Ben Cousins has been a staunch advocate of the free-to-play and freemium models for quite some time, and he's not shy about his prediction that F2P will eventually sink the traditional console market.
His studio, Scattered Entertainment, has bet the farm on core-oriented mobile free-to-play, so it's no surprise that Cousins is all-in with the idea. And he has an answer to my every challenge. What of precision issues? Cousins says mobile is potentially more precise than consoles. What about regressive monetization schemes? Cousins says we're beyond them. What about browser and Facebook games? Cousins says their time has passed, along with Flash as a platform for building games. And the traditional publishers get no love, either. Cousins says a new model will rise to take their place.
We spoke with the always-firey Cousins about all these issues, how how he feels they may shape our industry in the years to come.
Sometimes I wonder how some of these free-to-play games make money. Jetpack Joyride, for example, is a well-designed, contained experience that I can just keep playing through, beating challenges and such.
I've never once been compelled to spend money; I get enough in-game money through playing to buy items and whatnot. How is it consistently a top grossing app? It doesn't make any sense; there's no need to spend money.
BC: When you look at those types of mobile games, the more casual mobile games, a very, very small proportion of the audience are spending money. It's a tiny bit of portion of the audience, and they're spending like 20 bucks a day or something like that. So there are these outlying players whom, for them, their entire hobby, their main hobby in life is Jetpack Joyride. There are these kinds of people with a real passion, and it's unusual from a statistical point of view maybe, but it actually drives the whole game, kind of.
What you see in core freemium games is a much higher rate of people converting to spend, and those people are spending a lot more money. So it's a lot more analogous to a traditional model, where if you're playing the game, you know a lot of people who've spent money, and it's much more acceptable and normal to spend money. I think for games like Jetpack Joyride, Temple Run, a lot of the iOS games, they are not doing a great job of monetizing, because they've got great user volume, but they're not concentrating on adding monetization in a way that really adds value to the game, in my opinion.
So for me, one of the big goals with freemium is to get the user volume that you get on social games and mobile games, but with the monetization rates that you get on core games. And at that point you can basically start spending a hundred million dollars a year, like on Call of Duty. If I can download a game for free, which is as high quality as Gears of War, then I'm more likely to monetize it. But it's not that -- you can't really start to spend that money until people are monetizing it. And when I talk about monetizing, this is consumer-driven behavior; we're past that stage of cynically manipulating people, I think.
I would say the better games are. Some companies are still definitely trying to manipulate people.
BC: Don't get me wrong -- when I say "we" I'm talking about those of us that have been doing it for five years. We're past stage 1, 2, 3, and 4 of monetization, and we're thinking about how we can really create a positive value out of the experience for players. The game that we're working on, you can't directly purchase any content in the game -- you have to play to get the content -- and the monetization is around speeding that up and making it more convenient. And that would be one of the stages that we're getting to.
Yeah, time and convenience certainly seems like the thing that people have been doing, but I'm not a big fan of that, so I hope there will be a next stage beyond that as well.
One thing I've been watching... core games have traditionally been about control and ability. You know, "I have the reflexes and the foresight to do this move at this time," and it's been very difficult to replicate that on mobile so far, Super Hexagon aside.
What I've seen when people do is games with a core-oriented graphic style andsimilar mentality, but they don't have the mechanics that a core player might expect. How could that be achieved in something that is as imprecise as gesture and touch?
BC: I actually think that, in some respects, gesture and touch is more precise than a joystick. You've got a very -- I don't know the exact resolution of the touch grid on an iPad -- but if you think about any shooter, being able to shoot almost every single pixel on screen with a single touch if you were doing a tap-to-shoot mechanic, that's much more precise than having to use a spring-loaded joystick to kind of drag a gun over to the top left hand corner and shoot.
So it's kind of roundabout; there's a balance between a lack of precision on one hand and then an increase in precision on another. I just think that we're at the stage where people are still learning how they're going to do this, and I think that we're realizing that virtual sticks -- and to a degree virtual buttons -- are not the correct way to do it. I think that something like Infinity Blade is a starting point; definitely not a perfect implementation of how you do that, but it's definitely a starting point.
One of the things that we're doing on our project is trying to do exactly that. And it's a skill-based game, so we are betting a large degree on the ability for us to pull off a skill-based scenario used to describe the sort of thing that you could post a video on YouTube about and people would be extremely impressed by it, by just using touch. I think it's just not been done; no one's done it yet.
And the analogy we always make is around shooters on console, that shooters on console were not very successful, apart from GoldenEye, until Halo. But GoldenEye still controls really fantastic, and Bungie made a big investment on R&D and also in usability testing in order to create a control system for shooters to ensure that product would be a success.
And everyone else has stolen, maybe not the button mapping, but the way that the relationship between stick movement and camera acceleration and sticky aiming and all those other things; and reduced field of view, only two weapons, rechargeable health. And I think that we're going to see some tent pole titles on mobile which define how you do shooters, how you do Diablo-style games, how you do RTSes, et cetera.