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The five reasons freemium sucks (according to  QWOP 's developer)
The five reasons freemium sucks (according to QWOP's developer) Exclusive
March 26, 2013 | By Leigh Alexander

March 26, 2013 | By Leigh Alexander
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    18 comments
More: Console/PC, Social/Online, Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Exclusive, GDC



Designer Bennett Foddy of QWOP and GIRP fame counts five major reasons why the free to play model doesn't work well in its current incarnation, but suggests that by being creative with microtransactions, designers have the chance to do better work.

1. They're pay not to play, really. Foddy believes lots of freemium games give players the choice between paying or grinding -- "which suggests you might want to pay money to reduce the amount of time you spend playing the game," he notes. "Not playing the game is the 'luxury option'... [and] ultimately reduces the value players see in the game."

2. There's no level playing field. If some players are playing with different rules and others, you can't meaningfully compare their experiences. "If somebody is buying progress, or advantages from the IAP store, they're just cheating," Foddy says. "It's like you're selling players steroids to cheat with."

3. It corrupts the experience. Seeking real money from players during the gameplay breaks immersion, Foddy believes. "In my view, a really good game has a particular relationship with the player," he says. "In a freemium game, it's relating to you more as a vendor, or a drug dealer."

4. There's an irreconcilable conflict. Designing games for real money transaction from the ground up balances two incompatible aims: Making the game fun and complete for non-payers, and making it complete for people who do pay. "You're caught between a rock and a hard place," he says. "

5. You miss opportunities to be creative. "If you're selling hats, it's true you're not ruining the game for everybody, but even in that case you're still missing the opportunity to invent a way of charging people money... in a way that increases value and meaning in the game for everyone."

Some ideas that don't "totally suck"

People often defend free-to-play by comparing them to coin-op arcades, but very few people actually design games like arcades, where players pay for every life or play. "If you do that, you're charging them to pay more instead of less... and it also maintains a level playing field," Foddy suggests.

In a tournament you pay for the opportunity to log an official score -- that's another method that might work, he adds. And you can offer players rewards for playing with skills, for example: If you make a full-featured demo that stays free forever so long as you play with skill, although he admits that sort of approach might not play well among mobile apps.

"You could charge money for permanent changes to the game that apply to everybody," he says. What if everyone paying two dollars unlocks an extra difficulty level? While some of these ideas may not be allowed under Apple's terms and conditions, the goal of being creative within the free-to-play business model still applies, Foddy says.

"You're not confined to selling digital consumables to small children and idiots," he explains. "You can come up with your own thing."


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Comments


Alex Leighton
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I still don't know what's wrong with giving a proper demo and then just selling the game. Maybe it's just me, but I hate it when someone or something is constantly trying to reach into my pocket. Even if it actually costs more, I would rather just pay once and be done with it, and not have the game pestering me every 5 minutes.

Kujel Selsuru
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The average person (not nerds/traditional gamers) would rather not pay for a game at all but still play and so this model is get them to pay something at all. I'd prefer if our medium return to being the domain of the nerd race.

Lewis Wakeford
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Why did demos disappear anyway?

Aaron Brande
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#1 is something I have been saying since F2P models started becoming popular in the west. How can anyone have seriously considered that paying money to NOT have to play the game is a good incentive to generate revenue from players? ...and yet it is fairly well the norm in this model!

Bram Stolk
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For me giving away the first levels, and a one-time sale for all the other levels has worked really well.
I'm seeing good conversion rates, and can keep a clean conscience.
Nothing sneaky, and still making a nice living out of it.

Ian Fisch
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I like this model the best.

It gives players a chance to find out if they like the game. If so, they pay for it. If not, they don't.

Kujel Selsuru
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This is how I'm implementing my current project, get the (region) hub and the first dungeon free (aka a demo) and then the rest of the game requires a one time fee. If my game isn't good enough to convince people to buy it from that taste it wouldn't do well as a f2p game either.

Emppu Nurminen
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I think the problem with "Pay to win"-option isn't that simple unfortunately; there are people who like to play the game through and then there is people, who want to browse the game through. Why the latter ones should be excluded out because they are rubbish at playing the games? I doubt most of the casual titles using these models have little value to be browsed through from Youtube as countless of AAA-titles are treated like this by these very same segment (more money for Google and curators rather than developers themselves, hardly seeing as win-win-situation). It's more about catering right options for right audience rather than same options for every audience. Abandoning certain revenues because some gamers find them demeaning doesn't mean there aren't people, who are willing to use these things despite being loathed by more savvy consumers.

Hakim Boukellif
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There are people who want tragedies and there are people who want comedies. Should the solution to that be to allow the audience to pay a small fee to have Friar John escape quarantine so that Romeo is informed about Juliet before finding her comatose body?

Besides that, should accessibility be a premium feature? How many people have ever complained about or decided to not buy a game because of the fact that if a game has an "easy" mode, they're paying for its implementation as well even when they're not using it?

John Purdy
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One of the way's our company is planning on dealing with freemium is that we are going to offer both a freemium and a premium version. We'll let you play the freemium game and purchase if you want to, or you can pay a premium price and get the full game and all of the content inside it. We also don't want to make a pay to win game either, because we know that they suck.

Now our only problem is hoping that this freemium/premium hybrid works :S

Brian Schaeflein
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What sets your freemium apart from a demo? If you must pay to unlock the full game, why not just call it a demo, since that's what it is?

John Purdy
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@Brian we aren't calling it a demo because it quite frankly isn't. There is no content that is locked in either game. The difference is that you can either pay for the premium game and get everything right off the bat, or you can play the freemium and earn or pay your way through the game

Brian Schaeflein
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@John I see. Your initial description led me to believe that the player would be required to pay in order to unlock all the content. Thus my question.

Ramin Shokrizade
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I'm in agreement with all the sections except #4. I know it looks intuitively true, but I've spent the last 8 years trying to solve the paradox of "fair" F2P and I have been quite successful.

Lewis Wakeford
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3. Is the biggest problem I have with free to play. I don't want to think about real life concerns like money between the time I start playing the game and the time I stop.

Marc-Andre Caron
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You can keep the game fair for everyone but those who pay want something for it. You can let skills reign supreme but some of those who pay for extra stuff would like to get guaranteed wins in return.

You want to create an enjoyable game all the way through but unnecessary, artificial hardships can drive sales.

Nagging sucks but you can make more money by doing it, especially if you do it at the right time.

So, when making a F2P game, you can always squeeze more short-term revenue by ... essentially being a dick. Dilemmas, dilemmas ...

Dave Gibbons
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While this does contain excellent, thought-provoking points we should all indeed be made aware of, I feel like the very format of this article can lead to misunderstandings or a skewed perspective on the viability of the F2P model. This is only half an article, where the other half should be "Now here are reasons why Freemium is awesome; Time to start weighing Pros and Cons!"
(Players can pay whatever they feel is fair for the game based on it's quality/their enjoyment = Win for Players; Smaller studios can reach an unbelievably wider audience, many hundreds, or even thousands of times bigger than selling it even at 99 cents = Win for Studios with little to no advertising money; Enables "double-dipping at the well" aka "avoiding the incredible shrinking market effect" - selling a game traditionally means as soon as that player buys the game, they are removed from your potential market; F2P (when done well) often results in players paying more in the long run than they ever would if the game were sold in 1 transaction- (says the cheap-o guy who has spent about $25 on Clash of Clans, whereas I never would have played it for a second if they were selling it for $.99)
Like I said, these are excellent issues to be made aware of, but every model has its pros and cons. Minecraft for iOS has been in the top 10 highest grossing apps for a long time now, selling at $6.99, yet the other 29 in the top 30 are currently F2P- 46 of the top 50 highest grossing games currently are F2P (according to appshopper)
Obviously a game's success is measured in more ways than just money grossed, but its food for thought.

Paul Laroquod
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Give people who love games irrelevant things to pay for that do not give them any advantage besides looking cooler and more committed than everyone else -- there is always a hardcore contingent who wants not just to play the game, but to 'wear' it. You sell these people status symbols. Clothes to wear -- both in-game and in the real world. 'Freemium' is a red herring. The only nonessential game-related thing for which people are willing to pay, is a status symbol. If you sell an essential thing, it's not freemium. If you sell an inessential thing, you're selling style. Keep this firmly in mind and do not ever, ever, cross the streams. However I say this with no commercial experience whatsoever -- just observing what sorts of non-game-mechanic activity people seem extremely obsessed with nonetheless, and the only thing is STATUS; having the rare object, having the rare physical reward, having the ability to brag about meeting the designer, etc. It's all about gameplay and status; there are only those two revenue streams and there is nothing else.


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