I make ‘gross’ free to play games

Free to play mobile games have been in the news again lately. It seems like everyone and their Mom is talking about Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. Even game journalists are writing about the game. Meanwhile, there’s news that F2P games will no longer be able to advertise themselves as free on the Google Play Store. The topic of F2P insights a lot of passion in gamers. It seems everyone has an opinion on the matter.

I did not make this game. But I did work on the game that this game was based was based on!

I have an opinion on free to play too, but I’m coming at it from a different perspective. For the last 4 or so years, I’ve been working in the F2P mobile space. For most of that time, I’ve made games designed specifically for girls, specifically ones who do not play a lot of games. Some of them have bars that you fill up by tapping a button. Basically, I’ve made games in the same vain as Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. You could say she is the League of Legends to our Dota (or maybe it would be more accurate to say she is the LOL to our HON...) A good chunk of my life has revolved around F2P for the last few years.

So boy, do I have some opinions!

I’ve tried to express them in comments, but the format is a little too limiting. And there is just so much to say! I’ve never tried to write a long blog post before. But I have all these opinions swirling around in me, so I think it’s going to be good to get them out. So these are my thoughts on the whole matter. I ain’t trying to say they’re better than anyone else’s. Or that they are even definitive, it’s still just my opinion. But it’s been my job to think this about this shit, so I’ve spent a lot of time formulating them. You could say this is a brief primer, exposing some of the thinking, exploring the controversy, and showing why we make some of the choices we do. And hopefully it can answer some questions you might have next time you think “Who are these scumbags who are trying to con us out of our money and what were they thinking?!?” I don't know if this blog has an ultimate point. Really it's just a collection of my thoughts. But here it goes.

NOTE: I try to be as thorough with my explanations as I can. So if I say something that seems painfully obvious I’m not trying to talk down to you. In my experience, it’s better to fully state the obvious instead of assuming everyone shares your experiences, perspectives and information.

What is Free to Play?

Let’s start by defining what a free to play game is. The essential definition of F2P is a game that is free to began playing. The purpose of this is to lower the bar to entry as low as humanly possible. Traditional (which we could call premium) games are all about paying BEFORE you get the game. The implied promise with traditional games is that you are going to have this great time once you get the game, but you have to pay the gatekeeper first. And there’s a chance you might not even like a game once you start playing it. These are pretty basic concepts I’m sure.

So the problem with traditional games is that marketing becomes super important. Making a good game that reviews well is pretty important too, but the people who read game reviews are only a fraction of the people who buy them. So bottom line, when you are making a traditional game, you have to convince a potential player to spend their hard earned cash on your game based solely on faith. Not an easy task. Especially if that person isn’t even into games that much (one of them filthy casuals).

But free to play is different. It’s free to play! There is no barrier to entry, so you can start playing right away and see if you like it! It’s low risk! The only thing you’re risking is your time.

This game would have to be free before I'd take place in this madness

After that basic definition of F2P, you start to have a lot of variance from game to game. Is only a small portion of the game free and do you pay for the rest? Is the entire game free and you pay for some cosmetics? Can you play for a set amount of time for free and have to chose to wait or pay? All this is possible and more! But for the purposes of this blog, I’d say the most common thing that comes to mind is the microtransaction. Selling small items in the game for cold, hard, cash.

If I had to nail down a core complaint about F2P, I’d say it’s this: while it costs nothing to start playing a F2P game, there is no limit to when you stop paying. Some players, especially ones who are used to the traditional model, just want to pay for the game, get everything and be done with it. They don’t want to be nickel and dimed to death. I agree is it pretty frustrating when this is the case. But on the other hand, F2P gives you the freedom to pay what you want, and I feel that’s rarely praised, more on that later.

So from this point on I think I’m just going to cover my thoughts on some of the core concepts and controversies about F2P. If you think I’m being selective, feel free to call me out and I’ll try to address it.

On Selling Digital Goods

Let’s get this idea out of the way first: I don’t find it immoral to sell someone something.

If you are upfront about what you are selling, then the power is completely in the hands of the player. The idea that F2P games are sinister because they have the capacity to endlessly charge their users is strange to me. Microtransactions are completely optional. You can chose to engage with them. Or you can not. Some transactions are good deals. Some are bad. But it is still a choice. And giving people that choice does not feel scummy to me. I don’t force anyone to do anything. We would like players to enjoy our games. And we would like them to spend money on the game. I’m not going to lie. F2P games can be a little forceful to try and squeeze some extra sales out. But it’s still optional. And when most of the game is completely free, is clicking through an extra up sell menu really that big a deal?

Speaking of optional, do you know that only a small fraction of players actually spend money in most F2P games? There are a lot of numbers that are thrown about. Some say up to 98% of players don’t spend a cent. But I’ll be conservative and just say 95% don’t spend. It depends on the game of course, some games have a lot of players paying a little bit and some have fewer players paying more. But still, all the data shows that the vast majority of players do not pay. They play these games 100% percent for free.

Now you may look at that number and say “They don’t pay because 95% of people realize your game is a scam!” And to that I would agree that many players do not pay because they don’t see value in the microtransactions. But a large majority of players will not pay for something that they feel they can get for free. In other words, they will not spend money in your game, no matter what.

And I’ve tried. I have personally led initiatives on some of my projects with the intent of offering players great value. The goal was to get every player to spend just once, even if it was 99 cents. The hope was if I could drastically increase the amount of people spending, then we could lower prices to be more reasonable, and everyone wins. But unfortunately, it just didn’t work out. Sure, some more people spent money. But the majority still did not. They had fun playing it, but they found no valuing in paying. I’ve found it more difficult to convince a player to go from paying nothing to paying 99 cents then to convince a player to go from $5 to $15. There are people who just won’t spend money in your free game.

I was actually really surprised there was no $1.99 OR $99 option

And on the flip side, there are also people who will spend TONS of money on your game. This is why you see the $99 ‘best value’ bullcrap. Because there are people who buy that. And if you make it so everyone gets a good value from paying a little, you remove the revenue from those big spenders. Essentially I found that I could double the amount of people paying, but make half the money. This is bad. Because we are running a business and we are trying to make money. What a great segue into my next topic!

Making money first, and games second

I also hear this criticism a lot. The accusation that these social game companies are closer to tech companies than game companies. That these companies only care about making money and not about making games. Sometimes it’s worded that they don’t care about making “good‘ games. It’s a little hard to answer this one without a little bit of conjecture on my part. But to this I’d say: yes, these companies care about making money first.

And show me a company that isn’t.

Companies exist to make money. Period. They are businesses. And our business is making and selling games. Now, if you love games, this can be a difficult pill to swallow. I know it was for me. But it’s money first. And that is not necessarily bad or evil. It seems to me there are two core reasons why companies need to make money:

1: Because companies need money to exist. They have to make money, or people get laid off, or maybe even the whole place shuts down. Running a game studio requires a lot of cash and employing people is a pretty hard thing to do. I’ve found that a majority of companies are living on the edge (the edge being layoffs), almost all the time. I feel there is a perception that a lot of game studios are fixed establishments merely because they exist or because they have shipped a few good games. I don’t think this is true.

Based on a lot of comments I see about kickstarters or general game funding, I think that a lot of people underestimate how much it costs to make a game. But furthermore they also overestimate how much spare money these companies have stockpiled. For example, many people questioned why Harmonix didn’t pay for the development of Amplitude with all the fat stacks they got from Rock Band or Dance Central. The answer is that money does not exist! It was all spent already on things like office space, salaries, health insurance, taxes, and equipment. When games flop, people lose their jobs. Hell, people lose their jobs even when games go great! So selling a lot of product is a lot less about being a greedy asshole than you might think. More often than not, it’s about just trying to survive!

2: Companies also need money to provide value to investors. Yes, this is more about greed. But it is also about honesty. Investors are the source of your funding. Without them, there would be no game company in the first place. And they are giving you money with the expectation of a return on investment. If you took that money, is it not your moral obligation to try and provide value? Personally, I don’t ever want to get in bed with investors for this reason. But I also don’t employ anyone. So I can’t really take the high road here.

This is why game makers love the idea of Kickstarter so much. They don’t want to work with investors or publishers! They want to work for the people who love games as much as they do! Wouldn’t it be better to working with someone who just wanted an awesome game to exist than someone who just wanted to make more money? But I digress.

The point of all this is not to say that making a good game isn’t important. You can care about both! And we do care about both! It doesn’t have to be one or the other! Most people I know are trying their best!

Now, this next part requires a little bit of conjecture on my part because my own experience is a little limited. But I believe that every game company is like this and always has been. If you really do care about making great games, and I believe a lot of companies do, you can’t afford to ignore the money angle if you are responsible for employees or shareholders. You have to figure out how to make money accurately and consistently.

What I’m trying to say is: the games I played during my childhood where magical. The RPGs and platformers and adventure games... They stretched the limits of my imagination. They inspired me. They define me.

But I don’t seriously believe that they were sitting about at Nintendo in the early 90’s and saying ”Well, this artistic passion project is done. I really hope it ends up being profitable so we can still have a job!” I think they were selling products. They were good products! But they wouldn’t have made them if it wasn’t going to make money. They got the money to do this in the first place because some investors wanted to get rich off it. And they did!

Beautiful game. Also totally a product.

Hell, there was this video that was just released that tears down Sonic the Hedgehog. They the theory they present is that Sonic was basically just conceived as a marketing gimmick to show how fast the Genesis can be. Think about that. This beloved character is a marketing gimmick! But does that change anything? We still love him! (Sorta)

Again, I have to stress that this is conjecture on my part. I haven’t worked at every game studio. Hell, I haven’t worked at many game studios. But I cannot imagine a traditional, non-indie game company that does not put sales first. It just does not compute. They care a lot about making great games too. But without money, they have nothing.

So in summary, I think all game studios, with the exception of some indies, care a lot about making money. So I want to jump back to how F2P games make that money. Specifically, I want to talk about some of those crazy prices. I want to talk about value.

On value

This is a tough topic to talk about without sounding like a pretentious dick. But it’s something you gotta deal with if you sell games, so I gotta talk about it. And that something is value. A lot of folks scoff at F2P prices. I mean, why would you buy some bullshit fake hat for $20 when you could get an entire game for that much? What idiot buys the $99 in app purchase? Those “whales” must be crazy! And who are these assholes who are trying to sell $50 golden pets to a bunch of suckers?

The answer to that question is that everyone has a different set of value judgements when it comes to price. And that is usually based on how much disposable income they have. When you are making games commercially, one of the key lessons is to understand is that you are not making games for yourself. You are making them for other people. And you are pricing your game for a whole wide range of people too.

At the expense of sounding like an asshole, I’m gonna be frank here: $60 does not hold the same value to everybody. There are folks that don’t think twice about spending $60 on a new game. And there are folks who got to save to make that day one purchase. And you’ve got to respect that, in both cases.

When I was in high school, I couldn’t afford a ton of brand new games. I had to rely on Christmas or on making money from trade ins to get games relatively new. But today, I got a well paying job, I’ve paid off my student loans, I ain’t got no kids, and I have a lot of disposable income. I’m not trying to brag. I just want to illustrate that my spending patterns changed accordingly over time. And now I spend money on things that would be unthinkable even 5 years ago. Like a fancy bottle of wine or bourbon. Or buying an Xbox One AND a PS4. It’s a part of growing up that hopefully everyone can experience, but I understand that not everyone gets to. I’ve worked very hard but I’m also incredibly lucky.

What I’m trying to do is justify why someone would spend $50 on a fake hat. And in turn justify why I would sell them one. It’s because they just don’t care. They don’t view $50 as an expensive purchase anymore. Heck, there are players that are REALLY rich that just spend and spend and it doesn’t matter to them. I know that if you are really into a game, the idea that you can’t experience all of it unless you shell out $100 (or more) sucks a big one. But it’s really not about trying to deny you an experience, it’s trying to enable users to spend what they want.

It's genuine. That's how you know there's value.

And that’s a strength of F2P that doesn’t get recognition. You really can pay what you want. You can pour tons of money into it. You can pour a little. And if you don’t have a ton of money to spend, you don’t have to spend a damn thing.

The people who spend money in these games do so because they find value in it. Sure, not everyone does. I wouldn’t spend $500 dollars on designer shoes or a purse. But some folks do and I get it. And most people don’t spend money these games all at once, but spend a little each day. It adds up. And what doesn’t? A lot of folks get a coffee at starbucks everyday in the morning. That could be anywhere from $2 to $5. How much money is that over a week? A month? A year? A lot of cash just spent on coffee. So when someone says they spent $300 on a phone game. That could be as little as a dollar a day, every day for a year. That’s not that much, is it?

And you want to know some more good news? The value is only going to get better for players as time goes on. When F2P started there really was very little competition. That ain’t true at all anymore. Back then, you really could just make a bad deal, funnel millions of people through it, and if 1% paid, you made bank. But it’s harder and harder to get users into your game and its harder and harder to get them to pay because of the increased competition. That means you have to offer players better values, and better games in order to make your game profitable. Companies can move slow because they try to be as safe as possible and they try to milk ideas as long as they can get away with it. They usually aren’t always trying to offer innovative experiences unless they have. But I promise you they are coming.

Let’s move on.

On kids

This topic is pretty rough. Yes, some of these games are marketed towards kids. Some young kids play them. And they don’t really get the concept of money. And sometimes they go crazy on Mommy and Daddy’s credit card.

This sucks. You feel bad. You feel scummy. But you don’t want it to be like this. In a perfect world, the kids would ask their parents permission for this stuff. In a perfect world, their parents would know better than to give their kids a device that is hooked up to their credit card. But they don’t.

But you know, it’s really is just the growing pains of going digital. Digital stores are the future. And that kid could have just as easily spent a hundred bucks on Hannah Montana CDs on iTunes. (Is that reference out of date?) But we don’t want to burn iTunes to the ground.

And whenever stories come up about gets going on a spending spree, the part they don’t mention is that Apple totally refunds all these folks. Everyday there are people who contact us and say this happened and they get refunded. And before you go and say “if this really is something that happens everyday, maybe you should put some serious thought into whether or not you are a scumbag” I got to tell you, when you got MILLIONS of users, you can have an issue that affects 0.01% percent of players that’s still 100’s of folks. You run into all sorts of strange edge cases when you have that many users. And it just takes one to make a bad news story.

Now I want to get into the real meat of my defense of mobile F2P. This idea that casual games have lame, oppressive mechanics that advantage of players who just don’t know what a good game is. I will call this section:

“Casual players don’t know what a good game is!”

This might be the biggest misconception about casual games. The idea that casual games are successful because they are targeted at an audience that doesn’t know any better. An audience that does not know that there is a whole world of great games out there. Games that are much better than these click to win and pay to win nonsense.

Casual games are for casual players. There are not made for gaming enthusiasts.

You can have no fear that causal F2P will come and replace deep gaming experiences, because the audience for these games does not overlap.

Again, when you are making games commercially, one of the key lessons is to understand is that you are not making games for yourself. You are making them for other people. A game designer needs to understand their platform and their audience, and design accordingly. Now, sometimes that audience is a small enthusiast subset of gamers (like for simulation games). Sometimes that audience is much bigger and it includes core gamers and more casual people that aren’t above playing some video games (Call of Duty).

For casual F2P games, the audience is the casual player. Most middle class people have a phone in their pocket. And that means they have the potential to play any game.

And the number of who you would call casual players outnumber the gaming enthusiasts, so that’s why you will find the most popular games on the charts are casual games. I’m not going to lie. A lot of these games are really simple. They have very little depth. But there are reasons for that lack of depth. I’ve seen it said that casual games don’t respect the player’s intelligence or time. I’m going to claim that the opposite is true.

First I would to say that when learning to game, not everyone jumps into the deep end of the pool. For a lot of casual players, this is their first game experience. And its going to take time to “grow” them into gamers. As they play more and more games, some players will demand more challenges and more depth. ‘Casual’ Games will have to get more complex to accommodate them or they maybe those players will make the jump to enthusiast games. Part of the reason these games are simple is because their complexity is what new players can handle.

But there is more to it than even that. These games are simple because this is all the complexity some player WANT to handle.

Games are entertainment. We all want to have fun. To feel good. That’s why we play games. I would argue even when one is playing a super serious art game that bums you out, you are still enjoying yourself because you are enjoying having the experience. But there is another factor beside fun. Players don’t just want to have fun, they want to relax. Recreation is the alternative to work, of course. And most folks don’t want to work when they are trying to relax. And some games, well… they require work!

Let’s say that work can be measured in ‘effort points’ or something. All games require some amount of effort to play. This is both a strength and a weakness. In fact, everything requires some effort. And again, effort is work. Take TV for example. Most TV take very little effort to watch. That’s a big draw to a lot of people. Casual games are the same way: low effort. Hell, you can play most casual games and watch tv at the same time! That’s a big draw to some players.

But there’s a balance. If the game doesn’t take a lot of effort, then it usually doesn’t have a lot of depth. And with (good) games, the more (effort) you put in, the more (fun) you get out! And this is the big misconception about casual games and their lack of depth. They aren’t just dumb games for a dumb audience. They are simple entertainment for a group of people who don’t want to put in a bunch of work for their fun.

Now enthusiast gamers are different. They don’t mind putting in effort, because they’ve come to expect a big payout in fun. More fun than you can get playing a casual game anyway. Plus, as you get better at playing games, the effort you have to put in goes down. But sometimes players get bored at that point, so it is kind of a balance!

Each player really is different. Each player has a ceiling to how much effort they want to put in. After that point, they really aren’t having fun, they feel like they are working! Players also have different levels of entertainment before they would say they are having fun. So the fun output from one game might be different from the next.

I really can sum games up nicely as effort in/fun out. Here’s a graph I made up. When you want to sound like you know what you are talking about, use a graph. This one shows how Casual Chris really doesn't have a lot of fun when he has to put effort into his games. But Hardcore Dave needs more and more complexity before he can start having fun. And his highs are much higher too!

Protip: Graphs work great on investors!

Now this is just a simplified view of the concept. I just want to show that games that are too stupid simple for us might be just the perfect amount of mindless entertainment for someone else. And casual gamers just do not want to put a lot of effort in that entertainment. So in most cases, I wouldn’t say that simple casual games are bad, I would say they’re just different strokes for different folks.

Wow, this turned out to be a really long blog. I guess all that’s left is to talk about is microtransactions.

AND HOW THEY SUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKK!!

Microtransactions are the devil

Microtransactions are freakin’ terrible! They are a cancer on gaming!

I really dislike (most) microtransactions. They are so against everything I love about video games. It’s not about how expensive they are, or if they are a rip off or whatever.

There is a specific thing I hate about them and I don’t feel like I hear this complaint very often.

What I hate is that microtransactions bring the act of spending money into your game itself.

Not all microtransactions do this, but most do. Any gameplay relevant purchase you make, by definition, is part of your gameplay loop.

What I love about games is that they are an escape. They allow you to live out your fantasies. They allow you to do things you can’t do in real life, like fight a dragon. Or beat a man to death with a pipe. And they allow you to do that in a safe space. A place you can freely experiment A place where it’s ok to fail because there are no consequences. But microtransactions take that safe space away. You want to experiment? You gotta put up cash. Remember how I said how with traditional games you had to pay the price up front experience the game? And you had to make that purchase on faith? Well now that faith based purchasing is all over your video game! Wanna see if this one character fits your playstyle better than another one? Gotta make a faith based purchase. NO REGRETS SUCKA!

I gotta stress this point. When discussing the gameplay loop, some people just refer to the center of your gameplay. The general moment to moment action. But the truth is every single part of the game that you can interact with is just that: a part of the game. That includes what you can spend money on. And it pisses me off when I want to be having this great safe experience in my imaginary gameworld but I have to be thinking about how much REAL MONEY is appropriate to spend in this game.

It RUINS the trust you have in the game’s design. Example: Forza and Gran Turismo have been using the same system to unlock new cars since each series was created. You earn points by playing and you unlock cars with those points. And since you hoped that the designers wanted to make these games a fun experience, you had trust that those points were metered out at an appropriate rate so we could keep buying new cars and keep having fun. We were fine with this. But the newer games added the ability to buy points with real money. And I don’t know about you, but it took fucking forever to earn enough money to buy cars in Forza 5. I finally could afford a super sports car or whatever when they turned the prices down but damn… I wish I could know what it is like to drive those F1 cars or those prototype cars. But I can’t still can’t afford them despite putting what feels like a lot of time into the game. They are so expensive and frankly, it feels like they are that way because so I will be tempted to pull out my wallet and buy a shortcut. I have zero faith that they balanced this game so they I could have fun progressing but instead so I could spend more money buying cars (in addition to the DLC cars they want me to spend money on). Maybe it’s all in my head, but the well is poisoned.

Maybe someday I'll be able to drive this car in Forza

And that’s just a problem with trust. Things really gets dicey when microtransactions creep into your games balance. For example: most RPGs have some sweet loot you can collect for your character. But you can buy some EVEN BETTER loot for cold, hard, cash! This loot is usually much better than what you can get normally. Otherwise, why would you buy it? But how do you balance a game when you can collect items at two very different power levels? I assume you have monsters to fight who are scaled to your level. And I assume a game designer balanced these monsters so they would be a good challenge for your level. But what happens to that challenge when you buy that super sword? Is the game now boringly easy? If the game is boring now, then why did you buy the sword? Or even worse, is the game too hard WITHOUT the sword? You want to feel like practice and skill will make the difference between winning and losing, not if you just paid money or not.

Which brings me to my next point. When spending money becomes part of the game itself, you start getting your priorities messed up, both as a player and as a designer. A player is going to want to succeed at your game. They want to meet your challenges head on and beat them. And most gamers I know take pride in clearing challenges as efficiently as possible. They want to beat your levels without any boosters or power ups or special swords. They stretch every inch out of their resources. Yet many microtransactions are designed with the opposite in mind. Most games encourage you to conserve your resources. But games sell those very resources. This is creating a conflict of interest. The unwritten message is that as part of the game’s challenge, you should spend as little money as possible. But don’t you want to encourage players to spend? What a mess.

What probably feels most offensive to me is how the use of real money affects your perception of the game world and your place in it. You’d recall I said one of the great things about casual games is that they are introducing a new group of people to video games. I’ve also said that one of the best parts about video games is escapism. Well, I believe that microtransactions harm that escapism. A lot. These new gamers do not get to lose themselves in their games because they are anchored to reality by the contains is in their bank account. I believe that anchor creates a situation where players have one foot in the game world, and one in the real world. I’d love these players to be lost in their imagination. That’s the magic! But I fear microtransactions leave players feeling mundane.

Now, I don’t think everyone microtransaction is cancer. I’m only really against microtransactions on any gameplay relevant feature. Cosmetic items are totally fine! For that reason, I think Dota 2 has one of the best, most honest models around. The game really is totally free. But the costumes are totally optional. Unfortunately, this is not really the best plan for your business. Valve has found a lot of success, sure. But all the data shows that they would make even more money if they would sell heroes and such as LOL does. Also, remember that Valve has a massive gamer user base in the form of Steam. And DOTA is already a household name. That gives them a lot of flexibility in designing a friendly business models. But in the cutthroat app store, you can’t afford to be nice. I really wouldn’t recommend most companies follow this model. And that’s depressing.

And what’s even more depressing is that I don’t know how to fix microtransactions. They seem like they are here to stay. But even after years working on the concept, I don’t know how to add (successful) optional purchases into your game without having it corrupt your game’s design. The best I think we can hope for is that gamers will get tired of pumping money into boosters and power up in game after game and they will find less value. And then they will drift away from those microtransactions and something more sustainable will take their place. But that day is not today.

The End

Well, I think this has gone on long enough. I hope I could shed a little light and give a little insight in the F2P world. Personally, I’m done with it for now. I’ve saved up enough money that I’ve quit my job and I’m going to try my hand at the indie scene. No investors. No employees. That’s the secret I think. I’m just not going to give a shit about making money or not. I’m just going to try and make a great game. Let the chips fall where they may.

If you think I missed something, gave a bad analysis, would like something more in-depth or just think I’m full of shit, call in out in the comments and I’ll try to address it.

I guess maybe I should also ask you to follow me on twitter? I don’t really use it. But if you want to be an indie dev I guess you got to have an exciting twitter, so I guess I might start soon.

Thanks for reading if you made it this far!

EDIT:

If I want to sum up everything I'm trying to say, it's this:

I made Free to Play games for a couple years. In that time, I formed the following opinions.

Generally speaking, microtransactions are bad for games. They can really make your game design super funky. And affects the relationship the game has with your players in ways that are a little uncomfortable, even if that discomfort is sometimes one sided.

That being said. I don't feel like our practices where immoral or outrageous. They just led to some less than stellar games. I think this section of the industry is viewed more harshly and we get flank for attitudes that most game companies share. And I think there are critiques made that are frankly unfounded or incredibility reaching. And I think we do make generally fun games that people do enjoy, though they could be better without mircotransactions.

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Posted by Gaff

TL;DR: I should probably page @zombiepie and @patrickklepek.

This is a really interesting (and exhaustive!) perspective on casual games, F2P and microtransactions. While I disagree with you on microtransactions (when purchasable in-game items have an in-game equivalent for example it's fine), in general I agree: F2P, casuals, and microtransactions are fine, you don't have to spend money on it.

Now excuse me while I get my pitchfork and run you out of town.

Posted by GalacticPunt

I can't read all of this at this particular moment, but I'll be back! It deserves a hearty bump at the least.

Posted by KoolAid

@gaff: Yeah I did make it really freakin' long huh? I was afraid that if I left something out, someone would throw it in my face as a "gotcha!"

Posted by development

Oh jesus. I might be back. Or not. Probably not. Here's this, though:

But I did work on the game that this game was based was based on!

I love typos like this.

Posted by KoolAid

Oh jesus. I might be back. Or not. Probably not. Here's this, though:

But I did work on the game that this game was based was based on!

I love typos like this.

That's not a typo. The kardashian game is based off another game, which in turn was based off a game I worked on.

Mobile is weird.

Posted by captain_max707

Thanks for taking the time to write this up! I don't really have any follow up questions, but I just wanted to say I always appreciate long, thoughtful posts like these. Good stuff!

Edited by Dan_CiTi

On the Sonic thing, that's not really a surprise at all. Days of Future Passed (by The Moody Blues, released 1967) was essentially a proof of concept for rock music in/designed for stereo and created using some fancy new recording tech. At the end of the day being thrown the vague concept of designing something to show off a piece of hardware is interesting to me, if that hardware is worth a damn at least. The first handful of Sonic games were pretty good.

Not everything can be the spur of pure artistic drive and curiosity. It's fine, I don't mind most business realities, there's just sorts of game design I don't care for, and even a select few that can end up being toxic in a few ways.

Edited by Ares42

That was a strange read. You're picking apart simplified statements and put up arguments against them, but if you pull the pieces apart you end up agreeing with them.

The only thing I really wanna comment on is "I know that if you are really into a game, the idea that you can’t experience all of it unless you shell out $100 (or more) sucks a big one. But it’s really not about trying to deny you an experience, it’s trying to enable users to spend what they want."

I would say that's a fallacy. If the goal was to enable users to spend what they want then there would be a sliding price-point, like humble-bundles. I would say a more correct way of putting is it makes it possible for people to spend as much as they are willing to spend. I have a problem with how you use the words enable and want. It might be true for a very minor section, but even for the majority of the people that spend money on f2p games I don't think it's about having a craving for being able to spend more money on the game. Or maybe that's exactly that tiny percentage of people that actually do spend money on f2p games.

Posted by KoolAid

@ares42:

I'm not trying to imply that these players want to spend money for the sake of spending money. Rather I'm trying to say a player weighs the value of an item against the value of the money it would take to buy an item i.e. the cost. When I say spend what they want, i suppose I mean spend within their limits, or spend within their comfort zone. The ultimate goal is to open up a lot of payment options so that different players can experience your game at different levels of access depending on how much they are willing to spend, instead of having a middle of the road price like $60 which is designed to be as inclusive as possible (low enough so that people on the fence can afford it but high enough so you take advantage of big spenders too)

But I suppose you are right, it is a kind of clunky section. I think I'll try and edit it.

Posted by Sinusoidal

Your final argument against microtransactions contradicts everything else you said up to that point. What's the difference between being nickle-and-dimed in Forza and being nickle-and-dimed in some F2P game? Both remove you from the game world and remind you that "Hey, I don't have to do all this grinding if I just shell out a few, real world dollars!" whether the game cost you anything up front or not.

Edited by Jack_Lafayette

I've got to disagree with your point on financials. The reason investors need convincing at all is because different people will have different expectations for a game's performance, and that's as true on the development side as it is on the consumer side. You're right that it's not a case of ”Well, this artistic passion project is done. I really hope it ends up being profitable so we can still have a job!” It's actually a case of "I really hope that I can convince these people of this game's profitability so that I can follow this artistic passion project through instead of churning out whatever thing they know will sell."

That the free-to-play phenomenon exists is a result of "money" looking at these games and seeing a low-risk, high-reward prospect (as unsustainable in the long-term as they appear to be). Many have complained that the mobile scene has become too driven by and beholden to the visions of investors. And the gradual loss of faith in this type of investment by traditional developers is why there's been such an explosion in outlets like independent development and crowdfunding in recent years. None of it is an either-or; it all depends on the interactions between a huge number of people with different perspectives on an unknown outcome.

Posted by KoolAid

@sinusoidal: I don't feel there is a contradiction. My opening arguments deal with the logistics and morals of F2P and why I don't think the concept is bad on its face. My final argument deals with the ramifications microtransactions have on your game's design. When the microtransactions affect gameplay, I view these ramifications as negative. I used Forza as an example because their earlier games had a near identical structure but no mircotransactions. I could have used a F2P game as well, for example Plants Vs Zombies 2. I find this game's structure to be so odd. When you reach the end of a world, you face a star gate. You can pay 5 bucks to get through the star gate, or you can play more challenging versions of this world's levels to earn stars. But... Plants vs Zombies is supposed to be fun right? Why would you not want to play the challenge levels? Don't you find playing PVZ fun? Is seeing pirate zombies instead of Egyptian zombies really the big draw here? What if they got rid of the star gate, but instead sold those challenge levels as challenge level packs? Would people now buy that? Does the mere act of putting a dollar value on it make it valuable? PVZ2 is so crazy to me.

@dark_lord_spam First of all, I think your analysis of the free to play phenomenon is spot on. There totally was a gold rush period that was totally unsustainable. And there are a lot of hands-on investors that kept a tight grasp on their game companies (oh man, I've heard such bad ideas come out of the mouths of investors.)

But the investors still control the money. You still have to convince them, sometimes constantly, that you are going to get them a return. It doesn't matter if your pitch is putting out a high quality genre busting game or a quick fad cash grab game, it's still a product. If the investors like low risk, they will probably not want to push gameplay boundaries much, if at all.

As for "I really hope that I can convince these people of this game's profitability so that I can follow this artistic passion project through instead of churning out whatever thing they know will sell" I'm not quite sure what the difference is between my sentence and yours. Are you suggestion the game maker is trying to trick the investor into funding his passion project which really has no chance of a return, but merely should exist for the sake of being a beautiful game? Or are you saying that this game maker thinks his passion project will also sell gangbusters? Because if its the second one, that's exactly what I'm talking about. Looking at the game as a product that will sell. The product may be a fantastic game, like The Last of Us, but it is still a product produced by an industry.

Edited by Ares42

Regarding the whole "money first" things, two wrongs doesn't make a right. We often see the two simplified arguments we see here clash, and they're both wrong.

The reality is that there are plenty of businesses that aren't money first. When someone decided to open let's say your local bakery it probably wasn't because someone analyzed the local market and realized that a great way to earn money there was to build a bakery, it was most likely just some person that wanted to make a living by baking. If they just wanted to make as much money as possible they could've probably done something more profitable, but if they can't make a living through baking they will probably shut the business down rather than change the business. That's not to say money isn't important or a priority, but it's not the core essential part of the business.

The thing with videogames over the last decade (or more) is that it has become an industry driven more and more by people that really are all about money first. They have no passion or "loyalty" for the product they're making, they just want to make as much money as possible. It's what happens to an industry when it grows too fast and becomes dependant on investors rather than being self-sustainable. That's not to say that the game companies no longer have a passion for making games, but they no longer have the ability to set the agenda.

It's easy to think that most businesses are money first because it's generally what's on the day to day agenda, but at the end of the day most businesses have a list of things they will and won't do to make money.

Edited by dusker

@koolaid: I disagree with your comments about kids. It feels like, at times, you're trying to shift responsibility onto kids themselves, or onto their parents. Obviously, you can't blame kids for wanting something that's directly marketed towards them. And, sure, you can blame parents, maybe, but are the games your making creating documentation specifically for parents so they can understand what they're allowing their kids to do? Is there full information being given to all of the relevant parties? If parents don't know what the games are, and you aren't telling them, their responsibility is going to be lessened.

And, of course, you can't base your moral standards on an idealized situation.

Additionally, the analogy between iTunes and F2P kids games feels like a strawman. A much better analogy would be between F2P games that directly market towards children, and junk food companies. People hate junk food companies and their borderline immoral marketing strategies. Even when I was a kid, parents at my school fought to get rid of candy machines. Don't you think that addictive, F2P games directed towards children are in a similar category to junk food companies as opposed to iTunes? You're making it seem as though the only problem with these games is that kids sometimes spend too much of their parent's money on them. But aren't the games themselves a problem, especially with rapidly rising obesity rates?

Edit: I didn't say this before, and it made me feel bad, haha. I think this post is great, and I think it takes a lot of courage to defend a practice that people are constantly dumping on. I agree with a lot of what you're saying, and, depending on what you say, might not even agree with what I wrote above. So, yeah, big ups for opening up this conversation.

Posted by Splodge

This is a fantastic post, will read through the rest of it later when I have time. Thanks for being honest and frank about what you do!

Posted by KoolAid

@dusker: It's funny that you mention junk food. Patrick recently tweeted an article about kids reacting to the lack of junk food in their vending machines. Here's the money tweet in my opinion:

Now I think eating a pack of skittles a day is a bit much. I think this young lady should probably not do that. But I remember the vending machines in high school. And I'd like some skittles now and again. Is the solution to the problem that some people eat too many skittles that we deny skittles to everybody? Yes, I don't blame kids for wanting something designed and marketed towards them. And as for parents, I can really hope that they are responsible, but honestly it's kind of a crap shoot if they know/care about responsible nutrition/f2p games. Yes, you can't just base your moral standards on a idealized situation, but I also think the best we can hope for is a system that works most of the time. It's a great big wide world out there, with a great big wide spectrum of people. You can literally name ANY habit and we can find someone who abuses it. And it seems like we hear more about the abusers than the people who are just fine. But at some point there has to be personal responsibility right? Where is the line? I wonder myself.

The fact of the matter is, when you are working with something that touches millions of people, you are going to get some strange edge cases. If you brew beer for a living, you can guarantee that, at some point, your beer will be instrumental in killing someone. You have to come to terms with that.

At that point, it's more just where your personal feelings lie. Do you let it bother you? Or not?

Posted by LiquidPrince

Your whole money first games second argument is the primary reason people don't like spending money in F2P games. Most of those sorts of games reek of being exploitative and caring very little about the player. If you want a customer to spend money on your game, your game should be a quality experience first and foremost, so that the player feels like they're spending money on something worthwhile rather then feeling like you're stealing money straight from their wallets in order to get some more energy or whatever.

While all business's are there to make money, "traditional" games come off as a labor of love most of the time, even if the game itself ends up being bad. The goal was to make a quality experience and get money for the hard work. F2P often feels like the developers are saying: "give me your money and then this shitty experience may become marginally improved."

Edited by peritus

@liquidprince said:

Your whole money first games second argument is the primary reason people don't like spending money in F2P games. Most of those sorts of games reek of being exploitative and caring very little about the player. If you want a customer to spend money on your game, your game should be a quality experience first and foremost, so that the player feels like they're spending money on something worthwhile rather then feeling like you're stealing money straight from their wallets in order to get some more energy or whatever.

While all business's are there to make money, "traditional" games come off as a labor of love most of the time, even if the game itself ends up being bad. The goal was to make a quality experience and get money for the hard work. F2P often feels like the developers are saying: "give me your money and then this shitty experience may become marginally improved."

Thats pretty much how i look at it. So many of those f2p games are bad games that need money pumped in to make them somewhat enjoyable. But the base game is ( in most cases ) not a quality experience.

And to say paying is optional and you dont have to is an easy answer and true to a point, but thats also true for a slot machine. Both are optional but both are also designed to sucker people into spending more money then is good for them. Maybe its a bit of an extreme comparison, but there's some truth to it i think. What im trying to say is that charging for stuff in those games is fine in theory, but not to the extent that its happening now. There's nothing micro about the money required to play a micro transaction game.

Edit* Same as post #14. I do apreciate the post, its interesting to hear about the other side of it. Even if i dont agree with some of it. Deserving of some front page attention!

Edited by dusker

@koolaid:

You can literally name ANY habit and we can find someone who abuses it. And it seems like we hear more about the abusers than the people who are just fine.

Yeah, I completely agree with this.. in the case of adults. Food is one of the most addictive substances, and we aren't going to go all Demolition Man on everyone. However, I disagree strongly when it comes to children. And I'm not talking about 16 year-olds; I'm talking about kids that are, say, 12 and under. They're in the formative years of their lives, and they have no idea what they should or shouldn't do without a lot of guidance. Advertising is a form of guidance; a form of guidance that, in many cases, looks to undermine the guidance of parents. That's why candy is sold at the checkout and why cigarette advertising is banned in most western countries, and why we call this kind of marketing predatory: because kids are shit at making good choices for themselves and are easily manipulated.

But, there are two arguments here. First, there's an argument about whether or not it's moral to market these games to children. That's what my previous point was addressing: that you can't hold children responsible for being persuaded by sophisticated marketing techniques. But, there's another argument to be made about how we police these kinds of games: what laws and policies govern their use and sale so they don't have general, problematic consequences. I have no idea. I suspect there should be some sort of policy that forces games to require parental input before their children are allowed to play them (maybe something similar to how movies are rated). Edit: And this kind of policy decision should be enacted no matter *who* is responsible. Why? Because we want to protect kids, no matter what. So whether the game companies are responsible, or the parents, or even the kids, we should still limit the amount of harm that can occur. This is why a lot of people are for legalizing drug use: because it prevents harm much more effectively than the current war on drugs.

As to edge cases, I take your point. The problem is that it's well documented that marketing addictive, unhealthy things to children produces general, bad consequences. Obesity is one among many others. If all your talking about here is the "edge case" of a kid spending a bunch of their parent's money, then, yeah, that might very well be the case and it's probably not worth talking about. But I'm making a much different point.

Posted by Branthog

While the F2P/Microtransaction world fights desperately to justify itself (as a gamer and a consumer, I don't care about your financial obligations investor relations), my view on F2P/Microtransactions (not so much casual - there can be great casual games that have neither of those elements) is fairly simple:

Free To Play games are the video game equivalent of Hamburger Helper or Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. It is a thing that some people eat, even though they shouldn't. And they feed it to their kids, even though they shouldn't. It is incredibly cheap and flavorless and has no nutritional value whatsoever, but some people choose to put it on their shopping list, on their dinner table, and into their family's bellies.

I wouldn't buy it. I wouldn't eat it. I wouldn't buy it or make it for my family. But other people do and there is a huge market for it. It can exist whether I like it or not and whether I consume it or not.

The only difference is that nobody really mistakes Hamburger Helper or Kraft Mac & Cheese for actual food, while the F2P/Microtransaction companies often posit themselves as every bit as legitimate as companies out there making actual games focusing on gameplay and pleasing the player rather than turning phones into an extension of the local casino and fishing for whales.

BTW, I don't care if they market to children. Unless you're giving your child your cell phone with unlocked access to your credit card or you're giving your kid your credit card, they're not going to be buying into these games outside of the "free" aspect, so who cares? (Other than the soul-suckingness of your child's experience with games being shitty coin-doublers and clones of clones of clones of clones scamming the app stores by confusing people as to which is the real game they're looking for instead of your child experiencing actual games where the goal is something other than attaching a hose to their pockets).

Edited by Oldirtybearon

So, if I understand this post right, a developer who makes predatory* f2p games is kinda mad that people dump on predatory f2p games?

I mean, a lot of what's written is common sense, sure, but I'm not sure what needs defending here. People are going to dump on predatory f2p games because they're predatory. If you really don't see where I'm coming from, take a look at the "We make games for THE SKRILLA" chunk of text you wrote. Everything in that section exemplifies exactly why people have a problem with these kinds of games. People aren't doing it because it's what they want to do. They aren't creating because they have something to say, or because they thought they had a really cool idea. They aren't creating because of some need to tinker with mechanics or design ideas. They're creating expressionless, soulless works as a means to hustle. While everyone has a right to chase that cheddah, they aren't necessarily entitled to my respect for doing so.

There's a reason the perception of predatory f2p devs is so cynical; it's because predatory f2p devs have done this to themselves. Not so much by the content they create, but more so how they present themselves to the general public. The first time I heard the term "whaling" in regards to predatory f2p games, I was insulted. It was a visceral, gut reaction that told me everything I need to know about these people; they don't have customers, they don't have players, they don't even have people in mind when creating these works; they're hunting wild game. I - and my mother, and my sister, and my entire extended family (it's a big one) - are not people, we're fucking animals to be stalked and preyed upon. It's gross as hell.

Ultimately, I can't say this blog was all that convincing, especially when the fundamental argument appears to be "give us a break, guys! We make effortless stuff because some people like that!"

Apart from the principles behind the content (which I disagree vehemently with) it was a decent read.

* when I refer to predatory f2p games, I'm referring to games like Farmville, where the sole intent of the game is to suck as much blood from its prey as possible. Think the mobile version of Dungeon Keeper, or, hell, the f2p model implemented in my favourite MMO; The Old Republic. These are bad, bad, bad models, and I refer to them as predatory because they are. Other titles like DOTA 2 or Path of Exile or even Team Fortress 2 are just f2p games that have figured out how to make an enjoyable game first, and then rely on that quality experience to drive players into spending money (and boy howdy do they spend money).
Posted by mikey87144

Interesting read. You make a lot of good points that I fear some of the forum dudes aren't going to get to... (Since you have to read it).

Posted by Dagbiker

I agree with a lot of your points, In fact on the other end, i have no problem paying micro transactions for things. And its gotten alot better, Guild Wars 2, and TF2 as an example, who sell only cosmetic things, what i dont like is the gambling systems often put into place. Often used by EA.

Posted by BigSocrates

This article ignores the fact that most F2P games that are disgusting (as opposed to selling aesthetics or have a shareware type model) are intentionally designed to have an addiction curve and ultimately not be very fun if you don't shell over the cash. Candy Crush Saga was infamous for this. The first few levels are relatively easy and the game is fun, and then after that nice little dopamine drop has been established the difficulty is ramped up and, if it works the way the designers want it to, ultimately the player will spend money (with, as you point out, no limit) in order to keep that dopamine dripping. It might only hook 2% of the players, but that's not for lack of trying. And that's basically the whole game design. It's video game as crappy digital drug. There may be some interesting art or clever writing somewhere on the edges but the core of the game is just someone trying to get you addicted to something (usually relatively simple). The later parts of the game are generally tedious or impossible if you don't pay, and repetitive and boring even if you do. I can't imagine someone who spends $99 on Candy Crush energy gets a value anywhere near that of someone who spends the same money on Titanfall and its season pass.

This is in opposition to "premium" game design where the designers goal is generally for you to have the best time possible so you buy their next game and talk up their current one. Even when you buy a crappy premium game you generally don't feel it's because the designers were trying to manipulate you or work against you. I played through Medal of Honor: Warfighter recently and while it's not a good game I think the designers wanted it to be. They just failed, for whatever reason. I'd rather reward that, even if it's a waste of money, than someone whose goal is to make the back end of the game not fun unless I give them money. That's not really game design, it's money extraction design, like with slot machines. It's not fun to engage with those systems because those systems are generally both shallow and not designed to be very fun.

As for addiction it is real and it is no joke. Games may not be physically addicting like cigarettes and they may not be as addictive as junk food or alcohol (to some people) but they are addictive to some people, and they will spend more than they want. Saying that people have a "choice" to spend is disingenuous when A) Every single design decision is to get them to spend and B) Some of them become addicted and don't have a real choice. It's the same claim that cigarette sellers and junkfood vendors make and it's totally disingenuous when the individual consumer is supposed to resist the efforts of thousands of psychologists and advertisers specifically designing the products to be irresistible. Yes, these games don't hold a gun to anyone's head and (mostly) don't directly scam people into buying. If that's all that's required to meet your ethical standards then your ethical standards are too low.

Posted by Amafi

@koolaid said:

@development said:

Oh jesus. I might be back. Or not. Probably not. Here's this, though:

But I did work on the game that this game was based was based on!

I love typos like this.

That's not a typo. The kardashian game is based off another game, which in turn was based off a game I worked on.

Mobile is weird.

I think you mean "mobile is disgusting".

Edited by pyrodactyl

I'm sorry, you haven't changed my mind on this: almost all F2P games are disgusting. The fact of the matter is, with a few exceptions, F2P games are just dripping with ads. Not regular ads you can ignore easily though. No, the game itself, in its design, has been stitched together with passive marketing for the paid content.

And fuck that. I don't want your energy system, your dota chests or your locked characters taunting me to open my wallet at every turn until the end of time. What a disgusting way to design games.

Posted by dudeglove

I read it. I might not agree with everything, but it enjoyed it and kudos for actually stating the unpleasant reality that - everything else aside - people still need to fucking eat at the end of the day and make money somehow. In terms of media entertainment professions, I'd definitely rank F2P much higher than a reality show documentarian, or a buzzfeed contributor.

You should make an indie text adventure.

Edited by Itwastuesday

that was quite interesting, I thank you for sharing this

Edited by SJQPersonal

The whole argument of "We need to make money to stay open. We make games to make money" doesnt work when you only put out fucking garbage. Every game company should be passionate about their game, with the intention of making the best GAME they can make. If you're making flaming piles of shit, just to make money to appease investors, then you ARE a tech company. You never use the money or your employees OR your investments to make a good game. You're stuck in an endless cycle of abusing the spending habits of weak minded people to pay your bills. Don't do this with video games. Pick another avenue to rip people off, dont use video games.

I'm very, very specifically talking about Mobile Games, In-App games, Games like AoE online, and Browser games designed to get money

/RANT

It would all be justified if ANY FREE TO PLAY COMPANY proved that after putting out 5 money devouring shit-games, they had made enough money as a company to make 1 block buster, genre defining, game changing F2P game, everything you said would make sense, but you didn't say anything close to that. You're literally trying to convince users that you're making games for irresponsible people, and taking all of the flack and criticism from every single outlet of the gaming industry and saying "nah everyone but us is wrong." Those people can rot in hell, and their company deserves to be closed or shut down. Games and gaming companies existed BEFORE F2P existed. Don't even try to act like your bullshit business model is "totally required to operate" because that's a lie. You said it yourself, it's about advertising and getting good reviews. Well bad games that advertise as unavoidable ads in phone apps, with shallow shitty gameplay DONT GET GOOD REVIEWS. WHAO SHOCKER, SOMEOME CALL KLEPEK THIS IS A HUGE NEWS BREAK. Bad games do bad. Stop making bad games. Maybe people will take F2P seriously as a game genre if it wasnt synonymous with 'worst possible games available'

/endRANT

*my RANT excludes games like DOTA, designed by a triple A, and MOBA's similarly created with a large team without required in-game purchases to experience the entirety of the game

Edited by Dark

Wait a minute, did the OP just use the 'its fine, you just don't get it' argument when FTP is involved?

Free to play seems to move along the same lines as slot machines when it comes to attracting people, creating a very simple game loop then turning that loop into addiction then profit. I am going to be fair here and say there are companies who do this correctly however there are FAAAAAAAARRRRRR more companies who do it terribly, every single energy based FTP game is just the worst and in some cases looks like a drug addiction. Get your user hooked, then tell him he can enjoy more but only if he gives just a bit of cash but the kicker being, its never enough.

Also the economy isn't and SHOULDN'T ever be determined on a scale. When I go buy food, I don't expect to have to pay 10% more than the last guy just cause 'I earn more than he does'. The price on products should be directly related to how much effort and cost went into producing the product, now how much money I am willing to spend. (Notice I said should, it isn't a perfect world.)

Posted by PhoenixDownPillow

Wow thanks for taking the time to write this up. Interesting reading for sure.

@koolaid said:

So the problem with traditional games is that marketing becomes super important. Making a good game that reviews well is pretty important too, but the people who read game reviews are only a fraction of the people who buy them. So bottom line, when you are making a traditional game, you have to convince a potential player to spend their hard earned cash on your game based solely on faith. Not an easy task. Especially if that person isn’t even into games that much (one of them filthy casuals).

But free to play is different. It’s free to play! There is no barrier to entry, so you can start playing right away and see if you like it! It’s low risk! The only thing you’re risking is your time.

Mmm... you are ignoring the concept of game demos with this point. Most games, the overwhelming majority in fact, have free to download and play demo versions from Steam/PSN/XBL/Wii shop so you can get a taste of the game before committing to a purchase.

As for people who read game reviews being a fraction of those who buy them, that's a difficult point to prove. Does taking a quick glance at a metacritic score count as reading a review? Or popping on to a video game forum to ask people who have bought the game what they think about it? I ask because I don't think consumers who go in to a game purchase completely blind without consulting any number of official game publications and social media to get a sense of whether their purchase will be worthwhile, is even a majority percentage. I have to assume that percentage is actually quite tiny. And that's not even getting in to buyers who decided on it based on loyalty to a brand or franchise or developer from past good experience, or the persuasiveness of a particular preview based marketing campaign.

Posted by PandaBear

I spent about $20 on Final Fantasy: All The Bravest. I'm part of the problem. Fuck that game.

Posted by Schlorgan

@dagbiker: The Dota 2, CSGO and TF2 model could be seen as gambling too. Depends on how you look at it. ;p

Edited by Amafi

@schlorgan: Those are complete games though. Pretty much the exact opposite of the worthless clash of clans style model. Free games that lets you buy cosmetic stuff and keys for random cosmetic items vs a terrible business model with a thin veneer of bad game covering it.

Any f2p game with energy systems and 4 different fake currencies to obscure how much actual money something in the game costs is disgusting Those things are artistically, creatively and morally bankrupt.

Edited by KoolAid

@liquidprince: Well, I agree with you that you should build a quality experience for the player, that definitely is the best plan to be successful. And I think you will find that more and more F2P games are trying to do just that. There is so much competition right now that the “turn ‘em and burn ‘em” strategy just isn’t going to work. And if you want sustainable success, you are going to have to make a sustainable game that players feel good to spend time in. I should also stress that when I say “money first”, I’m trying to say that money is so integral to running a company that it is always at the forefront of your mind. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a love for making games as well. If you didn’t, why would you even work at a game studio? But unfortunately, sometimes you have to make some hard choices that will benefit the business rather than the game. Sometimes the two goals align perfectly. Sometimes they don’t

And frankly, I wonder if your “labor of love” comment is biased by your own dislike of casual mobile games. I can personally tell you that plenty of our players appreciate our games and the experiences they provide.

@peritus : I would say see the above answer, but I would also say that maybe you are quick to judge slot machines. Yes, any game you find at a casino is designed to make the casino money. But I know tons of perfectly normal people who absolutely love slots. They find them tons of fun. Yeah, it’s just flashing lights that take your money, but they love the thrill! And I’m not going to try and convince them that they really don’t like it, that they should do something else with their time. I’d come off like an asshole. (I should note none of these people are addicted to slots in that it harms them.)

@branthog: As a gamer and a consumer, you absolutely don’t have to care about my financial obligations. This blog is meant to be informative. The point is to inform you that I cannot make fat stacks of money appear out of thin air, and if I want to make a game, I have to come up with some money to be able to make it happen. 9 times out of 10, that means taking some kind of investment. That has nothing to do with you as a consumer, but it’s my reality.

And it doesn’t really bother me if you don’t want to consume my games. As I said in my post, they aren’t designed with you in mind. They are designed for players who are looking for something engaging, but not necessarily challenging or overly involving.

Also, at a restaurant this evening, I had some bree mac and cheese with black pepper. It was fucking incredible. But I bet you and I both know someone who would say “that sounds fucking weird. Pass the Kraft.”

@oldirtybearon: I don’t think I’m going to convince you of anything. So I made this!

Posted by KoolAid

@amafi said:

@koolaid said:

@development said:

Oh jesus. I might be back. Or not. Probably not. Here's this, though:

But I did work on the game that this game was based was based on!

I love typos like this.

That's not a typo. The kardashian game is based off another game, which in turn was based off a game I worked on.

Mobile is weird.

I think you mean "mobile is disgusting".

If you are referring to cloning, I think you will find that games copying other games is rampant in the entire industry. It's mostly just that the development cycle for mobile and Facebook games is so much shorter, that it become much more apparent. But you can find it in triple AAA too if you really look. I mean, how many games have batman combat right now?

Posted by Amafi

@koolaid said:

@amafi said:

@koolaid said:

@development said:

Oh jesus. I might be back. Or not. Probably not. Here's this, though:

But I did work on the game that this game was based was based on!

I love typos like this.

That's not a typo. The kardashian game is based off another game, which in turn was based off a game I worked on.

Mobile is weird.

I think you mean "mobile is disgusting".

If you are referring to cloning, I think you will find that games copying other games is rampant in the entire industry. It's mostly just that the development cycle for mobile and Facebook games is so much shorter, that it become much more apparent. But you can find it in triple AAA too if you really look. I mean, how many games have batman combat right now?

You have to be pretty far gone to compare, say, batman arkham city vs the upcoming middle earth: shadows of mordor and the straight up ripping off of core concept, art and sound that goes on in mobile.
Of course, there's less going on in mobile games, so it takes a lot less talent and resources to steal someone's idea, which is why there is approximately 500.000 copies of 2048 on various mobile marketplaces right now.

The markets are badly curated, the base level of quality is so shockingly low that who makes it is either a matter of luck, or a huge marketing machine, like, say, King, the worst people involved in digital entertainment.

And I don't mean just that, I mean every aspect of the business on mobile is absolutely rotten to the core and disgusting. And if you listen to the mobile game dev tracks on various conferences you'll notice these people know that the business is rotten and that they are scumbags, they just couch it in finer language than I care to use. Manipulative, disgusting garbage, the vast majority of it. The google play store free section is essentially an open sewer.

Posted by KoolAid

@bigsocrates: First, I don’t think I’m ignoring that free to play games are disgusting. I have a section dedicated to how microtransactions mess up your gameplay. Also, I think the word disgusting is pretty harsh. One hang up a lot of enthusiast games have with mobile games is the energy bar. I think this is because enthusiast gamers like games they can keep playing until they get bored, like a pc game. But the energy bar in a mobile game actually serves as an effective session ender. Players check in with their game, spend their energy, and bop out. It like a tamagotchi. I’m pretty sure Candy Crush does this, but a lot of games do. These games are for the mobile platform and designed as such. Fast, pick up, put down. They integrate into the player’s life instead of consume it. And if there is a time when they DO want to keep playing, they can buy some energy. This is designing for the platform and the audience. It’s totally different than a PC game.

Also, I really don’t like using the term addictive. When you are talking about Diablo or FTL, the game is called addictive and its a synonym for fun. But when someone says a F2P game is addictive, they start comparing it to cigarettes. I mean, games are supposed to be fun. You talk about getting the dopamine dripping, but isn’t that the goal of most games?

Now addiction is real, sure. But I’d venture to say someone with an addictive personality can get just as hooked on a premium game. And as I said in post #16, you are going to get some bad cases when so many people are playing your game. You gotta figure out how to deal with it.

@dudeglove: I actually made a text adventure already. And if you want to make one, the tools are there and they are easy to use.

@sjqpersonal: I don’t agree that I only put out fucking garbage, that I’m not passionate, and the games I make are flaming piles of shit. I’m fairly positive I never said that the only way to survive is to make F2P games. I said that money is in the foremost concern of a company. Yes, companies existed before F2P, and those companies cared about money too.

@dark: I don’t really get your food example. When I got to the grocery store, I can buy a steak and there are lots of different options, all priced differently based on the quality of the cut. In addition, there are extras I can pay for like ‘organic’ or ‘grass fed’ that ups the price. That’s what I’m talking about. As for slot machines, I kind of touched on that in an earlier topic.

And as for the user having to endlessly pay I say: is that such a bad thing? If you are offering something they want, what’s a few bucks a day? I buy a cup of coffee every day and that adds up. A lot of people get a beer (or three) after work. People spend money on things they want. Why do games have to be a one time purchase instead of a cost that is metered out as you go?

Posted by Amafi
@koolaid said:

Also, I really don’t like using the term addictive. When you are talking about Diablo or FTL, the game is called addictive and its a synonym for fun. But when someone says a F2P game is addictive, they start comparing it to cigarettes. I mean, games are supposed to be fun. You talk about getting the dopamine dripping, but isn’t that the goal of most games?

If Diablo stopped you clicking every 15 minutes and told you that you could buy gold to buy crystals to recharge the energy bar to keep clicking, or you had to pay real money to identify items, then people would react much in the same way as they do to scummy f2p games.

Edited by SJQPersonal

@koolaid: wasnt shooting right at you. Should have clarified that im making a point about mobile and f2p developers. You might the an exception in a pool of turds. You're in it alone. You're not a multi-employee, investor buried extortion clinic making games to abuse addictive habits of weak people.

What I dont like is how much you refer to games as if they're food, or gasoline. If you want to get someone to pay you money everyday for something, or just make money off of someone a little bit a day, like food, then get into food.

Posted by peritus

@koolaid: My point was not that its inherintly bad, but that there are bad examples and uses of them out there. Same as with f2p games, some are fine but some are really bad in that way. Im not talking about gameplay here, purely the way in wich they are monetized. Those are the "gross" ones.

And ofcourse we only hear about the really bad ones, im sure there are plenty of normal f2p games out there. But the arguments being made against f2p games are typically being made against the egregious ones.

And i think those critiques against those egregious examples are valid.

*edit: I think my post got eaten. Also, English is not my native tongue, so sorry if its a bit hard to read.

Posted by Rebel_Scum

I'm not a fan of mobile gaming or mobiles in general, I hardly use mine as it is and really dislike the technology and peoples over reliance on it (Whats with everyone looking at their phone every goddamn second, gen-Y & Z especially). I do agree with most of the points laid out by the OP however.

When it comes to mobile gaming you have to consider what the developers are up against and the market. Most people will only play your game for 2 minutes at a time, if at all. They more than likely won't pay anything for it. Couple of months later and then there's damn clones of your game out. How do you make money from that? And when I say money I mean something you can live off when you've put in the effort to make something to earn you a living. Especially if you are just one person making a mobile game that you would like to pay your rent and eek out a morsel of food on your table. Smaller teams is what I'm really arguing for here.

The technology is also limited in what it can do. The interaction between the user and the game is reduced to a touch screen and people only use it during transit or if they have a few minutes where they have to wait in the real world. It's more than likely not going to satisfy people who aren't casual gamers and its pretty hard to create a meaningful experience on this medium due to this. The medium does suit smaller puzzle games or simulator games simply because of how much control you have on it and how you can pick it up very easily from where you left off without too much consequence.

Great write up @koolaid. Don't feel you need to justify what you do on a gaming site. You certainly put up a great argument however its a battle that will never end with a win for either side.

Posted by GunslingerPanda

Good read. Thanks for the insight.

Posted by probablytuna

I've recently started playing SWTOR and man, around every corner there is something gated behind a paywall. Bank storages, character slots, the act of sending mail or even to write messages, and many other things are either restricted by your character's level or by money. So far I've gotten by without spending any money to unlock anything and I intend to see if I can have a positive experience in the game continuing this path. In the end, I think it's really cool that I can play such a big budget MMO with quality voice acting and production values for free but these constant restrictions make F2P users seem like second class citizens.

Posted by Aetheldod

The only thing I will behemently disagree with is your assesment that there shouldnt be a top spending limit (or more accurately it should be lowered) and that energy bars are justifiable , you argue that they help them to stop playing , but a save feature would do the exact same thing ..... but alas it would be harder to "sell" it no?, but aside of that I think of the so called F2P games similar to arcades , altho those were more based on your skill rather than meters bars , coins and such. Still wont make me aprecciate them and the bad influence they are having on regular games (you said they dont but what happened to Forza? Eh? Or the chest from Mass Effect 3? yeah they are influencing our games and I dont like that one bit)

Posted by Veektarius

I agree with the jist of your argument and I wish that this site's editorials were more impartial on the subject. I strongly disagree with the recent move to mark games with microtransactions as not being free to play. I think there is a point out there (a real point, not a hypothetical one) where so much of a game is behind a paywall that it becomes more of a glorified demo, but most purported F2P games do not reach that point. And many of those games with microtransactions are totally fine without paying a cent, like Plants vs. Zombies 2. I also have no problem with the business model in general, having spent, oh, let's say about $150 on microtransaction-based items in my history, and with few regrets.

I do however think that the prices on the market are somewhat out of balance, and I think there's more to the issue than that "most people don't pay". I think that the current state of the market, where a large portion of the consumer base is of the mindset that paying is for suckers, and a smaller portion is willing to pay more than things are worth, is in part a function of that larger group having seen how much things cost, and having seen that those things that are being sold are often catered to those who are addicted to a product (or lack self-control) rather than items that could substantially alter the gameplay in new and interesting ways. They probably ignore attempts to market to them, and it'll take a sustained period of the microtransaction-based economy targeting their prices and offerings to these individuals for their perceptions to change. An individual game or sale on its own is unlikely to catch their attention.

The other point where I disagree with you is on the subject of value. Value is subjective, that's true - 60 dollars to one person is a much higher percentage of their income than it is to another person. However, even for those who are relatively well-heeled (no one here is talking about millionaires, let's keep in mind), at a given price, an item is likely to be compared in value to other items at that price. So when I go onto Marvel Heroes and see that this sweet costume for Cyclops is $25, I think to myself that $25 is enough to buy most full games on Steam when there's a sale, or three books for my kindle, or five movie rentals on Amazon, four hamburgers, etc. This is all for an item that will improve my gameplay experience only incrementally. Hell, it's twice as much as it would cost me to buy an entirely new character in the same game! The fact that $25 is not a significant portion of my income does not really factor in - I can tell when a company is trying to milk me for cash whether that cash is dear to me or not. Again, when this is my perception of the state of microtransactions, I'm less likely to give "fair" offers proper consideration and instead to dismiss them out of hand.

To a certain extent my perceptions are biased by the fact that I don't play a lot of games on mobile, and I bet that it's harder to make an honest buck in that space. I know from my personal perspective, games I play on mobile are more to fill time than out of genuine enjoyment and thus their utility to me is far lower. Still, I think that the current state of the market is more the consequence of short-term financial considerations on the part of companies and less of a healthy equilibrium that we should be content with.

Posted by Amafi

@veektarius: I think marking games with IAP as such is nothing but a good thing. I would be very interested to hear an argument for how surfacing more information to the consumer is negative.

Posted by Veektarius

@amafi: I don't think the label contains sufficient gradation to detect the very important difference between a game that is fully playable for no money (like Team Fortress) and one that is severely hamstrung without it (like The Old Republic). I think it will deter customers away from games that do things right in favor of those that are totally free. It's not so much that I don't think the information should be surfaced as that it seemed to me that the way it is being surfaced is based on a negative perception of such games (as I discuss further down in the post).

Edited by Amafi

@veektarius said:

@amafi: I don't think the label contains sufficient gradation to detect the very important difference between a game that is fully playable for no money (like Team Fortress) and one that is severely hamstrung without it (like The Old Republic). I think it will deter customers away from games that do things right in favor of those that are totally free. It's not so much that I don't think the information should be surfaced as that it seemed to me that the way it is being surfaced is based on a negative perception of such games (as I discuss further down in the post).

Of course it is, these are games aimed at children with manipulative hard sell tactics in them and it needs to be made clear. If there is a good free to play game with a fair model on mobile I guess it could possibly suck for them. I wouldn't mind a graded system where some mythical free to play mobile game that is not gross (never seen one) gets a little IAP symbol and all the energy systems, multiple tiers of fake currency, daily rewards garbage gets an icon of someone puking into a bucket or something.

There's nothing redeeming about these games, I hope the general perception of them goes way down.

Posted by KoolAid

@rebel_scum: Honestly, I not a big fan of playing mobile games either. If I want an involving gaming experience, I’ll go to my PC or console. It’s just better there. Maybe better than it will ever be on a little touch screen. And if I’m not by either of those things, I’m looking for a game on the go, something quick and easy that I can pick up and put down fast. Some of these games have long load times, so whatever I don’t even bother. Honestly some of the best mobile games I think are Super Hexagon and Flappy Bird. Whenever I want to play Flappy Bird, I press a button and BAM!

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