by Bradley McManus
The free to play model is here to stay, like it or not. Whether this is a smart/clever/honest model is something else entirely but it is certainly profitable.
I'm not against Free to Play (F2P) games at all. This isn't article to tear them from the market for not being "pure" enough for long term gamers. As an avid mobile gamer and outed Hearthstone addict, I come across them on a daily basis. Immediately we need to distinguish what a F2P even means:
Free to Play (F2P)
Any game which costs nothing to download and allows you to play the game for a set period of time (which could be limitless) and requires no financial additions to "finish" it.
Pay to Play (P2P)
These are your standard games. You pay a price to access them and can finish them without further investment.
Pay to Win (P2W)
This is the dark side. These are games containing a transaction where it is accepted to a degree that if you don't put in some money you will never be able to compete with people who do. This can be on both a F2P and P2P game.
In my opinion there is nothing wrong with F2P game which do two things.
1. The payment adds more lives. Often the games give a limited number of free goes and if you can't wait till they come back, you can purchase additional ones. The most obvious example of this would be Candy Crush. The game is free, stop moaning about having to wait to buy lives.
2. The payment adds unique content which doesn't affect game play. Funcationality remains the same and it is superficial. A good mobile example is Crossy Road where you can buy new characters (who are all fundamentally the same).
What I do have a problem with is when the payment directly affects the games functionality. I'm looking at you Angry Birds 2. I've always been an advocate of the game series. The way that they have presented ads in the games, charged small fees and generally been a good guy. You could pick up any of the previous 14 games (!) and play again and again with new strategies. You try, you fail, you try, you fail. It's a tested game mechanic which works. At a base level, it is a puzzle game pushing you to get high scores and the best placement of projectiles.
It is widely reported that Rovio grew too quickly for their own good and ended up actually laying off a large number of staff.
The company was in limbo with their biggest game in a long while on the horizon. It is a very purposeful decision to make the game free with paid elements in an effort to increase their revenue and turnover the decline of a company who were once the main attraction in mobile gaming. The world is being lead by a F2P model by fellow Nordic developers King who posted a Q1 profit of $164m.
Let that sink in for a minute. A company who give their product away for free, made hundreds of millions of dollars. Why wouldn't you want to get involved? It's fine if you do this well and still think about the gaming process, however, Angry Birds 2 is an examaple of how to completely screw up your audience.
For me the game was always about trial and error, getting the perfect strike, getting 3 stars. You can still get 3 stars and it is still very much the aim but the journey to get there is completely different. This time you are limited to lives which varies dependent on how the app is feeling (this is a bug which should be fixed). I've had 5 lives max, 7 lives max, 3 lives max - there's nothing consistent. Regardless, if you miss your first shot, on previous games you just restarted and tried again but now there is the pressure of having limited lives - is it really worth it?
The focus doesn't matter anyway because the levels are procedural generated so every time you reload, the layout can change. It's like having a puzzle where the solution keeps changing. I can see why in development this may have seemed like a good thing but it takes away what made the game series so addictive in the first place.
Free to Play games are here to stay and like any change in the industry, it's going to take time until the kinks are fully removed. Companies and individuals are going to make mistakes but they have to remember that this is a consumer driven business. If people don't buy you're products then it's not going to work. If you start to annoy your customers then you're in in real trouble.
You only have to browse Google for a short time to know that the customers are annoyed. Only Rovio know if the success if worth the backlash.