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Arcademy  >  Index  >  EPN talk  >  Vic's feelings on F2P [1]

Author Topic: Vic's feelings on F2P  (Read 3652 times)

I love Vic and his enthusiasm, but I am starting to get frustrated by his war on Free to Play. I understand all of his points, and agree with the majority of what he is trying to articulate, but insinuating that F2P is akin to a virus (as stated in the last Basement) and professing his fears of the devaluation of the industry in general because of this model seems to show an absence in faith in the creators and the consumers of gaming in general. 

Like shovel-wear on the Wii, F2P is the new source of worry, and yet with every Gameloft, or Carnival Games, or crappy movie tie-in game that apparently threatens the integrity of the industry, informed consumers and talented developers keep everything moving forward to bigger and better directions. We have to have faith in consumers of this medium. We have to believe that those who care, will continue to care and invest their time, energy, and money into those fruitful endeavours that push excellent new gameplay mechanics or narrative directions unseen in gaming. In this ecosystem, both F2P addictive time-crunchers and the beloved Last of Us can co-exist and be purchased by the same gaming enthusiast (myself included). 

Please Vic, be positive toward your audience. Have faith that they can make informed decisions when it comes to how they choose to spend their money.

Its an opinion and one that I actually share. F2P games are MOSTLY(not always) absolute trash. That being said there are free2play models that have been done right. League of Legends/DOTA 2 for example, World of Tanks, Team Fortress 2, but these mainly rely on the community to enhance their success. I think overall though it creates laziness in developers and a complacent attitude in players. I'll edit my post later and add more about how I feel on the topic as I have tons to say on this, haha just don't have the time to be writing a novel right now :P.

I get that, but people have agency to choose what to play and if Flappy Bird is something they want to play, good for them. That doesn't mean that good content is going to disappear, or that all content producers are just going to make shovel-wear because it is easy. Every artistic medium has people who abuse that medium for easy profit. Film, literature, visual art. Yet great content continues to be produced in those mediums everyday by people who care about what they do. Business models are in a constant state of change, but art and the people who make it will always be there.

F2P is still on the rise, so there are plenty of examples of it being done poorly, and probably more to come. However, there are quite a number of good ones too. I like F2Ps with developers that put in passion and effort to make a good game, rather than making "what the fans want". This is especially important when starting a F2P from the ground-level. If you foresee needing fan feedback to make a good game/fix your game, then it's a clear indication you're making it to attract money rather than players.
My feelings about F2P are similar to early shareware/demos that came with other games, which tempted people to buy their full versions. You didn't necessarily want them or find them good if you tried them, but nothing forced you to play or pay. F2P nowadays has shown both right and wrong model ways to do things. Paywalls, in-game economy, boosters... anything that can impact people's gameplay experience will likely stay around if people keep giving them pennies in large numbers. If gamers really don't want to see them anymore, then the only way is to ignore them completely and show developers they're not worth your interest nor time.

Path of Exile, is a good example of having a good game, earning player trust and support, and then followed by players giving devs money for purely cosmetic items that are neither game breaking yet still rewarding. AirMech is another game where you "pay to pretty" and "level up" to be able to do more in the game - I think this is a good way to have players invest time into your game; the more you play, the better you become keeps your audience interested and more likely to buy your pretties, whether they be cosmetics or exclusive events, etc.

Time-wasters like many of those "mobile" games are a whole other story. I just find it very troubling that so many people choose to give into ploys clearly built on greed, rather than spending their time and money on a more worthwhile experience.

The only F2P game i play continously is Clash of Clans, which is essentially a pay to get a better village, but you can do pretty well without spending a cent. That said, I hate most F2P games. For most IOS games, I take a less ethical/legal route by Jailbreaks and hacks...I know im a terrible person, but game companies shouldnt make money off in-game currency in a half-assed mobile game anyways

Technically F2P's are becoming a virus, infesting the game industry. Sure it does make the game accessible to all players (esp. underaged players, esrb rage) but F2P games go hand in hand with pay to win. In game currency isn't necessarily a bad concept when used right, but when someone buys the most OP character and every gun availble with the use of a credit card, it's not fair at all to other players. Take a look at some of the leading F2P companies like Riot, Bluehole, or even Valve. These companies make a fortune off of micro-transactions, trumping indie-developers in their path. And why are they making a fortune? Because it's addicting. When you play a game for awhile you feel as though you're investing into this character of yours. This is why you'll see the highest level guys with the coolest equipment.

But in the long run, is this really healthy for the industry? More and more developers are shifting to F2P because of the success of other companies. This may be discouraging, especially to independent developers, and may pressure them to go into F2P for a better outcome. How far is too far? Do we have to wait till 'free games' become a majority of games on the market? Say what you want, but I'll take paying once over getting my ass whupped by a guy who payed to win anyday.

Warframe, Airmech, Planetside 2, Path of Exile, Canabalt, Team Fortress 2, (took a while, so it's a different case), all of these are fantastic examples of good, free gameplay experiences with the need for payouts. Is there a deluge of crappy cash ins? Yes, and the same is true of every medium in existence. We could have the debate over which free to play games are good, and which are not all day and come up with hundreds on both sides of the fence, including divergent opinions (personally, I've enjoyed Flappy Bird, Maverick Bird and Flappy48 for what they are, despite others detesting Flappy Bird and dismissing the rest). That's not what this post is for though. Vic is obviously passionate and concerned for the industry and doesn't want it to hit by a flood of crap that devalues the rest, like the ET and Pac Man on Atari caused in 1983. However, there are some facts and parallels completely missing from the analysis that help put everything in perspective.

1. Games based on and coordinated with Movie and TV releases are typically middling, because those games don't come with a quality mandate (past developer credibility), nor a publisher's budget where game performance dictates overall success (and survival). The vast majority are funded out of a PR and Marketing budget for the film. When the Iron Man games are made, or the Adventure Time 3DS games, the majority come with a short turnaround time, a set release date (something many managers can't handle), a small set budget, and limited use of a franchise with the potential of a longer term relationship with MGM, Paramount, or whoever else has contracted the developer. These contracts and budgets come from a Marketing manager who looks at mobile games, sees an opportunity to spend money on a high penetration platform (mobile or video games in general) that has high appeal to a target audience (kids and teens), and that has the chance to make a return, completely nullifying the expense of development and distribution, making them look like geniuses in accounting, which gets them more gigs.

That's what happens in games. Know what happens with the film medium? Commercials. Those 30-60 second ads we see during TV show breaks, or before a movie begins. Some of these ads are timeless ("Where's the beef?!"), highly anticipated (Super Bowl spots), controversial (banned European adverts), or enough to make people lose all sense of reason as they squeal with glee (trailers and spots). They're promos in every sense of the word, and born of the EXACT SAME PR BUDGET as free to play/movie tie in games today. A product is made, a marketing manager gets a budget, and has to figure out how best to raise awareness. In this case, he'll choose TV ads.

Vic is concerned someone will play one or more shite free to play iphone games, then pass on experiences like The Last of Us because of shutting out games as an option. 

When's the last time you heard someone say "I'm done with film" because of a crappy ad they saw on TV? 

When was the last time you heard someone say "I'm done with art" because of a an ad in a magazine?

When was the last time you heard someone say "I'm done with literature" because of a terribly written classified ad?

When was the last time you heard someone say "I'm done with music" because of a jingle they overheard? Did the piano and Rachmaninoff's works become dismissible because people use the same instrument to create jingles for auto-insurance?

These are ALL the same relations within their mediums, the same marketing manager dictating the budget, timeline and execution centred around another product. We're passionate about games, but that doesn't excuse us from reality.

2. You know those amazing art films and critically acclaimed games that people say are the pinnacle of their mediums? MANY of them would never be made without marketing budgets from other crappier projects. Many actors who WANT to star in oscar worthy projects often cannot get approval from producers and even their own agents unless they take a role in something "less", to add namesake and marketing appeal to those projects. This includes crappy comedies, cash in blockbusters and many more. Some do it because of contractual obligations, while others do because it's the only way they can afford their artistic integrity on a larger stage (laughable concept, I know). The same holds true for many developers, including Wayforward, a company who's games I HIGHLY enjoy, often throwbacks or evolutions of classic platformers. Mighty Switch Force, their offshoot company Yacht Club Games' Shovel Knight, and the ever polarizing Shantae series. These are all passion projects that wouldn't exist as is without funding from "crappy movie games" and other marketing contract titles.

I can hear people saying now, "but, they should be able to make these quality passion projects and be supported by their fans!". Check Steam sales. Check revenue margins. Check the lifestyle of a small game developer. Check piracy on open development platforms. It's not a realistic proposition, and typically impossible without compromise, either to game quality, life quality, or to acceptable funding avenues. As much as these crappy F2P mobile games are villains of the industry, they're also the oil that keeps the gears turning for many developers at every level.

Once again, this happens in every industry. To continue making paintings as passion projects for fans, artists take on side jobs, many times in the art sector for a larger firm or as cheap creative labour. Getting a job in the same industry creating something less than ideal (embroidered sweaters for hockey teams as an example) at least allows their crafts to be honed and expanded over time with different challenges and completed projects. Likewise is true for an actor taking the Direct to DVD opportunity, learning, growing and getting paid along the way so they CAN pursue their passions.

The downside is that many developers can come out of a lesser experience disillusioned, dejected and burnt out. Labour issues ARE major in the industry, yet nobody complains when someone isn't an astronaut as their first gig out of college. It's a balancing act, and as much as developers can be brutally mismanaged and devalued, not every line artist or grunt coder is the next Yoshiaki Koizumi, nor do they care to be.

3. Games designated as "pay to continue" are difficult to reconcile. If I'm playing a game with my health constantly counting down on iOS, regardless of my performance or actions in game, the on death the game tells me to pay money to continue on the same cycle, chastising and denouncements will follow suit.

Where was the outcry when Gauntlet, Xenophobe, and Skate or Die used the exact same practice? How did they become classics when they use a design technique directly intended to get more quarters out of kids?

People point and shame mobile games that have artificial difficulty spikes or walls that can be surmounted by paying to level up, or paying in for an advantage, yet somehow, Mortal Kombat 2 escaped the same level of criticisms despite actively changing difficulty levels if a player puts in more money to continue (lose to an opponent, pay to continue, same opponent becomes easy, next opponent is insanely difficult, repeat), then keeping Shao Khan vicious because people won't give up at the very end! Nobody at ALL complained when King of Fighters allowed continuing players to choose a buff, reducing opponent's life-bars by two thirds (effectively a pay to win technique), but only after they'd lost the match and paid to continue.

How many torrents of complaints have we seen over the concept of "pay 25 cents on your account for 5 extra lives" in mobile FPS titles, paying for gems to get more in game resources? How many people felt the same spending 25 cents for two lives in the Turtles Arcade games, or were they excited to play big colourful titles in booming arcades with swank cabinets and unique controllers? Do they today regard them as all time greats?

These practices were more overt in arcades than on mobile platforms, outright shutting out players from progression where most mobile titles either time cap the player, limit moves, or slow progression, but STILL allow playing to occur. These practices have been in effect for decades in gaming, yet NOW we're up in arms over it? The only reason we ARE nowadays is because of two things:
     A. Arcades were fast and brutal, you made a judgement and you got out fast if you didn't enjoy yourself. Mobile games run on a slower burn, making players more invested in the experience before walling off progression. More investment means more hooks, means more wasted effort, means more emotional frustration. None of this includes browsing the stores, clicking to download, waiting for the download, letting the game boot up, and getting into the game itself on mobile. Arcade were coin in, choose character, FIGHT.
     B. The quality of games doesn't meet the potential payment and time spent. Arcade games were controllers you couldn't get at home (Racing cabinets, fighting game community, unique shooter guns and platforms, instruments and targets for rhythm/skill games, VR headsets), higher fidelity of games (better graphics, smoother experiences, 4-6 player coop, full voice acting, BIG colourful characters), and the sensory overload of a game saturated environment. Instead, mobile offers convenience, and not much else over fully free or fully paid experiences. It's no longer an event or perceived as a venue service, it's an owned product, a perception that makes a WORLD of difference.
     C. We grew up... is an argument many people will make to the opposite. If that's true, why is there still value to playing a crappy beat em up for 25 cents, dying and leaving, even today? Why are those games still enjoyable today, and STILL at the top of their game in certain genres? Why are we happy to still pay 25 cents for pinball if it's antiquated and rote with its pay to continue style?

Given what's listed above, and the hindsight we have today on Arcade Game design, their legendary status, and affinity for the experiences, how much of this boils down to possession, pace, and lack of quality vs the nickel and diming practices themselves?

4. There NEEDS to be personal accountability here. Shite games and cash ins have existed forever. Where were the stalwarts protecting the quality of the medium and saying they were a virus preventing people from enjoying better titles of decades passed, barring ET (a very different situation)? There were Twitter protests over Flappy Bird's addictive qualities, a game with no paywall, no payment options, no ANYTHING, just people who couldn't stop themselves from playing, claiming it ruined their lives, their jobs, their marriages and their health. Why aren't we looking at those people and saying "Yo, Flappy Bird didn't force ANYTHING on you", amidst their demands that Dong Nguyen (creator of Flappy Bird) control their compulsions for them?

If you're in a McDonalds and someone's ordering combo after combo, eating and eating without leaving, making themselves sick and paying out their collective asses to do so, how evil are the golden arches when the person stuffing their face is actively choosing to do so? What prevents them from doing the same at Wendy's if it's a personal compulsion? How many times do we turn around and claim "MURICA" about overeating instead of addressing the root issues which is NOT the food itself? We used to see someone playing a bad game as questionable, but now we're supposed to protect the consumer from FREE to play games so that they're not turned off to the industry? I LOVE education, reviews and wide opinions helping with consumer decisions, but part of that is SELF education, learning through experience and personal growth, learning from one's own successes and mistakes.

ALL OF THIS BEING SAID, I'm not playing devil's advocate, and I'm not supporting the practice of F2P cash in titles. This is the reality countering everything negative that's been spouted about such games and needs to be accounted for to understand the issue fully, and to broach it correctly. Regardless of anything listed above, there are two concerns I have with such games' wider successes.

1. Influence on wider design and the concept of investment gaming. I have no issue with developers making games where I need to pay to continue. It happens with arcades, demos, shareware, episodic content, expansion packs and sequels. I DO have an issue with developers straddling monetary "investment" trappings. "You've put X time into this game so far, don't allow it to be for nothing, INVEST NOW!". This is a bizarrely toxic process which actively devalues the games themselves in exchange for a parasitical, manipulative practice, replacing actual game value and personal resonance with the equivalent of a slot machine, flashing lights and all, minus the jackpot payouts. This is as much a concern for developers as consumers, and heavily antagonistic.

2. While this trend won't denigrate the wider interactive medium, and will cause a critical backlash against such practices (See: Early Access on Steam right now), it DOES remove interest in greater development efforts on touch platforms. Another platform that creatively suffered for this was the Wii. The Wii remote NEVER saw its full potential used. Even with the Bluetooth API on PC and people innovating creative and uncharacteristically organic uses for the controller. My own crusade was to use the controller as a state based input with multiple control layouts based on position. The potential for this was MASSIVE, especially when paired with established franchises like Beyond Good and Evil, Robotech and even Halo. The concept was used a paltry TWO TIMES on Wii games and shamefully overlooked in favour of novelty appeal, easy concept communication and low development (investment) costs. This led to a huge sea of crap on the platform that not only devalued a control option LOADED with potential, it devalued the great games that WERE on the platform, lost in a sea of cash ins. Hell, look at the "educated gamer's" perspective on the Wii, and they'll gladly inform you there's little of value on the platform, that the Wii Remote is nothing but waggle, and the whole platform was worthless when absolutely NONE of that is factual, and all of it a bias born of cash grabs and poorly developed titles.

Don't think it's true? Ask someone what they think of motion control, then ask their opinion of Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus. How many of them clue in that headsets are entirely motion controlled devices, and instead think that motion control has zero use outside of waggle and showing the bottom of their avatar's mangled foot? Welcome to defamation and the perceptive roadblock it creates for consumers and creators alike. Tomb Raider as a franchise is another incredible example of this in the Crystal Dynamics era, but that's a story for another time.

Is mobile gaming nothing but cash ins? Absolutely not. Sword and Sorcery, Waking Mars, Puk, Hundreds, Rymdkapsel, Edge, Threes and PLENTY of others are amazing, charming experiences, while ports such as FTL and XCOM: Enemy Unknown are practically reborn with touch interfaces. All the same, how often do you hear about them compared to complaints about free to play? Stigma and market saturation affect a LOT, and can kill a platform's potential with nothing more than pervasive slander, a tyranny of the majority.

That's my say. There's more on the subject, but these are the major points worth noting on both sides. Marketing tie in causes, grades of each medium, funding realities, personal accountability, and the history of pay to continue products offering perspective counter to Vic's heavy concerns and anti-F2P crusade, with two major concerns of my own in investment design, and devaluing of powerful platforms.

What's the solution? Play what you love. Support the innovations, products, directions and designs you enjoy, and be mindful of how you're spend that vote. The interactive medium is going NOWHERE, but we can stand to avoid the bump in the road for touch platforms that motion gaming is facing, and some toxic development practices too. Vote with your wallet and time, and invest in what's important to you, regardless of what you support, be it game of the year or forgotten tomorrow.

anyone got a TL; DR?

100% in agree with Polatron's post. I know TOO many reviewers that just bash licensed or marketing contracted games just because they think it's a way to trick people to buying their games. People don't realize that these licensed games are the lifeblood to the developer to creating better games!  Bring back to comparisons of licensed/contract games with Starbreeze's "The Chronicles of Riddick:Escape from Butcher Bay" and "Syndicate". Both were games that were hated from the start with fans. Being a Tie-in Movie Game, it's hard to expect a good thing, but somehow in 18 months Starbreeze pulled it off and It still stands as a great game.  Syndicate was hated because it changed genre and it's OLD hardcore community rejected it. While it didn't sell too well, it was regarded as a good game nonetheless by people who ignored the ravaging community mob. After those 2 specific games were over, they used that money to published Payday 2 from Overkill Studios and developed Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Those 2 games and their profits couldn't have happened if it weren't for working for those licensed and contracted games.  

Unfortunately, the solution of Polatron's rant is more difficult to solve for most people. It's very hard to find those games you might like especially with licensed f2p games. finding that needle in that filthy filthy haystack is hard because it's overbarren with greedy publishers that want to take advantage of this f2p trend. Unless there's a new way to weed out the bad games from the better... I don't know how to fix this problem

Polatron, that was amazing!

Free2Play evolved because of a perennial problem on Android - because of the design of the OS, it was way too easy to pirate games. And at the same time, paid apps never showed up in the Google Marketplace if Google didn't have Google Wallet in the country.

So app developers on Android realized the only way was to have apps that were free. Google Wallet eventually encompassed more countries, so besides whoring out your information, apps could do in-app purchases to pay for the development, etc.

This was adopted on the PC side, which also suffered from huge piracy. Before this, the vast majority of games on PC were either online gaming bases, or subscription based (i.e., MMORPGs and the like). Then they realized you can't really pirate a free game, especially one that people could play for free then make purchases later.

Of course, one of the big problems is well, developers see how easy it can be, and they get greedy. They think more about $$$ without thinking about how to balance things so people can have fun to make the investment. I call it time-to-money. Basically, how much can you play before the first demand for money takes place. For a lot of games, it's quite short - a few minutes, and the player feels very unsatisfied because they feel the game is demanding money instantly.

A lot of better games often can be played entirely for free - if you have enough patience and time, and money can be used to accelerate things. The better ones don't even demand money at all - you can go to the shop and buy if you want, but it's pretty obvious you don't have to. You could, but you could just invest time and sweat.

So the big problem in the end is developers get greedy and start plastering "BUY BUY BUY NOW!!!!" the moment you start the app, and many games are lame enough that money can't fix. That's the main problem - developers see easy money and don't realize you still need a compelling game to play, and to not plaster demands for money.

A lot of better games often can be played entirely for free - if you have enough patience and time, and money can be used to accelerate things. The better ones don't even demand money at all - you can go to the shop and buy if you want, but it's pretty obvious you don't have to. You could, but you could just invest time and sweat.

This, other than eternal SNK support, is why Metal Slug Defence is the Mobile Trial this week. Everything about it has been extremely well balanced. I've never once been pestered to buy medals, never once felt the need to get any, get enough in game currency that it never feels restricted at all (well balanced, if not the opposite right now), and the Sortie points (how much you can play in one go) recharge at a solid rate with an upgradeable max and recharge rate, while also being more than enough in a sitting. You could probably go through the whole reserve 12 times a day without fail, and I'm having a genuinely fun time with the game all around.

It's free to play, but it's absolutely not a bad thing in this case, and exceptionally well balanced. The only case I've experienced where you may want to buy medals is when they open up a MUCH later world in the game for an hour only (random occurrence, I believe). Those worlds are FAR more difficult and higher levelled than you're used to at the time, so there could be temptation to buy ahead, however nothing is lost by abstaining, and you stick to normal progression and growth by keeping your wallet closed.

On the other hand, Forza 5, Dungeon Keeper Mobile, PLENTY of Gameloft games... in the end, it's all up to the developers what they want to do. There are bosses in TMNT 1989 (Shredder, for example) who have instant kill attacks, where you could insert a quarter and depending on the operator's settings, could lose that quarter within a single and no attacks attempted, let alone landed. There are TONS of games that pad content and campaign time with back tracking, empty wilderness, exposition and other crutches that suck. Free to play trappings are no different.

Worth making a separate post for this point:

As noted above, Gameloft is one of the notable culprits when it comes to in-app purchases and the standard "buy gems for money" style of progression. Something you'll notice after playing enough of their games is that the systems are EXTREMELY similar across each one. This is because they often use the same skeleton game with different skins. Lower cost of game development, faster turnaround time, more budget gets spent on putting in marketing tie ins and shinier bells instead of re-inventing the wheel.

That's fine and good, lots of companies re-use engines, so why am I bringing this up? Because mobile games are one of the few prolific places where developers can buy a pre-made game for $99, skin it over an afternoon, and release it onto the the iOS or Google Play stores the same weekend, and day if they're fast enough. You don't need to understand game development, just add your own images and sounds (stock assets exist to cover these bases), and you're done! This option exists for numerous genres, including puzzle (Puyo pop, Bejewelled), free runners (Canabalt, Temple Run), management games (Fashion Icon, Simpsons, Men in Black 3, Jurassic Park), and tower defense titles.

A reason the big games crash happened in 1983 was because quality couldn't be guaranteed by name (proven by Pac Man Atari and ET Atari), developer pedigree was less relevant at the time across platforms (Namco's Pac Man Arcade was not the same on home platforms), and people weren't willing to spend their money on a crap shoot. The reason why this happened? Zero quality control, zero certification, anyone could make anything and release it, including blatant one man knock offs of other releases, and reviews weren't around to help people judge what was worth their time.

Given we're talking about the mobile space, that should sound very familiar. The difference? People use iOS and Android for FAR more than gaming, so they'll stick around as the diversions they've become instead of fading away. Something to think about next time you're getting a fix of Plants vs Zombies with the in no way related ORIGINAL CONTENT DO NOT STEAL Ninjas vs Pizzas.

Yet even in that deluge of crap, great game makers are still turning toward the iPad to develop excellent, creative exercises in design (Monument Valley, Republique, The Room) and these games receive the critical praise, the high user ratings, and a relative level of success that proves the mobile medium can survive despite the anarchic plethora of reskinned garbage.