Skip to main content

Molyneux questions the morality of freemium games

The celebrated British designer describes the lie behind free-to-play, and the pressing need for innovation

At a BAFTA event last night, ex-Lionhead boss Peter Molyneux outlined his thinking around propriety of the free-to-play business model for his new studio, 22 Cans.

Molyneux began by describing the single biggest problem: the term "free-to-play". The vast majority of Freemium games are not free to play at all, and yield very little satisfaction for those unwilling to part with any money. "They're more like demos with monetisation stuck on the end of them a lot of the time," he says.

However, with the future of traditional retail very much in doubt, there is a great need for developers to step in and innovate.

"If proper monetisation is built in from the ground up - and not designed some producer or some financially driven person - then I think amazing things can happen," he adds.

"There are very few checks in place. I think that a lot of the people we call whales are kids that have grabbed their parents phones. I know my son has done that"

"We, as human beings, love hobbies, we have different hobbies throughout our lives, and we love spending money on our hobbies. We love cooking for people and showing people our gardens. Why can't we have that thought about a computer game experience? So that people would want to invest money, not just feel compelled, or forced."

22 Cans' first project, "Curiosity", explores the psychology of free-to-play monetisation strategies. It presents players with a cube, and offers them three chisels of varying efficacy with which to chip towards its core: the first, and least effective, chisel is free; a better chisel is 59p; but the "diamond chisel" is £50,000, and only one will ever be sold.

"In a way it's testing the morality of monetisation. A lot of the time games monetise against cheating, if you're playing in multiplayer. And there is the whole moral issue about getting people addicted and asking for money from them. There are very few checks in place.

"I think that a lot of the people we call whales are kids that have grabbed their parents phones. I know my son has done that."

Molyneux chose the £50,000 price tag for Curiosity's one-of-a-kind diamond chisel because he found the thought of someone paying for it "almost impossible." But the key word there is "almost" because, as Molyneux points out, there are examples of individuals spending far more in free-to-play games - one World of Tanks player invested almost £500,000 in a single tank.

The chance of anyone parting with so much money is surely dependent on what lies at the centre of the cube. However, in Curiosity, the mystery is the whole point, and Molyneux is characteristically confident that the prize will be worth the effort.

"Well, I know what's in the middle of the cube. And whoever breaks in there, I promise you this, it is the most amazing thing," he says. "It's a big cube; what's inside? Only one person will find out, and whether that one person then goes on to tell the rest of the world, I don't know."

Read this next

Matthew Handrahan avatar
Matthew Handrahan: Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.
Related topics