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Please Stop Complaining About Free Mobile Games Now. PLEASE.
by Jeff Vogel on 05/14/14 04:49:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

God. When did Indie game developers start acting so darn superior all the time?
Like many self-declared oh-so-serious gamers, I've long been irritated by casual mobile free to play games. I finally managed to get over that. I don't know what was wrong with me. Things now are just fine.

Ok, yeah, we know, we've all heard the arguments. Mobile games are too dumb. Too brightly colored. Too greedy. It's irritating to see ads, to be asked for money. They make too much of their money from compulsive "whales." We're nerds, and grannies are sneaking into our seekrit kewl gamer basement. Mobile game developers are too obsessed about money metrics and not enough about creativity. (As if the Indies are blameless on that score. "But my new tower defense game is really groundbreaking!" Please stop talking to me now.)

Mobile games are not what gamers and Indie developers want gaming to be. And this is the Internet, so, if anyone likes something different, THEY MUST BE DESTROYED.

Yes, you've had your say. You don't like mobile games. We got it.

So please give it a rest already?

So Jeff, What Got Up Your Butt?

Lots of things, but this tweet was kind of the final straw. In my butt. #mixedmetaphorpromode
Sure. I'll get right on saving mobile gaming, as soon I finish this Hearthstone match. Then I'll ... WHAT? RELEASE THE HOUNDS AGAIN? I HATE HUNTERS SO MUCH!!!
I feel a little bad picking on Notch here, because he's a decent guy and critiquing tweets is already a waste of time, but his tweet bugged me for two reasons.

First, "save mobile gaming?" From what? Being crushed under a giant avalanche of cash?

Second, this is a smug dismissal of a huge chunk of the game industry that keeps a lot of developers employed making games that a lot of people really like. It's also the most emotionally manipulative argument possible: OH, won't someone think of the CHILDREN!?!? ("Honey, are you letting little Billy playing Clash of Clans?" "Yes." "You MONSTER!")

By the way, in my observation, the younger generation isn't playing mobile F2P. The kids are spending all their time in Minecraft. Somehow, I think they'll be fine.

(Actually, if you want a better example of the Indie Developer sense of superiority, this recent article in Polygon is the gold standard. His attempts to use mathlogic to prove that these immensely popular games are actually hated are genuinely amusing.)

While we're all relieved that Indie gaming is ready to swoop in and save us from what we want, those of us who hate mobile games should take a moment to consider why we do. Speaking to gamers here: When you viscerally hate something that has never hurt you personally (or even affected you, really), it is possible that the true problem is really somewhere inside your own head.

So let's examine some of the reasons why we fear and hate our new Mobile F2P masters.
"Hearthstone doesn't count. I don't consider one of the bad free games." Yeah. Everyone says that about the one they like. 

One. "The People Who Make Them Are Soulless Business Drones. Not Cool Arteests Like Us."

Yeah, pretty much. I've been to casual/mobile game trade shows, and, man, that is so not a nerdy place. It's a bunch of NormalPeople and MBAs, with nice clothes and haircuts, tossing around weird business terms like ARPU and ARPDAU and AMPU and DILDONG. And sure, they all like Game of Thrones, but they don't like it in the correct way we do.

Sometimes I think that the gamer hate for mobile is not because it's unsuccessful (because it's massively profitable) or because they provide people with mind-boggling amounts of leisure fun (because they do), but because they remind us of the grade school bullies who laughed at us and took our lunch money. But this time they're doing it inside OUR industry.

People who write free games, from Candy Punch Saga to Hearthstone are doing what we do, but better. (And yes, Hearthstone has "Casual" appeal too, whatever that means. Ten million registered accounts says so.)

The people making those games may not being doing it our way, by our metrics, but they are passionate about giving lots of people something they like. Hell, they care about how many people play their games way more than I do. They'll lose a week's sleep over increasing their player base by 0.01%, because that might be the edge they need to stay employed.

The sheer scale of the entertainment they provide is mind-boggling, and they're doing it mostly for free, with, by the way, game systems that mere mortals can actually understand.

Why did free games take over the world? Well, you can pick up the entirely of Hearthstone in five minutes. Think you understand the rules to Magic: The Gathering? Nobody does. Look what it takes to understand that game.  It's madness.

Maybe accessibility is our problem. "Hey, man, I was wasting my life stressing about impenetrable rules systems before it was cool."

Two. "They Write Simple Cartoony Games For the Most Casual."

And they're rich. Aren't you just angry you didn't think of it first?

What people seem to ignore is that these games provide the most challenging hardcore experience available in games today. Want a rough time? It's simple: Don't spend money.

(A common logical error made when analyzing mobile games is seeing that only a small percentage of people spend cash and concluding this means people don’t like the games. This is a huge mistake. I’ve never paid a penny on free games, including several I love. This just means that I’m awesome.)

Free games, even the more casual ones, solve the great problem in game design. They thread the needle between Casual and Hardcore. Want a light, easy experience? Spend a little money. Want a punishing experience that takes lots of time and care? Play for free.

Yes, if you pay for free, they'll put a lot of time blocks in your way, both arbitrary waits and levels you'll lose a lot of time. But that's what serious gamers want, right? To do something hard and finally succeed? And this time it's even more fun, because you did it for FREE. It feels like you got away with something!
Hay Day, and enormously popular F2P game. I only put up this image because I think it'll annoy gamers.
An Aside. You Think You Know Hardcore? You Don't Know Hardcore!

People who ask for and play tough games are really full of themselves. We all know that. You won Dark Souls? That's nothing. I have a friend who beat Candy Crush Saga without spending a penny. Took months. You want strategy and grueling persistence? There it is.

And she's not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination. She's as casual and casual gets, and she's a more dedicated, obstacle-toppling gamer than you are. Even if her game involves hitting a spastic teddy bear with clumps of purple gumdrops, or whatever.

Three. "If You Don't Pay, You Have To Spend a Lot of Time Getting Power."

Sure. And this makes it different from non-free games how, exactly?

People have a problem with this now? Well, I don't remember gamers having a problem when we all burned up our youths in the twin furnaces of Everquest or World of Warcraft. Used to be, in Everquest, every fifth level was a "hell level," where they doubled the number of experience you needed to pass it for no reason. It was arbitrary, obnoxious, and ridiculous. I still have nightmares about level 45.

If you complained about it everyone jumped down your throat and called you dirty names. Players just spent the hours grinding. With great concentration, you could convince yourself that you were having fun.

Now, the worst thing that happens is the game, to advance, forces you to pay or get this to stop playing for an hour. You don't even need to spend that hour killing the same goblin over and over again. You can go do something else!

Seriously. Whatever ridiculous hoops free games make you jump through to advance? Hardcore gamers have gone through ten times worse. And we did it to ourselves. And we convinced ourselves it made us cool.

An Aside. Of Course, It Can Be Done Badly. Of Course.

It's not hard to make a F2P game that sucks. A recent instructive example of the Internet Anger/Entitlement Complex was EA's free Dungeon Keeper game.

Now, I never played it. And neither did 19 out of 20 of the people who complained about it. From what I heard, it committed the cardinal sin of making people wait too long to do anything and forcing them to spend money to see any of the game's cool stuff.

And they were punished for it. Even in the ancient shareware days, we knew that the free version had to be enough to addict your customers. Dungeon Keeper didn't do this, and it messed up in the harshest, most unforgiving of markets. Result? Don't bother to look for it in the top sales charts. It's not there.

But that has nothing to do with the bizarre level of screeching that accompanied its release. To hear gamers talk, it's like EA defiled some sacred institution of modern society.

Dudes, I was there when Dungeon Keeper came out. I bought it with real money. And ... It was fine. Halfway decent. And that's it. Look at it this way. If it was such a hot property, why was the license allowed to lie fallow for fifteen years?

(Bonus Young Developer Advice: Looking for a game idea? The apparent desire for a new version of Dungeon Keeper might be something you can profitably take advantage of.)
"I have two jobs, three kids, and four minutes to rest." Why don't you spend that time pretending to have a miserable, meaningless life? "Because I don't hate myself."
Four. "These Games Are Shallow and Don't Provide a Rich Artistic Experience."

Yes. Thank God.

I've lost count of the number of indie developers who cursed these games as being mere time-wasters and dopamine-generation buttons. Why wouldn't you instead play an iphone game that provides a varied, rich artistic experience, like ... like ... Yeah, I don't know either.

Look, don't listen to indie developers. We all may be, oh, I don't know, a tiny bit in love with ourselves? I missed it when the world elected us the High Princes And Arbiters Of Leisure Time.

Candy Crush Saga fans aren't sheep or Muggles. They are making highly rational choices about spending limited time and/or money for maximal rest. Papers, Please! is a great game, but it's also stressful and depressing. If you look down on someone who prefers Pet Rescue Saga, you may have lost the plot on this whole "game" thing.

Some may have forgotten that, most of the time, all people want is a painless way to escape stressful reality for five minutes while waiting for the bus.

Five. "Casual Games Monetization Isn't Ethical."

The best evidence is that a tiny fraction of mobile games players make up a huge chunk of the income. These super-players are called "whales." It's really interesting.

I used to be concerned about it. Not so much, now.

I was uncomfortable with a business model of coldly extracting most of your earnings from a tiny percentage of "whales" in your user base, but it could be WAY worse. There's a hundred casinos within an hour's drive of my house, and those icehearted bastards will take your house, smile, and sleep like a baby afterwards. Who is protesting them? At least nobody ever lost their kids' college money playing Candy Crush.

I hate to get all Robert Heinlein on you, but unless Zygna agents are sneaking into your house in the middle of the night to load Epic Bakery Candy Saga Pony Plus on your phone, the reason people play these games is because they like them. They picked them out of a market that provides a million places to hop to if their current game irritates them. I'm sorry if it angers you if someone chooses to play Flappy Bird or 2048 instead of your soul-enriching art piece, but that's the breaks.

(Of course, when these games have actual gambling, it'll be a moral apocalypse. Argument for another day.)

Fun Still Matters. Games, Remember?

My wife has a serious love/hate relationship with these games. When Candy Blast Mania hits her up for cash, her eyes glow incandescent with rage. And yet, she's burned through hundreds of levels, exterminating bosses with robotic efficiency. Not paying for it only makes it more fun.

I won't embarrass us by revealing how thoroughly Hearthstone has occupied our brains. Again, not costing a penny.

I'm always in awe of people's ability to take a cornucopia of wonder and upend it, pawing through the treasures within in the hope of finding a dried rat turd or something. We're getting an awesome deal here, people. Perhaps too awesome. There's probably a big business shakeout approaching this market in the next few years, but it's nothing compared to the apocalypse small Indie developers are about to face.

(Don't believe me? Go here and watch the first minute. This is the way the world ends.)
Daily earnings for the top ten mobile games. I think my favorite thing is that some people think the war isn't over.
The Peace of Letting Go

So you might as well be cool with it. Because, well, look at this sales chart. Those revenue figures are per DAY.

This isn’t competition. This is implacable domination. This is the Huns stampeding over the border, driving the survivors into the caves, and salting the earth. Except that the Huns, in this case, were us.

The people have spoken, the bastards. For Indie developers to say to gamers, “No, you poor, lost little lambs, this isn’t really what you want. Let us saaaave you,” is getting more than a little embarrassing.

Indie was, is, and always will be, niche. Add up all the earnings of every Indie game last year, Minecraft included, and it’s probably still less than Supercell’s monthly Snapple budget. All we can do, going forward, is find a way to deal with it.

In our house, dealing with it will include a lot of Hearthstone. And, of course, gathering colored candy into easily extracted clumps.

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Vadim Yeremeychuk
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I was thinking to write an article by myself as an answer to flood of F2P critics. You did it, thanks :) One of the interesting arguments from F2P critics was that F2P does not allow designers to create good games, because gameplay has to be shifted so much and the most of users will have worse experience. I also tried to explain that it is a difficulty control in the end of all and a matter of how you see a gamer: as a responsible conscious person or not.

Nick Harris
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I'd like everyone to stop using the term F2P as it clearly isn't Free to Play. You aren't free to play a game on your mobile whenever you choose to as some block access unless you wait or pay. It may help to replace the term with less disingenuous acronyms, so here are some suggestions of what the community could use instead:

P2E - Pay to Enhance
...basically, hats and other optional cosmetic items can be bought

P2A - Pay to Advance can pay to permanently unlock an item rather than "grind"

P2O - Pay to Own can try (a time, or content, limited product) before you buy

P2P - Pay to Play
...replaces F2P by being honest about forced In App Purchases*

*if this makes Freemium sound no different than Premium boxed titles then that is deliberate, as unless it is: F2O, F2A, or F2E there is really no difference as you pay money to play both kinds of games, it is just a matter of when. I would really like to live in a world where F2P just meant the wonderful completely free, no blocks, no ads, no market research, no-strings attached, titles that are still altruistically shared by developers who are often just learning their toolsets and are as excited about the escapist qualities of our fun pastime as its audience should be - and not nagged so that they are aware of time and money when they are just looking for some relief from these.

Ian Griffiths
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@Nick - this is just semantics and arguing over it is mostly pointless because everyone knows exactly what F2P means.

I would take issue with your classification because games can cross into so many of the categories. Also, while they appear at face value to be more or less consumer friendly, this isn't guaranteed.

The worst part of your argument is a basic presumption that F2P is dishonest. I'd love to see an example of a F2P game on the app store that has actually lied or defrauded a player through inaccurate or dishonest business practices (I'm excluding the apple settlement over child purchases because that could also affect pay-up-front titles).

Most F2P games by their very nature do not force you to make an in-app purchase to advance. Many will restrict the speed at which you can advance but won't actually put up a pay-wall.

Your complaint against F2P not being truly free is odd because pay-up-front games aren't free either. If you try to take one out of a store without paying you'll see a lot of nagging from mall security, the police and eventually a judge and probably your family to boot.

Nick Harris
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Think of it as a series of increasingly intolerable supersets:

{ { { { { FREE } P2E } P2A } P2O } P2P }

Many pay-up-front games now have optional multiplayer map packs which if you don't get them a previously functioning part of the product ceases to work. This is much the same as the mechanisms used by F2P. You can pay to buy tracks in Train Simulator 2014 just as if you were extending a hobby train set, or spend out on extra cars for Forza Motorsport 5, or use those same tokens to buy cars that you could have eventually obtained by winning races if you were patient, I have no problem with any of this. I've also tried a lot of P2O Xbox LIVE Arcade games and been confronted with a notice telling me that if I want my progress, score and achievements to be remembered I can pay for it then and continue - often, I do just that... at other times it takes a second play through for me to assess if I will truly enjoy it, so I am tolerant about all of these mechanisms up until P2O and only become wary when I am asked to choose between frustration and fun.

Were I keen on football, I would have spent more than five minutes with my free bundled copy of FIFA 14, but now that I have read about its Ultimate Team mode and convoluted and unfun strategies to obtain 'coins' with which to buy players for your dream team I can't help but feel that racing in the same class against the AI mimic of an absent friend is less morally questionable than thrashing them in real time with a team full of ringers. EA have even removed the ability for friends to play together against someone online:

The technicality involved in gaming its economy makes for dull reading:

So, what hope is there for this coin obtaining metagame to be fun? EA hopes a lot of players will tire of their lack of their team's competitiveness and P2A via dodgy internet sites that will likely scam them. Unlike Forza Motorsport 5 there no way to buy what you need in-game and there is no official EA site for buying these coins despite appearances to the contrary:

EA also got a lot of flak for their remake of Dungeon Keeper by asking you to rate it before you have encountered any P2A time blocks then funnelling you into a near guaranteed 5 star review:

Many people who are new to the medium will have their perceptions of the medium coloured by these shenanigans and I suppose that FIFA 14 Ultimate Team is actually P2W - Pay to Win ...the most egregiously intolerable superset of all

Dave Bleja
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Gaming doesn't need saving any more than music does. There will always be good games and bad games, and plenty of variety in between.

But the issue here for a lot of people is not gaming. It's not whether the games are fun or smart or stupid or uncool. It's whether they're ethical. And ethics must always be allowed to be discussed openly, in any free society at least.

Whether people like f2p games or not is entirely beside the point. People like guns. People like heroin. People like sex with children. That fact that many people like those things is entirely irrelevant when discussing their ethics.

Is f2p as bad as those things? No. Is it bad nonetheless? Frequently, yes it is. We all know that some of these games are designed to provide addiction rather than fun or challenge. That problem doesn't go away just because you declare that "they're fun" (so's heroin) or "they create jobs" (so does child pornography) or "it could be worse " (so could almost everything)

F2p is one of those issues like abortion or gun control where the discussion seems dominated by a minority on the simplistic extremes, while most of us reside in the murky middle.

In these situations, whenever one side rears its head, the other is sure to follow, and what ensues is a never-ending cycle. You've obviously had enough of this cycle yourself, yet I suspect this article will just fuel it more than anything else.

I suspect that one of the main motivators for anti-f2p trolls is seeing pro-f2p people praise f2p without owning up to its sins. And vice versa. Paint something with a broad black brush, and you can be sure that defenders will spring up to douse the whole thing in white. Eventually everyone forgets that it used to be multicoloured.

In my experience, reasonable discussion is impossible in these situations until at least one party agrees to move inward, away from the black and white world. I think you probably tried to do that in this article, and probably succeeded more than other articles I've read. But in my opinion at least, it still came across as pretty black and white, and ended up skirting some of the deeper issues, in favour of more superficial ones. For one, it seems to assume a certain libertarian viewpoint (victims should know better, and hold more responsibility for succumbing to predatory behaviour than their predators do) that you can't assume everyone will share.

Also, the casino comparison isn't a good one. Firstly, they don't allow children in. Secondly, mobile gambling apps are a much bigger threat to problem gamblers, because they provide total secrecy and 24 hour access. And guess what's kind of similar to those?

Garret Cashman
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Hehe, cool - comparing F2P games with Heroin, Paedophilia, guns and abortion.
What fun!

I agree with the 'black and white world' & 'murky' grey are idea - that's where the majority of detractors and defenders reside, but as Jeff put it "This is the internet, if anyone likes something different, THEY MUST BE DESTROYED."

One problem is with the vocal minority that thinks it's actually a majority.
Oh dear.
Don't like it - don't play it.

Dave Bleja
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I made no such comparison. I used those examples to debunk the style of logic Vogel was employing. Using extreme examples helps to clearly highlight the flaws in the logic. I even explicitly stated f2p wasn't as bad, just to try and prevent knee-jerk reactions like yours. No such luck.

The "don't like it, don't play it" statement is too simplistic when something is *engineered to be addictive*, as a number of these games are. Society doesn't take that attitude with most other things that are potentially harmful, whether it be cigarettes, gambling, food additives, or fast food advertising during kids' shows. With those things, we demand scientific research, educated debate, and/or regulation. Why should games be any different?

It's almost as if some people still believe that games are "just games", and are too frivolous to join ranks and be counted with everything else in grown up society.

Garret Cashman
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"Firstly, they don't allow children in. "
Have to take issue with that comparison, assuming I have understood you correctly.

Leaving the truly unscrupulous game devs/ publishers aside, most people clearly state that their games include IAPs etc as a warning. Using the argument that parents can't control the actions of their children is akin to pleading ignorance of the law - it just doesn't wash. Parents simply must control the usage of/ access to the App Store/ Google Play (or whatever it's called now) and can not hold games companies accountable for these losses.
Apart from that any micro transactions are made by conscious individuals who have control over their lives and spending in such a way that it should be of no concern to us.

Dave Bleja
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"Leaving the truly unscrupulous game devs/ publishers aside"

Haha. Good one.

E Zachary Knight
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"For one, it seems to assume a certain libertarian viewpoint (victims should know better, and hold more responsibility for succumbing to predatory behaviour than their predators do)"

As a Libertarian, I take exception to that broad black brush you painted with right there. That is so far from a libertarian ideal it doesn't even register.

Josh Neff
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I'm afraid you may have missunderstood what Libertarianism is Zach. In Libertarianism, the concept of "Buyer beware" is pivotal to that ideological view. So, Dave's statement: "certain libertarian viewpoint (victims should know better, and hold more responsibility for succumbing to predatory behavior than their predators do" is an accurate assessment of the ideological tenets of libertarianism.

If you don't personally ascribe to that view, then you're less of a libertarian than you think you are.

E Zachary Knight
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Josh, Dane,

Yes. Buyer beware is a part of Libertarianism. But so is holding responsible those who do harm to others for the damages they cause.

If someone plays a game and spends money and later regrets the purchase, that is buyer beware. But if someone maliciously takes money from another through deceptive means, that person is owed just compensation for the fraud perpetrated on them.

From the Libertarian Party Platform:

"Government exists to protect the rights of every individual including life, liberty and property. Criminal laws should be limited to violation of the rights of others through force or fraud, or deliberate actions that place others involuntarily at significant risk of harm. **Individuals retain the right to voluntarily assume risk of harm to themselves. We support restitution to the victim to the fullest degree possible at the expense of the criminal or the negligent wrongdoer.** We oppose reduction of constitutional safeguards of the rights of the criminally accused. The rights of due process, a speedy trial, legal counsel, trial by jury, and the legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty, must not be denied. We assert the common-law right of juries to judge not only the facts but also the justice of the law."

I have starred the most relevant section.

That is Libertarianism.

Dane MacMahon
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@ E Zachary

As Josh just said, you might be less of a Libertarian than you think you are. Dave's point is right-on with Libertarian ideals. Buyer protection from an authority is the opposite of Libertarian.

P.S. Great response Dave, I was clapping.

Josh Neff
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I'm sure I don't need to point out to you exactly how "Individuals retain the right to voluntarily assume risk of harm to themselves" becomes the grey area of defining voluntary. Like how, even though someone might be influenced through extraordinary means, say from having a gun to their head and being yelled at for their wallet, that person is effectively in a scenario where they "voluntarily" give up their wallet or get shot. Granted, videogames are significantly less life threatening, but with micro transactions and the so called free-to-play games, the attempt to manipulate people is no less present.

E Zachary Knight
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I hope you realize just how ignorant you sound. Sorry, I can't help you there.

Dane MacMahon
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@ E Zachary

This isn't about the style of blatant fraud and criminal acts that section is talking about though, this is about society deeming something too risky, manipulative or addicting for public access. That's inherently against the Libertarian mindset.

E Zachary Knight
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Putting a "Buy Extra Lives" or some other equivalent button in a game is a far cry from perpetrating fraud on an unsuspecting individual.

But it may come to a surprise to you that Libertarians are perfectly willing to punish con-artists and providing restitution to their victims. Considering that is fraud.

Josh Neff
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@ Zach Name calling is generally the last vestige of those with no logical counter argument. You don't have to like what I had to say, but your inability to present a counter comment doesn't require rudeness.

Good day to you, sir.

Vadim Yeremeychuk
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Dave, life is engineered to be addictive too. Your approach of research, debate and regulation of everything leads it to the Matrix, but not grown up society. Life isn't perfect, because the perfect is an enemy of the good. That's why life is good.

F2P is a vaccine for next generation society showing how the real world works with minimal harm for players giving them a chance to become more self-conscious. Some people die during medical vaccination, sometimes kids, but it helps humans to survive. F2P is regulated just enough in comparison with other aspects of life, so if it goes any further it will loose its vaccine function and your grown up society will look like a horde of victims for bankers. Important things first, please.

E Zachary Knight
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I did not call you any names. I merely stated how ignorant your response to me was. Considering you could not respond to my statement of fact without resorting to hyperbole and misrepresentation does not put you on any high ground in this. I could have easily responded to you by simply restating exactly what I have already said, but you have proven that it went over your head with ease.

I am sorry that you could not respond with any intelligence on the matter, but that is not my problem.

Amir Barak
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"Putting a "Buy Extra Lives" or some other equivalent button in a game is a far cry from perpetrating fraud on an unsuspecting individual."
Sure, but having the power to frustrate you enough to force the issue is something else. While not "fraud" per-se surely it's abuse of power if nothing else.

If I give you a ride in my car for free then stop 10 miles up the road and tell you to pay me 5 bucks or you're walking back -- that [technically] isn't fraudulent. It's free-2-ride. However you look at it though I come off as a douchebag. And your options are the same as with playing F2P games. Either walk back, pay me the 5 bucks or you know, "nobody forced you into my car anyway"...

Josh Neff
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There was no need to reply to your "statement of fact". You said "Yes. Buyer beware is a part of Libertarianism". Done. Didn't need to go any further with that comment. With that singular line you invalidated your own pseudo umbrage over "that broad black brush you painted with right there." I guess your idea of what is "so far from a libertarian ideal it doesn't even register" is measured over infinitely small expanses? Clearly you have no clue what it means to be a Libertarian.

In any case, I'm done with you, and our conversation is over. You failed to respond with any actual knowledge on the matter, but that's your problem.


E Zachary Knight
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I on't see how that is anything close to a free to play game. A game does not put up blocks in your real life to force you to pay money.

E Zachary Knight
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Well. I am sorry you could not properly respond to anything I have posted. It is a shame. I tried to correct you but you seem pretty intent on remaining in the dark on true Libertarian tenants.

Amir Barak
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"I on't see how that is anything close to a free to play game. A game does not put up blocks in your real life to force you to pay money."
There seems to be a strange dichotomy in F2P spiel. On the one hand designers are all about immersion and getting the customer's full attention so that the game becomes a focus (involving the customer enough so that they want/need to spend money) and on the other hand they're all saying it's just a game and that it has no implications on real life (ie. immersion is not important).

So which one is it?
If we agree that immersing our players in the worlds/games we create is our top priority then we need to acknowledge that we're attempting to, at least partially, obscure the player's reality and impose our own unto it.

People are easily manipulated into believing things (look at how many people still adhere to dumb religious institutions and/or cultural norms without trying to challenge them). The way they/we perceive what is real, what is now, isn't absolute. It's subjective.

Saying "A game does not put up blocks in your real life to force you to pay money" is disingenuous because these games ARE a part of lives, they WANT to be a part of our lives. Playing is a physical and mental activity. And as such produces visible effects on us. If games can produce anger they can also produce euphoria and so have addictive elements (hell, I'm no different, I fully acknowledge these effects on myself when I'm playing). Designing mechanics to take advantage of this feedback loop for monetary gain does not a moral high ground make...

Masaru Wada
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Terrible argument. That would only be true if you told me in advance that you're not going to drive me back. Also, nobody would think you a douchebag if you were upfront about it being a business. You know, like a taxi?

And "nobody forced you into my car anyway" is exactly correct (assuming, like I said, you told me in advance that that was the deal).

"Having the power to frustrate you enough to force the issue is something else. While not "fraud" per-se surely it's abuse of power if nothing else."

No. It isn't. Because guess what? You can just put the game down... It's not heroin, there are no physical withdrawal symptoms.

Amir Barak
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Yeah actually that was a terrible argument :D

"No. It isn't. Because guess what? You can just put the game down... It's not heroin, there are no physical withdrawal symptoms."
And we're ignoring psychology because...?

Try to stop playing all video games and consume content for a month. Seriously. Try. And see how easy it is and how long it takes you to start chewing your fingernails. We're over-saturated by content, these things have a chemical effect on us. If you think we're not addicted (to various levels) at this point then you've been living in a cave.

Just to clarify, I meant my car argument was terrible (incomplete actually) not other ones.

Ian Griffiths
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@Dave Bleja

To bring child abusive and other serious issues into this argument really does them, and their victims, a huge disservice.

I wouldn't even entertain such an argument.

Josh Neff
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Zach, fortunately for me and the rest of the fact based world, you don't get to determine what a proper response is. Your false higher-ground stance doesn't negate that your initial argument was and remains incorrect. By your own admission no less.

Guess you cant win for losing.

Josh Neff
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@ Amir
One has only to look to Pavlov's dog to see there is a manipulative effect through gradual acclimation training. If that isn't enough, look to our politics... there are so many things that we as a county should be enraged about, but aren't. We've been trained to accept the bad situations we deal with, and to not fight back. Its the old story about a frog in a pot of water that is slowly brought to a the time the frog realizes what's going on, its too late.

Andreas Ahlborn
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Highly entertaining opinion piece. You are without question one of the funnier guys here on gamasutra.
The Blow-Fanboyfraction will be devastated after reading this ;-)

Garret Cashman
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@Jeff - I like the article, thanks for posting.
You might find this one interesting if you haven't already seen it -

There is undoubtedly a lot to be learnt with the F2P model and more 'interesting' iterations down the line. I like the TF2 UGC thing which will apparently be taken on by Epic with UT4.

But yea, I've been hacking away at Boom Beach every so often and liking it. Sorry Supercell, you won't be monetising from me, but I'm a bit of an advocate ;)

Jeff Vogel
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Thanks, I'll look at that article. Also, disco has been unfairly maligned by history. A bunch of it was really good. Say what you want about Mobile F2P, but if anyone is going to malign my beloved 70s pop, they and I are going to have words! :-)

- Jeff Vogel

Amir Barak
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Articles by Ben Cousins about F2P are about as impartial as the US tobacco manufacturers' "A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers".

Peter Eisenmann
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I find it funny that everyone looks at the top earning mobile games and wants to get a piece of that cake. I for sure will not try to compete with GTA 5, so why would I want to compete with clash of clans? I will _never_ have this amount of polish, market research or behaviour analysis in my games, and I won't try to.
I make different games for different players. I won't earn millions from them. But for indie devs, it has been like this over the last 30 years. What happened to people making games for free in their spare time? Are there even any of those left? Or did they never even exist on mobile?

Alan Barton
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@"What happened to people making games for free in their spare time"

They have always existed and always will. i.e. amateur vs professional

"amateur: A person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons. Compare professional."

"professional: Following an occupation as a means of livelihood"

Point being, everyone has to earn a living doing something and some choose to earn a living making games, so they by definition are professional games developers. Other people can and still do make games as a hobby because making games for free is a hobby but they do still make free games on almost all platforms, even dead old platforms.

Peter Eisenmann
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Even the people who do it as a hobby plaster their games with ads, in-app purchases etc nowadays. Before, most amateurs where happy if people played their game at all and did not think about getting money from it. I know I did.

Brian Stabile
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Making games is hard work, period. Even though you're making games just for the sake of making games, it's nice to be able to earn some money, that will hopefully be enough to allow you to put more time into making those games, and less time having to work at other things to pay the bills. Otherwise, you're working 40 hours a week at work, then 40 hours a week at home. Some of us would actually like to have a social life and friends while still doing what we love. Considering all of us mobile indies are only asking their players for 99 cents (or making it free with ads so we can at least make a few pennies off of someone enjoying our labors), it's not too inane of a request. Obviously, a very lucky, small percentage of us make unimaginable amounts of money off of this model, but most of us are dirt poor because of the attitude that we don't "deserve" to make money off of our product that people are enjoying.

Anthony Flack
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Some people are both amateur and professional game developers.

Natascha Roosli
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Each side always tries to prove "their way" is the right way, or the only way. Why can't we just stop with this back and forth. F2p vs Premium, who has the right to be called an indie and who not, whose game design has more merit and value than another. This whole in-fighting is not really getting the industry ahead and different opinions will never find common ground. In the end, all that matters is that gamers enjoy our creations, or am I wrong?

Ethic discussions are not really a universally valid approach to judge a business model as a whole.

Ara Shirinian
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I did not find Markus Persson's words smug, dismissive, or manipulative, I thought they voiced a worthwhile concern in 140 characters or less. Namely, that once certain (negative) cultural dynamics take hold upon younger generations, they accumulate a certain stickiness to their momentum that becomes increasingly difficult to reverse.

You may want to consider a different read: Perhaps he is acutely aware of how foundational early learning and culture is, he knows how acturely awarely corporations are exploiting this for strict profit, and he wishes that some game that teaches good learning and culture would fight that exploitative force.

Just because there are a multitude of poor criticisms of the mobile and F2P domain, doesn't mean compelling ones don't exist.

SD Marlow
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F2P is a valid business model, but the core issue/problem is this:

Imagine a large farmers market. You grow some fresh tomatoes, take them to market, set-up, and wait to make a few sales. Problem is, there are dozens of other people selling fresh tomatoes, and most of them are closer to the parking lot, so they have often bought some already (or found everything they needed before ever walking past your tiny little stand).

Maybe you start growing and selling some other things in order to stand out, offer more of a one-stop convenience by everything needed to make a salad or vegie pizza. You get more traffic, but others that, again, are closer to the front start doing the same, and soon, the people at the back are having to invest even more (and do even more) just to get attention.

How much effort does the little guy have to put in just to get people to visit their stand? In our farmers market example, the F2P kings have set-up ferris wheels and tea cup rides to bring people in by the thousands, each offering hours of entertainment. And in the middle of these mini theme parks, they have a single stand, with a paltry selection of fruits and vegetables, often 5 or 6 times the cost of what the little guy is offering.

But, after spending all day at these parks with the family, it's convenient for a few of the now tens of thousands, to grab some of these over-priced leftovers because it's more convenient than looking for something fresher and cheaper (in spite of the fact that the farmers market being established for just that reason).

This is where the "anti" F2P angst is from.

TC Weidner
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I see mobile gaming the same way I see fast food.

ben coleman
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But I like fast food :)

Amir Barak
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then by the author's logic, clearly fast food is good for you! and anyone that cares about health (and about your health specifically) should just shut up about the practices of the corporations who provide you with that shite.

Joshua Clingo
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This article missed an important argument against F2P, and the one that Notch was likely channeling–it caters to and fosters a mentality that things should be free. If I create a mobile game or any game today, the mentality F2P has created will adversely affect my sales, unless I'm willing to compromise my game design to fit that business model.

Personal preferences aside, F2P bad for games because it forces developers to make drastic alterations to their products in order to compete with the new expectations of consumers. Paying $50 or so for a full-length game of about 6-10 hours used to be the norm. This continued for years, until multiplayer gaming became a necessary appendage to a high-quality, full-priced game. Because of Steam and other sites running constant sales, the expectation of cost versus time has been greatly affected and even great games are failing to turn a a profit. Gamers are now waiting for years, if necessary, for price cuts. This is just for the AAA titles.

Now that the fancy games are being forced to drop their prices, this is squeezing humble indie titles out of the $15-30 market that they had previously enjoyed.

Mobile games started out in the $5-15 range and enjoyed this for a few years. The introduction of F2P has placed pressure on any game more than free to somehow make itself worth the relatively trivial investment cost. I don't know why we are all going to pretend like F2P isn't destroying other mobile game sales. I'm even a hypocrite in this instance, because I have an almost disturbing level of reticence toward purchasing anything on my mobile devices when there are free solutions out there. Quality is of secondary concern.

I'd like to reiterate that there's nothing technically wrong with the idea of F2P–it's very clever and has been proven to be financially viable. However, it's psychologically damaging. Once people are accustomed to the entitlement of free crap, there's no going back. I do not want to tie myself to corporate ad-mongering and monetizing fun in order to be successful, but there's very little I can do. We've already screwed ourselves here. I'm sure there will always be a subset of folks who will pay upfront for our work, but they are going to be less and less common. This is what Notch was talking about. Kids are growing up with *free games.

TC Weidner
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I agree 100%. The industry has painted itself into a corner.

Anthony Flack
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Ways to push back:

* Develop and release games using the good old upfront-purchase model anyway.
* Buy other people's.
* Ignore the money being made by Candy Crush Saga the same way as a small restauranteur ignores McDonald's' quarterly profits.

That's the correct punctuation I guess. McDonald's'.

Tobias Horak
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Agreement from me as well! I imagine someone arguing that it sounds selfish of the industry to not want to allow this too happen. Free is good right? The issue comes in how it forces design decisions that are actively negative to the game experience. Yes, sometimes F2P is ideal for a game. Hearthstone is a great example. How many games, though, would this never work for? What happens to those? What happens with the customers who would have paid for those? Most would be strangled at birth.

Alan Barton
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I mostly agree but ... @"I'm sure there will always be a subset of folks who will pay upfront for our work, but they are going to be less and less common. This is what Notch was talking about."

No, if anything Minecraft proves people will pay for games. Minecraft keeps showing to this day that people in their millions will still buy non-F2P games.

The key is what game they are willing to pay for.

I think some genres of games are better suited to F2P than others. In some genres F2P can work well with the gameplay, but in other genres, F2P can be deeply detrimental to the gameplay. A lot of players do know if F2P feels wrong in the game and in some genres its very wrong, but in other genres it works.

So the expectation within developers that all games in all genres must be free or they will not succeed is wrong and it is that fear that we all have to overcome.

Robert Green
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@Alan - "Minecraft keeps showing to this day that people in their millions will still buy non-F2P games."

No, it shows to this day that people will still buy Minecraft. But during the time it has been on the app store, the market for paid games has been completely dwarfed by F2P. Without access to apple's data, it's hard to know just how much the paid market has changed - it may well be that it has stayed at a similar size, while the F2P market has grown enormously - but looking at the charts it's hard to see Minecraft as anything but an outlier.

Perhaps one could make the case that it's the only non-F2P game that's good enough to compete, but looking at critical reviews, that's very hard to believe.

ben coleman
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Plants Vs Zombies 2 comes to mind as a game that should not have been F2P.

Steven An
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We can agree that there is absolutely nothing you can do about this. It makes money, so people will keep doing it. It's going to keep happening, and no amount of moral guilting will stop it.

I think, for those of us who don't naturally make F2P games, is to recognize this as inevitable and basically start making smaller games. DoubleFine has adapted. Let's go back to the 90s, where games were made by dozens (or less) instead of hundreds. Many indie success stories have proven that financial success is possible even for a team of 1-5 people. That sounds pretty cool to me.

Tobias Horak
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The author of this article does not seem to understand the position expressed in the article* referenced in the first image, as it is never really discussed, and the ad hominem is something I do not appreciate reading. There is a fundamental confusion here. That being between petty complains, many of which are users, and the complaints of developers. Within developer concerns, there are generally two issues that come immediately to mind. The first being ethics ethics. The second being the strangling of non-free-to-play concepts at pitch due to a false notion that the f2p market is all that exists in the mobile space. It is the latter that is the issue I personally believe we should discuss more, and is also the one discussed prominently in the mentioned article.

As an aside, one thing that bothered me is the use of global hearthstone statistics as an example in an article supposedly specifically about mobile free-to-play (a large amount of those users are likely PC). Also, it's stated that physically not playing the game is to be considered good gameplay.

Could someone perhaps comment on the following?
From the article: "A common logical error made when analyzing mobile games is seeing that only a small percentage of people spend cash and concluding this means people don’t like the games."
I've never heard that opinion expressed, personally. What I have, though, is that said small percentage of paying customers may indicate that there is a large untapped market of people willing to pay under different circumstances.

*The article:

Robert Green
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To your last point, that's exactly the opinion expressed in the article you linked to. Here's the relevant passage:

"Recent data shows 20 percent of mobile games get opened once and never again. 66 percent have never played beyond the first 24 hours and indeed most purchases happen in the first week of play. Amazingly only around two to three percent of gamers pay anything at all for games, and even more hair-raising is the fact that 50 percent of all revenue comes from just 0.2 percent of players.

This is a statistically insignificant amount of happy gamers and nothing that gives you a basis to make claims about "what people want"."

While I don't agree with everything Jeff says above, I agree that this is misleading. 66% never played beyond the first day? So what, they were trying out a free game, they didn't like it, they moved on. I don't see a problem there. Only a few % are paying anything? Sounds bad, but the huge majority of IAP's in mobile F2P games are completely optional, so all we really know for sure is that most people prefer not spending money whenever possible. Not exactly a big surprise.

Ian Morrison
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Point five... if you have to justify it by "at least they aren't as bad as casinos" there's no moral high ground to be had there. We should be shooting for a higher standard than that.

Jeff Leigh
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Mobile games are suffering the same thing that has happened to the game industry since pong consoles. To quote the Angry Video Game Nerd "I thought it was fun. Apparently people thought so too. ... That's why they made a home pong console.... and then there was another one. And another one. And another one. And another one! And another one!! And another one!!! There were like nine million f***** pong consoles!"

Personally, I don't think it was "mobile" or "free to play" that started the problem - it was a perfect storm of a new market and new engines like Unity that lowered the bar to entry so low that *anybody* can make a game now. All the dedicated students who went to collage for game development degrees paid good money for... something that tech would make useless. (And if your degree involved learning Unity rather than learning C++ and core programming/graphic concepts... I'm sorry, you got taken.) Making a game in Unity is like making a video in Premiere with After Effects - there are a few people who know the tool inside and out and do amazing things - but plenty of other people can download a few templates/filters and make something that does a good enough job. (Hence Unity games often run terrible - too few users understand GPUs, CPUs, memory management, the pros and cons of garbage collector languages, etc.)

It's so easy to make a game nowdays that it can be done in a single weekend. Aka Jams. Just like film jams. For triple-A games, a weekend is how long it takes to sort out a single *bug*.

I'm not saying that there are not some incredibly talented indies out there who understand Unity, C#, and are pushing the edge of what these tools can do. The new problem has become *finding* them. App stores are now as cluttered as Youtube with sub-par content by sub-par developers. There are so many more 'me too' games out there that you need a snow shovel to get past the clones just to escape from the app store.

It's right to say say developers hate F2P games, but what the author doesn't want to acknowledge is this: There might be good reason. The world is not black and white. The newest fads rarely live up to all that they pretend to be.

The author may be tired of hearing complaints toward F2P games. Much like the early pong consoles - they are formulaic and easy for anybody to pump out. Asking people to stop expressing their opinions on current trends in the industry just because they doesn't agree with them.. I'll let the reader decide what good 'filtering the comments' offers.

At any rate - this article is already dated. F2P is yesterday's symptom of an over-saturated market. The patient is now coughing up blood with Paid2Play. Game developers are becoming so desperate to achieve discovery that they are offering cash rewards to players for even showing up. We'll see how that works out...

Timur Anoshechkin
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I find this article intellectually dishonest. Kind of analysis you will find on "fair and balance" network.

First of all it puts in one corner FREE TO PLAY and in another corner INDIE.
Also author uses mobile and free to play interchangeably and criticizes two games which done really well on mobile, Minecraft and clones plus The Room, so I assume he means free to play which are also on mobile.

To start with these two are huge generalizations and do overlap. First of all who are these INDIES.It seems like from the article that the indies are only "arty" games which charge upfront and are super successfull and are not F2P. This is very limited sample, maybe 5-10 games a year. I will consider Supercell a perfect indie company. Yes it has multibillion evaluation and decided to make f2p games and is very good at it, but there are literally thousands of tiny dev teams which decided to make similar kind of games, but not as successful. Nobody tells Supercell what to do. One day they started with 5 people, now they have 100. @notch started alone, now they are 30. Do all kind of games.

Second of all saying that any developers think bad of other developers which work on certain kind of games is just a LIE."The People Who Make Them Are Soulless Business Drones. Not Cool Arteests Like Us." Nearly 99% of people in game industry worked for
a MAN or did contract work at some point in their career. @notch worked at Yes, developers have choice where not to work, but we have to pay the bills and take care of our families especially early in our careers. It is liking blaming Wal Mart cashier for corporation policies.

Lastly."The people are spoken". The people have spoken on many things, which are not very good for them:tobacco, alcohol, people even voted for dudes starting with H. They even spoken on crack cocaine. I mean if we compare revenue as kind of new measure of what is right then I am pretty sure Supercell revenue is like just Mexican cartels yearly budget for hookers. Lets all do crack. It is soooooooooooooooooooo fun.

Bottom line is very simple. There are people out there, who believe that one can make money in the world without exploiting and tricking fellow human being.Or at least to be mindful of their products and its effects on the consumers and on the environment. Call them indie, call them whatever.They don't want to leave in the world where majority of people "" ..have two jobs, three kids, and four minutes to rest." Because in the end of the day everybody has one life, so maybe instead of wasting weeks of your life tapping on candy, they will give you 5 hours of game that will make you think about stuff. Like why the I have to work 2 jobs just to get by…. and Clock is always ticking. But hey taking Blue Pill is way easier every morning.

Jeff Leigh
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The author willingly dismisses F2P criticisms the way a lot of conversations are dismissed on Youtube.

He doesn't address them. He doesn't counter them...

He dismisses them.

That is all this article is. A dismissal - An "I don't want to provide a counter-argument... " non-argument.

"I want game developers with integrity to shut up." This article is the creationist equivalent to a youtube video asking that scientific videos be removed/censored for the sake of F2P games preying upon customers... oops, I mean "whales". Sorry if I treated people like people for a moment there.

Other Jeff - We're still here. The discussion will not end just because you are uncomfortable about your position in it. Just because you gave in and got tired of being 'not quite as bad as groups pushing drugs and gambling doesn't mean the rest of you can't hold you to criticism.

By all means make a case for your position - but don't tell those who don't agree with it to shut up. That's cowardly.

EVERYONE and EVERY POSITION is equally subject to criticism. If you can't make a proper case for your position and have to beg everyone else to stop thinking about what YOU are doing... perhaps it is you who needs to think about it.

Kaze Kai
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That resonates with me. Especially the bit about cowardice. I have given and received criticism a lot, especially being involved in visual art. Through it, I've learned that you have to believe in yourself fully in an argument, because even if you cannot convince the other side, the other side has not damaged you. You may take what they have to say to heart, but that doesn't weaken your position. Only believing your position as it stands is weak, dismissing the other side completely or becoming defensive, reveals your own insecurity and lack of resolve, and that is the only way you lose an argument.

Charles Forbin
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Ok, I'll stop.

Well, I never did complain, but it's the thought that counts. :)

Kaze Kai
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One: I sympathize with the minority here, as is in my nature to do. Bullies bullied nerds and made them feel inferior, and where bullies went to college on football scholarships and had everything handed to them over physical prowess, nerds overcame social awkwardness and the struggles of being less interested in physical activity in a society that praises it for some reason (even though it is completely useless now) to find something they're good at. And now the normies can do it too, and better. They haven't suffered like the nerds have, in a fair and just world, they would be punished and karma would take everything from under them, but this isn't a fair or just world where people struggle their entire lives and still end up inferior. If nothing else, modern society should dig down deep into their hearts and dig up whatever shred of empathy hasn't been bred out of us yet for those born different and who ultimately could not succeed.

Two and Three: I don't believe that applies to me, and I cannot relate because I've never liked grinding in any game regardless of its platform. I like city builders but as soon as a game throws up a money wall or demands I wait an hour instead of actually playing the game, I delete it from my tablet. I would rather play Towns or Gnomoria, sitting with the game paused for an hour, while I assess my supplies, give instructions for where to build, assign villagers to go dungeon crawling, plot out new farmland, and craft more barrels for storage and then unpause the game and watch all that happen. Luckily for me, there is an RTS game that lets me do that on my tablet: Townsmen. The free version has ads at the top, the paid version is $4 and worth it to me. The free version doesn't throw up money walls, for all intents and purposes it works like the city builders and management games I am used to.

Also, I barely consider myself a gamer, and have never considered myself a hardcore gamer. I play games on the easiest difficulty and most games I play are cartoony and stylized and artistic in nature in some form or another, but I prefer to still be able to play them even if I'm just running around a level for an hour for the pure joy of it. I don't like turning off Cut the Rope 2 just because the fat bastard who made it decided to milk the players in typical f2p fashion by making you pay just to spend more time on it or wait until the next day. It is hauntingly reminiscent of when I was a kid and my mother forbade me to play video games for more than 2 hours each day, except instead of doing it in the vain hope it will improve my school grades, it's done to make more money off me than the creator could ever hope to make off giving me a flat, honest price for his game. I paid a dollar for the other three Cut the Rope games, I would have paid 2 for the new one, but no. They got greedy and tried to get ten times that amount out of me or make me suffer like a 10 year old kid with strict parenting. And for as little as it might count, they lost a player.

So, I don't hate f2p practices out of some hardcore superiority complex. I hate them because they almost always ruin my fun on purpose. I don't want to "do something else" for an hour, I want to unwind with a tablet game and watch TV for background noise. Since when is getting somewhere in a video game by not playing fun or immersive in any stretch of the term? I don't like MMOs, I don't like RPGs that much for that matter, but I can appreciate that even grinding skeletons in Divinity 2 for an hour is still playing the game, occupying your mind and your free time with something you may consider fun. I have a friend who grinds in pokemon to unwind. Yes, she might fight geodude and zubat in the same cave for an hour but apparently that's enjoyable for her and she doesn't remotely consider herself a hardcore gamer.

Four: That's your opinion and you're entitled to it, but I do not agree. I enjoy artistic games with real substance, and that is a broad description in my book. Real substance can mean To The Moon's immersive story that I thoroughly enjoyed, but it can also mean Starbound's large amount of content and focus on lore and adventure. I consider FEZ to be a game of substance because it tells a story with barely any text, it teaches you its secrets with pictures and motion and after 3 playthroughs, I've discovered that you can be as involved in its story as you please, take from it what you want, and many things are up for interpretation - like art. But I also consider a game like deBlob for Wii to be art. It isn't exactly indie, but it's very expressive and has its own style and is very unique with lots of things to do in the levels. It's a fun game that almost feels like a shouting statement, just like art.

Personally, I think the attitude some people throw out about art in gaming culture is undeserved. I'm an artist, I take offense to the disrespect some people hurtle at my craft. Some people demand it not be in video games because somehow, artistic expression makes things pretentious. That is a word people throw around too much. For one thing, just because a person takes themselves and their work seriously doesn't make them pretentious or unlikable or mean they need to change or "lighten up", and for another, art is not inherently pretentious. It doesn't automatically suck the fun out of everything just because a few artists are nasty people, and it definitely isn't a lofty, superior concept far above the unwashed masses. In fact, it is the exact opposite of that. The purpose of many art forms is to share ideas and make people feel things. Artists make art to make their ideas accessible to others, that's why they post it on art sites, why they write books or music, and why they choose to be a part of dev teams. Some artists, like myself, make art to make people smile and feel good. Whimsical, mysterious images that fill people with wonder or fun and colorful pieces that make people smile or laugh. Sometimes, stories that make people feel many things, but transport them from this unfair and unjust world to follow true heroes on their epic adventures and their struggles. Is that not why many people play video games? You said it yourself, people play games as a distraction for stressful real life. Substance and art does not eliminate fun from games, you are only speaking of a small part of the spectrum which is just as valid as the others, but not the entire umbrella under which all art and culture sits.

Five: I play tablet games a lot more than other games lately, and I partially agree: the money hogs of the game world ultimately fail, even if a game is f2p I will still try it and give it a chance and some games charge me for things I think are fair to charge for, like expansion packs, extra hints per day, removing ads, extra modes, and things that already exist in PC/console gaming anyway. Blendoku is one of my favorite tablet games. It was free. I own all of the expansions for it but have never paid for extra hints (because I don't need them, and even when I do, I rarely use the one allotted me because as you said, it adds to the fun to figure things out) and I consider it very well-done. I sorely hope that if/when it gets a sequel, they continue with this model of payment.

I have to say, personally, I think anything involving money is unethical, but a lesser evil that makes our imperfect society function as smoothly as can be expected. Capitalism in general also frightens me, because going back to One, I hate bullies, and businessmen to me are full-grown bullies manipulating the system to stomp on the smaller, weaker people without remorse. I trust nobody with money or power, because you have to forsake honor and integrity to get either one. However, acknowledging that just because the big fish have sharp teeth doesn't mean everyone who needs or wants money is inherently a bad person, I will gladly pay for something I want. I never pirate indie games, I only pirate music when I cannot find it anywhere for sale (or if it's not on spotify), and I'd rather subscribe to Netflix than pirate movies or shows. (Provided they're on there.) I know what it's like to be broke, my childhood was not bad, but in the 90s my family was always tight on money. I grew up on PC games and didn't own a game console until '98 because PC games were cheaper and we always had a PC for general purpose stuff and because my mother is a web designer. Sometimes, when I see a writer, a musician, or an indie animator or game dev talk about their kids and how excited they are to get them what they want for christmas with all their spare earnings, it reminds me of my christmases, and how my family scraped together whatever they had for me. I sympathize that for a lot of people both indie and in the industry, sometimes in-app purchases are more feasible than everyone paying a dollar, but some things show little to no respect for the customers and little regard for good game design and even if a business is desperate for money, you can never treat your customers like wallets without dignity of their own. I am happy to contribute as a customer to a product or experience that I enjoy, but as the Dungeon Keeper example illustrates, your userbase defines you as a business and controls your success. We make you. We can break you. That's not a threat, it's the truth. Some companies forget that.

An Aside: I am not a programmer. Even the left side of my brain yields to the right. Unless a dev tool comes out that is easy to use and under $80 then I doubt I will ever make games, but if I did, I would make mobile and tablet games. Why? For all the positive reasons listed; because it's an accessible market full of people who are clearly interested in similar genres that I am (puzzle, point-and-click, choose-your-own-adventure, simulation) and not as stupid as some parts of gaming culture think they are. I know this because I know people who play Farmville and Angry Birds. My mother's favorite game is Katamari Damacy, look me straight in the eye and tell me that isn't "casual" in the eyes of hardcore gamers and nerds. My mother watches me play Kirby games and will not try them because she thinks they're too hard. She tried LBP but the CARDBOARD GHOSTS hanging from chains with ridiculous waving arms scared her. I am not joking.

You know what else my mom and I do together? We watch Star Trek TNG, DS9, and Voyager and gush over Patrick Stewart and get in deep involved conversations about the characters, the story, the lore, and how awesome klingons are. We contemplate how stressful the Voyager crew must be so far from home, we speculate on the Dominion's interaction with the Alpha quadrant after DS9's end, and we analyze the episodes that had a particularly strong emotional grip on us, the philosophies that collide, and whether or not Q really is a douche. My mother is an animation snob. If it doesn't look as good as Korra or ATLA, it's not good enough. She will pause an episode and point out to me the intricate detail that went into a vase in the background, or she'll talk about a plot point discussed by the creators on a forum or in their blogs. She can name every episode, cite any source in an argument, and point out exactly where in a Korra episode the guy with the clipboard who is secretly an Equalist (spoiler alert) will appear. My mother's favorite shows include The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad. She likes compelling stories with lots of drama and action and well-written characters. She likes tight serialized shows with continuity. She is not stupid, she is the kind of person I would love to make games for.

She is not my only example either. My aunt doesn't game. She plays farmville, but that hardly counts. She also reads crime novels, enjoys a deep mystery, dark themes, and other things I understand to be qualities nerds love in their art. One of my friends does not like "hard" games, but they will gush over the story in Kingdom Hearts. I have met people in IRC whose only interaction with gaming was on their Atari as kids who play mobile games for the arcade feel who also delve into the other art forms, analyze music and want to get to know the people who write it, follow comic books and graphic novels with a dedicated passion, cosplay as anime characters at comicon and get in heated disputes over canonical issues in books.

My view is that there is more to culture than games, and I want to grab people from all over the spectrum who might never have looked at games before and draw them into the interactive, immersive experience they can offer. Where can I do that best? I think you already know. So yes, mobile gaming is a wonderful concept with a lot of bugs to work out, but I believe ultimately it will become a gateway for us to share our culture with others, and is not an instrument for them to dominate ours.

William Ravaine
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I wouldn't put all F2P games in the same bag. There's a rather large chunk of them out there that I don't find enjoyable at all: the kind that's full of energy bars, timers, consumables and pay-to-win mechanics, most likely designed by a bunch of MBAs and psychologists.

On the other hand, you have the other kind that is actually good for the player as they let you experience the game for free and progressively buy more chunks of the game as you play it. This opens up new/different ways for you to experience that game. The player doesn't get ripped off purchasing a $60 game that he's going to play for an hour and forget about, while the developer can potentially generate more revenues from each user if the stick around long enough. This also ensures the players that their game will be updated on a regular basis in order to keep them around. It's a good win/win situation.

I think League of Legends does that well: when I purchase a new hero, I get several weeks worth of new gameplay out of it. It's not a F2P game designed to keep you spending for ever, as there's an upper limit to how much you can spend, unlike most of the less ethical F2P games out there, which are designed to target the whale types with seemingly bottomless pockets.

Henrik Pettersson
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Hey William,

Nice meeting you last Tuesday. I must say; what a pretty avatar! :)

Also, I object to two of your statements here. Using the extreme example of LoL is kinda dodging the fact that an overwhelming majority of f2p games wouldn't have sustainable business without exploiting whales in a very LoL-unlike way. You can't point to a single tree and say "Oh look, what a pretty forrest!" Second, there already was a better model for sustained development in subscriptions, because in that model the money had less impact on the actual game design. The natural progression of f2p models is to bring more and more of the store into the game. I say we should try harder to bring more fun into them instead. And frankly, I get enough marketing outside of my games.

I don't mean to pick on you in particular. I've had this argument a couple of times already, and kinda feel that thousands of f2p games is enough data points for us to know what f2p is, and that arguing that it "can be good" is a boat that has sailed.

Cheers, man. Just wanted to say Hi because I recognized your avatar, and I hope we'll continue this over a beer. :)

James Margaris
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There is a new, impassioned defense of F2P games every 2 or 3 days. That by itself indicates a huge problem.

People will stop complaining when the vast majority of F2P mobile games aren't terrible. Until then they have every right to complain.

Pitting mobile devs against indie devs is also extremely silly, as a huge number of indie devs make mobile F2P games.

Chris Cobb
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Complaining about terrible games is fine, I believe the author's point is that successful mobile games meet the criteria of good because millions of players choose to play them. Also the author doesn't dismiss arguments against free to play, he identifies them and responds.

Critique: "If You Don't Pay, You Have To Spend a Lot of Time Getting Power."

Response: "Used to be, in Everquest, every fifth level was a "hell level," where they doubled the number of experience you needed to pass it for no reason. It was arbitrary, obnoxious, and ridiculous. I still have nightmares about level 45."

It's not dismissive, it's pointing out the hypocrisy in the critique. I agree with the article; bad games don't get played, so if mobile f2p are successful so be it. As far as the psychology of addiction being evil, it probably is but it has been around long before mobile f2p. Played Final Fantasy (or any other jrpg)? Thought so.

edit: formatting

Michael Joseph
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I view Vogel's blog post as nothing more than a disingenuous bit of melodrama. It's definitely not just a case of him being lazy and misinformed but otherwise expressing his opinions sincerely and in good faith.

1) For the sake of argument let's assume it's even possible for people to prove the goodness of something by consuming that something. What percentage of people must demonstrate their like for something by using/consuming/doing that something in order for it to be deemed good? Accordingly, why does it not also hold that if an even greater number of people do not demonstrate their like, that the scales of good & bad should judge the behavior as bad? And if you're going to discount this, then the authors magic threshold of "millions" of people boils down to an "evuryburdy durs it!" pathos style argument, not a logical one.

2) If you agree that certain products targeted towards children are bad, then what makes the product good when it's targeted at adults who lack the wherewithal to know better? I mean, if something is bad for kids, then that something is usually bad for adults too particularly if the adult is unable to moderate their consumption. Your response might relate to the dangerousness of the product. As a society we decide that adults can engage in certain dangerous activities if they like, but children being less able to recognize the dangerousness of various products (which are often more dangerous to developing bodies and minds than more mature ones) should be protected by regulating their sale. Would you even be willing to concede that F2P games are dangerous?

Reasonable people do believe that F2P games are dangerous products. But F2P proponents don't want that label associated with F2P games either. Are non F2P games dangerous? Some are for sure. The fun & flow fanatics who research how to induce a certain narrow range of psychological states in their users' brains make dangerous products too. (they're not helping raise games out of the cultural ghetto either)

For them games are a direct line to the little pharmacist living in people's brains.

Most people view games as innocuous. This being the case, perhaps even more consideration needs to be given when labeling certain types of games and educating people about how these products work. Medicines come with little pamphlets describing any dangerous side effects.

What could be more libertarian than giving people the information they need to allow them to make informed choices?

Marvin Hawkins
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I agree with Jeff Vogel's viewpoint. It's tiresome the snobbery of 'real' games industry. I love all games. I love Aquaria, I played an embarrassing amount of Tiny Tower, Angry Birds and Clash of Clans. I personally find that I spend most of my time with tablet and downloadable pc games. I think there are bad f2p games just like there are bad games. Bottom line, enjoy what you like. As several of you have pointed out, other games will do OK without F2P players. Have fun people stop sweating games you dont like.

Amir Barak
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Nothing personal against Jeff Vogel (in fact I've bought, played and enjoyed most of his games as well as read his Comedy Central pages several times while laughing each time) but this article has some serious issues in it. I'm not going to actually count all of them, just some major points.

First, the title.
The title is condescending which is ironic given the fact that Jeff later points out that people who complain about F2P are, themselves, condescending. Does the author have the divine right of complaint but not others? How is that not duplicitous?

"You don't even need to spend that hour killing the same goblin over and over again. You can go do something else!"
Pssst, Jeff, you don't have to spend that hour reading about people's complaints of F2P. You can go do something else! (like pinch-zoom for Avadon, the only reason I haven't bought it on my Nexus7 yet).
You don't like Notch's opinion, stop reading what he writes!
You don't like the articles in Polygon, stop reading the articles in Polygon!
Wait, what's that? You're engaged in the gaming industry/community and have a strong opinion about stuff? And you want to express that opinion? I guess it is a bit annoying on my part to tell you to stop, eh?

Third, the numbers game.
Yup, lots of people (and I mean LOTS of people) play F2P games. Great! F2P games must be very popular and good and we should stop complaining about them. But....
Lots of people drink Coca Cola. Lots of people eat too much fast food. Lots of people smoke. Lots of people do drugs. Lots of people beat their kids. Lots of people think that [insert minority here] should be [insert bad verb here]. Lots of people take antibiotics to treat a cold because lots of doctors prescribe antibiotics like candy. Lots of people support the meat industry without understanding the implication of meat processing.
Lots of people do dumb stuff because they lack knowledge and/or are too lazy to find out.
And before the kneejerk reaction of "are you seriously comparing F2P games to drugs, etc etc" arises let me put it to rest. I'm not comparing F2P games to anything here. I'm just showing that "lots of people do activity X" is not an indication of the quality of the activity.

"but because they remind us of the grade school bullies who laughed at us and took our lunch money"
Are you seriously dismissing bullying so casually?
Bullying has serious psychological affects on victims and bullies. This behaviour is also an indication of some psychological abnormality. Are you suggesting developers who recognize such a behaviour simply ignore it?

"and those icehearted bastards will take your house, smile, and sleep like a baby afterwards"
why are you calling them icehearted bastards though, as you follow it by:
"but unless Zygna agents are sneaking into your house in the middle of the night to load Epic Bakery Candy Saga Pony Plus on your phone, the reason people play these games is because they like them. "
Who is forcing Casino goers to enter the Casino and be cheated? Clearly people go into Casinos to play those games because they like them.

Anyways, there's heaps more. Unfortunately the entire article reads like someone's trying to excuse their activity even though they know they shouldn't have done it.

Masaru Wada
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"Who is forcing Casino goers to enter the Casino and be cheated?"

No one.

"Clearly people go into Casinos to play those games because they like them."

That's correct.

Amir Barak
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Yet he's calling them icehearted bastards. So the author has a negative view of casinos but not f2p games even though they are easily comparable. I'm asking why?

And oh come on, seriously, are you going to now ignore years of gambling problems and the way casinos manipulate games? Are you somehow implying that gambling problems don't exist? Casinos are all legit and happy places?

Also, I like how you acknowledge the "cheating" part of my sentence. No one is forcing people into the casino. But the casino holds power over whether to cheat or not. Are we so naive now as to believe gambling isn't rigged?

Tomi Vesanen
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Money = Good. Money = Quality. Money = God.


David Marcum
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You forgot the question mark and no.

Greg Scheel
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Paid2play, patient coughing up blood, hookers, crack, Blue Pill... You guys are awesome.

This has got to be the best thread I have ever read on Gamasutra, now I know why it has 50+ comments.

Game on.

Amir Barak
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I'm happy that you're enjoying the thread. But I've spoken to the guys/gals and we agree that if you want us to continue you'll either need to wait till next week or pay us 0.99$.

David Paris
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You can also agree to forward our spam to 10 of your friends or family if you prefer. We will of course, have to revisit this discussion again in the near future.

Fabian Fischer
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Alright, a couple of points. I agree that there's nothing inherently wrong with a free mobile game in and of itself. The thing is, far too many of them employ abusive design methods. So, the only reasonable argument you critisize is the fourth one: More often than not, these games don't provide value. Before I go into that topic, I want to quickly address the other arguments you mentioned.

"The People Who Make Them Are Soulless Business Drones. Not Cool Arteests Like Us." Completely useless and self-indulgent nonsense. All publically available art is entertainment and people consume entertainment. Being "artistic" is not a value judgment. FarmVille is art, just as Half-Life. That's it.

"They Write Simple Cartoony Games For the Most Casual." Different people need different kinds of value. Why shouldn't less experienced players be provided with their kind?

"If You Don't Pay, You Have To Spend a Lot of Time Getting Power." That kind of segways into my point about value, because I indeed think that many of these games do actively hold back in providing you with value to make you pay more than you would reasonable pay for the overall amount of value you're getting. More later.

"Casual Games Monetization Isn't Ethical." Okay, any argument based on "ethics" or "morality" by definition has to be unreasonable and therefore useless as an argument. Morality can only ever try to change your course of action if that course goes against your own best interest to begin with. But then, a non-argument won't change anything. On the other hand, if it was your best interest anyways to act morally, you wouldn't need any other ("higher") value system to decide. Now, assume you are in the situation where you believe the moral option and the option in your own best interest conflict. Then you will obviously do what you think is in your best interest, because you have already determined what to do by figuring out what that is. Morality can't change a person's behavior ever.

So we agree up to this point, maybe due to differing reasons, though. Now, why do I think the "shallowness" argument is indeed valid (again, in many, many cases, not inherently valid against "any free mobile game")? Because more often than not these games do not provide us with the value, they are implicitly promising to give us by being as fun as they are.

Now, to explain I might even have to go back one step further. Before we can even meaningfully categorize and assign value judgments to digital interactive entertainment software, we have to understand what this "value" really is. The thing is, just judging the "fun" something provides is a) extremely ambiguous because literally everyone has a different understanding of the term and b) not even useful to begin with, because we can't differentiate between "fake value" that just feels good, because it directly triggers (or rather exploits) the psychological reward system, and something of real value that triggers this reward system, because it's actually of value for human beings. Yes, it's both "fun" and in some situations int might not even matter, but in one case something mischievous is going on under the hood.

If we take a quick look at some of the advances in psychology over the last decade, we will find that most things that we find "fun" feel good, because our brain thinks they're useful to engage with and thus rewards us (with a feeling of pleasure, fun, engagement or whatever you want to call it). Fiction activates our brain on multiple levels, and teaches us to imagine, to predict and to adapt rapidly to new events. Music, in fact, works because our brain rewards correct predicitions, so listening is just a way of building an, if subconscious, incredibly complex web of probabilities. Visual art provides us with order, and enriches our understanding of spatial relations. Games let us train efficient reasoning and learning. And even the way we experience delivery of information these days has almost become an art form in itself, constantly teaching us how a well-structured information flow works. Good art is perceived as good, because the brain assumes it's good for itself. In short, we like to consume art because our brain thinks it makes us competent.

Now, I'm not talking about "playing a game to pass the time" or "watching TV to relax" or "listening to music in the background" or something. Obviously all human beings need stress-relief. And art is often used to provide it, but it's not art's actual purpose. Art has far more potential than to just satisfy these most basic human needs ("hygiene factors"). Art can actually provide us with value above that. When our basic needs are satisfied, it can fulfill higher order needs of self-actualization. If we e.g. look at self-determination theory, it proclaims autonomy, competence and relatedness to be core to self-fulfillment. The autonomy it is talking about is not just the basic human need for freedom, but actual choice and the power to matter and influence things. And by relatedness is does not just mean "having someone around" and not even "being close", it's about deep and meaningful relationships that let you grow as a person. You could argue that both of those factors serve to build competence, which then leads to further personal development and striving for self-actualization.

With that background, we can start thinking about if an artwork, let's say a "fun" game, actually delivers upon the promise of being "fun". So it feels good, alright. Why is that? Probably because our brain believes it to be benefitial. Now, an example of something probably most people will agree upon not being all that intellectually benefitial is FarmVille or any other "cow clicker". Why is it "fun" to so many people? Because it induces the feeling of progress, of growth, of competence. Numbers go up all the time, everything looks shinier, you're receiving compliments etc. FarmVille hits you on the head with a hammer and tells you "YOU ARE GOOD!" and even "YOU ARE GETTING BETTER!". If you believe that, and many people - especially less experienced gamers who don't know about the potential of the art form - obviously do, then your brain will reward you. And you will play a lot more than would actually be valuable in relation to the game's depth. In reality, it just provides you with fake value. In the case of (something like) FarmVille many people recognize this, because it's rather obvious, but there are a lot more subtle things going on in the games (and of course any other) industry. We're not nearly aware enough of that and that's what worried me when reading your post.

If we actually would (roughly) agree upon the above definition of "value" and the notion, that art is there to provide us with this value, then we could go deeper again. So, digital interactive entertainment exists to provide us with value. How does it produce value? Well, there are fundamentally different approaches. Strategy games e.g. try to face us with difficult decisions of investing and gaining resources, therefore forcing us to build a systemic understanding of the underlying mechanisms. That's how we gain competence by interacting with them. So how can we maximize this possible value (e.g. depth) and smoothen its delivery (e.g. elegance)? That's just one example, but you should be able to see the point by now.

John Rose
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Ian Griffiths
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I'm yet to see a strong and valid argument as to why F2P is more unethical than pay-up-front games.

Jeff's article here is excellent. Enjoyment of games, much like music, is subjective. What we do know is that games like Candy Crush are much more popular than The Room. Is it a better game? Clearly some people think so, others don't.

-Is it really that bad?-
As for all of the complaints as to whether F2P is bad for the industry, we have to consider the numbers. We can see that free-to-play is growing as a % of the revenue generated on mobile platforms. Additionally revenue from mobile platforms continues to grow. So we can see that, from an economic perspective, it's not bad for the industry as a whole, for individual developers, it's a different story...

-What's going on?-
A lot of complaints are around discoverability, investment being sucked up by F2P and revenue being concentrated among a few titles and studios. This is confusing because it goes against a lot of what we expect in microeconomics - that many, many small companies producing very similar goods should all get an equal slice of the pie. However, it actually makes total sense, and it's all because of the users and the diffusion of innovations.

Mobile games are very cheap to make, we're seeing massive levels of saturation, there are just so many games being released. We see users respond to this noise by focusing on a few titles, those that are at the top of the charts and/or those that are being played by their friends. There is a lot of work that goes into creating a great F2P game like Candy Crush Saga and a whole lot of luck that takes it the rest of the way. Once games like this achieve critical mass, they have the right retention mechanics to get more people involved and become a gravity well. This is why we see the same games at the top of the chart day after day. There's some movement lower down but that's because we're talking tiny shifts in revenues about 5%-10% of what's going on at the number 1 and 2 spot.

-Wait, so is it bad or not?-
For the industry as a whole? No, it's not, quite the opposite in fact. Is it bad for the equal distribution of revenue across developers in the industry? Yes, well mostly at least. The fact is that we've never been able to make games cheaper and even Barry Meade explains how he made a large profit from just £70k of investment.

Of course investors will chase what the top of the chart is doing. But with the right pitch asking for just £70k ($120k) you might find the right investor for you, or you could just cover it yourself - but that's a much bigger gamble than you'll make in any other F2P game :)

Matt Wilson
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It's great to see this still main-paged, Jeff's accusatory, mocking style notwithstanding - though it's a little telling that his points are all so loaded with conditionals.

Anyone actually stop to ask Notch the reasons behind his tweet?

Andy Lundell
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Gamasutra keeps running articles like this (Over and over and over), they've never ONCE touched on the number one reason I dislike F2P games.

I don't like thinking about my real-world bank account. It's stressful, and it either makes me feel guilty for spending a buck I don't need to, or it makes me feel disappointed in myself for being so stingy.
I know those feelings are part of real-life, but I DON'T WANT THOSE FEELINGS WHILE I'M TRYING TO RELAX!

I know a lot of people don't share this concern. A lot of people LOVE mixing commerce and entertainment. (Heck, for some people commerce IS entertainment.), but for me, personally, I try to keep my commerce and entertainment as separate as possible, and that means games I can pre-pay, (or at least a monthly flat-rate) and then never think about the money aspect again.

There. A valid, non-pretentious justification for my personal dislike for F2P. Now can we stop having these defensive (yet gloating) articles whining about people who don't like F2P?

There are lots and lots of people who DO like F2P.(Thankfully!) Sell to them. You don't need permission or approval from the rest of us.

Kostas Zarifis
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Not sure how this dismissive, sarcastic article seriously hopes to pass for a worthy response to Barry Meade's Polygon article...?

You say he uses "mathlogic" to make his points, which you find amusing (yet you never explain *why* his "mathlogic" is amusing to you) and as a counter position you offer... what?



The usual

"it could be worse, look at casinos",
"don't hate the bullies",
"the people have spoken with their wallets, so who asked you to defend them",
"it's already happened so why not accept it rather than challenge it"


Like others have said the signal to noise ratio of this article is incredibly low sadly.

Yes, I enter every discussion with the possibility that the "problem might be in my head" as you say, but this article did absolutely nothing to convince me that this may be the case here.

If anything, all the holes in your logic (and I use the term lightly), make the Polygon article you're trying to contest ring even more true.

Kenneth Nussbaum
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Mobile games are flash games, kids have phones and ipads instead of a PC. We all grew up and played millions of flash games, and to be honest most of these apps blow most flash games out of the water. The games that succeed also require an understanding of design instead of just one interesting mechanic and a leader board. The real problem is app stores create the same priority between a free game and a recognized distributor.