Free to Play ain’t free

Some disjointed thoughts:

#1) Why refer to the “arcade guys” in past tense? As if they’re not longer actively making money hand-over-fist? Don’t think “arcade”, think business to business (B2B) sales instead. They have moved from the less lucrative “entertainment” (aka Arcade) space into the *much* more lucrative “gambling” space. Insert small metal disks into the big electronic custom-built boxes for the purpose of obtaining a brief and fun experience. It’s not Gauntlet (/mourn) – it’s 5 Card Stud, Keno, or any one of a hundred other skill or chance-based games.

Everything is the same as it ever was. The companies making these games ( are immensely profitable. The only real difference is the shiny goes to 11 now…

#2) Your description of Tell Tale Game’s business model (free first level, pay for rest) could have be about Commander Keen, with only a company name substitution. How is something from 1990 new?

Perhaps I’m being overly pedantic, but haven’t we used the shareware model pretty much since the beginning of time?

#3) “Free to Play should really BE free to play” is the sentence that really got me going. I hear you, but I don’t follow… Restated, here’s what I think you said: “If you require a player to spend money to play your game, at any point, and you brand your game as F2P, then you are being evil. Instead you should brand your game Cheap 2 Play (C2P) or some other way.”

Is that about it?

Because if that’s really the issue, marketing-speak specialists (i.e. Mr. Sheppard) are just not going to sign on to that. It’s so much more profitable to be less than Truthful with players. Apple and Google are enabling this behavior, by assuming a substantial cost burden, because it’s in their best interest for their customers to have access to millions of apps *without an initial purchase cost.* (Something different than both F2P and C2P, but in common with both.)

#4) I don’t see how we make game development economics work out. The aggregate # of units for most games (not breakout hits like MineCraft) are small and, when facing the high probability of a fractional decrease for a follow-on, what’s a producer/funder to do? How are we to keep going?

The answer to that question leads to the real change that the modern F2P business model brought about. For all intents, we have removed the upper limit for how much one could spend. Once you take that course, it’s becomes about putting sufficient pressure on the players. Instead of Commander Keen’s or Tell Tale’s fixed purchase price, the sky’s the limit, so they bring every psychological tool to bear.

That is where the evil is.

Not the truthfulness, or lack there of, in the marketing copy: “Free 2 Play.”

The evil is being baked right into the game mechanics.

The thing is it’s damn difficult to get this right. Your example: “They don’t charge for new clothes for Clementine or for shotguns that do double damage to zombies!” Not selling Clementine clothes is leaving money on the table. For example, the latest Tomb Raider ( does this with their “single-player outfits.” Totally reasonable use of development time because, those who wish to, can spend more money what they value.

There’s no “evil” there. That’s good. (Assuming your engine supports it and your player-base is big enough for the economics to make sense.)

The “double damage” shotgun gets really messy. There is a Tomb Raider analogue in the “Headshot Reticle” which is both purchasable as DLC and also earn-able in the game.

The question then becomes, if you can earn it, does that make it OK? Or is that still evil?

I think it’s a gray… dark gray… area.

I want Tell Tale Games to continue to make Seasons. For that to happen, they really can’t leave money on the table…

Are they?

Gaming the System

Recently, ran an article by Kabam’s President, Andrew Sheppard, about the F2P biz model. (You can find it here:

Basically, the story offered some good thoughts and some bad ones.

The good? There are some very smart comments about the desirability of having several workable business models – and the inevitability of multiple models – rather than one winner-take-all model. That was a breath of fresh air, let me tell you! Most F2P guys exhibit a zeal that can, at best, be described as unseemly. Multiple business models? I completely agree.

And I agree completely with the comments about licenses as well. There’s no reason why licensed games can’t rock. And it’s both good business and, often, good fun working with licenses. Developers need to get over not-invented-here syndrome.

But, on the flip side, Sheppard makes some comments about console and triple-A developers being “scared” of F2P…

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