F2P may reduce gaming to a ‘stroll through the mall’

Free to Play (F2P) games became a big thing in the last couple of years. They range everywhere from small browser-based games that no one would have paid anything for in store to high-quality games that can be sold for $50€ or more. Whole new companies were founded and grew quickly with this new model. It was in one of these that I started to be a game designer in 2009.


It’s very interesting to see where this new business-model has taken games, gamers and designers alike.


At first glance the idea of F2P is quite simple and appealing: first you play and then you pay. A bit like what demos or public domain software was before F2P came to be, only now you have the full game and can decide how much or how little you are willing to spend.

[caption id="attachment_4183" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Dungeons&Dragons Online, the first true successful conversion to F2P in the West. Dungeons&Dragons Online, the first true successful conversion to F2P in the West.[/caption]


F2P prospered, growing more diverse and with it one part of the design grew as well: monetization. After some F2P titles made big money, companies started to focus on these new cash cows. Monetization was – to keep the picture – the “holy” part of this cow.


Of course, studios and publishers had to make money before F2P to keep up business, but boxed titles are a rather two-step-thing; first, you make the game, then you sell it. With this model you couldn’t sell parts of it in advance so there is quite an inherent financial risk. You have all the costs up front and are gambling on sales. How convenient it must appear to start making profits while you are developing the game! Even better: no upper limit anymore on how much the players can pay you!


Surely, the financial guys have seen their dreams come true and management soon followed suit – making more money in less time. The game quality itself went down to be just a hollow carrier for this one all-important thing: monetization. The “game” in game design became less and less important. It should be quick and cheap. More like an impressive facade or some glittering tricks of light to lure the players in and to make them spend money as much and as long as possible.


Something important changed for players, for designers and for the relationship between both. Game design is no longer about entertaining the players by giving them a good, polished game they enjoy. It was through this enjoyment your company made its profit by increasing game sales. As there were big companies before F2P there was money to earn that way. Now, however, a game is designed to lure and to trick players, picking their pockets while they’re distracted by some cheap spectacle.

[caption id="attachment_4185" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Rift is just the last one to convert. Now, only EVE and World of Warcraft are left to P2P only, at least in the West. Rift is just the last one to convert. Now, only EVE and World of Warcraft are left to P2P only, at least in the West.[/caption]


Or to say it differently: it changed from going to the movies into a stroll through the shopping mall.


Why spend time and effort making a good, polished, fun game when people can be convinced to pay more money for a lesser game?!

A good question and the answer depends on whom you ask. Financially this might seem a good strategy to follow, however it changes the thing called “Games” an awful lot, both for the designers and for the gamers. In my view, at quite a high price.

By Armin Papenfuss (1 Posts)

Former Game Designer at Gameforge and Infernum.

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  • Francisco H. Salanga III

    I’d like to see some examples of poor F2P games, because I’ve see some great ones out there. Perhaps I tend to block the crap ones out. I mean, Firefall is looking good, Gundam Capsule Fighter is another fun game. The monetization features aren’t too intrusive and everything seems balanced.

    • Armin Papenfuss

      Sure, there are good F2P titles. And yes you can monetize softer or harder. But the one thing I want to point out is that the way you approach games has changed.
      Instead of entering “the show” and being entertained wholesale, you’re entering “the shop” and having buy-decisions all the time.

    • HPerquin

      There are plenty of well done F2P games in terms of visual quality and interesting storylines, but the quality of the experience has gone down because you can’t get the full experience unless you buy in all the time. For some kid who would have saved up his dollars to buy a full game, he would have been able to access the full experience. Now, perhaps the original buy-in is lower, but you’ve got to have constant cash flow to experience the game to its full potential. Plenty get suckered in without that cash flow to back them up, and never end up experiencing the best aspects of the game, thus lowering their overall experience and the gaming quality. It ads a stress to every decision you make in game. Can I afford this? Is often forefront in the gamer’s mind. For those with gaming addictions, monetization is a particularly brutal format. Plenty of incomes being suckered into buying up features to always be ahead in the game. Monetization of F2P games has some pros, but there are an awful lot of cons that I think you could safely argue reduce the quality of these games.


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