Iwata takes issue with "insincerity" of free-to-play

Nintendo president worries about undermining value of content, but says "free-to-start" can co-exist with packaged retail games

Nintendo is finally going into mobile game development, but the company is still wary of many tactics associated with the market. Speaking with Time, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata discussed some of his reservations, starting with the business model commonly referred to as "free-to-play."

"I do not like to use the term 'Free-to-play,'" Iwata said. "I have come to realize that there is a degree of insincerity to consumers with this terminology, since so-called 'Free-to-play' should be referred to more accurately as 'Free-to-start.'

"The thing that concerns me most is that, in the digital age, if we fail to make efforts to maintain the value of our content, there is the high possibility for the value to be greatly reduced as the history of the music industry has shown," he added. "On the other hand, I have no intention to deny the Free-to-start model. In fact, depending on how we approach this model, we may be able to overcome these problems."

Iwata went on to say he doesn't think Nintendo needs to commit to just free-to-start games or the company's traditional packaged goods titles. Different games will suit different business models, Iwata said, and there are still plenty of customers who appreciate retail games.

The executive also addressed a recent report that Nintendo is working with Netflix on a live-action Zelda TV series.

"As of now, I have nothing new to share with you in regard to the use of our IPs for any TV shows or films, but I can at least confirm that the article in question is not based on correct information," Iwata said.

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Latest comments (9)

Brian Lewis Operations Manager, PlayNext5 years ago
This is like complaining that apples are advertised as 'health food', when we all know that the fruits and vegetables around it are all just as healthy. F2P is a marketing term, and as such is used as part of a marketing lure. In the western market free is a very common marketing lure, and comes in many variations. It was common in retail long before the internet, and as such has been used there as well. F2P is a marketing term, which doesn't have to be used. There are plenty other terms that could be used (try SAAS or even fermium). It is only problematic if people wish to get the benefits of F2P marketing, but do not want to be associated with it.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.5 years ago
Brian, he's not saying you shouldn't call it "free". It's the accompanying connotation that he has issue with.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development5 years ago
Many F2P games genuinely ARE free though. Some aggressive games will let you sample a game and then gradually phase you out of it until you pay up, but I suspect those are in the minority of successful games and get an undeserved amount of media influence mainly due to the "think of the children" click bait.

Sorry for the plug, but our Combat Monsters game can be played gratis forever. There are no ever-lengthening timers to wait on or any of that shit. If you play for free you will not get as many choices or have them available as quickly, but for some this is a fine compromise to not have to pay for anything.

Commercially speaking, those freeloaders still add value as they make the online game busier for those willing to shell out on the full experience, so it's something we actively try to promote. We want them there to play the game, not just to delude ourselves that this class of player will ever pay up "one day".

(Now if only we could reach more than 10 people a day it may even work...)
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 5 years ago
@Paul: Silly idea, but have you thought about approaching Nintendo with Combat Monsters and perhaps seeing if it's something they'd be interested in maybe getting onto their new platform? Hell I'd bet a lot of people who ignore F2P or mobile games in general would e surprised at how much fun your game is.

It's probably going to be a pain to work with all the stuff they throw at you, but I'd gather that you'd get that more than 10 people playing if something can be worked out. I liked what I played of CM a lot, but not having an always online connection has kept me from coming back (that and I know I'd never get anything done if I got hooked into another well-made game like this one).
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Istvan Fabian Principal Engineer, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe5 years ago
Can I just somehow add a star to Iwata-san's comment this time...?
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Brian Lewis Operations Manager, PlayNext5 years ago

The headline is "Iwata takes issue with "insincerity" of free-to-play ". This is a public figure complaining that a marketing term is not accurate... but then accepting its use for his products. I would be totally accepting (and even happy to see) if they chose to come out stating that they will not be using the term F2P, but instead will be using Free to Start for all of their products, and would appreciate it if everyone used this term for their products,

However, they are not asking that their products NOT be listed as F2P, or that they not benefit from the marketing of their products in this manner (i.e. they like the benefits of the marketing). They are simply accepting the marketing as it provides them with sales, then in a sideline they make noises about how it is not correct.

Nintendo is in a position that they could make a very clear stance on this, and in doing so could separate their products from the others in the market. This might not be the best thing for them in the short term, but it most definitely could help them stand out in the long term.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Brian Lewis on 25th March 2015 5:24pm

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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.5 years ago
Brain, check out the full interview. He does use the term Free-to-Start rather than Free-to-Play.
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Paul Johnson Managing Director / Lead code monkey, Rubicon Development5 years ago
@Greg: Thanks for the praise, glad you liked the look of it. :)

We've worked with Nintendo before and didn't find it half as hard as some stories I've heard, so I wouldn't rule it out. One issue though is that they'd almost definitely want a new build that doesn't play with the others on account of excessive tweaking and mungeing, so it'd have to be a bloody lucrative deal to justify it. Our cashpot is about empty and we need to move on after our next epic update - we've run out of funding to do speculative work on it as we have another brand that actually pays people!
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.5 years ago
Paul, I've downloaded it as of yesterday but haven't had time to play it yet. However, I've read of several devs starting to offer cross play between Nintendo eShop titles and Steam. They may not request a new build.
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