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Soon,  all  games will be free-to-play, says Machine Zone's CEO
Soon, all games will be free-to-play, says Machine Zone's CEO Exclusive
June 14, 2012 | By Brandon Sheffield




Some argue that free-to-play games exploit their customers, but Machine Zone (formerly Addmired) CEO Gabriel Leydon says it's the console industry that's exploitive, and disrespectful of its clientele.

Machine Zone is finding success with its mobile games, such as iMob and Global War, and Leydon doesn't just think free-to-play games are a possible future. He thinks they will be the entire industry. He argues further that games might eventually pay you to play them. With the Facebook free model, where you the consumer are essentially the product (via metrics and ad data), he might not be far off.

Though this author strongly resists the idea that paying for a product outright will go away forever, with indie game developers especially thriving on the pay once model, Leydon makes a compelling case. If China never had a retail model for games, and never will, and is predicted to be one of the largest game markets in the world in the short term, what does that say about the future of the single-pay model?

Free-to-play is clearly the way to make money on the mobile platforms right now, but some have argued it may be the future of consoles, as well. What do you think?

I think it's the only way to make money in video games. There's a lot of backlash against free-to-play, especially from the traditional game industry, because they don't understand it. They feel like free-to-play is somehow tricking consumers or some people are spending too much money. But the way I look at it is the console industry is actually the abusive industry. Not free-to-play. Console treats its customers like they're their enemy. They are angry at them for selling games they don't like back to Gamestop. Gamestop won't help the video game industry make money on used games.

It's like this big warzone against the customer as if the customer is doing something wrong by buying a $70 game that they end up not liking the next day. And you can kind of see this phenomenon when a game like Call Of Duty comes out, and the next the day the used section is nothing but Call Of Duty. So, what you have is a very large percentage of the Call Of Duty buyers who don't like the game and they spent $70 on it and they can only get so much retail value because they use that online pass and the used game, the Gamestop guy is saying, "Hey, this game is only worth $20 now."

So, what happened to that consumer? Nobody is feeling bad for them. Nobody is saying, "Hey, they just wasted $50 on something they don't like." The console industry celebrates that. They're happy about that.

Well, I wouldn't say they're happy about it. And besides, the console industry is also doing digital downloadable stuff which is sold at one price. You could also argue that the traditional console industry is moving in a player-friendly direction.

That's not true. There's rumors of the next Xbox not even being able to play a used game. I remember when I used to be able to return a game. It used to be possible to return a video game. People forget that. If you didn't like something you could take it right back to Toys 'R' Us and get your money back. The video-game industry should be encouraging used sales. They should be encouraging refunds. But they're so locked into this model of selling people sequels year after year after year that they feel like, "Well, if the player doesn't like it, that's their problem."

I don't know that they'd want to encourage returns, though, because you can't go see the new Mission Impossible and be like, " I didn't like that movie! I'm gonna take my time back."

No, that's great that you bring that up because the movie industry is having the exact same problem. They have movies that are available for free online through piracy and they're saying, "Well, we can't compete with free so what we're going to do is we're going to put everything in IMAX and 3D, and it's going to be higher quality and that's going to be why you're going to pay $20 instead of $5 like you used to." It's not working. The music industry had the same problem. With MP3s, remember Napster? MP3 quality sucked. It was terrible! But yet it was destroying the CD industry. The quality didn’t matter. It was just the fact that it was free. It was a lower-quality version of the same media but it was still free. And now if you listen to an MP3 it sounds just as good a CD. You can't tell the difference.

So, free-to-play is the MP3 of the video game business. It is right now a lower quality than console but it's making money and it's growing like crazy and consumers are liking the fact that they can play a game for months at a time without ever spending a dime. So, the economic model is far superior to console, which just can't compete. But the last thing console can hold onto is the quality, but the quality is also ratcheting up pretty fast on the free-to-play with games like League Of Legends and now CryEngine is being used for free-to-play. There's no room for a paid upfront game anymore.

I kind of disagree with that -- well, indies for instance have had great success with that, and bundles are huge right now.

Sure, sure. Because of deflation, right? They're paying less up front.

Sometimes. Some people are and some people aren't.

Well, Minecraft is much cheaper than a console game. The trend is still headed towards zero.

I think there are going to continue to be people who want to have an experience that isn't related to in-game monetization.

I just don't think so because there's this idea that the way free-to-play is how it's going to be forever.

Of course it's going to change.

If you look at it just three years ago, how much different it is from three years ago to now? It's much better than it was three years ago, that whole SMS scam that Zynga was caught up with. Free-to-play is already significantly better from where it was three years ago, and where it's going to be three years from now is going to be much better than where it is today. I think there's a lot of projection as if what's happening is how it's going to be forever. That's not true.

Obviously it's been changing for a long time because it really started in 1999 in Korea and it's certainly not now where it was then.

A country like China will never have a paid market.

Sure, because they never did.

And they never will. So, to say that the largest consumer country, in the near future, in the world, will never have pay-to-play market – that's pretty important. That's really important. If you have companies chasing worldwide markets because the Internet allows you to make a game for every culture, every country, and to say one of the biggest ones is only free to play and that won't happen everywhere else? I don't think that's true. I think it's going to happen everywhere.

It's hard for me to think that paying once for a game is going to disappear entirely.

I think you'll play games that you'll never pay for. I think you're going to be playing games where the game pays you to play. So, this idea that it's stopping at zero is also wrong. So, you have things like Tapjoy, where people are downloading apps – there's a small amount of work – but they're not paying anything. The other games are literally paying that player just to try out their game. So, I think we're going negative. I think we're going below zero in the future.


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Comments


Dave Bellinger
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I think you can also generate a lot of money in the movie industry by making a lot of "Not Another Teen Movie/Date Movie/Epic Movie/Scary Movie" movies and having an extremely small budget for it.

Sometimes it's not just about making money, though.

k s
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Another guy who makes F2P games saying they are the future...

Mike Lopez
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And another person who makes retail games saying F2P is not the future and denying Retail Console distribution is dramatically contracting.

Johnny LaVie
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@mike:

I didn't know you knew the future of game distribution with 100% certainty! Amazing!

Joe McGinn
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Ya ... I am working on a free-to-play game and I thought the article was full of hyperbole. It's highly unlikely the paid-product model will ever disappear.

Furthermore, I argue that the first generation of free-to-play, what you got and still get on Facebook, was highly exploitative and in most if not all cases was closer to slot machine than game design, with the "games" being little more than manipulative loss-aversion compulsion-loop skinner boxes, a tendency which actual gamers have become highly adept at sniffing out (and rejecting).

I distinguish between that and "core free-to-play" like League of Legends, TF2 et all. In this new venue - being led exclusively by those traditional developers who apparently "don't get" ftp, I would point out - there are core values that are leading to explosive growth in this particular sector. Values like
- Respect for the gamer. Build a game, not a slot machine.
- Actual gameplay value for free - deep, real gameplay to non-paying customers.

As quick as gamers are to reject Facebook compulsion loops, they instantly found the immense value offering in LoL and TF2. And here's the kicker: Valve reports these gamers payment conversion % on order of magnitude above Facebook developers, who can only dream about Valve's 20+% of TF2 players who choose to spent money at some point.

So it seems like those traditional developers who "don't get it" are on to something. What they are onto is gameplay. What they have discovered: built it, and they will come. Furthermore, just like the book I'm referencing: build it, and they will pay!

And still, now we've found a respectful, sustainable, fast-growing way forward in core free-to-play (needs a better name) it would still be absurd to argue that ALL games will use this one specific business model.

JB Vorderkunz
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At the risk of sounding overly critical - this guy didn't seem to respond to any of the comments/questions of the interviewer with an actual critical well-reasoned response. Did i miss something?

ex. Minecraft - wildly successful but LOTS of people have in fact PAID for it. So...

E McNeill
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Yeah, there was kind of a disconnect here:

"I think there are going to continue to be people who want to have an experience that isn't related to in-game monetization."

"I just don't think so because there's this idea that the way free-to-play is how it's going to be forever."

Wait, what's the reasoning there?

Bernie M
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My problem with F2P is it's just for the two extremes. Either for social games like Farmville or core games like LOL. League of Legends type RTS games (or I whatever they are called today) are basically just pure gameplay.
Anyway what I would like to say is how do you cut up a middle ground game like Mass Effect or Avernum to make it free to play (where the journey counts not the destination). So methinks pay upfront games are here to stay, dude.

Sean Currie
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This is my thought as well. Multiplayer or traditionally ludic games can certainly transition easily to F2P but how in the hell are you going to make Heavy Rain free?

In before, "Press X to $$$"

Ian Bogost
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Yeah, fuck this.

JB Vorderkunz
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I think you meant to post this on the piece about the WH and POTUS on gaming... =P

Derek Reynolds
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He makes some good points about how front-loaded the traditional console business is and the perceived antagonism some companies seem to have towards customers, but his argument that all games will become free-to-play is not compelling. I say this as a developer of free-to-play games. I think there will always be room for games with the paid upfront model. Maybe not at $60, but not $0 either.

Gameplay needs to be tailored towards free-to-play to make the economics viable. Creating a F2P game with a $20 million budget would be disastrous if the devs didn't get the balance right, and console games routinely have higher budgets than that.

Always be wary of those that say "In the future, all things will be X."

Ed Macauley
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Derek, I agree with you about consoles. I'd like to see one of the big publishers try a model with shorter/smaller games with an initial lower price, (Say $30) but with more expansions and episodic content available for paid download.

JB Vorderkunz
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I think more episodic content is definitely in the future (Full Disclosure i've been working on a property for exactly that). In relation to the interview above, though, episodic != F2P.

Ed Macauley
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Wait, when did not offering refunds for games become about sequels? It's piracy. If the traditional video game industry should be encouraging used sales and refunds, then so should the F2P games. Can I get a refund for any of my unspent points in Machine Zone's games? How about if I don't like something I bought with those points, can I return that too? No? If not, why not? You should be encouraging refunds. Can I sell my items to someone else?

F2P certainly does have its place. It looks like that's where online games are going to wind up. But the idea that F2P is going to replace everything else is silly. And yes, there are going "to be people who want to have an experience that isn't related to in-game monetization." I'm one of them.

E McNeill
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If I spend three months and $500 on Global War, and then I decide that my time and money has been wasted on an empty experience, will he refund me the money (plus extra for my time)?

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Better yet, how about a refund when I'm done -- even if I did enjoy it. That's what people sometimes fail to realize in the used game argument. Sure some people reselling their used game probably didn't like it and legitimately felt ripped off, but what about people who thoroughly enjoyed it and are just selling it because "hey, free money?" The economy would implode overnight if we could just demand our money back for something after we're through with it, as there would be no financial incentive for creators to make those things for us. Heck why not pass laws that say your employer can ask for your wages back when they let you go, as they are obviously through with you?

sean lindskog
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My Bullshitometer was red-lining on this one.

Grandstanding? check
Self-serving ludicrous claims? check
Shoddy reasoning? check.

It's too bad because this guy might have actually had something interesting to say, if he wasn't so busy frothing at the mouth and yelling into a megaphone like a street corner doomsday prophet.

Chris Hendricks
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Free-to-Play is just enticing people to try out something without putting down money, and then getting a portion of those people to pay for a far-improved version of the game. So, the following things are all free-to-play:

- Shareware
- Demos
- The first 20 levels of WoW
- Free games with in-game microtransactions

etc.

This means that the game industry has been doing some version of Free-To-Play since, what, the late '80s? So, this guy is predicting that the game industry will continue to go in the direction it's been going in for over 25 years?

I guess the only big thing he's saying is that ALL games will go in this direction? In my mind, almost all games are already in the camp of "try before you buy" in some way.

E McNeill
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Yeah, if F2P just means offering a built-in demo first, then I don't think anyone has a problem with it.

David Marcum
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F2P really mean designing around monetization, by using psychologically manipulative tricks to exploit our OCD tendencies.

Nicholas Lovell
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I don't think that is what free-to-play is about.

The heart for me is that free-to-play games give all the content away for free (because it is so easy to distribute/pirate). Instead they sell things that have value to the *individual*. Things such as time, as self-expression, as status, as power, as a sense of pride at collecting items and so on.

The difference is really that fundamental, and it changes an enormous amount about design, about distribution, about the psychology of purchase and about the distribution of price points.

David Marcum
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@Nicholas

Just as a wall should separate editorial from advertising in written media, a wall between design and monetization should be maintained.

Why? Because unethical things start to happen when that separation doesn't exist.

TC Weidner
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@ David

F2P really mean designing around monetization, by using psychologically manipulative tricks to exploit our OCD tendencies.

I agree 100% with that. Free in F2P is little more than a buzz ad word. I dont like catches, or reading the fine print. F2P just means the developer is up to something IMHO

Ian Uniacke
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"Because unethical things start to happen when that separation doesn't exist." Worse, current corporation laws would essentially DEMAND that you push your business plan to the absolute maximum profit (there are a few recent exclusions to this type of law such as corporations have to consider environmental impact). People who say such things as "free to play COMBINED with good game" don't understand how the law works. Of course you could still be a private business and potentially do ethical free to play (which many people are doing already).

Ian Uniacke
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"F2P just means the developer is up to something IMHO"

Let me repeat again: There is NO such thing as a free lunch.

(ok so maybe this is the first time I said it to you guys but I say this to people I know all the time ;)

Zan Toplisek
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Great interview Brandon, I love how you stayed on realistic grounds. Must have been quite an intense interview :)

As for the Machine Zone CEO, he's either a bit delusional, or he's trying his damnedest to sell the idea. Personally, I think the pay once model won't go away either, it will stay, but so will F2P. I think companies will offer consumers a variety of models, so that they can choose the model that best fits them, not have companies shove the F2P model down their throats.

Bart Stewart
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When free-to-play becomes so aggressively free that gamers are actually being paid to play, that would seem to raise the question: where does the money come from to make new games, then?

If game development is not (ultimately) funded by consumers, then who is paying to make games? Does that shift result in more money available for development, or less?

Consider the Golden Rule: whoever has the gold makes the rules. When someone other than actual game players is paying for games to be made, don't they get to decide what kinds of games get made? Whoever it is, is there any guarantee or even likelihood that their interests will align perfectly with what actual gamers want? (Or at least as well as publishers today reflect what gamers really want.)

JB Vorderkunz
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the only way this seems remotely possible is the Kickstarter or Gambition models where the gamers are paying for it upfront, just not all of them. Otherwise what the CEO is saying just sounds plain crazypants. IMHO.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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@Bart

Very good point regarding the Golden Rule. It also reminds me of what is perhaps its modern counterparts: "If you are not paying for it, you are not the customer" and "If you are not the customer, you are the product".

I think a lot of problems in discourse come from the dishonesty in the phrase "free to play" anyway. As far as descriptive terms go, you'd have to try hard to do worse than that (there are plenty of situations where you play something without pay that don't fall into "f2p", and there are plenty of situations where one is paying to play an "f2p" game).

Brandon Sheffield
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like I hinted at in the intro, the money would come from the consumer being the product, ala facebook, foursquare, instagram, et cetera, where they sell your data to advertising and data mining agencies. it's not a good thing in my opinion, but that would be the model.

JB Vorderkunz
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@brandon ah ha forget everything I said above. But seriously I don't see how the way I play angry birds could be effectively mined for marketing purposes. Other than noting what purchases I make. And that seems like a serious case of diminishing returns that could only end in...pay to play niche games.

Ian Uniacke
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It's a rare thing Bart but this time I agree with you 100%. ;)

To me this sounds dangerously like commercial television. I'll leave that up to the individual to decide if that's a good or bad thing, but to me it's a very bad thing.

Bart Stewart
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Ian, sometimes even I get to be the stopped clock that's right twice a day. ;)

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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All games will never be "x" for any "x".
Also, "x" is not dying for any "x", as some bonus advice. These are just PR stunts to try to obtain mindshare in an age where collective attention is a landscape to be cultivated -- make an extremist statement that makes for a good headline and get your name better recognized by clientele and search engines. Reframe extremely complex topics into simple framings that exaggerate the importance of the market you operate in.

"It's like this big warzone against the customer as if the customer is doing something wrong by buying a $70 game that they end up not liking the next day"

Which shows he doesn't understand the used game controversy at all. It's AAA vs GameStop; the customer may be "neglected" and may suffer from splash damage coming from both sides but it is detrimentally incorrect to say they are the target, and disingenuous to say that developers/publishers are antagonistic toward gamers over the controversy (the real complaint is how Gamestop makes off like a bandit with used game sales, which is an issue that both developers and gamers should unite against). If this CEO gets the used game controversy this wrong, he is either being dishonest or ignorant of the industry which brings the validity of his other claims into question. But then again, mindshare PR grab explains it all.

"So, free-to-play is the MP3 of the video game business."

God, what? This doesn't make a lick of sense, particularly seeing as I just bought (one time up front purchase) the OST for Indie Game: The Movie this morning, and guess what format it was in? mp3. Mp3 is a file format, not a distribution or pricing strategy. mp3 was simply a smaller file format than wav or cd audio, which was very important as bandwidth was far more limited when Napster was taking off. If anything mp3 is the "corporate" file format as it is guarded by patents; look at ogg if you want to talk about a free-spirited file format. This sentence is grammatically nonsense.

I will give kudos for trying to defend the free game model against the "exploitation" stereotype, as I don't see any reason the two have to go hand-in-hand (even if they often do) and I think it is a good thing to explore new avenues in ethical manners.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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Okay, I read the mp3 part more closely and I think he's saying that f2p : game pricing models as mp3 : music formats in that mp3 is the "ubiquitous" music format? I'm still not 100% sure that's what he's saying but even so, mp3 is far from the only music format (and possibly not even the most common, seeing the success of iTunes which uses .m4a and iTunes is a very successful distribution channel). If this interpretation is correct, then his analogy seems to counter his thesis.

Ed Macauley
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I *think* his thesis on the "mp3 thing" was that people were stealing the music they'd normally pay for, so it killed the music business. I don't know what that has to do with F2P games, however.

Ian Uniacke
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"I don't know what that has to do with F2P games, however."

He's saying 'look out suckers because if you don't start getting in line with my business plan I'm going to sneak into your house and steal your profits.' Or something like that.

Sean Kiley
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By the way this guy talks you would think he's found a way to print money, but I don't think all free to play games are profitable, just like regular pay and play games.

Jeremy Reaban
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I dunno.

Virtually every game has at least some fans. And Free 2 Play is about soaking the fans of a given game for all the money they have.

I'm sure some aren't profitable, but they have to be truly awful in order not to be.

Brett Seyler
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Not all F2P games are profitable, but his certainly do well (5 games in the Top 100 iOS Grossing). He might be worth listening to...

Jesse Tucker
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Blanket statements are always wrong.

Frank Cifaldi
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Including your own?

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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I for one "liked" it because I thought it was said tongue-in-cheek.

Jesse Tucker
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@Frank - you see what I did there?

Ian Uniacke
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99% of statistics are made up.

Alex Belzer
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I want everyone to just imagine Shadow of the Colossus with micro-transactions and advertisements. THIS IS YOUR FUTURE.

Carlo Delallana
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As long as Fumito Ueda is still helming the game and the micro-trans were done tastefully and with purpose then i will shut up and give him my money

Jeremy Reaban
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Unfortunately, he's an example of why the current gaming model is broken.

He's been working on The Last Guardian since before the PS3 came out and there is no sign of it ever being released.

Companies can't afford games in development hell any longer. Especially Sony, which likely won't be in business as we know it in 10 years...

Hakim Boukellif
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@Jeremy
No business model is going to resolve technical problems.

Matthew Collins
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I have a friend who was given two major investment offers for his game at E3. Their only sticking point was that the game had to be F2P with a cash shop. They were major equity investors in the gaming industry and while I won't name names, I don't see how F2P can't be the future if major investors will only consider F2P pricing models at this point.

Adam Bishop
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I've found this new thing that's interesting to me at the moment. In the future everyone will be exactly like I am right now.

Charmie Kim
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I thought Pay to Play MMOs would be dead by now with all the quality F2P MMOs on the market, but the biggest MMOs out this year (Tera, Guild Wars 2, arguably Diablo 3) are pay to play and they're selling like hotcakes. I think there's room for multiple business models, probably determined in part by the platform, just as Film and TV can co-exist.
Chinese players will be more willing to pay for their products as their incomes grow. Luxury industries like whisky are some of the fastest growing in that country..
But those aren't even the biggest reasons, the biggest reason is that buying is fun. Shopping is fun. There will always be people willing to buy things they don't need.
So, sorry, personally, I just don't buy it. :)

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Merc Hoffner
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Only a Sith deals in absolutes

Jeremie Sinic
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Thinking it will be either F2P or nothing in the future is ludicrous. The F2P model is expanding, and it's not adapted to every type of games.

I think it would be nice if people actually realized that F2P is usually (so far) way more expensive than paying upfront for a game.

As a player, if I think in terms of quality experience for the money, paid games are usually a much better deal.

Diablo 3 has its issues, but it's one of the best games you can play today. If I played a F2P Diablo clone instead, I would probably not have the same quality experience and since time is money, I could say I would be wasting my money vs playing Diablo 3.
The same can be said of Skyrim which is to me the title with the highest quality per buck ratio I played to date.

I also acknowledge that there can be well-made non pay-to-win F2P games (League of Legends again) but this kind of games needs a huge player base to be profitable, which means there will always be a market for more niche quality games.
And as said by others, if big publishers don't want to finance development of these games, Kickstarter or other alternative models will.

Ron Dippold
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ALL free to play? Not a chance. That's just stupid.

Let me rub your face in Bastion. This is a self contained game that has no place at all for constant new content or social click through monetization with floobah paradigm instragrams and tweets. It's a self contained masterpiece. It was near perfect as it is, it made a good amount of profit (including Humble Bundle V, which just closed with $5M sales), and it would be a travesty to F2P it as you're suggesting.

That'll never go away. As long as there are people who want to make a small game and toss it out in the cruel world as a self-contained gem it'll be around. It may be less of the market, but it's not going to disappear. Because working on the same game for years is boring as hell.

'I think [Free to Play] is the only way to make money in video games.' Yeah, okay, Mr. Suit.

Edit: Toned down the flamey a bit. Vapid CEO doesn't excuse my frothing quite that much.

Todd Raffray
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Thank you so much for saying what anyone who has working in the industry longer than they spent earning a degree that says they know how the industry works already knows.

Dave Bellinger
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@Todd

Except the Machine Zone CEO in this article?

hanno hinkelbein
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there ya go got lots of people talking about him with his crystal ball - way to go

Axel Vindislaga
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'People' long ago realised that time is money. Gamers had waaay too much time to kill but have since learned that their time was the most valuable thing they had. We spent our time, the money was just the enabler. We collectively realised that we cannot spend two sets of time where as we can spend currency to purchase games which require multiple times the actual amount of time we have to spend.

F2P acknowledges this by presenting a platform to be tested and either enjoyed or rejected immediately that spreads via social networks. 'I would like to try your game but I just don't have time.' So the sales pitch MUST be 'Please find time to try our game.'

The time is the currency the players are the multiplier and the freely available F2P platform merely saves time by offering a speedily delivered platform for a social group to explore rather than having had to previously agree to all obtain for a price the platform.

Maria Jayne
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Free to play almost always means pay to enjoy. That really isn't any different to getting game demos on cover disks of gaming magazines of yesteryear.

You get your demo, it's a portion of the game and you decide if you like it enough to spend money on the real thing.

Except of course, the money you spend often only rents the content, personaly I hate the idea of renting content. I would rather always pay for something once and only once, it just seems a better investment to always have access to what i paid for.

Ujn Hunter
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If F2P is the future... I guess I won't be playing games in the future.

Luis Blondet
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I am developing a F2P game for Facebook, but don't burn me at the stake yet before reading what i have to say.

I think the original poster is wrong simply because F2P cannot tell a story without breaking immersion left and right, only a pay 2 play model can deliver that. Games that tell a good story are just like books in some respects and once you get started there is no room to get out of the story to pay for something or even worse CONTENT LOCKING THE ENDING! Breaking immersion this way is the fastest way to ruin your reputation. When my little company gets big and strong, i want to create story games as well but even more immersible than the ones found out there right now which are full of game mechanics and concepts that break immersion. Finding random loot were non should be (Herbs in a hallway, Ammo in the trash bin, Potato Chips in a closet, etc), infinite storage, infinite stamina, infinite carrying capacity, etc, all break immersion and most game developers seem to be too attached to features that will inject their story with "gamingness".

There is a new type of game coming and that is the Pure Story Game, it will use the latest and greatest technology, graphics and quality, it will not have game mechanisms like Levels, Point Scores, Health/Energy/Whatever Bars, loot in illogical places, paper or tape diaries that make no sense and able to be found in illogical places, disembodied, voice-only NPC characters (Bioshock, Metal Gear Solid, etc), illogical health for your characters, bosses and NPCs, vending machines or traders with stuff to buy, infinite storage capacity and stamina, Resource Bars (except for Stamina), etc.

I know this type of game is coming because if no one beats me to it i'll get the trend started myself and if someone reading this does beat me to it, please let me know so i can gladly give you $60 to play an awesome, immersible story. Thank you.

Muir Freeland
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I sometimes think that free-to-play might be a bursting bubble in the next few years. The model seems short-sighted in so many ways, and ultimately, I don't know how long a model based around exploiting its own customers can continue working before those same customers start to wise up.

Whenever I read articles like this, or whenever I find myself working with companies like this, the common denominator always seems to be a focus on monetization at the near-total expense of gameplay. For the time being, it's great that all these places think they've found the magic bullet to success in the industry. Simply put, though, I don't think that the business of delivering sub-par products is sustainable over the long term.

GameViewPoint Developer
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Number of points to make. First for all the so called "exploitation" that goes on in FTP games on Facebook, lots of people actually like those kinds of games, yeah core gamers won't touch those kinds of games, and laugh at people spending money in them, but the facts are lots of people play those games, have fun and are happy to spend money in them, whether you think they are stupid or not for doing so kinda misses the point.

2nd, something that always makes me laugh about the people that argue against FTP is how they never reply to this simple point. I have bought LOTS of games over the years (going back to the c64) that were frankly bug ridden pieces of crap, or were basically demos for $60, but by then it's too late you have paid your money and you are stuck with it. People who argue that pay up front is better seem to forget that, they seem to think that every game that was ever released was some great product and that they all provided full value for money....yeah right.

3rd, the generation that are growing up now have a whole different perspective on this pay up front Vs freemium argument. They live in a world which is all about always on, free to play/watch/listen too, where products/items are virtual, where it's not about a hard copy, but about a social experience with everyone participating and that all done online, in that environment the idea of owning a hard copy of anything is going to seem a bit odd and old fashioned. They will expect to be able to experience a game, and then choose to pay to increase the quality of that experience or not.

4th. It's been said before that games are becoming services, and that's absolutely correct and as such some kind of continuously payment scheme (IAP's or subscription) will need to be put in place, pay up front just doesn't make sense in that situation.

5th. In a global gaming market, it's ALL about participation. A retail store does not charge it's customers to enter the store does it? hell no, it wants as many as possible to come in and sample it's wares, once it has them inside then it tries it's best to convince them to part with money, that's the future for gaming. During the 80s a game would be released in one territory and maybe a few others if it did well, it was a lot of work with the translations and distribution etc, so basically a games success was somewhat held back by geography, by the media it was on etc etc, now you can upload a game to the app store and have it in all corners of the world within 24 hours, and sell a huge load of copies within the same time, because of that huge market and the possible rewards, there is huge competition for every game launched. In the 80s there was the big thing about the "bedroom programmer" the guy/girl alone in their room making a game, and if they were lucky making a bit of money, but that time doesn't even begin to compare to now. Now really is the time of the "bedroom programmer" everyone and their dog is making a mobile game/app. So combine the huge market with the availability of product (which is accelerating), and you have a product that you basically literally have to give away, at least to get those consumers to walk into that "store".

Now having said all that. There are good and bad examples of the FTP model. Bad examples would be games which ask for too much and in return give too little, these games will not succeed :) I think perhaps the true debate over freemium, is who will succeed using it? companies that are experts at making people part with their money REGARDLESS of the quality of the game, or the companies that actually manage to make great games using the FTP model. I also think the terminology needs to change somewhat as Free to Play does not truly reflect what those kinds of games are. But everything right now is in transition, so these new payment models are better suited for some kinds of games (multiplayer social experiences) as apposed to others (more old school single player experiences).

Answering a point above about where does the money come from in the FTP world. It still comes from the players! :) it just comes at a different stage and through a different channel that's all, it comes from a player enjoying a game and then being happy to pay to keep enjoying or to enhance that enjoyment. Which in turn will probably end up with the developers making more money than they otherwise would of.

FTP is a result of the world that we all now live in. Just as the payment models of the past were a result of that time. And as such not only is FTP not going away but will become the payment model that most games use in the future.

Muir Freeland
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I don't think anyone in here is arguing that"bug-ridden pieces of crap" at $60 up front are a good thing. Quite the contrary, I guarantee you that a game with that kind of reputation would get torn apart pretty quickly on this site, irregardless of its business model.

I think you're misunderstanding the issue most opponents of the free-to-play model take with it. It has nothing to do with the way in which people pay for things; rather, it's about the impact said method of payment has on game design from the ground up.

If you pay a flat fee for a product up front, that product has zero incentive to do anything other than entertain you as much as humanly possible. It already has your money; the only other thing it can really hope to gain is positive word-of-mouth on your part, and perhaps your participation as a return customer for sequels or other games by the same company.

Most free-to-play games- and I say most because there are obviously exceptions, or things like demos, as someone mentioned above- are incentivized, by design, to treat the player in a completely different way. The goal is no longer to simply make sure the player enjoys themselves; the goal is now to make sure they enjoy themselves a little- but not too much, because then there would be no reason for them to shell out more money.

Used improperly- and these days, I see it used improperly much more often than not- this has some incredibly far-reaching implications on the integrity of a game. It encourages developers to make their games more grindy, more packed with repetitive tasks, and more focused on status and numerical goals at the expense of moment-to-moment gameplay, because these things are all easy to monetize. It encourages artificial difficulty spikes, because every death is another opportunity to remind the player that they can bypass it and get back to the fun parts of the game for a nominal fee. It's responsible for ridiculous slogans like Zynga's "fun pain," a concept built around literally adding additional tedium into a game to encourage players to pay money to make it fun again.

Simply put, free-to-play as a business model encourages games to be built on a completely different philosophy which seeps into every last nook and cranny of their game design. It shifts the focus from the ground-up away from fun and quality and onto finding ways to continually milk customers out of more money. A game built in this manner does not have its customers best interests at heart.

I don't meant to imply that the pay-up-front model is flawless, or that there's no room in the industry for alternate business models. And again, as has been mentioned above, there are ways to do do free-to-play that still keep the integrity of the product in mind. The point is ultimately that, whatever business model is used, it's important for us as consumers and developers alike to keep the focus first and foremost on holding games to the highest quality standards we can. The minute monetization becomes more important than the product itself- or worse yet, the product is intentionally sabotaged to make it generate money more easily- we all lose.

Jason Wilson
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No one is ever going to watch theatre any more now that they have motion pictures.
No one is ever going to the movies anymore now that we have television.

Unless Free to Play games are giving the exact same experiences as pay up front games are offering than this is a pointless argument. Both business models, as well as hybrids and other models yet dreamed of, can peacefully coexist.


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