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'Free' is a good time to stop lowering the price
'Free' is a good time to stop lowering the price
September 21, 2012 | By Mike Rose

September 21, 2012 | By Mike Rose
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Sometimes in business, it's necessary to follow the flow of an industry whether you want to or not. Coaster Crazy is the first free-to-play game from Frontier Developments, but this wasn't exactly a simple switch to F2P for the Kinectimals team.

Back at the start of this year, Frontier's David Braben questioned why any studio would go freemium. "If we stay at 99 cents, people will still play," he said. "Otherwise, from an industry point of view, you get this diminishing spiral where, the only reason you're really lowering the price is to take customers away from other developers.

"The problem with our industry is that we're selling ourselves short," he added. "There are already a lot of games that are a lot cheaper than perhaps they ought to be." It's hard to argue with the industry veteran, although free-to-play pioneers will no doubt take up the challenge.

This move to free-to-play for Frontier, then, appears to go against Braben's feelings on the matter. Gamasutra asked the Elite creator why he had all of a sudden changed his mind on the matter.

"This is something we have debated a good deal internally," he answers, "with people concerned over the negative perception of the current monetization practices of some current games."



Essentially, Frontier couldn't simply stand alone against where the industry is obviously headed, and free-to-play is now a necessity, especially for smartphones and tablets.

"There is no question free-to-play is here to stay, and is now the expectation of most players," he notes. "We decided to take the opportunity to implement what we felt were best practices in this respect."

However, as Braben said in the March piece, he does not want to see the video games industry going any further than this. The gambling industry now has a "customer acquisition cost" of over $100 -- where casinos actually give away that much money just to reel customers in -- and as an industry, Braben would much rather avoid this.

"We have to stop lowering the price at some point - perhaps 'free' is a good time to stop," he says.


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Comments


Michael K
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wasn't there another gamasutra article, telling the average acquisition cost at f2p is already 30-60 cent? with a return of $2 (if you're lucky and have a good game), I think it was something about the 'whales' of F2P.

I think the most important part is "the only reason you're really lowering the price is to take customers away from other developers." with streamlined products e.g. memory modules, the only competition advantage you can have is by lower prices. I hope the gaming industry won't end up like that, although a lot of F2P games already try to follow those 'addiction' rules and if you play a few F2P games, you'll realize, it's different content, but the same process/gameplay.

There need to be more minecrafts (and I don't mean clones, but creative games that stand out), but I guess that would scare publishers, as they cannot predict the outcome of a game like they could before. making another CoD -> 10Mio sales. Making Minecraft, spore, sims, dust... you never know.

Matt Robb
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"only competition advantage you can have is by lower prices."

You could always have a higher quality, more interesting game.

Raymond Ortgiesen
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I agree with Matt, you're giving an overly simplistic view of what F2P games already are. Yes, many F2P Facebook games are just following addiction patterns and shoddy re-skins but let's take a look at what else is free to play right now: Tribes Ascend, League of Legends, Dota 2, Planetside 2, Team Fortress 2, Gotham City Imposters, Super Crate Box, and several quality MMOs.

It's not just about price point, it's about quality. There's a reason I was playing Tribes instead of Combat Arms, and why people will be playing Planetside 2 instead of Battlefield Play4Free.

Michael K
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that quote was regarding the situation in the 'memory module' business. and I've tried to make the point, that if we streamline games, to just serve this business purpose, we might end up the same way.

so my 'make more minecraft games' saying was to suggest to fight this streamlining. "interest" and "quality" is already what f2p games try as 2nd priority, but priority #1 is to serve the f2p business.

Lex Allen
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Are you kidding? We shouldn't stop at free. We should be paying people to play our games. This is actually happening already. I submitted one of my flash games to a site that pays out monthly cash prizes based on how many games users play.

Carlo Delallana
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Slippery slope this is. Most people who get into gaming see an intrinsic value in the activity. Switching to extrinsic motivators (ie. play and we'll pay) alters the behavior and expectation of players. Intrinsic value in an activity is what drives long-term engagement in an activity, especially ones that require you to use your noggin. But once extrinsic rewards override this internalized intrinsic value I believe you will see a decline in engagement.

E McNeill
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Carlo is right. Paying people to play your game will make them enjoy it less.

Also, why would you even want to make games that you have to pay people to play?

Jonathan Jennings
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paying users to play is actually kind of excessive. i have coworkers that will admit to paying over $20 for a free to play game Carlo has an excellent point in that extrinsic motivators change what drives a player and their playing habits and i would even argue paying players to play means they are less likely to spend money considering their goal will probably be to get through as many games as possible. I think the best way to make a successful free to play title is to make a good one that makes purchases have a point and doesn't overlook players who won't pay.

Lex Allen
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Come on, guys. I was obviously joking. We shouldn't be paying people to play our games.

Muir Freeland
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I love that this totally sarcastic post sparked some genuine discussion. (Seriously.)

E McNeill
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I genuinely couldn't tell!

Eric Geer
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I believe Iwata-san has talked about this issue quite a bit and everyone thought he was crazy. Now that the Free-to-play is here everyone realized that it's not quite as good as it initially looked....as for playing players as Lex notes....that's just crazy.

Bob Charone
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i honestly don't know how devs expect gamers to pay for the privileged of trying their game, they should at least offer a Lite version to try it.

Dave Troyer
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I dunno if I agree with the F2P model.

Fondly, I remember the days of real demos that didn't prompt players to hit a button to unlock the full game or get a new, shiny hat. A finer time when you'd install games off of stacks of disks and you'd have full size game boxes with manuals and code cards to prevent piracy. A distant past when your options for getting the full game was through the mail or from hole-in-the-wall retail locations that doubled as computer repair shops...

Ah memories...

But yeah, I wish Coaster Crazy was a game I could just buy straight up. I don't play F2P games since I see less value in them based off their sliding scale purchases.

Jeremy Reaban
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The trouble is that so many articles never look at the consumer's perspective, especially regarding free to play.

Free to play really isn't, unless you only play a game a few times (especially as a demo). F2P works because it ultimately costs much, much, much more to play in the long term than simply buying it outright.

Saul Gonzalez
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@Frontier
A couple years ago there was a death in Japan exactly as in your trailer: someone went flying off a coaster cart in a very popular, very prominent ride in the middle of Tokyo. The ride is still closed and the event is pretty much fresh. You should be careful should you ever decide to market the game there.

Muir Freeland
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Developers should compete on quality, not on price. How can anyone be excited about games when the quality of every game is so low that even a dollar is to much to ask for them?

James Hofmann
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Monetization and acquisition methods are heavily tied together - and the tendency to clone and copy means that everyone effectively concentrates themselves into the same niche, which is driving up the acquisition costs.

At this point F2P is driven by the competition doing it, which is a sign that we aren't spreading out enough. There are more types of games out there than "energy + upgrades and accelerators." And if they're built to be marketable from the beginning(namely, finding what people are _already interested in_ and serving that perfectly rather than making a guess and trying to stir up hype), those games will be able to choose their preferred monetization method because they aren't in the same market anymore.

Maria Jayne
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I think there will always be games you can purchase, there is an intrinsic value in something you own as opposed to something you rent. Free to play games are essentially rented, when the servers go down, it doesn't matter how much money you have spent, you get nothing. A person purchasing a game on the other hand, should only require internet access for patches or updates.

We just need to get the industry to recognize paying for something IS the reason to not have always online requirements. It's the only way premium products will survive, by actually providing their customers with ownership.

GameViewPoint Developer
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I think we will soon be at a point, maybe within 5 years where all games are "F2P", I just think it's inevitable. With so many devices/platforms/brands/stores there's going to be so much choice for players to spend their time on, that if you put anything in the way of them just downloading and playing, your game is not going to get played, it's as simple as that.

Once they have downloaded then I think there's a myriad of options to how we charge players. It doesn't have to be loops that fleece users, it can be DLC, it can be subscription or it can be IAP's of items that don't mess with the core dynamics. I think for a lot of developers the discussion has already moved on from F2P Vs Paid to how best to do F2P.

Muir Freeland
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People have always been willing to pay for value. I don't see this changing, particularly when F2P is rarely better for the consumer in the long run.

GameViewPoint Developer
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Well F2P not being better for the consumer is not really the fault of F2P but more how it's been implemented.

People will still pay for quality, but they will do it after they have already experienced the game, not before.

Muir Freeland
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I agree that there are good and bad ways to implement F2P -- like any business model, it's a tool that can be used for good or bad. I think F2P will have its place. I don't think it will ever fully replace paying a single cost up front, though, because that model has its own strengths as well. Not every experience lends itself to F2P, nor should they all try. It's getting a ton of hype right now because it's relatively new, but it's dangerous to ever assume that the new and trendy thing is going to be the end-all, be-all forever.

The only business model that ever truly endures is focusing on the quality of the product and what provides the most value for the consumer. In some instances, that may be F2P, and in some instances, it might not, but ultimately, that's the most important thing to suss out. If a developer has to give their game away for free, they should seriously re-examine their own product, not blame the rest of the industry.

Dave Troyer
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@Game - I may not be the majority, but I feel that F2P gaming shouldn't be the future of all gaming. Yes, there is a market for it, but the thought of having to pay a fee to play a game I have already purchased makes me sick.

Sure, adding value in the form of DLC is one thing, but having to pay every month to hold on to that content is something I don't agree with. Maybe that's why MMO's never appealed to me at all.

Either way, I'm not a consumer that is willing to purchase content in the F2P model. I know there is a place for it, but I don't want it.

TC Weidner
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F2P is ultimately bad for the industry IMHO. Since now from the outset of designing a F2p game you have to design a game with the fact that you are willfully withholding some good fun options and elements from players and the game. Only to offer them later for a fee.

Its like being a keyboard designer. Sure the keyboard is free to type, go ahead type away, whats that?, you want ALL the keys even the A and E key, well my friend , thats gonna cost you a lil extra for ALL the keys.

In the end, F2P is just another sleazy scheme this country has gotten all to good at creating. How about we just go back to a good product at a fair price. Why the hell do we have to used cars salesmen in every industry now?

Robert Green
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The part of this that shouldn't go unquestioned is the assertion that free is "the expectation of most players". In a literal sense it's true, but it's also true that it's the expectation of most music listeners not to have to pay for music these days.
Perhaps instead of worrying about the expectations of 'most players', those people actually trying to run a business should only be concerned about the expectations of 'most paying players'. Cynical though it may sound, we're not in the business of entertaining people who won't pay for videogames, so the >97% who aren't going to pay a cent in most f2p shouldn't necessarily influence your design.
The problem with the app store is that it doesn't really have a way of distinguishing the games made for these people from the ones made for people who are willing to pay for better games.

Jeremie Sinic
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I think these days in "some" cases, it might be a better strategy to go with a simple paid model rather than a free-to-play model.
If you look at Fieldrunners 2, they are doing quite well it seems with a $2.99 price point + $7.99 for the iPad version (separate).
I was happy buying both for the simple reason that the game is great and does NOT feature in-app purchases.
To a real gamer, F2P is too random most of the time in terms of actual cost/fun to just try because it's free.

I might not represent the mainstream, but to me, F2P actually represents a barrier to entry.


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