Recently, GamesIndustry.biz ran an article by Kabam’s President, Andrew Sheppard, about the F2P biz model. (You can find it here: http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2014-03-05-f2p-the-most-democratic-form-of-development-kabam?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=us-daily.)
Basically, the story offered some good thoughts and some bad ones.
The good? There are some very smart comments about the desirability of having several workable business models – and the inevitability of multiple models – rather than one winner-take-all model. That was a breath of fresh air, let me tell you! Most F2P guys exhibit a zeal that can, at best, be described as unseemly. Multiple business models? I completely agree.
And I agree completely with the comments about licenses as well. There’s no reason why licensed games can’t rock. And it’s both good business and, often, good fun working with licenses. Developers need to get over not-invented-here syndrome.
But, on the flip side, Sheppard makes some comments about console and triple-A developers being “scared” of F2P, citing the disruption caused by the switch from arcades (25 cents, please… okay, how about another 25 cents?…) to consoles (deposit $60 in our bank accounts, thank you…).
I think the fear factor is non-existent. Sheppard is just wrong about that. And the arcade to console comparison is simply off-base.
I don’t know anyone who “fears” the new business model. I certainly don’t. I just think it’s evil AS IMPLEMENTED by most developers and publishers. And the incremental approach to revenue generation of the arcades is radically different than the approach most F2P folks take today.
Honestly, I think the arcade guys got it right and we could learn some valuable lessons from them. What lessons?
Well, that initial quarter was very easy to spend. You fed the machine a quarter and you got X minutes of play time. If you were having a good time and wanted more content, you fed more quarters into the machine to keep playing for X additional minutes.
That’s a great model – certainly better than overcharging for our product as we always do in the triple-A space. And it’s a model we can and should adopt.
Charge very little for the first hour of play – or give it away if you want. If I’m having fun, I pay a small fee for more of that experience. You like something, you buy more of it. You don’t like something, you walk away. Track what people do as they play and adjust play appropriately as you introduce new content? Fine. Awesome. I’m in.
But start charging me for power-ups and other things I need to succeed (or, worse, hats and cloaks and such with no game effect)? Take planning and skill out of the equation and charge me for things I need to continue making progress (or to dress myself up)? Nope. I’m not down with that at all. And that’s what most of the F2P folks seem to be doing.
It’d be like a television show giving you 25 minutes of entertainment and then charging for the last five minutes. Or giving you all the talking but charging extra for the action. (Okay, bad analogy but I couldn’t think of a better one.)
In other words, most F2P experiences are built on a model that might be described as “bad entertainment for free; good entertainment for cash.”
That’s what I object to. It’s not fear. It’s not that F2P HAS to be evil. It’s just that it IS evil, as usually implemented. That’s what has to change before you’ll make a convert of me. And just to put my money where my mouth is, here are some personal experiences:
I’m a huge fan of the Tell Tale games – and their business model. I like their free content (their “pilot episodes”) so I always buy subsequent episodes. I like the free stuff so I pay them for the not free stuff – just like the old arcades. They don’t charge for new clothes for Clementine or for shotguns that do double damage to zombies! Good on them!
I love Candy Crush Saga (there, I said it), but I’ve paid for exactly one power-up (and won’t ever pay for another) because I couldn’t make forward progress without said power-up. That’s evil. Sorry. No other word for it. On the other hand I’ve happily paid several times for new levels. Again, I like the free content so I’ll pay for more content. It’s my way of thanking and rewarding the developer for providing an inherently fun experience. Make the experience inherently un-fun (unless I pay) and I’m walking away.
There are similar good things going on elsewhere in the F2P or Cheap 2 Play world – Republique… Kentucky Route Zero… – which I’ll happily support.
Free to Play should really BE free to play (and cheap to play is okay, too – developers have to eat). The ages old model of offering value for money (rather than junk for money) is the right model.
Creating inherently enjoyable experiences that don’t NEED to be enhanced by the purchase of power-ups or add-ons is the right answer. I’m convinced of that and not scared at all. Bring on the change, just make sure it’s a change for the better.
(Oh, yeah, I have to confess, I’ve never played a Kabam game so it’s entirely possible they do everything right. Take this post as a condemnation of the predominant F2P approach, not as a comment on any specific company or game.)