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Respecting the player's wallet
Respecting the player's wallet GDMag Exclusive
April 29, 2013 | By Damion Schubert

April 29, 2013 | By Damion Schubert
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A reprint from Game Developer magazine's April issue, BioWare Austin's Damion Schubert explores how free-to-play studios can cater to big spenders while still keeping free players entertained.

It's been a long time since there has been a complete revolution in video game design, but we are in the midst of one now. Free-to-play gameplay and microtransactions used to be limited to indie games and Korean massively multiplayer titles; now, it's broken into the mainstream in a big way, and has increasingly become the way players expect to play their games.

The success of League of Legends is largely credited for this transition; at launch this pioneer allowed players to play a substantial portion of the game without paying a dime; as of July 2012, it had 12 million unique players per day, with over 32 million registrations, putting Riot Games on the map. By comparison, FIFA 13 sold 12 million copies worldwide total in 2012, and World of Warcraft peaked at about the same.

The rest of the industry noticed, and began moving quickly to a f2p model. New titles like Tribes: Ascend and the upcoming Neverwinter were built with this billing model in mind. Meanwhile, older titles like Lord of the Rings Online, Team Fortress 2, and (my employer's own) Star Wars: the Old Republic have all made quick adjustments to this billing model.

All of these games enjoyed strong sales and market presence in their original incarnation, but all reported significant increases in both revenue as well as player populations from the change in billing model. 

The changing market

The market conversion has not happened without some bumps in the road, however. Many gamers dislike or resent the microtransaction trend. They tend to be older players, who grew up buying their games for a $60 price point, and like never being asked for another dollar again. This includes a substantial portion of the game developer community, who feel like the industry is nickeling-and-diming customers to death, and then shaking their corpses for loose change.

Kids today grew up in a different world, finding music on YouTube and Spotify, then purchasing songs individually on iTunes. They buy movies on demand from a number of sources if their parents don't subscribe to HBO. They grew up playing Club Penguin and Maple Story, and now play triple-A games like League of Legends, paying as much money as they feel they can afford, which very frequently is none at all. The next generation of gamers grew up in a world where entertainment was tried for free and bought a la carte.

It's not impossible to see why. While older gamers see free-to-play microtransaction models as an attempt to fleece the customer, the reality is quite different. The vast majority of those who play these games do, in fact, opt to never spend a dime, and this means that these customers never spend $60 on a game that they dislike.

The free-to-play model becomes the ultimate free trial, and it puts a huge onus on the designer to create a quality, polished gameplay experience that the player quickly finds fun and engaging. When looked at through this lens, it is very easy to see the free-to-play model as far kinder to the customer base than was the old premium box model that we all grew up with.

An evolving design perspective

Needless to say, f2p requires designers to make significant changes to the way they approach their craft. Some of these are subtle but crucial. As an example, classic MMO design is, first and foremost, designed to encourage subscriptions at all costs. Designers know that once a player cancels their credit card in a game, it can be very difficult to get that customer to re-engage. By contrast, it's not so distressing if players of a free-to-play game bounce out of the game for a little while. Designers of true free-to-play games no longer care if you quit in April and May if they can get you to bounce back in June to play for a while and buy some stuff. Since no credit card information needs to be entered, players are much more likely to stop by when nostalgia for the game kicks in.

In my opinion, this model much more accurately maps to real life than the old subscription model - the world is full of competing interests, be it the new hottest competitor to come down the pike, or real-life competition like television, school, or romance. The free-to-play model is less desperate to maintain a player's interest and subscription through all obstacles at all costs, but can instead focus on high-profile events designed to recapture the player's attention.

The value of free players

Designers must also consider the widely disparate ratio of spenders vs. nonspenders. The exact ratio varies wildly from game to game, but can be a huge swing. Facebook games seem to have among the widest disparities, with developers reporting that frequently fewer than 2% of the population pay any money at all. The other 98%, and all of the costs they incur, are effectively subsidized by that small sliver of the population.

It is easy to think of that 98% as shiftless moochers, but in most cases, the game is served well by having a large free-to-play population. Players are content for other players. In MMOs, they make your towns more full and social, and fill your game with more potential party members for your dungeons and player-vs.-player battle scenarios. In World of Tanks, free players fill the world with fodder for your paying customers to destroy.

And this goes beyond the social value that having a large paying population offers. Even if only a fraction are paying for your game, having a free population of a couple million means that you have a couple million people potentially evangelizing the game to their friends and family. These big numbers are easier to market to boot.

Monetizing your big spenders

However, since potentially a small sliver of the population is actually monetizing the game, in many genres, designers need to re-evaluate exactly how money is spent in the game, to allow players to spend what they want to spend.

If you look at most hobbies, they allow spending to scale to level of interest. It is possible to knit on the cheap, picking up only some needles and a ball of yarn at Hobby Lobby. Hardcore knitters, on the other hand, may spend thousands of dollars amassing huge yarn collections, and even fly across the country to go to sock-knitting conventions (yes, they exist). This level of optional spend is found in most major hobbies: woodworking, building model trains, playing music, golf - you name it. And while shops that cater to these hobbies are more than eager to help newcomers get off the ground with their new hobby, most of them live or die by their regulars, who are more than willing to spend their disposable income on the hobby that gives them so much joy.

Looked at in this light, the classic game model doesn't make sense. No matter how much you loved the original StarCraft, your spending in the game was pretty much limited to the original box product and the expansion. A hardcore player's spend was going to be in the same order of magnitude as the new player's, while the new player's entry fee was high enough to be a disincentive for many players to try it out. The rise of DLC as a revenue source has attempted to better capitalize on these devoted fans, but since they tend to still be content driven, the hardcore hit a hard ceiling of how much they can spend - even if they want to spend more (and most people like spending money on hobbies they love).

Games that go free-to-play need to better capitalize on their devoted fans. Magic: The Gathering has what developers call a "repeatable spend" - players buy random boosters to make their decks better and complete their collections. This is a highly scalable activity - Wizards of the Coast spends a lot of time providing cheap, entry-level decks and creating drafts and "pauper" leagues designed to engage low-level spenders, while high-end tournament decks can have aftermarket values of $400-600. The top customers are the financial lifeblood of the game, and Wizards goes to great lengths to elevate these customers and decks, but in general, players of any skill and spending level can find a satisfying game experience.

Respecting the wallet

Perhaps the most important lesson for those aspiring to enter the world of microtransactions is figuring out how to do so while still maintaining a healthy respect for the player and their wallet. It is easy to find new and exotic ways to charge your customers money, particularly now while the microtransaction model is still in its infancy in the United States. But just because you can charge a buck for something doesn't mean that you should.

The most common mistake I see in the iPhone games I download is that the games are entirely too aggressive in attempting to charge their customers. Their "free-to-play" games often ask the player to pay for more energy within five minutes of initial download. The human mind is a great pattern-matching machine, and a player will almost certainly extrapolate that pattern to the future - and what they will see is a game that is not only doomed to be more expensive than what they want, but also one built with the philosophy of nickeling-and-diming them to death. Even worse, all of this happens before the customer is emotionally engaged with the game. It is easy and expected in these cases for the player to walk away.

By contrast, when we converted Star Wars: The Old Republic to follow the free-to-play model last year, we made a concerted effort not to oversell our microtransactions. Players are rarely, if ever, prompted to spend money in the first 10 levels, and the player is likely to forget that doing so is even possible. Even when spending is possible, we make it clear that the entirety of the game can be experienced (albeit with limitations) without spending a dime. Our logic is simple: We think that players are more likely to invest their time and money in a game that they love, so first and foremost we want our players to fall in love with the game. We see the player's respect as something that needs to be earned before we win that dollar.

Microtransactions in the Wild West

The free-to-play microtransaction game model is coming fast now, and it is not inconceivable to imagine a world in the next decade where the majority of games available to users are delivered in this reality. For the time being, though, we are still in a Wild West game design reality, where every design shop is attempting different ways to earn that dollar - some of those bordering on shady and questionable.

Still, game designers need to start by acknowledging that a small number of heavy users will likely subsidize the majority of the efforts in their microtransaction-oriented game. To me, as a game designer, this is a good thing; making a game that earns the love and devotion of players is the right path. Making a great game with a solid design and a respect for your player's wallet is still the best way forward.


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Comments


Aaron Brande
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I'm old school now I suppose, although I do use some micro-transaction games on occasion. However, and kind of inline with the stereotype for my age group perhaps, I do expect to be able to get the entirety of some game for approx. 50 bucks.

Sybil Collas
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Great article!
The collection aspect of one's hobby got me thinking about Disney's Infinity : they have the same booster aspect with their power disks, physical items acquired randomly via boosters in order to unlock ingame content - something I think will be much more compelling than directly buying ingame content.
They do not follow a f2p model (first pack is sold around 75$), but I think physical objects as a way to prompt players into buying additional content will probably become a great alternative to f2p models. The amazing success of Skylanders has probably opened a new era of monetization.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Damion, I agree with all that you wrote in the "Respecting the Wallet" sub section. I also agree that F2P is here to stay, but I disagree with most of the rest of the article because it parrots the most common misconceptions about F2P and consumer behavior.

Having worked with Nexon in 2001 to bring their products to the Western market, I was on the front lines of the F2P movement. Then I advised them that the method they were contemplating would convert poorly in the West. Nexon reacted by abandoning their early foothold in our market and focusing on their core (Asian) consumers, where microtransactions prospered because most consumers there at that time could not afford subscriptions.

By 2005 it became obvious that with the failure of so many subscription MMOs in the West, that Asian style microtransaction monetization models would be adopted in the West, to catastrophic affect both to consumers and producers, if no better alternative was available. Thus I set out to generate alternatives that would be better accepted in the West.

The biggest misconception propagated in this OP is that 2% conversion rates are normal. Here you are "blaming the consumer" which is a primary reason why EA has such a bad reputation. A 2% conversion rate means your monetization model is suffering a 98% rejection rate. It does not mean that the vast majority of gamers are cheap or free loaders. Your example with the yarn implies that you think that hardcore players are the only ones paying. Hardcore players resoundingly reject pay to win games, the 2% group you are targeting are whales, not hardcore players. These are two completely different groups that could not be more different.

Hardcore players would be mortified to "pay to win" in a game such as EA's latest Command and Conquer offering. There are a lot more hardcore gamers (part of that "old people" group you said are rejecting your products...you know the ones...the ones with all the money) than whales, and their budgets are a LOT bigger. You just don't ever see those budgets because those players reject your monetization models.

So as an experienced monetization designer, I have to say I firmly reject your last assertion: "Still, game designers need to start by acknowledging that a small number of heavy users will likely subsidize the majority of the efforts in their microtransaction-oriented game. " I am 100% on board with F2P, and have been for 8 years now. Just not the same F2P that you are.

Nikolas Kolm
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Can you explain what you are on about a bit more detailed? I played several of Nexon's titles and their monetization model was not so very different from what I see in TOR as an example (from what I gathered when I played, but tht was a couple of years back). But your wording and phrasing clearly says you have a superior model (I trust it is backed by numbers).

So it would be interesting to hear what other model that is and where I missed it in Nexon's games.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Nikolas, it took me over 4 years to come up with my first "advanced" F2P model in 2009 which I had verified academically. I have over a dozen now but I don't publish them. You can read 30 of my archived papers from 2010 to 2012 on Jane McGonigal's gameful.org: http://gameful.org/groups/games-for-change/forum/

More recently I have been publishing here on Gamasutra. The following two articles are useful references:
http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/188359/the_language_of_mone
tization_design.php

http://gamasutra.com/view/news/177237/The_new_rules_of_monetizati
on.php#.UEs0NY1lThM

I don't publish specific models. I parted ways with Nexon in 2001 and most F2P models in use now in the world are variants of those developed by Nexon, with a few hybrids that perform better. I suggest why in my Supremacy Goods microeconomic model linked above.

Richard Black
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I'd agree. I in no way feel like a free loader but neither to I like to be obviously cajoled or extorted into paying for a supposedly free game which places rather ridiculous inconveniences on me. I've given maybe 40$ to SWTOR in order to finish all the stories, some of which were well written and amusing, so they successfully extorted me into re-subscribing just to not deal with the restrictions of free play. On the other hand I've probably spent more than 400$ on LOTRO and GW2 which I play infrequently but which appealed to me in one way or another to offer me ways to improve my experience. Frequently my letting me look the way I wanted or travel with ease and through no other enticement. I used to be a fan of Vanguard when it launched as well, buggy as it was, it still offered many unique experiences I enjoyed and I was willing to check it out again after hearing of it's transition to f2p. Simply reading the proposed restrictions on free accounts though I laughed at their severity, would probably find my old characters naked if I ever logged back in as my gear was too good to not pay evidently, and I haven't given it a second thought till now as an example of how to lose someone who would have been willing to pay if there was anything I felt like buying.

Nikolas Kolm
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@Ramin

Thanks for the links and the explanation. I'll look into those articles....when crunch lets up a little. ;)

Cheers!

Damion Schubert
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Ramin -- There is no one size fits all way to monetize a game, and what works well for one genre may fail terribly for another. Sometimes, the way a game is structured makes a big difference.

The 98% number I cited is, in fact, 'normal' for Facebook games (and I've actually heard from a couple of Facebook developers that that number is often wildly optimistic), and is likely a huge part of the reason many developers have started fleeing that market, since the cost to acquire a facebook player now rivals the amount of cash you are likely to extract from him. If you want to say that that's because most Facebook games could be designed better - well, you'll get no argument from me, but I think it is doubtful that every Facebook game designer in the industry is a moron.

That is, however, WAY below our own conversion rate, because we are a very different game with a very different audience. I also don't know where you get 'pay to win' from what I wrote. SWTOR has heartily rejected Pay-To-Win, and that has been a huge factor in the broadbase acceptance of our monetization model by our playerbase. That being said, we still have a very large heavy user base as well (i.e. 'whales' - a term I wish would die in favor of a term that more generously describes a percentage of the playerbase that is absolutely vital to the survival of many F2P games).

The far extreme is MTGO, a game that monetizes a very small audience VERY well. They enjoy massive success, but many companies have tried to copy their model and failed.

Richard Black
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The problem I have with that Damion, actually with the whole article which seems overly self serving to me, is you seem to be as Ramin points out only catering to whales. Maybe whales therefore are the morons you're looking for and that's why the pecentage is so low. If Publisher's Clearing House or Shopping Channels have taught us anything it's that some people will buy things regardless of how crappy or useless they may be. I don't know the percentage of buyers on such sites or phone sales but maybe 2% would be expected there as well.

Now as one of your customers at one time, who was even willing to subscribe prior to your transition, I can tell you from the bottom of my heart I do not feel you are 'respecting my wallet' at all. Moreover I actually feel insulted by SWTOR's transition model, not the transition itself but the way you employed it, and actually by this article. Please don't think I'm ranting in any way or on my soapbox, but I feel you should be aware of this as I think it's sentiment you'll find from a larger percentage of your base that you are likely aware of.

I don't appreciate what I see as extortive attempts to get me to subscribe in a supposedly free to play model. As someone who subscribed for your subscription model you should know I'm not adverse to subscriptions in and of themselves, but as one of your 'preffered' members I am offended you feel the need extort me into staying a subscriber, so I don't.

I might on the otherhand be a whale in 2-3 other mmos who don't even try for a subscriber model anymore and offer me instead a great deal of detail and value for what I can purchase in game. Not pay to win, which I'm also against, but pay to play how I like to. SWTOR doesn't offer that. I think you've taken more outfits out of game in 2.0 than you've put back in and the majority of your microtransactions seem to cater to morons. The lottery boxes which seem to be your one money maker seem to be for people who are getting cartel coins automicatically through subscription or for people with more money than brains. And most of the rarest finds in the various boxes seem to go up in trade or the auction house right away anyway so it's almost thinly veiled real money transfer. I mean you may as well set up your own money trade system as GW2 has and skip the illusion.

I simply cannot fathom why the system you currently offer was implemented as it largely seems insulting to most gamers, doesn't offer a quarter of what it should indeed could for customization, and offers a lottery system no one seems to enjoy but many take advantage of anyway.

That people still pay shouldn't be a surprise as if SWG teaches anything it's how much people will put up with just to play a Star Wars game, and you're pretty much the only game in town now, but the point is you could likely be making a lot more AND have a happier player base.

Wes Jurica
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Reading this has me wondering if some hybrid approach would be the least insulting to players.

Let's take Forza 4 and Real Racing 3 for example.

For $60 you can buy Forza 4 and have access to about 500 vehicles in the game. Add-on packs range from $5 to $10 and for around $120 you can have everything the game has to offer. In game money comes quick and new cars are rewarded constantly.

In contrast, Real Racing 3 is free to download. Money accumulates very slowly and mandatory servicing of your vehicle costs a decent portion of that. Progress in the game is so slow that it is most certainly a pay to play game. For $5 you can purchase enough credits to buy 0.05 to 5 cars. If you don't want to wait while your vehicle is repaired you'll be forking over cash pretty regularly. If I wanted to buy enough cars that I could race in every event, I'd be spending far more that the Forza 4 money up top. This experience sucks and the game is unplayable thanks to it.

If I were to *cringe* add microtransactions to one of my games, I think I would try to combine the two approaches. If it were a racing game in the similar vein, I would sell credits up to a point, let's say $20, at which point the entire game would unlock. This would be conveyed to the player somehow (meter or something) to let them know how much more they have to spend to get a full unlock.

I'm sure this goes against the psychology of buying stuff because the goal of most of the F2P games is to make sure you don't know how much or often you are spending on the game, but I don't care. I wouldn't feel okay with someone spending $100 on a game I made if there are better values out there. I guess this is the kind of thinking one can have when shareholders and ever increasing profits aren't part of the picture.

F the predatory Vegas-like state of the gaming industry.

Richard Black
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I would not at all use SWTOR as an ideal for a f2p model. The system is extortionary at worst and often a lottery at best. The limits placed a free account are rather heavy handed even if you were an active player before the change of subscription models. Paying to 'unlock' basic gaming rights is frequently exorbitant when compared to simply going back to subscribing, which I do not find to be a positive. Further while some cosmetics are available to choose most are hidden within varius 'boxes' you buy with currency and then recieve random loot from. Most of which seems to be bikini attire to dress female characters in and winds up on the in game auction house. So rather than directly buy attire you specifically like the look of for your character from the game directly you have to luck out from box purchases or shop around.

To me the true cash cow in in these f2p mmos is that character customization. Under ultilizing it is a horrendous waste. Often end game activities and raiding can be considered tremendous time sinks in search of items of unique appearance to differentiate a character and people have been known to spend hours customizing a residence even if they can't show it to anyone. SWTOR implements this incredibly poorly which is odd since there is a wealth of attire that is in the game but apparently not available to players. Considering everyone also has private space ships that are akin to residences you think they would explore selling customizable space craft or just allowing you to add tropies or furniture within the character prescribed ships.

I'd actually point to LOTRO as a much better example of f2p implementation as while you are asked to buy quest packs later on as a free player there are routes to do so without spending money and there are a wealth of cosmetic options people invest in. I'd bet they make far more catering to people with different outfit desires or who'd like different mounts or through conveniences like fast travel options than they ever do through boosts to xp or individual stats.

gard skinner
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Part of this has to be the speed with which the premium console game prices have run away from the average wallet size of our consumers. The price for a new, major-studio game has more than tripled in about 10-12 years. 20 to 60, soon to be 70. That's an unsustainable trend.

Plus, honestly, many of those titles were not or are not 60 bucks worth of fun. Or time. Or innovation.

There was a gap. And a flood filled it. Now what? Everyone large and small is rushing to put something into that space for fear of being left behind.

Mike Rentas
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A) When were new releases ever $20? I was definitely alive in 2003, and I'm pretty sure I remember paying about the same thing then.

B) Inflation means that things that stay at the same price for a long time actually get cheaper.

Matt Boudreaux
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I remember paying $75 for Mario 64. And $85 for Final Fantasy 3 on the SNES. Those were common MSRPs for new titles during those years. Counting for inflation, that's more than $100 today.

$40 - $60 today really isn't bad when you figure in the cost of games now a days, and what they used to be.

Jack Lee
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As others have pointed out, I can't agree with the idea that games have gotten significantly more expensive over the past 15 years. With the exception of the $50 bump to $60 for full retail console releases (which has at least partially encroached on the PC market, but less unilaterally), games have in some respects gotten cheaper if you account for inflation. Cartridge based games in the 90s were wildly more expensive in many cases.

If you want to talk about whether or not many $60 games are actually worth that money, that's something I might agree with. The fact that, particularly on consoles, you're either a full $60 or a $20 "budget" title with all the negative connotations that go along with that is a real bummer. The middle ground is nearly non-existent.

Ramin Shokrizade
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Seems a little off topic, but I recently came across the original box for Heroes of Might and Magic 2 (1996). The original Software Etc. price tag was $59.99. That is worth about $89 now. They just don't make boxes like that any more...

gard skinner
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Yes I think I did some bad math in my head there. Sorry, those days of $20 PSX titles seems much more recent than it was.

I still think many games have hit a price point where it's just unreachable for many consumers, and that's what opened the door for the good and the bad of this next pricing model.

Richard Black
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I was in grade school but I seem to remember most nintendo or super nintendo cartridges were in the nature of 40$. Most PC titles were in that range too, but tended to feature thick manuals, cloth maps, occasional trinkets you'd only see shelling out for a collector's edition now. Prices have gone up and you seem to get far less as well now too. Around 2000ish I seem to remember PSX games being around 40$ too and you could get older games in reprint for 20$ even before you could get them used.

Ricky Bankemper
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I am finding this article to be rather ironic coming from a Bioware employee. In my opinion, SWTOR has one of the most offensive/aggressive FTP models outside the mobile market.

"when we converted Star Wars: The Old Republic to follow the free-to-play model last year, we made a concerted effort not to oversell our microtransactions."

I am not trying to be offensive or derogatory here, but I don't know how you can say this in good conscious.

A quick list of restrictions in SWTOR. Limited character, bank, inventory, EXP (yes, apparently you get less experience on a free account), cash, email, Gear, GUI (limited number of usable hotbars).

This is just restricting basic game elements. A player should want to pay for something, not feel the need to pay, which is the feeling I receive from this model.

Companies that follow models similar to SWTOR's ftp model, such as the Everquest series of mmos, I get the impression they don't fully believe in the FTP model. They design them to hinder the player into subbing. Which is missing the mark in regards to the free to play ideals.

In my Opinion, Dota 2 (and Valve games in general ) has the best free to play model out there. Every aspect of game play is free. Anything I can pay for is strictly cosmetic. The community can also create some cosmetic items and potentially make it into the game, receiving payment for their sales.

So I fully agree that companies should be respecting the players wallets, but if you focus on the customer first, the money will follow. Rather than trying to trick/force a player into paying.

Nikola Kasabov
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I agree with you. It is easy to see that SWTOR's cash shop is targeted at subscribers. And playing as Preferred is not an option as there are restrictions player cannot remove no matter how much money he is willing to spend - low credit cap, low commendation cap. The main problem for players that are willing to spend but are against subscriptions is that they don't want to feel like they are renting the game, but like owning it (on top of the sub time pressure thats always mentioned).

BTW I wonder what will make people that don't want to pay on monthly basis pay for Operations and Warzons on weekly basis (because its the only option for preferred accounts)?

Currently i see swtor's cash shop as supplement to subscription if you want the new content.

Richard Black
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I'd agree as well, it can be jarring to log in the first time as free to play and see yourself so restricted as well. The first day I checked it out and saw a character with a few million credits suddenly reduced to 200k sent me logging right back out disgusted. I bit the bullet to re-sub with the new expansion just to check it out and see if anything changed and my money was back, but there was no indication of that before and I still felt robbed. I once had such positive regard for Bioware as well that has largely been squandered by their poor choices in a f2p model. I'll sample what's in the game during the subscription I paid for but once it's up they're unlikely to see any more of my money even in future expansions as I just feel used and disrespected as a customer. They aren't likely to get that trust back as well even with future games.

Jorge Ramos
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Respect the wallet?

SWTOR would not allow me to play any of my characters because all the races became "premium" choices, that I would have to spend money to unlock. It also would not let me keep any because when it went from level-limited trial to f2p, it dropped down to a maximum of two character slots.

I couldn't play the character(s) I wanted and built up.
I couldn't play at my own pace.
I couldn't keep the high-end gear I managed to successfully get.
I couldn't play the character races I wanted to play.

SWTOR was the last chance I was giving the MMO Genre, and its spectacularly awful limitations for free to play are the reason I won't be playing another.

Daneel Filimonov
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Don't mistake the forest for the trees. Yes, SWTOR was a bomb waiting to go off, but that doesn't mean MMOs ahead of SWTOR will be equally as horrible. The industry is evolving. People are experimenting. Someone has to take the high road, and EA/Bioware seemed to take the hit this time. I'm sure good things will turn up in exchange of this.

Jorge Ramos
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@Daneel,

Why? Why should I bother?

You know what Tor did right while in pre-f2p trial?
- It accounted for your story decisions.
- It had a narrative and scope to match.
- It allowed me to unlock races down the line if I so chose for all sides and classes.
- It allowed me to (for the most part) ignore quests that forced grouping.
- ~95% of missions and decisions carried appropriate narrative

One of the characters I made during the level-limited trial was a Sith blood with whom for both irony and personal satisfaction, I would have doing light-side decisions... and what Bioware did right with the game allowed me to simply get sucked in to the world and enjoy it. There were a few deaths here and there, sure, but I wasn't at a 4000% mortality rate like I was every time I played Guild Wars 2. I also didn't need to have super-high-end gear all the time, even though that helped one of my characters which was a republic soldier (lucky drop). Unlike so many other f2p mmog's, the game didn't artificially prevent me from being able to wear scarce/rare/high-end drops.

I've tried:
- WoW
- Exteel
- Guild Wars 2
- Global Agenda
- PSO
- PSU
- Dungeon Runners
- and more

And they all had infuriating, irredeemable and game-breaking problems all stemming from the kind of forced imbalance that the games had by nature. Most of the games broke down to the following problems:

- pay-to-win: Exteel was particularly guilty of this, but this also applies to every single f2p mmo as well to varying extent. For the time, Exteel was nice because it was like an online VirtualON; and even without paying a single red cent, I actually managed to consistently place in top 3 on team or free for all matches. Unfortunately, I apparently got so good that ncsoft's servers decided to pair me up with the kinda people that pay like $200+/month into the game for prime level gear, assuring I would always get slaughtered and in dead last. And considering it took a full month of this kind of humiliation to even come up with enough money for even ONE upgrade part (not a full suit - just ONE part ), I walked away and never looked back.

- 'Your story' doesn't matter: This seems to apply with every MMO that tries to implement some kind of story aspect. It really takes away from the immersion if I work myself to become strong enough to beat some real strong boss if said boss reappears on the map not five minutes later, or I'm arbitrarily encountering them again. If I beat a particularly bad-ass boss and they imply I kill the bastard, I shouldn't be seeing them again!

- Forced grouping: Global Agenda had a great single player aspect... up until about level 15~18, at which it all disappears, leaving the only content left being where you're arbitrarily grouped against people who are already level 50+and slaughtering you over and over again.

- The cost of respawn: WoW is especially guilty of this, but so is Guild Wars 2. I try to explore and then encounter some enemy that is far too overpowering (even worse when it's an enemy at a much lower level but can still royally destroy you like in GW2). Yet not only does it cost money to respawn - money that I'd rather save until I could get something particularly good or to fulfill a possible mission requirement - but then I'm also having to pay for the gear that was arbitrarily shredded by said villain. Even more infuriating if I realize that I HAVE TO go through that area again in order to advance the story.

I've been burned by so many mmo's that everyone and their mother seems to recommend, TOR was the only one that I consciously decided *I* wanted to try... and got burned there too. Why should I bother with the genre anymore if they're all going to be so awful?

Richard Black
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Well I never had a problem dying at all in GW2, but that may be job related as some are entirely too squishy in pve. The difference between rogue and warrior for instance is astonishing. I also enjoyed GW2 far more when it had individualized content but once you leave the initial race area it's pretty much the same no matter who you are which is dissapointing and limits how much I want to try other jobs. As free to play though I think it generally has the right idea as you don't have to spend a dime and you aren't limited at all for not doing so. I've taken shortcuts to buy more inventory space or finance my crafting so i can make my own max level gear but for the most part those were choices I made to make things easier on myself and avoid repetitious play.

SWTOR though, yes, was well designed narratively giving each job it's own story to follow and 'somewhat' tailor. A lot of it was magician's choice bringing you right back to the same place whether you made one decision or the other, but at least there was the attempt and for most part it was appreciated. It has one of the worst f2p systems I've seen however, and to me, seems obviously done in a hurry and poorly thought out.

Basically I think limiting your play to extort money through unlocks is a bad route, while allowing you to improve your play with custumizaion options is a rewarding route.

I can totally understand Jorge's anger to be forced to essentially pay to unlock his own characters to continue playing them. I don't think that's a good way to keep anyone playing a game, let alone paying, and one of SWTOR main problems was how deserted it could be after the first or second month. The unlocks he listed would probably cost in excess of 60$ just for one character or go back to his monthly subscriber model. So unlocks are kind of a joke and are just there to channel you back into a subscriber model that obviously didn't work very well or they wouldn't have made the change to f2p in the first place.

Christopher Thigpen
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I have to concur with those stating that BIOWARE/EA should not be a valid resource in measuring positive monetization strategies for players.

They continue to show nothing more than greed and obtuse practices towards their end users. Bioware under the EA umbrella are not consumer friendly. Much the opposite, if you ask me.

But for Jorge, don't count SWTOR as an MMO, there are much better games to judge the genre on. This was EA's attempt to capitalize on the genre as a cash cow. Obviously, they failed.

Still, this article isn't fit for print.

Mike Rentas
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Wow, I was "hmm"ing and nodding my head a lot as I read this, then I got to "when we converted Star Wars: The Old Republic to follow the free-to-play model". Having been a SWTOR player at launch, and just recently downloading the free client again to play my Sith Inquisitor a bit, I have to say that game is literally the worst example I can think of in terms of avoiding the feeling that you're going to be nickel-and-dimed. As soon as you log in, you see a screen describing all the great things you'd get if you'd just subscribe. Then you get to the character selection screen, most of your alts need to be renamed due to server merges (sorry, "higher capacity server technology"), and you can only activate two of them without a sub.

I uninstalled that piece of junk on the spot. And I have some tolerance to the F2P model, having spent quite a bit of time with things like Dragon Vale.

Bob Charone
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Zynga(entire company): $1B revenue in 365 days
Call of Duty: $1B revenue in 15 days

generic MMO conversion rate: 2-3%
Team Fortress 2 conversion rate: 20-30%

monetisation strategy: make FPS games!

Alan Boody
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Damion,

Is this a PR piece or does EA really have this big of a disconnect from reality? Unfortunately for EA, you hopped on this gimmick train too late and you're going to be devastated by the bubble when it bursts. But, good luck to you and the rest of the people at EA. Those who will suffer most from this blind and reckless path are the people who had no say in this direction.

You will never be able to slap on cash shops to AAA games and expect people to pay what you need to recoup the costs.

Also, for your information, League of Legends wasn't a AAA game. A great game, but not a AAA game.

Jack Lee
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Out of curiosity, what makes you say that LoL isn't AAA? I guess a live-service model of constant content/updates makes it hard to classify in the same way as a finished retail box, but I'm just curious as to the definition of AAA.

Ramin Shokrizade
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EA does appear to be "all in" in the use of Asian-style microtransaction business models. I'm not sure who told them they would work in the West but they seem to have tunnel vision despite a fairly reliable string of commercial failures. I'm kind of hoping that with new leadership they will take the blinders off and honestly reevaluate their business strategy.

When I heard that rumor that Nexon would be buying EA, that was really scary to think EA might have fallen that far. Probably the only thing stopping Nexon from really buying EA is that they are suffering from the same business strategies and have had a massive drop in revenues themselves.

Alan Boody
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@jack

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying LoL launched as a low-quality game. In fact, I've played LoL more than any other game since its launch. I've also paid over $200 over three years into the game. I've more than got my fair share of entertainment from it.

Well, if you think of AAA in terms of comparison to games that EA or Activisions create (such as Call of Duty, Battlefield, or even the new Sims) then LoL is clearly not as high of a budget. The graphics (original artwork that is) clearly had far less budgeted to it, etc. Basically, I'm talking in terms of budgets.

Gameplay wise, LoL is obviously AAA. But, production and development costs, they had no where near the budget a typical AAA game does.

Alan Boody
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@Ramin,

Exactly.

Jack Lee
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@Alan,

Thanks for the response. I wasn't trying to accuse or anything, haha. Just curious as to how we define AAA, which yes, in its initial development I imagine LoL may not have reached the budget threshold for (I don't know, but that wouldn't surprise me).

Alan Boody
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@Jack

Yeah, it's one of those things where it's more relative than anything. It's sort of like trying to separate someone that is rich, wealthy, high class, etc. I'm not sure of LoL's exact budget, but it seemed to be somewhere between high-budget indie and AA, based upon graphics (at launch).

Jeremiah Bond
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I still enjoy SWTOR as a subscriber after never having gone the free-to-play route. I think most hate EA, for whatever reason, and the rest of us enjoy EA for their main titles. I haven't had a problem with EA yet although Origin - service - had a pretty rough launch. I can't speak for the whole 'worst company' non-sense because I didn't vote.

I don't get the grab for F2P other than its convenient for the underdog to make a grab at cheap players. Now, I'm not saying I'm not poor, I am, but I certainly enjoy paying for entertaining products and have not moved to the F2P games for gimmicky joy (I have paid for a game to play it over the internet for free).

I've only ever paid for micro-transactions once, estimated about $100, and I never went back after they changed the gameplay almost immediately after I forked over the money. I don't hate them for it but I haven't played it since.

My take on all this? Corps hate F2P and will kick you in the nuts if you subscribe to that mentality. Underdogs love F2P because they can sucker you out of everything you are worth. Purchase and play games believe in delivering their best quality first and taking breathers in between. F2P games are doing everything they can, sweat shop and tears, to keep you paying for their jobs.

Michael Kolb
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One would point to the elephant in the room, Guild Wars 2. I seem to always bring up this game when the Free 2 Play model is being used or discussed. Here's a very very good game which you buy once and with micro-transactions in an optional store continues to thrive. This passive nature towards the subject is what our future should adopt. Sadly I think it'll be more towards free to play mobile and social games.

Alan Boody
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Michael,

I'm suspicious about mobile/social gaming, in some ways. Obviously, it's the big thing/next big thing, but it also seems to appeal more towards the 'Farmville' crowd. What I mean by that is the casual gamer that will play for a certain period then move on. It worries me that this will lead to more and more throwaway games. Then, when that crowd moves on you'll be left with gamers that expect better games with better graphics at an unsustainable free level of pay.

Erin OConnor
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Lets compare SWTOR to Tera.

SWTOR you have to pay to unlock basic game features.
-Crafting (crew skills) limited to 1
-Bank storage - 0
-Credits (gold) limit - 200,000
-Chat restrictions
-Mail restrictions
-Cannot trade items
-2 AH listings
-2 character slots
-3 races
-Pay to unlock raids.
-Pay to unlock gear (best quality gear)
-Dungeons 3 per week ( for loot )
-Mounts/transportation restrictions
-NO rest XP
-2 action bars

Lets compare that to Tera:
-Crafting - unlimited
-Bank storage - 1 of 4 open
-Credits (gold) limit - unlimited
-Chat restrictions - none (save those everyone follows)
-NO Mail restrictions
-Completely open trade
-10 ( of 30 ) AH listings
-2 character slots - Same
-No race restrictions
-No raid restrictions
-No gear restrictions
-No dungeon restrictions
-You get a mount for free at level 11/12 just like every one else.
-Rest XP
-No interface restrictions

SWToR has 0 respect for the customers wallet (restricting the number of action bars that you can use should clue you in, not to mention excluding players from participating in the game - dungeons/raids etc). Especially when you compare to other MMO's out there. I mean comparing SWToR to GW2 just isn't even fair.

IF you want to respect customers wallets this is what you do.
Open the game up completely. No race restrictions, No dungeon/raid restrictions. No gear restrictions. No UI (action bar) restrictions. Let the players PLAY.

What to sell in the cash shop:
Vanity pets.
Unique armors/cosmetic apparels.
Unique Speeders.
Unique companions.
Unique ships.
Instant transport between worlds.
(Extra character slots, bank storage, and AH transactions)
Light side/Dark side Auras
Unique color crystals.

Anyway. EA's narrow minded vision of making money has gotten in the way of making money.

Alan Boody
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Erin,

Bingo.

It seems like EA took their existing game and tried to find all the ways they could slap in paid elements.

Simon Ludgate
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I really like TERA's F2P implementation. TERA invites you to play the game and have fun, and once you're really enjoying yourself they invite you to buy some party favours to celebrate being able to play a fun game.

They never tap you on the shoulder and say "by the way, this is where you have to start paying." In sharp contrast, SWTOR never stops rubbing that message in your face until you subscribe.

Diego R Pons
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Totally!

----
"What to sell in the cash shop:
Vanity pets.
Unique armors/cosmetic apparels.
Unique Speeders.
Unique companions.
Unique ships.
Instant transport between worlds.
(Extra character slots, bank storage, and AH transactions)
Light side/Dark side Auras
Unique color crystals."
----

I speculate they didn't choose to make those the purchasable features because they knew players in the West wouldn’t care much for those.
Therefore, the business model seems a bit flawed to me.
The message to the user eventually becomes: “You want to play a high quality game for free?.. we’re going to make you pay for it anyways, and hopefully you won’t notice!”

My own personal conclusion is: gamers that play free games normally are looking for a different experience than gamers that are willing to pay for their entertainment.

Richard Black
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If you want more of a laugh there is like a 45 page thread in the SWTOR cs forums of people who are unable to even buy their cartel coins. The have a free to play model that is essentially refusing the real life money of people actually willing to buy in game items. How you can turn away peoples valid bank cards who are trying to pay you I have no idea.

Still I think people WILL pay for customization. Outifts or a specific color you want for a lightsaber blade are a no brainer. As it stands though, aside from a very few select 'sets' offered of whole outfits, for the most part all character customization items are obtained through random box buys with no idea what your result will be. Paying for a lottery ticket to get what you want is quite ridiculous and I think insulting to your customers. If you think that's respecting them you're wrong.

Amir Barak
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Wanna respect your players' wallet; stay the f*** out of it...

Alan Boody
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It reminds me of those images that show guys in suits all dipping their fingers into some poor bum's pocket. Though they are funny images they depict the reality of it.

What I find the funniest about all this is EA really isn't about 'f2p', they're about tacking on cash shops to any game (such as Sims and Sim City). You know it's a 'what the' moment when they added it to Dead Space 3, of all games.

Ben Harmon
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I understand that developers need to respect the player and their wallets. But developers must alo respect their game. Micro's and F2P models can often undermine the flow and experience of a game. I think offering free game models devalues the content and effort put into a game. For me, at least, when I see a free game i know that i'm going to get hounded by ads and notifications to purchase it, therefore this tarnishes the experience. The free to play and Micro-transactions models do offer a heap of publicity and can really turn a buck, but is it worth ruining a game experience? I feel that models like these need to be subtle or even totally reassessed.

Miguel Polo
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It's easy to respect player's wallet... Avoid Pay to win transactions, or situations where progressing is impossible unless you pay.

Cosmetic changes and commodities are the way to go imho.

Jeremy Reaban
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The problem with SWTOR is that you really don't get a rewarding experience as a free or even "premium" player.

The biggest problem that I ran into was the lack of XP gained. Even though I did every quest, I found myself constantly more and more underleveled as I went further into the game. By the time I reached the 3rd planet, I was 4 levels under the suggested quest level.

So apparently my choice was either to grind or give up. So I gave up. At least until they had those double XP weekends. But then when those stopped, I quit again.

Granted they made some money off of me, I spent $20 unlocking things. Annoying, but the core experience is what kept me from playing, not having to unlock everything separately.

R G
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Trust me, I don't feel like a free-loader when I play a half-baked game like League.

Also, most of these games get rejected because there are more polished offerings out there, or the "pay 2 win" approach kills the game.

But to each their own.

Alan Boody
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Why do you consider LoL half-baked?

Josh Neff
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“While older gamers see free-to-play microtransaction models as an attempt to fleece the customer, the reality is quite different”

The reason why older gamers feel this way is they have grown up with the game industry, and have come to expect a certain quality in the product they purchase. There was an unwritten rule about the number of hours of game play, the number of new features and the increase in quality of graphics and sound. These individuals look at the offerings by the micro-transaction business model as insulting by comparison... they see it as developmentally lazy, and not worth the money asked.

Being able to buy a black leather biker jacket for Laura Croft or a bunny outfit for your guild wars two character for what amounts to a sizable chunk of the game's initial price rarely engenders a sense of loyalty in older gamers... and many younger ones.

The reality is, and has always been, the gamer will buy quality full stop.

Richard Black
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At least when I buy a black leather biker jacket or a rabbit suit I presumably know what I'm getting.

I don't know how you can avoid the the assumption you are fleecing your customers when instead you sell them mystery boxes that 'might' have the jacket or the rabbit. If it's not in that box you just bought, then try another box, or another on top of that, or hey heres a pack of ten boxes since youc an buy them in bulk now. Lottery tickets for ingame items fleece us all. Personally I felt insulted even reading about the cartel coin system in SWTOR, idk how that could have been considered a good enough idea to be launched. It's just openly exploitative in a climate with multiple other examples of how to do it.

David Paris
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F2P models have two major flaws that make me loathe them as a whole.
rn
rn1. Lack of clear communication about total cost. I don't ever want to start enjoying a game, only to be held hostage by it to continue playing. If it is going to cost me 100$ for the full experience, say so up front. I develop games for a living, so my finances are already terrible enough. I need to pick and choose my expenditures carefully. So any 'surprise cost' associated with a game that I was otherwise enjoying is a source of extreme rage.
rn
rn2. Pay to win. The ability to play the game and have full competitive ability against other players is part of the 'complete experience'. So whatever the cost is to have this, is what the game costs. That means if it is possible to throw $1000/month into a game and gain actual advantage from that, then that is the real cost of the game. What's worse, this is seens as a very easy 'financial upgrade' path for any game around that is struggling to make money off of not sucking, because you can trivially start selling power items for money at most any point (certainly in any multiplayer game). And although any self-respecting gamer should abandon ship at this point, divorcing games that were previously enjoyable is always a nuisance.
rn
rn
rnI don't find it a coincidence that LoL doesn't suffer from either of these problems. All of its purchases fall into one of two categories -
rn
rn1. Purely cosmentic ( skins, which have zero actual game mechanic impact ).
rn
rn2. Speed my unlocks ( you can unlock any game impacting material for free with some time, and by 'some time' I do mean a reasonably achievable amount of time ). However you can also choose to just spend RL currency and hasten the process. That one prickles my warning sense a bit, but seems to work out ok for LoL.
rn
rnUnfortunately, it is hard to really point at LoL and say do that! because the truth is that you need to create a business model that is sustainable with a much more reasonable subscriber base than LoL's bazillion players. Historically it has been that if your MMO wasn't going to be a financial success at 200k subscribers, then you shouldn't be making it. I'm not sure what the F2P equivelent would be.

Alan Boody
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Hi David,

I think the success of LoL comes from two factors: 1) It was led by people that helped shape DOTA (Warcraft III mod), and thus, they cared about LoL as more than just a product to sell and 2) It was the first standalone attempt that had a nice word-of-mouth push while in beta. I remember reading about it in PC Gamer while it was in beta.

LoL continues to be successful because Riot is ran by people who care about providing a unique and fun experience for the players that isn't hampered by artificial restrictions meant to milk money from players. In complete contrast to that, f2p games like Tap Dragon Park are designed to soak as much money as possible from people.

I think another reason why LoL is so successful because it appeals to the 'midcore' and 'hardcore' players. It offers f2p, yet it brings in players that would be willing to pay from time to time. New gameplay content (characters) can be either bought with real money or earned through playing games. Skins (cosmetic only) require real money, but are completely optional and have zero affect on gameplay.

What makes LoL even better than other f2p games is that they work to improve the game and invest back into. New league ranking systems, new maps, and updating graphics and characters. None of this costs any extra money to the players.

Is Riot in it to make money? Sure, but I also believe that they're in it more so to make a great game even better. That's the difference between them and companies like EA.

Emppu Nurminen
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"The most common mistake I see in the iPhone games I download is that the games are entirely too aggressive in attempting to charge their customers. Their "free-to-play" games often ask the player to pay for more energy within five minutes of initial download."

Sir, I doubt you understand the audience that consume this model. I can't see that more than a method to cater games for people who want to be more controlled how and when they play the game. You know, spending time something silly and completely useless for couple of minutes instead of hours and then realizing "Oh, shit" (and there are still people wondering why Farmville was so huge hit with soccer-moms). Entertainment, unfortunately, is always time-consuming rather productive. From that point of view, every game that doesn't cater this sort of option, can be perceived as something negative in which you consume your precious time, when you could use that time more productive and better for human kind and community. Endless kneejerking loop, I admit, but that's the principle why these games are wildly popular despite their models. And before anyone starts to complain about "addictive" mechanics casual games uses, number of non-paying players and the rapid evolution freemium models should indicate consumers are far more critical consumers than people buying same ol' shoot-em-up FPS-games with different graphics and story.

I'm not saying F2P-models shouldn't be criticized, but I would hope the critics would have more wider perspective and some willingness to understand why people consume these games despite being so ridiculously awful simply because of the business model. It's just unproductive in so many levels.

Neil Sorens
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Game design, and more specifically, game balance, are always subservient to the business model in commercial games. Show me a F2P game, and I'll show you a game that's balanced to extract money repeatedly and endlessly rather than to provide a complete, satisfying experience. Every time I play one, I end up leaving when my enjoyment level dips below the point where it is worth the cost of continuing to play.

In short, I leave every F2P game on a low note of "this isn't fun enough anymore." And this has soured me on F2P games generally.

It's always roses for the first part, but eventually the currency/rewards/progress/etc. dries up and you have to grind and suffer, pay, or quit. And when you pay, it's never just once, in reasonable amounts proportional to the enjoyment derived. To get as much enjoyment as you would out of a normal game, you end up paying a lot more.

Candy Crush Saga? Pay 0.99 for 5 extra moves at the end of a level, or to retry a level more than 5 times in a certain window of time. I can do that in Bejeweled for free after I've paid a relatively small sum for the whole game. But some people end up paying tens or hundreds for this ability in CCS.

I much prefer the "pay $60 and get a complete experience" model, because it allows for a much greater variety of experiences.

F2P may bring in the revenue by getting lots more money from a small number of users, but the "free" experience that 90something percent of the players are getting is often training them to 1) never pay for anything, jumping from one free game to another and 2) hate games.

It may provide a boost to revenue, and everyone thinks it's great and the next big thing, but when everyone's doing it, it will dry up, and they will find that it's largely a zero sum game that does significant damage to the whole industry.

Ramin Shokrizade
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@Neil: I am impressed by your insights. Most in this industry don't think about the consequences of their actions on their consumers and the industry as a whole. They don't realize that consumers can and do adapt to deceitful business models and that this can cause an entire industry to lose profitability over time, as I explained in my 2011 "Zynga Analysis" (http://gameful.org/group/games-for-change/forum/topics/zynga-anal
ysis-1). By looking at product "A" and saying "oh my product 'B' is 5% better than product 'A' so I am going to do better than product 'A'". The problem with this logic is that if both products reduce global consumer allocated budgets by 5%, now together they are reducing their revenues by 10%. Now both "A" and "B" are doing worse than "A".

This is the effect I attempted to describe in Zynga Analysis and it is why I was able to predict the Facebook implosion years in advance. I also go into more detail as to how this works in my Supremacy Goods microeconomic model (http://gamasutra.com/view/news/177237/The_new_rules_of_monetizati
on.php#.UEs0NY1lThM)

Of course these effects take time, but so does the creation of games. If you are first in, before the consumer has time to adapt, then you are fine. Last in is going to be in a lot of pain. If Zynga had taken their assets, while they were still profitable, and switched to a different (less coercive) business model, they could have continued their ascent. This is not their current path so I don't anticipate a recovery. Electronics Arts, being "last in" risks ending one of the greatest winning streaks in our industry just because of the short sightedness of a few individuals.

Jeremiah Bond
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The world is adaptable. Whatever works now won't work tomorrow and something new will overlap it. Granted, that is if some corporation can't keep its reins on it. Which, in the world of bigger business, weaker world economics that prevents achievement by small individuals, that cycle may cease to exist for those outside that grossing indifference.

Neil Sorens
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@Ramin - Yes, you are correct. We are already seeing a flood of people all chasing the whales upon which a F2P relies for success, and they will be overfished. The flood of publishers and developers leaving console land with their wagons painted "iOS or bust" are in for a nasty shock once their games launch in the next 6-12 months and the whales don't materialize. Then they'll turn to increasingly desperate methods of monetization, stuffing their games with inescapable ads and game design whose purpose is not to entertain, but to make players reach for their wallets when their resistance is lowest. And there will be far-reaching consequences for doing this, as we learned in 1983.

Any of this sound familiar? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_video_game_crash_of_1
983

James Burns
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You are 100% correct, Neil. This is actually where I wonder if the current approach taken by many F2P games will lead to an Atari-like collapse in our industry.

Recently I had a go at a game called Pixel People on iOS. Looks great, has a cool concept, and is very intuitively designed. Good start.

And unlike many F2P games, you really can play for a significant amount of time without paying anything. It's also true to say that you can gain "energy" by viewing advertising or getting involved with surveys (all of which are really probably a bit too dodgy, actually, but that's another story).

I did play the game for a while, but as I went, I realised the absolute shallowness of the concept. It didn't hit me at first, admittedly - perhaps because I expected to be able to unravel more layers as time went by. But no - there really are no more layers.

What happens is that you essentially work to a repetitive cycle of actions stretch the experience like a rubber band. The more you play, the longer your actions take to complete (e.g. like waiting for construction or for a given item to arrive), until you reach the point where your play sessions necessarily have to retain very large gaps in order to avoid paying some serious money for "energy" (from minutes, to hours, to days, and so on).

What happens is that the game starts to be forgotten. When I look at it now, I don't have a positive feeling about it. It doesn't endear me at all, as a customer. All of the game's mechanics consist of repetitive actions that are designed to push me towards an inevitable spend of real-world money on something.

This isn't a good feeling.

Whereas, games where you pay up front seem to offer far more - specifically, I mean that the promise of a great game experience is what entices the player to fork out to buy the game. Sure, you can often buy optional components (key word being "optional"), but having already bought the game, its inherent design goal is (generally) simply to engeder fun and enjoyment. That is the vehicle through which it achieves sales.

This is not to say that all F2P games are like, say, Pixel People or SimCity Social. But those experiences have become poster children for the F2P business model - and if those games are our standard, then I think it's an impoverished business model in the long term. If nothing else, it adds nothing to the creative value of games as a medium.

I haven't yet played a F2P game that doesn't adhere to that particular model, but I would love some recommendations. As it is, my experience has been disappointing to say the least. I think that you really hit the nail on the head with your analysis.

Micah Chase
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Pay to win models breed resentment in people. Probably even in people that do pay. "Well I can't beat anyone who has payed money so I just won't pvp." This resentment will build and sooner or later depending on the person they will just decide "Why am I even playing this?" The resentment carries over to PVE as well. "That player can kill that boss so easy because he bought X".

League of Legends and more recently Path of Exile succeed because their cash models are completely cosmetic. You can be just as good as someone who has put thousands of dollars into the game. That makes people feel welcome there. They feel their time isn't being wasted.

Time is another thing. Someone spends 100 hours playing a game they now have a time investment into that game. Buying something cosmetic may not be as hard for them now because they have spent so much time playing that game.

You want the player to convince themselves spending money is a good choice. Not force them to.

James Burns
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Bingo, agree completely. Not to mention that many of these F2P games actually don't contain any of the depth of their P2P counterparts. The game I mentioned earlier - Pixel People - first appears to be a city management sim. It's not. You just keep "building" new citizens to throw into your city. Everything is automated except for the fact that you get to choose where to put buildings. But that's it. There's no ongoing "management" - just a steady ramp of repetition that leads you towards the urgent need to pay money, unless, of course, you dump the game before that (which I suspect many do).

SimCity Social is slightly better - it offers some more interaction options and such. But if you look at it as a game, it's not a city management game in any respect. Each "mission" really just involves placing a particular building that has no effect on your city or your gameplay at all - these are just money-centric rungs to climb. It's like putting extra money into a slot machine.

These kinds of game experiences really impoverish gaming in general I think, and I can't imagine that they can be sustainable in the long term. At least, I hope not.

Bob Johnson
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I hate F2P. They all seem grindy to me and I don't like having to invest time into a game to figure out what the charges are. I don't want to go to the restaurant. Wait to be seated. Get the first nibble of food for free. And then another 10 minutes later and then another 10 minutes after that. And so on. For about an hour. And then be told that it will cost x to finish my sandwich. And either you pay x, go home or continue to get your sandwich delivered one nibble at a time every 10 minutes for the next 3 hours. But it's free. What a bargain. Not.

AT the same time. I'm not going to completely write F2P off. TF2 has F2P and seems like the full game to me? But that game also sold as part of the Orange Box and sold millions before they ever went F2P.

I think I could be converted to F2P if a full fledged AAA game that I enjoyed went F2P somehow no worse for the wear. That's what I'm waiting for.

Also F2P isn't as new as some say.

My son was playing Club Penguin and stuff like that for awhile before this latest talk of F2P games.

I recognize the good aspects of F2P as in the numbers of players available to play and reaching that larger audience. But ...how come they aren't publishing revenue and profit figures? And only sighting player numbers? IT's because the latter doesn't hold a candle to today's AAA games.

I also recognize that kids might have a massively different take on this. I do remember when I had next to no money. And had lots of time on my hands to play games. I would probably be playing F2P games quite a bit. And buying less AAA games for $60. And I remember trying to get friends to play various games but they couldn't or didn't want to spend their $50 on a copy of the game. That problem doesn't exist with F2P games.

Alex Spy
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What about immersion? Thinking about your bank account while playing is like gambling. I mean do you play games any more ?

Is it legal to have children playing smurfs paying £1000? No is the answer. Legislation is already being prepared in EU and USA and it will damage the legitimate production of games. The PR disaster in the UK for free to play is becoming worse every week. There are some exceptions but FTP is last years news. It has happened before and it will happen again. Gold rush is called and all the lemmings jump of the cliff.
If I have to suggest an economic model for games I will go with one that ousts accountants from the creative process now! The biggest plague of this decade is the undead legions of accountants mumbling mho...mhh...moooonetisation. Let's play ebay ...
My son is fourteen and he stopped playing FTP after three months and most of his friends too. I am not sure where all this generation idea comes from. There are not a lot of studios who can make a LOL .... therefore FtP sounds more like scam than fun.


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