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.
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.
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.