remove) and 'fast track' in-game objects/cash that can be paid for in real money. Don't get me wrong, there are many companies that really leave their morals at the door when they devise a monetisation plan, but there are quite a few who play fair.

I don't think it is a totally bad thing and it is almost a necessity when all your competitors are giving their game away free. Us developers know that isn't strictly true, but the customer generally does not. They see a free game and will usually pick it over a similar paid game, simply because the risk has been removed. They can play without ever paying if they want, or conversely they can stump up some cash if they like the game.

When all is said and done, there just isn't much money in moblie (unless you are the top 1%) and freemium is a way to potentially earn more from your downloaded game. So I think freemium can be good for the customer and developer alike (when done right), though it does massively devalue paid games.

Evolution is always a painful process.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Darren Adams on 8th May 2012 12:26am

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Timo Tolonen Community Manager, Jagex Games Studio5 years ago
I think Mr. McMillen is talking about what Jonathan Blow has mentioned a few time: monetisation should not be put ahead of game design. The goals and 'tread mill' should be, first and foremost, fun in and of itself. Monetisation shouldn't help you bypass parts of a game or make the boring bits more bearable. It boils down to this: if a player has to buy their way to fun, the game has already failed on a fundamental level.
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Thomas Dolby Project Manager / Lead Programmer, Ai Solve5 years ago
This is what I've been saying for a while as well. I don't see the point in games where you grind pointless repetitive tasks to get some kind of trophy item (that decreases the amount of time you have to spend grinding for certain tasks! wow!), and after you get the item, you grind for something else.

After a while you'd hope people would realise they're putting not only hours, but their hard earned cash into simply building up a virtual shelf of icons which has no value. And to top it all off, they haven't actually had any real fun along the way, just a faint illusion that it's all worthwhile.
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Show all comments (7)
Murray Lorden Game Designer & Developer, MUZBOZ5 years ago
As Timo says, the law (for good respectful game designers) should be: "Monetisation should not come BEFORE gameplay, and should never make the gameplay worse on purpose".

It is possible to implement systems of monetisation that are justified, and work within the gameplay. And I think that's fine. After all, yes, we are competing in a world where tonnes of games are free. It's good for games to be free! We've always had demos for example.

Wolfenstein was released as a "freemium" game decades ago.
Play the first levels for free, and pay if you want to play the rest!
That's good freemium.

But if you make a game that's constantly and methodically nagging you to spend money, I think that's really bad game design. It's disrespectful and somewhat exploitative.

Many companies are doing this, and what saddens me is that is seems quite effective.
Who are these people playing these games? That's what I want to know!

I hope that in the coming few years, we see the freemium business model refine itself down to something more respectable. But then, if people are paying, maybe they like it? I just think it must be working by exploiting naive gamers...?

I think core players generally don't like these new freemium games that require payments to "reduce wait times" and "buy powerup powder" and such. The freemium model often goes against what we enjoy about games. We ENJOY the hardest parts. And if you have to wait for a building to be constructed, or to harvest some minerals, that's because the game was balanced that way for a reason! Not to coax you into spending money out of frustration!

I think the naggy freemium model may be working as effectively as it is because there's lots of new gamers playing games on platforms that didn't exist before.

I've seen stats that say that men are less likely to convert from free to paying. That older women are making up a larger portion of those converting across. Which may make sense if we consider these may be middle aged women with a somewhat disposable income, playing games on Facebook, or other online / mobile platforms.

That's a generalisation, but just an example of how the stats might suggest that people newer to games as a medium may be the ones happier to embrace the naggy freemium format.

And if these players spend $10 on a game they're enjoy, or even $30, well, that's still less that what you or I might go and spend on a game tomorrow! So...

What scares me is that these games are taking up a lot of space in the market, and filling up a lot of the slots on the Top 100 charts on the App Store for example, thus knocking the more serious games (that I'd be looking for) out of that high visibility space. It galls me a bit that these naggy freemium games have become the norm to such a degree. It's also possibly raising a new generation of gamers who accept (and even expect) these sorts of strategies and game design philosophies.

We need fresh gamers to appreciate good games, real games, or we're going to get stuck making filthy freemium drivel!

Heaven forbid.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Murray Lorden on 8th May 2012 5:24pm

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Nicholas Lovell Founder, Gamesbrief5 years ago
I think McMillen is mixing up tactics ("fleece users out of money by dull repetitive grind") for strategy ("find ways to get as many people as possible to play your game - free is a good price point - and to allow your biggest fans to spend a meaningful amount of money on stuff they value")

The tactics won't last. The strategy is likely to be the one followed by most successful games companies in the future.
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Reza Ghavami Marketing Analyst, NVIDIA5 years ago
I absolutely despise this business model, driven by greed instead of passion and creativity.
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Craig Page El Presidente, Awesome Enterprises5 years ago
So... if I paid two dollars, would I get TWO carrots??
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