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The sad fate of the free-to-play game
The sad fate of the free-to-play game
December 4, 2012 | By Staff

December 4, 2012 | By Staff
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"There are now literally thousands of examples of games that have been eliminated from the current generation of games because they are merely revenue vehicles."
- Mobile developer Jeremy Alessi in a new Gamasutra feature on the perils of free-to-play.

Do we have to worry about the elimination of an art form? Alessi writes that free-to-play games are disappearing in a way that their forefathers did not.

In 2001, Alessi played Halo and Metal Gear Solid 2 -- and, as he writes, "both were works of art that I can appreciate as much today as I did over a decade ago."

However, the first free-to-play game on the iOS App Store that caught his attention was Ngmoco's Eliminate.

"I played and enjoyed Eliminate," Alessi writes. "I even tried out out the new in-app purchase system and spent $20 on the game. I was enthralled at the possibilities of our latest technologies, just like every other developer. I looked at Eliminate as something to aspire to. Was it art to me like Halo or MGS2? Maybe -- but unlike Halo and MGS2, I can no longer play Eliminate, and I never got to enjoy the in-game currency I purchased.

"Due to the fact that Eliminate's business model and gameplay were entangled, it required an expensive backend infrastructure to run. Once that infrastructure's cost exceeded the game's income, Eliminate disappeared," Alessi writes.

The bigger issue, he says, is that "the mechanics of entangling currency with gameplay forever change what the game is." Read more in Gamasutra's latest feature.


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Comments


Nooh Ha
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Maybe I am misunderstanding this but isnt this true of all persistent world or server-based games with pay-in-advance business model: The EA game you spent $60 on to play the multiplayer version only for it to be switched off after 18 months, the MMOG you bought an annual or lifetime subscription to which is then cancelled...

Caleb Garner
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it is an unfortunate side effect of digital downloads.. Not sure what if anything can be done. just the nature of the beast and yea i think what you'll see is sites like youtube being a kind of historical archive of games by watching fan and official videos showing gameplay.. but playing the games themselves..

just the other day i was thinking back on my 3DO and the game crash and burn.. i've long since lost the game and console broke so more or less that's that.. although if i were truly dedicated to preserving that memory i could probably find it on ebay and buy it.. so while this is no guarantee the game will always be available, digital games and especially free to play types vanish in a way that is utterly impossible to preserve.. except by the developers themselves doing something about it and even that would be rare i believe..

another one that has caught me off guard and i'm finding more games over time.. is with iOS.. if you don't backup your ipa files.. delete them, you may find the game is no longer available for whatever reason.. this happend to me with the laser disk port of Cobra Command. so far as i can tell it's no longer available. I paid for it and now its gone. this isn't the first time it has happened to me.

If steam ever went out of business for whatever unbelievable situation.. i'm not saying we should go back to the old ways.. but it does seem like there should be some form of customer protection..

ultimately games are becoming a service, not a product. becoming or already are depending on how you're getting your games.. classic arcade games were fortunate enough to be emulated and preserved that way (ironically through piracy in large part).. and piracy is what brought back all the classic games in various paid products.. the owners of the various games realized there was a market for what they had long since written off..

Oscar Clark
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I've been involved in service-based games for a long time and whether Premium, Subscription or Freemium business models it always come down to a question of whether there is enough revenue to sustain the servers.

Each model has its different pros and cons... Freemium games have the potential to be more sustainable longer term as long as the service is managed on an ongoing basis. Of course the larger user-base (at least initially) requires more resources but the longest term users are more likely to be the ones still paying.

The real answer however, is to make a game that evolves with the players needs - thats not just a business model question.

Benjamin Sipe
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Well said Oscar. I feel like people are blind to the fact that development is a business at the end of the day. Of course, of course... it's also art, but if your art isn't making enough to sustain operational costs then what do you expect? There's a sunrise and sunset for every game, and sometimes that sunset comes too quickly for fans.


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