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'I'm not psyched about a business where 3% of your customers pay you'
'I'm not psyched about a business where 3% of your customers pay you'
December 3, 2013 | By Kris Graft




"I'm not psyched about a business where 3 percent of your customers pay you, which is what you're dealing with."
- Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick remains cautious about the free-to-play business model, in a GamesIndustry.biz report.

Take-Two's mission in the game industry is clear concentrate on big, high-budget games and franchises, from Grand Theft Auto to Red Dead Redemption to BioShock.

With the company's resources focused on the pay-up-front triple-A business, Zelnick isn't planning on jumping headfirst into the free-to-play market. However, he's "flexible" if free-to-play opportunities become apparent for Take-Two.

"If that's the way the business evolves, as long as we can get paid and make a profit doing it, we're happy to contemplate it," he said at the Credit Suisse Technology Conference today.

"I'm skeptical that for very high-end products, that's the way the business goes. I think you'll continue to sell those high-end products as the entry point, and then you'll have in-game monetization for certain sold items and free items."

If Take-Two is going to have a strong focus on high-end console games, the publisher will need to count on strong sales of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, which are off to good starts. Zelnick added that, as of right now, the PS4 and Xbox One could outpace sales of their predecessors. "But," he added, "if we had a big market meltdown, for example, a repeat of '08 and '09 in three years, or two years, or two minutes, that would influence it. But if this economy stays on this track, yeah, I feel good about it."


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Comments


Kujel s
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For me personally I'm not interested in the F2P model because of my morles, I don't believe in maniulating people into paying to play a game. Either make a great gameplay loop or get the hell out!

Joe Kinglake
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I personally have a few big issues with the 'standard' F2P model which I think are beyond the scope of discussing in a comment on Gamasutra. However, I don't think it's fair to say that all F2P games are manipulative. For example, I'm not really a fan but I do admire Valve & Riot for TF2 & League of Legends (respectively) for how they handle F2P in there games - it's respectful of players (mostly) and isn't designed to manipulate 'customers' into giving them as much money as possible - they have a clear focus on creating an enjoyable experience.

Marwane KA
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Any game that just *allows* you to spend thousands of dollars in it (and that includes TF2) just feels wrong to me. That's what's the worse with F2P: including such things as "spend $2 to get a random item/5 more moves" just blurs the line between video games and gambling.

Maybe 97% of the players won't fall into it, but the other 3% will be what they call "whales", and design a game specifically to make profit from those "whales" feels just wrong and manipulative.

Rob Graeber
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Well if you consider 90%+ of F2P games to be manipulative, I assume you consider 90%+ of sales and marketing to be manipulative too?

Being a F2P game developer is like being a developer and a salesman, but most people seem to feel being a salesman is beneath them.

Leszek Szczepanski
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Being a salesman is perfectly fine.

However being a F2P game developer is more like being a developer and a drug dealer.

Axel Cholewa
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@Leszek: you are insulting people you don't know. I think posting comments such as yours should be beneath us, not creating F2P games.

Leszek Szczepanski
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@Axel I wouldn't talk like that if I didn't know the process. F2P games (the grand majority of them) base their business model on addictive behaviors of their users, which is ethically questionable.

E Zachary Knight
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Marwane,

"Any game that just *allows* you to spend thousands of dollars in it (and that includes TF2) just feels wrong to me."

So you fell that WOW is wrong? If you paid for every month since the game was released you would have paid about $1,500 (not including the one time cost of the game and its expansions). Why is that different from what many free to play games do?

Benjamin Quintero
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@Zachary The difference being that WoW has been around longer than some of it's players have lived. Most FTP games are a smash and grab compared to WoW. That's the difference; it's one thing to spend money over the span of more than a decade but when you launch a game with over $1k is "optional" goods then you are being manipulative and greedy, especially when your core mechanics are built around keeping the player JUUUST out of reach of their goal without paying for it or working 2x as hard as any normal game.

E Zachary Knight
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Benjamin,

"WoW has been around longer than some of it's players have lived"

How many preteens are actually playing WoW compared to teens and adults?

Why is it acceptable to structure a game in such a way to keep that player playing the game as much as possible each month to justify the $15 a month fee paid over a span of several years? Why is that somehow better than someone paying $50-100 one time or over a short period of time so that they can actually spend less time playing?

Mike Jenkins
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"Why is that somehow better than someone paying $50-100 one time or over a short period of time so that they can actually spend less time playing?"

What does it say about a game when people are willing to pay to not play?

E Zachary Knight
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Mike,

It is not that they are paying to play less, they are paying to grind less. I would say that is a big difference. They are paying to skip over the stuff that is less enjoyable.

Marwane KA
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@Rob Graeber & @Zachary Knight

Unlike Rob said, I didn't make assumptions about sales/marketing in general: I agree that marketing is a necessary thing, and I even agree that devs sometimes see too much "evil" in salesmen, and it's sad.

The point here is that a lot of F2P games follow 2 rules that I do consider evil :
1. Use addiction & frustration to encourage players to pay, and especially...
2. ...Put no upper limit to in-game payments.

Combining these two is why people end up paying $1k+ to Candy Crush Saga and stuff. You'll probably answer "whatever they pay, as long as they are having fun", but it's lying to yourself: what would you think if someone your cared about did spend even $100 in a small iPhone game?

And that's the difference with WoW: on the opposite, the subscription model is "keep p(l)aying while you're having fun", so the goal of the devs is just to make sure players have fun as long as possible. It's a much simpler and win/win system. Unfortunately it's now rarely sustainable, but it's another topic.

Mike Jenkins
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Why does the game have parts that are less enjoyable?

E Zachary Knight
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Mike,

Why does any game? I find large parts of many popular games to be less enjoyable. For example, I was playing Uncharted: Drake's Fortune for the first time this past weekend. I really enjoyed the exploration and puzzle solving. But then I got to the combat sections and my enjoyment dropped considerably and I was hoping to find a way to skip passed them. If the game were free to play, I could have purchased a potion or something that made me invincible for 10 minutes and I would be back to exploring.

Adam Bishop
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"They are paying to skip over the stuff that is less enjoyable."

A game should never have parts that are not enjoyable. That's lousy game design and incredibly disrespectful of your customers' very limited time.

[Exception granted for games in which being unenjoyable is part of a broader artistic point. You might argue that Papers, Please can be unenjoyable but that's an intrinsic and necessary part of its message, not a way to milk players.]

Mike Jenkins
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@Zachary

The developer is incentivized to make sections less enjoyable in that scenario. Is that a good thing?

Carson McGorry
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@Benjamin: I still don't understand how F2P is any 'ethically worse' than how MMOs like World of Warcraft employ known psychological hooks to keep players playing and, thereby, paying. I'm talking about things like the reward cycle, behavioral conditioning, and other things in that vein. MMOs are infamous for their "addictive" nature that can sometimes invade and negatively impact the player's real life in very similar manners as to how an addictive drug would. If the player HAS to fork out money to keep playing, and the game uses psychological hooks to get people addicted to playing, I don't understand how that is any less "manipulative" than any given F2P model. Most F2P games are far, far less ethically questionable.

Lennard Feddersen
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$100 on an iphone game? Why is that a crime? Did somebody force them to? Did they enjoy themselves for their $100?

There's a bit of thought-policing going on here. I don't want a system where folks can't make me an experience that I might enjoy just because others think that it preys on my tender weaknesses.

I just saw 2 tickets for sale for an upcoming pro-hockey game, $450. Mid-season, not great seats. Why is that experience worth more per hour than a video game?

E Zachary Knight
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Mike,

"The developer is incentivized to make sections less enjoyable in that scenario. Is that a good thing?"

So is the MMO developer. WoW consists of two major aspects, grinding and questing. If WoW relied solely on questing, it could never justify the $15 a month to play. So what did they do? They implemented large amounts of grindings. You grind for XP, you grind for gold, your grind for loot. All of which open up the quests. If you want to quest, you have to grind.

The fact is, a large part of WoW's player base love the questing but hate the grinding. This dynamic opened the game to external "cheats" in the form of gold farming and bots. The gold farmers do the gold grinding for you and you pay to get it. The bots grind for xp and other things so you don't have to. These things were introduced to help people skip what they hate (grinding) to get to what they love (questing).

F2P developers have simply recognized that reality and built that functionality directly in their games.

Mike Jenkins
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So developers found the most unenjoyable parts of a successful game, and instead of eliminating them, they doubled down on them and charge players to skip them?

Carson McGorry
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@Mike: "So developers found the most unenjoyable parts of a successful game, and instead of eliminating them, they doubled down on them and charge players to skip them?"

That's one (in some cases somewhat exaggerated, and in some cases pretty accurate) way of looking at it. It's how the game balances these weights.

A relatively new phenomenon in gaming is "progression" - you have to play to unlock new content. See Battlefield 3 vs. Battlefield 1942. You paid $60 up-front, but have to play the game - sometimes for quite a lot of time - to actually use the content you paid for. For some reason, people enjoy this. Others don't, which is why things like this exist: http://www.battlefield.com/battlefield3/1/kit-shortcuts
Yes, that's buying access guns whose content you already paid for in a $60 game, because people don't want to/have the time to play enough to unlock them (which is pretty much the same thing as grinding, but slightly less of a chore).

The thing about the new Battlefield titles, though, is that even though you have to play it to unlock the content you paid for, you get them at a relatively fast rate. Battlefield 3/4 just throw guns at you. If you don't duck, you might get smacked in the face by your new SCAR-H and the foregrip for it that you suddenly unlocked. Most F2P games don't do this. TF2 does, but most don't. TF2 also lets you buy specific content, which some people do because there are several times more unlocks in TF2 than there are in Battlefield, and who knows how long it will take you to actually get a Degreaser or Buff Banner?

Now take Tribes: Ascend, the F2P Tribes reboot. When it came out, it took immense amounts of grinding to unlock new content without paying. It was pretty clear that this was done intentionally, to do exactly what you said - double down on grinding and charge players for skipping it. If I recall correctly, they eased up on it some, but it was pretty nasty at launch.

One more that I'd like to look at that I think that balances grinding vs. paying very well is Blacklight: Retribution. Before I go into that, I'd like to say one more thing about Battlefield:
BF3/4 has many weapons, but how many of them does the average player actually use? Most will unlock a gun and try it once or even completely disregard it because they're waiting on that SCAR-H. Once they unlock that SCAR-H, it and maybe one or two others will be the only guns they use. So, in reality, it actually can take quite some time just to get what you want in a $60 title.
Back to Blacklight: Retribution. An average 10-min game of BLR will net a player about 200 credits. Prices for permanent-use items can cost anywhere from 3,000-7,000 credits, or even 12,000 for certain utility items. That may seem like a lot as a basic system, but it also does these things:
*Has achievement-like daily "missions" (capture 3 flags, get X kills, etc.) that can give players anywhere from 100-2,000 credits each or temporary-use items to try out.
*Players can try out a given piece of equipment for a couple games' worth of credits to see if they like it.
*There is a free "Hero character" and weapon receiver rotation, similar to the League of Legends system.
*Devs give out permanent items all the time in promotions.
It's also worth noting that every piece of equipment and hero has both upsides and downsides; it's impossible to "pay to win".
The end result is that without paying a cent, a player will spend about as much time - maybe a little more - grinding to get exactly the equipment that they choose as it would take someone to unlock the equivalent in Battlefield. Or, they can pay money and buy it early.

The very short of this is that it varies wildly. Some devs and publishers make harsh systems and some make fair or even generous systems. But take a look here at the popularity of Blacklight (fair) versus Tribes (tight-fisted) on Steam (not counting their standalone clients):
http://steamgraph.net/index.php?action=graph&appid=209870q17080&f
rom=0

You don't have to be "evil" to be successful.

Marwane KA
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@Lennard Feddersen

When you bought those tickets, you knew how much they would cost, and what you would get in exchange.

In most successful F2P games, you're tricked into thinking you'll have fun for free, then cleverly brought into a situation where you're only $2 away to continue playing or something. Whales don't clearly decide how much they'll spend, they just give in to the temptation to buy something more, and F2P games are specifically designed to maximize those temptations.

I know few people who spent money on F2P (as they're usually not hardcore gamers), but when they did it was always more than they intended to (= $0).

Bill Todd
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Well then you should include arcade games of the 80's too. They had you hooked within minutes and there certainly was no upper limit to the number of quarters you could put in them. Although I suppose it was "governed" somewhat by playtime.

I don't regret it, even though I probably spent hundreds of dollars on Donkey Kong. Often I didn't eat lunch because there was a DK machine at the bus transfer station on the way to school.

Now the one thing that hasn't ever changed is the lingering sentiment that games are evil and/or the work of the devil. ;)

Marwane KA
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@Bill Todd

The arcade business model does fall in the "evil" basket to me! There were technical reasons that made it the only viable alternative at the time, but I surely had that bitter-sweet feeling each time I put a coin in those machines.

...Not as much as when I bought Magic cards though.

...Ehem are we off-topic yet ? :-P

Benjamin Quintero
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@Carson: You just described every game ever made... There is nothing specific to MMO's that makes people want to keep playing. MMO's just charge players to keep playing, but the reward cycles and behavioral conditioning could be said about CoD or Diablo or GTA or any game that has gameplay that people want to keep exploring.

Subscription MMO's are charging to keep servers running. And yes they could make subscription's dynamic based on the user-base; distributing the cost. It could be $1/month for 10M active users or $10/month for 1M active users or $100/month for 100k active users, but let's be real here. It's still a business. Subscription models are no different than your cable, internet, gym membership, or mobile data plan. Some people go to the gym every day, some people use 1.9GB of their 2GB data plan every month, some people keep the TV on 24/7 just to break the silence in the room or go to sleep. Then some people have a gym membership that they only use when they are "feeling fat". The point of a subscription is that the lazy people are paying for the diehards. If MMO's were "pay by the minute" then you'd likely see $50-$100/month subscriptions instead of $15/month. That's not difference from the up-charge you see in "pay by the minute" or "pay by the kilobyte" mobile phones.

With F2P it's a similar model, but you need higher revenue from the diehards to pay for the 97% of the "lazy" gamers who aren't paying or using your game enough for the ad revenue to amount to anything. Even that 3% is only paying because, statistically, they are probably the people who are susceptible to this kind of scheme.

Richard Black
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I don't think selling customization is manipulative.

Selling gameplay through coercion is, yeah.

So do the former not the latter, probably more profitable anyway. Hell the iMac saved Apple. Why? Cause people could choose a color for their computer. Stupid but mind numbingly popular.

SD Marlow
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F2P is not really about how much you can squeeze from a tiny percentage of players, but how many players are actually finding your game. Triple-A games don't have to fight for eyeballs because the cost and scope of development make them required coverage by any site that wants to be taken seriously. To turn a phrase, "It's about discoverability, stupid." iTunes and Google Play seem to be against anyone ELSES effort to create a more curated selection from their respective stores, and most likely because they realize a filtered-down, recommended by, sort of site would suck-up all of the traffic and shifting the importance (ie, the control) away from them onto some upstart competitor.

The majority just buy what is put out in front of them. Those taking the time to rummage thru the bargain bin are even less likely to pay up front for something, and I suspect F2P games do well only AFTER enough people pull it from the bin and place it on a shelf. Why does F2P even work at all? Because we live in a society where people are famous for being famous, and games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush Sage are part of pop culture.

Minor league players need a field of their own, away from the Google Domes and Apple Fields.

Yuval Bayrav
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Dear Mr. Zelnick,

Sorry to break the news to you, but you ARE ALREADY in a business which sees payment from about 5% of its customers.

Piracy, anyone? 2nd-hand game market?

(it's quite pathetic and sad that such a big-shot CEO has no idea of the true nature of the business he's running).

Andre Fobbe
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While you have a point, those who pirate the game aren't customers.

Joe Kinglake
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Controversial. I agree, but a controversial point none the less :)

Simone Tanzi
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Except both of them combined are nowhere near 95%.

Dane MacMahon
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Yeah man, GTA5's sales were devastated by piracy and used. Hopefully they can pull out a profit.

Amir Barak
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@Yuval
You're making no sense mate.

Piracy: these guys are playing your game despite you not wanting them to.
2nd-hand game market: somebody purchased it 1st hand to being with so at least there's that.

"Sorry to break the news to you, but you ARE ALREADY in a business which sees payment from about 5% of its customers."
Interesting number you fished there from somewhere. Care to point out where from? Preferably from research carried out by people without involvement with the companies that make the games.

GDI Doujins
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Also where 97% of the budget is in marketing/advertising. The remaining 3% of the budget is spent in reskinning an old Flash game mechanic.

On the other hand, I also dislike AAA culture.

Dave Endresak
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The free-to-play model is not ripping anyone off because it is not 3% who are paying. It is based on the 80/20 rule aka "Pareto distribution", a well-established, well-studied behavior in economics and many other fields. That is, 20% of people pay, the other 80% will not but are still essential because they form the majority of the community. You can have a larger, much more diverse community by offering F2P, or you can try to force people to pay a subscription and have a far smaller, much less diverse community (i.e., the subscription model). F2P is the standard business model throughout SE Asia, for example. It puts control in the hands of the customers, not the business people (such as this CEO).

Many people in Western markets don't seem to understand how free-to-play actually works and think that it is used to offer a substandard, incomplete game to get people to pay for the complete product. No, that is not how it works (not normally and not as intended for the concept, at least, but some people might try such tactics only to fail, of course). The game is complete but users can buy stuff like different costumes to match their character concepts, not things that are required to play the game.

One successful Western free-to-play game is Guild Wars (and its sequel). One would think that such success would have stopped the claims of free-to-play being a ripoff, but apparently not. GW is a different twist on the standard F2P model, of course, as it doesn't really include payment for aesthetic changes, but this seems to be a matter of attempting to fit Western market expectations. Regardless, it is very successful and certainly not ripping anyone off (and certainly not 3% of customers paying, obviously).

The subscription model is the actual ripoff because you force people to play in order to get a return on investment, or ROI. Most people have varied interests and shift from one thing to another depending on their moods at a specific time. If they don't play a subscription game because they happen to have a different interest for a few months (or because of life issues, of course), the company doesn't stop collecting payment or offer a refund. Same with a user who buys a game that turns out not to be of interest, doesn't match the marketing, etc (something that happens quite often).

Leszek Szczepanski
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Firstly, calling Guild Wars F2P is really pushing it.
You had to buy the game and its expansions to play. There's nothing free in that.

Secondly, to date I haven't seen a F2P game that isn't a substandard and incomplete product (with the notable exception of LOL). And I did have the misfortune of trying many of them (from Warframe and ST:TOR to Farmville and other mobile/facebook crap).

Scott Lavigne
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But LoL is an incomplete product. You have to pay to unlock heroes. They give the illusion of in-game progress to unlock them, but the "wages" you receive in-game are abyssmal compared to the release cycle, and runes are pushed as being necessary, which is really just a sink to slow you down.

Merc Hoffner
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3% is frightening because, for one thing, you'd need an audience 30 times larger than your old business to fill out that 'supporting community'. I.E., suddenly you need to touch 10's of millions of people to create significant sustainable successes. And you're competing with literally tens of thousands of products. And you're encouraging a race-to-the-bottom price war.

I believe Zelnick's reference is talking about Facebook gaming (as a kind of fast-forwarded precursor to F2P on mobile) and is specifically aiming at Zynga who were seeing a conversion in the 3-4% range. Zynga has had some huge properties, incredibly scaled business, unmatched analytics and marketing, and had no qualms about 'minimizing' their development costs and maximising their capitalisation. Yet they couldn't really make it work economically. Certainly not sustainably. He's also pointing at EA, who tried very hard to follow Zynga, and have basically given up after years of failure. When you depend on such frightening scales to turn measly bucks, fractional shifts in the wind leave you very bare.

Mike Jenkins
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If Guild Wars is F2P, so are Diablo, Battlefield, and GTA.

Adam Bishop
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I paid $60 for Guild Wars 2 (or $50? I can't remember exactly). It's not a F2P game in any meaningful sense.

Amir Barak
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"you can try to force people to pay a subscription and have a far smaller, much less diverse community"
I think World of Warcraft would like a word with you.

"It puts control in the hands of the customers, and the customer's wallet in the hands of the business people"
There fixed. Also, note how you've not called them game developers; interesting.

"The free-to-play model is not ripping anyone off because it is not 3% who are paying. It is based on the 80/20 rule aka "Pareto distribution", a well-established, well-studied behavior in economics and many other fields. That is, 20% of people pay, the other 80% will not but are still essential because they form the majority of the community."
Studies? Quotes? Any actual research to back that up? or are we just guessing here?
Also, and I'm not familiar enough with economic theory to understand this fully, but doesn't the Pareto rule state that 20% pay for 80% of the income? as in, it shows a distribution where the minority actually take the majority of volume?

" The game is complete but users can buy stuff like different costumes to match their character concepts, not things that are required to play the game."
Examples please...?
But then again why are costumes important? You mention ROI in the next paragraph, how do these benevolent business people design costumes which have no inherit gameplay value and are tangential to the experience adhere to a high enough 'return of investment' in order to entice players to spend money on them?

Are you ignoring psychological devices designed into these games on purpose? why?

Richard Black
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Yeah you buy guild wars like you buy most pc or console games. B2P, whatever, seems to get lumped in with F2P so no use complaining about the distinction.

Phil Maxey
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If you are making an AAA game and spending millions on development and a similar amount on marketing, then fine, pay up front is a perfectly good revenue model to use, if however you are a one/two man team making a game on zero dev budget and zero marketing budget, competing in a marketplace against 1000s of other games, F2P is the only way to go, not because it's some kind of major bullet to success but because you at least need people to download your game and try it out.

Matthew Mouras
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Super Meat Boy, Braid, Castle Crashers, Bastion, World of Goo, Don't Starve, Spelunky, Dust: An Elysian Tale, Limbo, FEZ, FTL, Cave Story

... and that's just off the top of my head :)

Kristian Roberts
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I assume you're providing examples on non-F2P games, as I'm pretty sure that I paid for most of those...

$10 for FTL wasn't much, but it sure wasn't free.

Matthew Mouras
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Yes. Providing examples of small teams that have found success outside of the F2P model.

Phil Maxey
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I'm talking about mobile/App stores, but even taking the examples you gave, compare those to the overall indie games that were released, and you will see those success stories are a tiny percentage.

Perhaps on Steam there's a better chance of releasing with pay up front, because you have an audience who are happier to pay up front, a more hardcore audience, but on mobile you're making life a lot harder for yourself by not being F2P.

I'm working on an mid-core mobile title, which I intend to release F2P, however I've also come up with some interesting ideas on how F2P can be integrated, more on that in the 2nd part of my Game Diary.

Scott Lavigne
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>but even taking the examples you gave, compare those to the overall indie games that were released, and you will see those success stories are a tiny percentage.

How many ideas fail in general? There's less to compare outside of "indie" because publishers don't invest in sure things, so we never hear about them in the first place. Ideas fail all the time. Big publishers are probably overly selective sometimes, but small teams either aren't selective enough or are fine with failing. It's an experimental space, and I wouldn't expect much different.

Matt Ployhar
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Well... if you follow the money & you track where F2P has been successful - then I'd suggest taking a look at China & S. Korea.
Then ask yourselves, what game companies are most cash rich right now? Who's buying who?
The attach/conversion is definitely higher than ~3%.

I'm actually concerned for Take-Two if they don't take this more seriously. It'll take the 8th Gen Consoles at least ~2-4 years to build up anything resembling a meaningful install base. Leading on Consoles is the polar opposite of what they should be doing. They really ought to focus in on scale, which is PC first for the first 3 months where there is no royalty. (Includes a PC in the living room scenario). Embrace a hybrid F2P model - so they avert the Piracy boogey-man. Then launch on Consoles - to help subsidize Microsoft & Sony's 8th Gen systems. Since that seems to be the Kool Aid they've been convinced is best for them.

Curtiss Murphy
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1-5% is the accepted industry standard conversion rate. And, though I've embraced Free for the last 2.5 years, I'm slowly leaning away from it. It's SO much easier to just build a quality product, and stick a fair price on it, especially for niche products. Yes, I get vastly less downloads, and yet, in the end, the earnings are slightly higher with the upfront model. At least, that's what I see with 5 products on iOS.

Carson McGorry
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I think that's a really big difference between iOS and PC client bases.

Upfront prices on iOS games are much lower, and people generally aren't looking for a super deep experience, so they would be more willing to spend a couple bucks upfront on a simple game (that they will probably forget about in a few months) than to make many purchases over time.

On the PC side, gamers are looking for a deeper and more complex experience, and this is where you have to make a judgement call (based on what kind of game you want to build, what the competition is doing, how you intend to interact with customers, and other factors) of what kind of monetization model would be best. They will usually be playing the game much more and will want to invest more into their avatar(s) or account. Multiplayer newcomers or redux/reboots such as MechWarrior Online and Blacklight: Retribution might choose F2P in order to have a higher chance of people trying out their unknown product. Others, like Team Fortress, do it with the "games as a service" objective in order to beat pirates. TF2's profits tripled when it went from P2P to F2P.

Games with significant singleplayer components from established IPs that are multiplatform and have massive budgets (like the ones Take Two makes) are less suitable to F2P - though I don't think that should stop them from experimenting, like Ubisoft has with Ghost Recon Online, Crytek has with Warface, or EA has with...well, the less said about EA's F2P titles the better, but at least they've tried. Just something they should keep in mind and be prepared for, lest they be left behind if the winds change.

jean-francois Dugas
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Honestly, when I read all the comments posted in thread about F2P, opinions are black and white between Console developers and Mobile/Facebook developers that worked on a success story.

For sure, if you think without having any stats that F2P games are addicting and full of consumer traps, for sure you'll think F2P isn't a viable market. Again, the 1-5% numbers are right and trust me, you can't make a living out of F2P games if you really give an incomplete, under-performing game. The competition is high and you need to know what you're doing.

Clash of Clans, Puzzle and Dragons are all games that can be played and exploited freely. Without a dime. Some people that are looking for fierce competition will toss some bucks in it to have an upper hand but they aren't the majority.

Limiting the spending cap is the ABC to have a failing project.

Lastly, I'm a PC Gamer. I've played and payed for a lot of games. Some charged me 60$ for 3 hours of gameplay. Other gave me hundreds of hours. Some tricked me into buying numerous expansion packs and DLC because without them I would have less multiplayer options.

On the other hand, I never paid in F2P games and played a lot of Dota2, Clash of Clans and Candy Crush for hours.
These games are fun and free. And guess what? they are always evolving, the support is always there to fix issues and release new Free content. Players are happy.

I think some type of games should be Premium, while other should be Freemium. It's not a business that fit all models, but it should be used more often in some cases. Heck, take it like a game demo and spend 60$ in it if you like it. you'll have at least 6 month of fun, for even more hours than you could have put inside a single-player only game.

Mike Kasprzak
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Free to Play? More like Free to Pay, AMIRITE?

#BadPuns #WhySoSerious

A W
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Why can F2P games engage in some sort of bitcoing mining option for the gamer? The more the gamer plays the more bitcoins get unlocked and the more the gamer gains in digital rewards from unlocking bitcoins for the publisher's bottom line. It seems to be where they are all headed anyway. Time = money.

Mike Griffin
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In the F2P games biz we have smart, supportive and respectful examples, and we have dumb, shallow and disrespectful examples. Unfortunately consumers have demonstrated the propensity to invest time and money into both examples, yet fundamentally it's up to developers to decide which side of the fence they choose to pursue (and thus make available) for these potential players. A self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

Mike Lopez
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I am always amused at the High Horse so many people (most often Core gamers) take when talking smack about F2P games.

So let me get this straight: there are companies who mislead and manipulate their customers into consuming more and spending more money??? Hello!!! This is the entire basis for the modern Consumer based economy and society that the majority of the Developed World has embraced for the past 60+ years.

This is what ALL companies who sell consumer goods and services do!!! Why should it be different for gaming companies?

(Edit: I just clipped this entry and turned the larger discussion into a blog post for discussion.)

Continued in Gamasutra blog post:
http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/MikeLopez/20131204/206290/The_Hypo
crisy_of_F2P_Angst.php

Adam Bishop
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"Yeah we treat our customers with disdain, but so does Walmart" does not strike me as the argument that proponents of F2P really want to be making.

Mike Lopez
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That sounds like someone who doesn't own *any* consumer goods because the manufacturing, sales, marketing, merchandising and PR tactics are so ethically distasteful.

Game Development is a business. If you are successful you are allowed to make more games. If you are not successful you are often not able to continue. Good luck on the pure artist, non-capitalist tract.

Peace.

Amir Barak
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Your main argument seems to be: everyone else are assholes and they're making money, so it's alright for me to be an asshole. Which is quite a logical argument mind you, it also makes me an asshole... I, don't want to be an asshole...

"The day the F2P Nay Sayers stop buying retail branded consumer products is the day their complaints about F2P manipulation will stop being hypocritical" [From your blog]
I minimize my purchases. Most of my stuff is second-hand, alot of it I find on the street (well, my wife, but I help carry it home). I've changed ink in my printer about three times already (through refills) instead of buying a new printer. We try to recycle most of what we consume in our house. We don't buy junk food. And when we do buy things we buy locally (as far as possible). And I think F2P games are rubbish.

"My main complaints with many F2P game lie in shallow, weak gameplay and in high friction interfaces with poor usability" [Again, from blog]
And they aren't changing because there's no incentive to change, no ROI, no money to be made. People that make F2P games as a business make them because it is a business, not because it's a creative process. So they suck (the games).

"Good luck on the pure artist, non-capitalist tract"
Thanks! :D
"Good luck being a greedy corporate cog that doesn't give a rat's ass about anything but money".

Both of those are extreme cases. There's a way to make a living and retain a creative and constructive product. Sure, it won't make you rich quickly (or at all) but at least you won't be making F2P games.

Daniil Sarkisyan
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What you propose smells worse then selling alcohol to minors - in your business model they should give them first shot for free.

Ordani Briton
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Well he did say that he is flexible maybe he should talk to Nexon.
http://techcrunch.com/2012/05/11/heres-how-nexon-has-quietly-outp
erformed-zynga-since-both-of-their-ipos-last-year/

Zaair Hussain
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There's a complex debate over why people make F2P games over premium games but the answer can certainly be distilled:

Because people spend money on them.


No game designer wants to make an "incomplete" game, they just do the best they can with what they have. It would be much nicer to be able to make premium games for mobile but the fact of the matter is a) unless your company name is Disney or Chair you're not going to sell it and b) even developers need to eat.


As many complaints as I hear about FTP, the mobile game market simply does not allow for any other possibility right now for 99% of developers.

Marc Fleury
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For people who feel that F2P games are unethical, I'm curious:

If classic arcade games allowed players to play for free for the first two minutes, and then they asked for a quarter after that, would that be unethical?

I would have loved that as a kid.

Daniil Sarkisyan
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This is giving you a trial period, which is great. F2P is when they will tell you that you could play free as long as you keep winning while designing game mechanics so that most of the time you just barely loose ...and allowing you to put unlimited number of quaters giving little temporary improvement for each... and, of course, top 10 players will get to display any message they like, 1 word per quarter.

Ben Sly
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It depends on the rest of the classic arcade game's design. If the game stays true to the promise of the first two minutes in content, quality, and difficulty, I'd consider it an excellent try-before-you-buy technique with no real downside (aside from all the penniless kids hogging the machine.) But if the game is designed to have a constantly increasing level of difficulty that gets ludicrous solely so that the player keeps putting quarters in, or if the third minute cost one quarter, the fourth two quarters, the fifth cost four, and the pattern continued, I'd have a lot more issues with it.

The issue is not so much the delayed nature of the payment, it's in using the heat of the moment to get the player to pay escalating costs that they wouldn't otherwise. I would consider many arcade games ethically questionable under these grounds, especially in using high-pressure tactics to extract money from their players. Your change makes it easier for them to get hooked, but the issue with F2P is what you do with players who are hooked; I'd say it wouldn't affect how ethical a given arcade game was at all, just how successful it may be in attracting new players.

Amir Barak
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Which is also a reason why a lot of these types of arcade cabinets died once home consoles and computers became a viable alternative with the same games. People realized they were being ripped off and that there's a better alternative.

Richard Black
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Seems to me a rather clueless comment on f2p. Yeah, a lot of f2p systems suck, but htey suck because they're designed by people with the same clueless mentality who think they need to extort money out of you to be successful.

It would seem to me 2K already has a metric to weigh how profitable it could be with f2p. I seem to remember in Red Dead Redemption you could 'buy' different outfits to wear and I know in Borderlands they sell different cosmetic outfits for their characters. So they're already selling customizations for their games and can likely look up how much they make doing so. I really doubt the amount of money they make with even that limited and largely pointless selections is worth sneezing at.

So make complete games. There's no reason to coerce people into subscriptions or payment models that will only embitter them with gated content and have worlds that are sparsely populated. Make great content that people are willing to pick up to customize their experience. How many hours do people spend making avatars look the way they want them to look in Skyrim or Mass Effect, that no one else but them will ever see? Decoraing homes or captains cabins? And that's offline games. The amount of money I see left on the table in most games is ridiculous. Subscriptions to me pale in comparisson to what most people would invest in to get their fantasy characters looking just the way they want them to look or ride what they want them to ride. To my knowledge only Lord of the Rings Online offers a wealth of outfits, steeds, and housing options for people to truly plink money into, and they sure seem to. Hell my wife is balking at moving to another more populated server for like 5$ in GW2 and yet was more than happy yesterday to spend 10$ or something on a mask she liked for one of her character she barely plays.

Customization is where the money is at, not extortion.


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