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Storming the Future: Splash Damage's New Moves
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Storming the Future: Splash Damage's New Moves

June 4, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

At Wedgwood's mention of spending £50 on a retail game and feeling perfectly fine with that price, I switch the topic to his studio's latest target -- free-to-play games -- and how spending in these games compares.

On hearing the word "whales", most recently used to denote the small percentage of free-to-play gamers who spend serious amounts of cash on these games, Wedgwood is visibly disgusted.

"It's such a horrific term, isn't it?" he says. "The thing is, I'm one of those whales, which is why I'm most offended by the term! You know, when I played Hero Academy, I bought the dark elves the first day that they were announced straight away, and I wanted to be the guy who was attacking everybody with dark elves as they were released."

"I don't know if it's because I want people to know that I spent $1.99 on buying them, or because I was genuinely compelled to buy them due to the new gameplay abilities, or just because I wanted to status of having something that was unique and different to everybody else."

"But I enjoyed it and I don't miss the two dollars, so it's okay," he continues.

"Philosophically, the problem with that approach, if that's the cornerstone of your game's design, is that you then consider the 94 percent of people who aren't into doing that. And one of the things that offended me most at the recent London free-to-play summit was the very dismissive way that the presenters would talk about gamers, and how the valuable gamers were the ones that spent money, and these are your VIPs and the ones you want to get into your games."

"I just think that's bullshit," Wedgwood sighs. "You have to value people's time equally to the money that they can spend. People generally have more time than they need, more money than they need. I'm one of those people that has slightly more money than I need, but very limited time, so convenience makes a ton of sense for me and the ability to buy something to get ahead a little bit faster is brilliant."

"At the same time though, if I've got an abundance of time, I want the game to value that time -- I don't want to be told that it costs me 20,000 gaming hours to grind for a fountain, because that's just stupid. It makes no sense."

This is why it is important for Splash Damage to achieve a balance where the company values people's time just as much as their money, he argues.

"If you really believe in that philosophy, then there's no such thing as a whale -- because the whale is the person who gives you all of their time, just the same as the person who spends all of their money. Those people are just as important to the community because they are the ones telling their friends about the game. It's bad business practice to think of the ones that spend money as the community that you should serve the most. It's a mistake to build your game with whales in mind."

Rad Soldiers

Splash Damage has always aimed for the hardcore gaming audience with its first-person shooters, so its switch to free-to-play may potentially alienate a portion of its fan base. I ask Wedgwood whether he believes that the hardcore audience can be persuaded to come over to mobile and free-to-play gaming, and he proceeds to put his numbers hat on.

"The current market for people who play video games in the UK at the moment is around 35 million players," he explains. "Of that market, around 10 million are playing console games, which means around two-thirds of the market are playing games not on a console. And currently, around a quarter are playing free-to-play games, so 15 million gamers in the UK are playing games that they're paying for. So the truth of it is that around 4 to 5 million UK gamers are playing games that are effectively free, or that use alternative monetization methods."

"If you compare that to somewhere like, say, Brazil, where they have a population of 130 million plus, but they have a similar number of people playing video games -- around 30-35 million -- almost none of those people are playing console games at all, and yet their free-to-play numbers are roughly the same. So the proportion of console gamers has no immediate impact on the number of people who choose to play free-to-play games."

What we're currently seeing, he concludes, is a new group of gamers entering the market who didn't previously play game, but might have dabbled in a bit of FIFA on a Friday night with some friends.

"They may play Call of Duty and be one of those 20 million people who play that, but they're probably not playing the hardcore console games," he says. "They probably would play something cool on their iPhone if they weren't embarrassed to talk about it."

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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