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The Shame Game: An Interview With Jesse Schell

July 16, 2013 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

Jesse Schell is well known for his discussions of monetization, gamification, achievements, and generally the systems that connect or repel games and players. As many games trend toward free-to-play and social models, his words become even more poignant.

As a person who, like many who have played games for a very long time, is somewhat dismayed by some of the monetization tactics out there, I thought I'd try to coax some ideas for positive implementations of this out of Schell. He is neither particularly for nor against them (which time proves is generally the right approach). He just wants them to be done well. And when games in general are done well, they become very positive things.

Can games and their systems lead us to utopia? Jesse Schell thinks they might.

Let's talk about humiliation tactics in games. I really don't like those myself. Like your crops whither and die -- or going back to like the Tamagotchi, when you didn't feed it, it would be all sad and covered in filth. That's depressing. I don't like negative reinforcement for not doing something that I should be enjoying. Why do you think people are so focused on that right now?

JS: The thing is, it works. So in the free-to-play world, you've got to do anything that's going to keep people coming back. And some of those things are positive reinforcement, and some of them are negative reinforcement. Obviously if you have too much negative reinforcement, people leave. But if you have a certain amount of positive reinforcement, you can put some negative reinforcement, and people don't leave.

It's not so much that people leave; they'll stay, and now you'll have more reinforcement to return than ever. What it really comes down to is designers need to optimize, they need to optimize for maximum incentives for return. So that's why.

Yeah. I just don't like it.

JS: Nope. But the thing is, do you not like it enough to stop playing?

Yes. Yes for me, but not for many others, it seems. I was talking yesterday with Phil Larsen of Halfbrick, in regard to energy systems, when there are some games that will just completely lock you out of playing it until you have paid a little bit, or you wait a long time. Some people don't seem to mind, and those people are traditionally thought of as being the folks who haven't played games really before. They are a new audience... they are the folks that haven't grown up with games. And this is really their first game experience.

JS: I think it's wrong to paint the picture that, "Oh, people are willing to tolerate this because they're naive." I think rather it's a question of how they want to play. It's hard for hardcore gamers to understand how more casual gamers want to play.

Sure.

JS: Hardcore gamers want to be like "I'm spending the weekend for 90 hours," right? Then it's like, "This is what I'm going to do." This idea of games being like, "Why don't you come back in 30 minutes?" it's repulsive to them.

But for a lot of people who are just like, "You know, I'm going to play a few minutes, I'm going to play a little bit here," and the game's like, "Hey, why don't you stop and come back later?"

That's there for two reasons. One is it's better for monetization in a free-to-play model to have people playing in little bits over a long period of time. The game wants to incentivize that. Secondly, for people who are playing kind of casually, they often appreciate it. They want a point where they can say, "oh, I should stop now. I shouldn't be doing too much of this anyway." Some people actually view it as a positive thing. They feel like it gives them a certain sense of completion. Right? "I couldn't play more now if I wanted to. And so, I'm completed. I'm stopped." But if you have the mindset that I'm going to grind through and bust this game, then it's frustrating.


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Comments


Peter Eisenmann
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Very interesting, thanks.

Two quick comments:

- The comparison of Disney World (paywall/high-end) and county fairs (microtransaction/low-end) is not really valid. The reason county fairs charge you for every ride is that they are all owned by different people, so it would be hard to distribute an entry fee to all carnies in a fair way. In Disneyworld, all the money goes into one pocket anyway.

- AAAA? Seriously? Only if consumers all of a sudden accept game prices of 200 dollars.
It could work out if there was a monopoly of a single dominating system (will not happen), or if for some reason the additional efforts of developing a game for 3 or 4 systems can be neglected in the next generation (highly unlikely).
With development budgets still rising, and the numbers sold not growing, we should be happy if we get anything that even looks somewhat better than what we currently have - which should be expected after 7 years. But that will not warrant an additional A.

The situation will not be improved by teaching the upcoming generation of gamers that their software basically should be free, which is exactly what we are doing right now.

Simon Ludgate
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"AAAA? Seriously? Only if consumers all of a sudden accept game prices of 200 dollars."

Ironically, a lot of F2P games now are launching with "founders packs" or whatever that cost exactly that: $200.

https://warframe.com/founders

http://nw.perfectworld.com/neverwinterpack

(Firefall is only $100) https://accounts.firefallthegame.com/purchases/specialty_packs

(Path of Exile offers a $12,500 pack though!) https://www.pathofexile.com/purchase

(Also, some MMOs, such as LOTRO and STO, offered Lifetime subscriptions for $200)

Of course, these are all F2P: a small portion of the players will pay the $200, and other players pay other amounts. So I guess your point remains valid: would anyone pay $200 for a non-F2P?

Robert Green
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The disneyworld/county-fair comparison also isn't valid because neither is free, and also because they generally don't compete against each other directly.
Free is a completely different price than any number of dollars, and having to compete against a practically endless supply of free games means that paid software on iTunes seems to be dying out (and on Google Play it probably already has).
For now it appears that there's still some portion of gamers willing to spend money on high-quality games, but let's look at a recent example in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It was a high-profile release, got great reviews, and launched in the top 10 grossing games in the US. Pretty good, right? Except that a few weeks later it's about to leave the top 200, while a game like Clash of Clans hasn't left the top 5 since last September. I'm not sure this counts as two different markets coexisting. More like one market existing while another pops around for lunch occasionally.

Ardney Carter
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" I'm not sure this counts as two different markets coexisting."

Not if you focus only on that ecosystem. Look at the other platforms X-COM sold on and the numbers it did there and you will see the other market.

Some people want to game on mobile and prefer a certain type of experience.
Some people want to game on consoles/PC and prefer a certain type of experience.
There will be some overlap. But they are largely 2 separate markets after 2 separate types of experiences and need to be treated appropriately.

Stephen Horn
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I think the Disney World/county fair comparison is perfectly valid.

Of course county fairs don't compete with pay-to-enter theme parks. One can't honestly say that FarmVille is competing with Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed, either. I also think it's wrong to look at iTunes or Google Play to try and invalidate the comparison between AAA theme parks and county fairs, because iTunes and Google Play don't have AAA games like GTA V; they have Angry Birds. And just like how you don't see a wide spectrum of theme parks that exist between the local county fair and a AAA operation like Six Flags, the spectrum between Angry Birds and Assassin's Creed is vanishing, and has been for a long time. The county fair on iTunes is getting better, because the technology to build and maintain the rides is getting cheaper, but to the extent that encroaches on the Six Flags locations from EA, it will simply force EA to step up the quality of their experience to justify the paywall.

I think the theme park analogy is actually really adept, because we can see how titles like Dead Space 3 are trying to work in a video game equivalent to concession stands or carnival games, which is proving to be a painful transition because video games are evolving from the opposite direction of theme parks - instead of starting F2P and evolving the AAA offerings into paywalls, games largely started as paywalls and the casual titles are evolving towards F2P.

Imagine the consumer backlash if theme parks had started as paywall experiences that were free to enjoy once you were in, and only later tried to integrate microtransaction add-ons, like concession stands. Of course, the hard-core theme park fans would balk at the notion of paying for soft drinks, because they used to be free. Or they would balk at the new funnel cake shop costing extra money even if the soft drinks remained free, because they used to be able to enjoy everything for free after the one up-front cost. Obviously, it's because the theme park owners were trying to be greedy, or because the F2P county fairs were starting to ruin the theme park industry by luring away casuals and forcing the AAA theme parks to monetize more of their parks in order to stay solvent.

Robert Green
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@Ardney "There will be some overlap. But they are largely 2 separate markets after 2 separate types of experiences and need to be treated appropriately."

I agree, but I think that's irrelevant. A few years ago those same casual mobile gamers were willing to pay (even if only a dollar or two) upfront for games, and now they don't seem to be. That's the effect of having free games competing in the same market as paid games.

Until very recently, I wouldn't have said that F2P games really competed in the same market as paid games on PC. F2P generally referred to either facebook games or MMO's that failed at a subscription model. But that's clearly changing now, and many studios are looking at bringing F2P to high-end PC gaming. Take a look at the stats menu in steam right now - the most popular game, by some margin, is the F2P DOTA2, with the F2P team fortress 2 currently in 3rd. And that doesn't measure LOL players, which apparently number in the tens of millions.

This is happening, and I'm not sure it can be stopped.

Ardney Carter
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OK, I missed your meaning the 1st time RE: which gamers weren't willing to pay. I believe I see what you were saying now, thanks for the clarification.

Robert Green
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Right, XCOM may not have been the best example, since it's probably not what most people are looking for in a phone game. A better example might be Icebreaker: A Viking Voyage. This is a casual puzzle game, was the first game from Rovio's new publishing program and also got good reviews (currently sitting at 87 on metacritic), so you'd expect it to do fairly well. In the paid game download charts it did, for a week at least. But in the top-grossing charts, it barely made an impact, and one week later it left the top-100 grossing chart in the US. I have to imagine that if Angry Birds had launched in this environment, something similar would have happened.

Also, I checked Steam again and TF2 had jumped up to 2nd place. Add in LoL and the multitude of F2P MMO's and it looks like free-to-play has already taken a fairly large chunk of the high-end PC gaming market. It's not going to take the rest as fast as it did on mobile, if only because these games take a lot more time and money to make, but it's hard to imagine it not continuing.

Bram Stolk
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About what you call 'negative reinforcement'...
Games need moments of severe setbacks, wiping out progress, and such.
Those things enhance the euphoria of the moments when you *do* get it right.
Easy games with only rewards will not induce the same high.

Kenan Alpay
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I agree, but these moments need to be tempered with the expectations of the audience in question. Games that contain a lot of negative reinforcement appeal to certain audiences, but other audiences want an experience that drives them forward no matter how they perform.

It's similar to movie audiences, where some audiences will want a more esoteric, "deep" film, and others just want the story laid out in black and white. The amount of "work" a person is willing to put into getting the most out of experience varies.

Katy Smith
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There's also a big difference between negative reinforcement and punishment. Negative reinforcement is trying to make a behavior happen more frequently by applying an annoyance (think of the ding that goes off when you try driving without your seat belt on), where punishment is trying to get a behavior to stop. We need to be careful with stuff like wiping progress so that players don't feel like they are being punished for playing / exploring.

Adam Bishop
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"Games need moments of severe setbacks, wiping out progress, and such."

Not true, I've played plenty of good games that never wipe out progress. Adventure and puzzle games would be the most obvious of these. Sports and racing games would be other good examples (if I lose a game in NHL13 I just play the next one). Animal Crossing, which has gotten a lot of coverage here lately, never punishes the player. Games that are about killing things necessarily involve the kinds of punishments you're talking about, but there are plenty of other kinds of games that are still lots of fun without them.

David Serrano
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@Katy Smith

Negative reinforcement is the threat of losing something of value if a specific type of behavior is exhibited. Punishment is to remove something of value when a specific type of behavior is exhibited. So the threat of having your freedom taken away if you break the law is negative reinforcement while having your freedom taken away for breaking the law is punishment.

Jeff Alexander
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@David Serrano:

Not true.

Punishment's purpose is to make a behavior less common.
Positive punishment is when you add something unpleasant.
Negative punishment is when you remove something pleasant.

Reinforcement's purpose is to make a behavior more common.
Positive reinforcement is when you add something pleasant.
Negative reinforcement is when you remove something unpleasant.

David Serrano
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@Bram Stolk

1 - The function of a game is to add structure, boundaries and rules to play. When the rules and requirements of a game fundamentally conflict with what the player defines as play, the player will react negatively and or stop viewing the game as play. So what games "need" should be determined by what average person in the audience will embrace as play, not by what a subsegment of people define as a game.

2 - The fact that one player type is motivated to play by a desire to experience fiero or "the euphoria of the moments when you *do* get it right" does not by default mean all the other player types share this desire. There's research which has found a large percentage of players in all markets actively avoid games they associate with fiero. Because to induce that high, you must also induce a high level of stress which many people find undesirable.

David Serrano
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@Jeff Alexander

Incorrect. The purpose of negative reinforcement is to reduce the likelihood of, or prevent undesired behavior from occurring. The purpose of punishment is to reduce the likelihood of, or prevent undesired behavior from reoccurring. The purpose of positive reinforcement is to increase the likelihood of desired behavior occurring and reoccurring. This can be applied in a three stage model: S1>R>S2. S1 = Present a choice: A. follow the law, B. break the law. A will not result in punishment. B will result in punishment, i.e. a fine or jail. R = the choice. S2 = No punishment is applied for choosing A, punishment is applied for choosing B.

The negative consequence of B is negative reinforcement. The mental connection between B and a negative consequence reduces the likelihood, or prevents the undesired choice. S2, in this case is positive reinforcement. The avoidance of punishment acts as a reward. This creates the mental connection between A and the desired outcome: retaining your money or freedom. The positive association increases the likelihood the desired choice will reoccur.

If R = B, S2 is the removal of something of value, i.e. money or freedom. Or if you prefer, the introduction of something undesired, i.e. a lower savings account balance or jail time. After punishment is applied, it reverts back to negative reinforcement: choose B again and you'll be punished again. Positive punishment is confusing because it is punishment by definition. Its punishment for what may be perceived as desired behavior but is really not. Getting fined for not curbing a dog is punishment for undesired behavior whereas being ticketed for running red lights while rushing a sick dog to the vet would be positive punishment.

Katy Smith
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@ David Serrano

I think you have reinforcement confused with extinction based on your examples. the purpose of reinforcement is to *increase* the likelihood that a behavior will happen again. The purpose of punishment is to *decrease* the likelihood of a recurrence of a behavior. In psychology terms, positive means to add something and negative means to take something away. If you think of it as two axes where reinforcement / punishment are one axis and positive / negative is the other, it's a little bit easier to remember.

So lets look at them individually:

Reinforcement - Remember, this is about making behaviors happen more frequently.

Positive Reinforcement - This means to add (to help remember it, these are all synonyms: +, positive, add) something when a behavior occurs to get it to happen again. A real-world example would be getting a gold star in class for doing well on a test. In games, "ding! Level up, Grats!" or getting an achievement is an example of positive reinforcement.

Negative Reinforcement - This is accomplished by making the person remove (-, remove, negative) a negative stimulus to increase a desired behavior. In my previous post I said the car going "ding!" until your seat belt is secured is an example of NR. In Animal Crossing, the game will add weeds to your town if you leave it for too long. Adding the annoying weeds is supposed to make the player return to the game so that they go away.

Punishment - Punishment is trying to make behaviors happen less frequently.

Negative Punishment - This is the removal (-, remove, subtract, negative) of something that makes a behavior less likely to occur. Sending a child to time-out because he was acting up is a real-world example of negative punishment. In games, negative punishment would be getting forced into a queue if you AFK during a PvP match.

Positive Punishment - This is the addition of a stimulus to decrease the frequency of a behavior. If you get a speeding ticket, the city is adding (+) a fine to prevent you from speeding again in the future. In games, durability loss (the addition of a fee to keep your equipment up to par) when dying is positive punishment.

I'm not surprised you were confused. It's a very common mistake people make, since positive also means "good" and negative can mean "bad".

So now that that's out of the way, some games thrive on punishment. Limbo is a game that is constantly punishing the player. While I appreciate that game's design, and I think it's an excellent game, I can't stand playing it because I don't want to feel like I'm constantly doing something wrong.

I believe Adam Bishop said that Animal Crossing is a game that has no punishment at all. I agree with that. It is never trying to get you to stop doing something, only to get you to do more of many different things.

As game developers, we need to be careful when using punishment in games. When people are punished, they are more likely to look for ways to not be punished in the future, which is like "duh, Katy, you spent too much money on your psych degree". However, what that means is that if a player can get around the punishment and still continue the same behavior, it will continue (or worse, be reinforced 0_0). This is where exploits come from.

References:
Sorry these are wikipedia links. I would normally go to a more reliable source.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinforcement
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extinction_(psychology)

Ben Lewis-Evans
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I just wanted to chime in to say that Katy Smith and Jeff Alexander are correct in terms of what negative reinforcement is.

The way that Katy Smith suggests to remember the differences in terms of changing "positive" to "+" and "negative" to "-" (meaning that you have "additive reinforcement/punishment" or "subtractive reinforcement/punishment") is one way I teach my Introductory to Psychology students as a trick to help remember the difference.

I also suggest that generally it can be helpful to use the terms "reward" and "penalty" when talking about these kind of things and don't worry about the whole negative/positive reinforcement/punishment stuff.

This is not only because it helps with the whole confusing positive/negative thing but also because the definitions of a reinforcement/punishment are somewhat circular (i.e. technically speaking something must actually increase the probability of behaviour being performed in the future in order to be considered a reinforcement and something must actually decrease the probability of a behaviour being performed in the future in order to be a punishment, which is only something you know after the fact) whereas "reward" or "penalty" are a bit more clear in terms of intent.

David Serrano
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@Katy Smith & Ben Lewis-Evans

Thanks for the response. As someone who doesn't have a psych degree (but hopes to in the near future), the correct terminology can seem like semantics.

Is the purpose of attaching a negative consequence to breaking a rule to strengthen obedience? Or to weaken rule breaking? It seems like semantics because either way, avoidance of the negative consequence is the motivation for the behavior. I don't however understand how the removal of something is negative reinforcement. Every reference source I can find defines it as stopping or removing something but every example is based on avoidance.

I liked the car going ding, ding, ding example. But... lol, the annoying alert is triggered when the seat belt isn't fastened within 20 or 30 seconds of putting the key in the ignition. So the alert is the response to the failure to detect the desired behavior in time. Does this make the alert negative reinforcement or punishment? Does it strengthen safe behavior or weaken unsafe behavior?

Ben Lewis-Evans
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@David Serrano

The whole reinforcement/punishment thing all depends on what the actual outcome is. If the behaviour you, as the person delivering the reinforcement/punishment, want to change (the target behaviour) becomes more probable in the future then you gave a reinforcement, if it becomes less probable you gave a punishment. That is one of the issues with the terms, they can only be applied after the fact when you have actually seen the outcome, i.e. did it change the target behaviour in the way that was intended.

This means you can get in situations where you are trying to give a punishment but end up giving a reinforcer, or vice versa. The classical example is if you are trying to apply a negative (subtractive) punishment on a child in order to get them to be quiet, so you take away (subtract) their favourite toy. However, in doing so you have possibly actually provided a positive (additive) reinforcement in terms of interacting and giving attention to the child. So if the child continues to make noise then you have actually provided a reinforcement, however, if they stop then you have applied a punishment.

So, again, it is the outcome that matters in terms of determining if it is a reinforcement/punishment. You are also absolutely correct that in complex real life situations it can be hard to determine if you have punished or reinforced, let alone if it was negative or positive.

Again, I suggest that it can sometimes be easier to talk about the intent in terms of if you are rewarding something (say by giving points) or applying a penalty (say by having plants wither if you don't water them in a game). Then after the fact you can look at what the behavioural outcome was if you like and decide if what you did was reinforcement or punishment.

David Serrano
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@Ben Lewis-Evans

Thanks so much, perfect explanation!

Eric Finlay
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I like the comment that some developers really don't like the F2P model. Part of this probably comes from the sense of tricking/manipulating the player and another part from the added complexity to the game. Balance, tone, pace and difficulty curves are hard to get right; I can only imagine how hard they are to get right when some players buy items (and not always the same item). Hopefully a better monetization model will come along.

Samuel Green
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From my own experience, the dislike just comes from my love of games as a player. Having to design stuff with arbitrary friction (like long time delays, asking friends or paywalls) just feels bad because as a player I hate that stuff. Admittedly, the more experience I get in F2P, the more I started to appreciate some forms of friction over others as both a designer and a player.

As a player: Time delays, like Jesse said, aren't so bad. In fact, I kind of like them because it constrains my play session (giving me a short, focused dose of fun) and gives me something to look forward to tomorrow. Lots of non-F2P friends of mine still find it hard to understand that appointment gameplay does have its merits... even as a hardcore player myself. Asking friends for stuff and flat pay walls are not so fun and it's obvious that players don't like it either... looking at the designs of Clash of Clans or Candy Crush (the latter introduces it VERY late).

As a designer: Designing these 'arbitrary' systems is a challenge and quite fun in its own regard (if a little insidious at times). Knowing how far you can push a player without them getting frustrated is a challenge, trying to balance the play session times for various features for both non-spenders and whales is impossibly difficult... in fact, half the trouble I have is designing things for non-spenders and spenders because of the gulf between them.

This all sounds awful and along the lines of 'evil F2P boooo' (which half of GDC was about this year) but these are just some added extras to deal with. The core gameplay IS still designed to be fun and exciting and a worthwhile experience... at least that's always my number 1 goal despite working in F2P. If a designer isn't designing a fun core experience then I can see why they don't like working in this model.

Rosstin Murphy
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I really do hope we find a better monetization model.

I agree with Samuel that time delays can be fun, but F2P in general hasn't grown on me much, despite having invested some time into playing quite a few F2P games.

Rosstin Murphy
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I liked the dragon/axe example, very sneaky.

Michael Joseph
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I like sneaky games... where my character is doing the sneaking. Games that sneak up on my wallet can jump in a lake.

Developers do have a choice on what types of business models they use. The pro-F2P folks like to suggest there is this inevitable inertia with F2P and that developers will have to choose between their ethics\integrity and putting food on the table. What a bunch of baloney that is.

We can look upon the rise of F2P as a microcosm of our general collective failures to do the right things in life or prioritize the things that are most important.

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David Serrano
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For a developer to treat you unfairly by selling buffs or perks, the items would need to allow those players to break the rules of the game. What the items actually do is allow them to violate the spirit of the game, i.e. you must work to earn buffs or perks. This understandably upsets many multiplayer fans but I'm not sure engaging in griefing or spoilsport behavior helps your argument as it also violates the spirit of the game.

Also, let's be honest... you'll never generate the massive level of negative attention it will take to get a corporation to change a business practice or policy by griefing. The only outcome will be getting banned. If you truly want to effect change take to social media and build a following for the cause. If you build enough support, they'll be forced to at least acknowledge your complaint.

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Megan Swaine
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Thank you, Jesse Schell.

He's right on the money when it comes to the challenge of making game types that are traditionally paid into F2P- it ain't easy! I think it's largely because many of the people developing F2P games have a background in traditional game development, and are just trying to use their own experience.

Make something that uses a pre-established F2P formula, and your game might not stick out; try something really new and fun and it might not monetize the way that it should.

Jason Seip
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The trend I see on mobile is that good, original games come with a purchase price. In my experience, if your game is unique, you can charge for it (for example, Hundreds, Super Hexagon, Sword & Sworcery, etc). The f2p games I've come across rely on familiar game play packaged in high-quality artwork to easily draw in a lot of players.

I think f2p will evolve to be the domain of larger developers, ones who can dedicate the resources to create large amounts of content, and possess the infrastructure necessary for maintaining a pay-for-play environment that never runs out ways to coerce ever more money from players.

If a developer's game provides a fresh experience that can't be had anywhere else, it's totally worth the money. And frankly, the more f2p games I play, the more I want to just buy games that are actually worth my time. I can only hope that many others come the same conclusion.

Donald Robinson
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I played DDO between 2009-2012 (roughly between it going f2p and the first expansion). In the beginning, f2p DDO was mostly free from the pay2win/moneygame sin. It was not without other sins, such as *pretending* to be pay2win/moneygame to newbies and offering vendor trash for real money (you don't want to know how often I saw +1 store bought gear on my.ddo.com. However cheap it was, it didn't make sense since you receive something just as good in 5 minutes (after unloseable introductory quest) and quite inferior to the item you would get after 4 quests (easily under half an hour), at least against the primary beginner foe.

As the game progressed, both the players and Turbine learned how the game should work. One thing Turbine quickly removed was the leveling tokens. Leveling tokens worked as "pay to uncap" every 4 levels or so. The lowest level tokens always fell before you needed one, the second lowest had a simple grind to get, rumor had it the next few didn't drop at all, but they were removed long before I needed them.

Part of the reason that a la carte worked in DDO was that many of the players had bought D&D books in fairly similar ways. Unlike DDO, the base D&D costs was fairly expensive, but both required costs for non-base races and classes (D&D would sell you hardbound books containing rules for such things). As mentioned in the article, quests (actually groups of quests) are sold individually much like the paperback modules that all my money seemed to be spent on in 1980-1982. What wasn't included in the article was that you can buy a "one time ticket" (called a guest pass) for someone to play an adventure once, for quite a bit less than the cost of the adventure (I can't say I've bought any, and it seems to add more grief than its worth).

The best part about the a la carte system is that you can pretty much fix a budget to what you need and then buy that (note that if you are going to be using alts you will need a shared bank. You have been warned). After getting my feet wet in Neverwinter, it became painfully obvious that there was no obvious "pay this amount and get x". DDO does have free dungeons, but they become fewer and more far between as you advance in level and never have quite as good loot as the paid stuff. While f2p purists might claim that using such paid gear is "paying to win", it never seems to be a moneygame. It was fairly obvious how much you need to pay to compete with the subscribers (aka VIP) and once you coughed up that much (which could be under $100 if purchased wisely: later, with much, much, more content it looked like you could buy "everything (that is run regularly by your guild)" for $120 during the expansion [the expensive option included a ton of quests, and adding a $50 buy added something like 120,000TP giving you enough guest buying currency to buy the rest (plus the mandatory shared bank and any races and classes you wanted)].

Unfortunately, Turbine is well aware that a MMO's life span is not forever, and is willing to take the money "off the table" even if it kills DDO. Some of the pay2win items added include tomes (+2 were available pretty much from day 1, but +3 were "raid loot" for years. I think +5 tomes are in the store now), store SP pots (these are gamebreaking. SP [mana] doesn't recharge in a quest, and is particularly expensive to restore. DDO doesn't include timers in almost any quests or raids, so they are typically limited by the amount of SP the casters [mostly read cleric, but if your wizards and sorcerers run out you will feel it as well]. Store bought SP pots change all that by allowing a [cleric] to instantly recharge by quite a bit for real money. The worst part of this is when clerics (especially in PUG raids) are expected to do the same (note that weaker pots are available for in game gold. I've sent more than a few of these to clerics who pointed out they used them). Finally I should mention the debacle of beholder pots and level drain pots. Beholder pots were an early pay2win item that really stuck in my craw because of the advertising campaign that stressed how cool it was to fight beholders in DDO. Now they were selling pay2win pots to faceroll those very beholders. Uncool. Even worse were the level drain pots. In early copies of [A]D&D, getting level drained was a fate nearly as bad as death. You were suddenly, horribly, weakened. The only thing to do (assuming it was only a few levels, vampires could drop 2 every hit) was to keep adventuring and _s l o w l y_ catch up to the rest of the party. I'm sure they counted on this fear to sell such pots in DDO where even if you couldn't afford to wait a minute for it to wear off, you could buy restoration potions in the marketplace with in game plat. The real trick was that they spammed the ad for it every time you got level drained right in your field of vision. This is what it looked like:
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So once you were level drained you got to fight while looking through the semi-transparent pay2win ad the whole time. In turbine's defense, I don't think it lasted long (I'm sure much of the rest of the ads spammed around the the sides of the screen are still there).

The things that pretty much caused me to leave are twofold. First, they added something called bravery bonus that allowed large parties of skilled and geared characters to rocket through the leveling process as long as they kept the difficulty high. The catch is that to do this, you needed to be a subscriber (at least 1 member of the party needed to be a subscriber to start at the highest level. Otherwise you had to work your way up, and once you started at lower level you killed your bonus streak). Turbine eventually relented and allowed TRs (capped characters who elected to start at level 1 again for tiny bonuses) to open at harder difficulty (TR once: open on hard, TR twice: open on elite). For those like myself who never bothered to TR, it meant that the only way I could keep up was to rent content I already owned. A bit of a slap in the face, no?

The other thing that caused me to leave was just how badly the expansion was designed. Forget the fact that the halo raid would be an escort quest, the new leveling system was braindead. Each class was given an "epic destiny". Unfortunately, my characters had essentially unuseable destinies and would have to pay through the nose to use other characters destinies. This type of thing was similar to the feeling I would later get with Neverwinter - I had no idea when I would have to stop paying to work around Turbine's idiotic ideas. The given destiny for a ranger as for archers. Unfortunately, there are two ways to build rangers in DDO and I have always favored the swordsmen. Of course, if you want the fighter destiny, you will have to pay for it (and don't expect it to work for you the way it does for fighters. You aren't playing the game right and deserve to suffer for choosing the "wrong" path (note, this isn't quite accurate. There are three ways to make a ranger in DDO, but the deepwood archer option has been broken since it was released sometime in 2008). To improve on the ironies, my other favorite high level character was a sorcerer (the ranger had been nerfed so hard it rarely came out to play). Sorcerers also get little love from their destiny. One thing they get plenty of is extra "caster levels". This would be fine except that ice sorcerers such as myself have *absolutely zero spells that an extra caster level would improve* (polar ray being the only one that goes above 20, and ice sorcs already have that). The destiny sorcerers use is (go ahead, guess) RANGER! Yes, the ultimate truth behind waving your hands to pull raw power from just how cool you are can only be found in pretending to use a bow (pew, pew, pew). The point is that the ranger destiny has a random attack that has no saving throw (can not be resisted) and scales with a sorcerers spell bonuses. And you guessed it, you have to pay extra to use the ranger destiny instead of the sorcerer. Quite frankly, it was never clear just how many options you would have to buy from the store to make things work. One favorite item (the shears of fate) appeared utterly useless, but became popular due to an undocumented feature (this was later patched back to its documented uselessness). I have no idea if the brief period of high sales was intended.


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