Saturday, January 31, 2015

F2P - The go-to market plan for Magnificent Bastards around the world

It's a popular topic for people to slander Free 2 Play games. As an indie game developer myself I feel like I should be on the up side of the F2P debacle, but I really can't decide...

For starters, F2P is a veritable shortcut to riches for small indies (like me) working for their first break (like me). Mobile customers don't seem to view F2P as a bad thing, and since that is a logical market on which to release a small indie game I feel like presenting a F2P game to them will have minimal repercussions. So why does my gut tell me no?

The revolution

Mobile saw a massive change in the way we make games. A new handheld platform with totally variable controls (you can put a button anywhere on a touchscreen) and virtually open source development software. It's like the Game Boy gold rush but everyone's in on it this time.

With a new platform, and with products coming from every side, the market got a bit saturated and in order to succeed people needed to change up their business plans. Some magnificent bastard decided to try out microtransactions (MTs). The idea has been around in one form or another but it really took off on mobile. Everyone loves a free game right? F2P allows more games onto the free market without sacrificing businesses to a profit vacuum. More players have access to more games because more games are free. Win win.

But F2P has been bastardized. I played a Gameloft game with my niece the other day and I still get angry thiking about it. It's some infinite runner clone with a cel-shaded spiderman skin. Pandering, lazy, sellout shovelware delivered straight to your phone. Now I have nothing against pushing a genre - and as new as it is, infinite runner is a genre now - and I had (up until this point) only a little animosity towards F2P. But good lord this one takes the cake.

So I played the game for a little while. It was as uninspired and generic as mobile infinite runners have become. Jump over a thing, slide under a thing - it had the nice addition of being able to kick people but it was just a slight variation of sliding under a thing. No problems here yet. I signed up for an infinite runner and that's what I got, plus spiderman. Happy like a pig in shit.

And then after a few deaths I find that I am no longer allowed to run. I have run out of lives. Fair play that's a legit mechanic that I'm ok with short ciruiting - where's the reset button? There is none. So how do I go about getting lives? Well, you can either wait three minutes for one to respawn, or you can pay for it.

Ok on blog that's not nearly infuriating as it is when it slaps you in your real life face. Lives are short. We're talking sub-30 seconds on average. Once you have a quick run you get dropped back to the menu screen where you can either wait or pay again. Now, isn't that a direct contradiction of the term "free to play"? I feel like what I am doing here is paying to play. I any case you spend more time either in the paying interface or just idling waiting for a life respawn so you can have another 30 second shot at another round of uninspiring repetetive and boring gameplay.

But SPIDERMAN. My niece loses her mind at the thought of spiderman. She'll sit there for hours straight, waiting three minutes between five second runs just to see that red spandex. If she had access to a payment option she would have drained the bank account dry by now in pursuit of a brand.

It's. Fucking. Genius. And it's making them BANK.

But it's also destructive as hell. It's an underhanded tactic to really squeeze money out of an innocent and ignorant demographic. It's the most obvious cash grab targeted at people that will never see it coming - spiderman-crazed children with middle-upper class parents. It's displaying to the rest of the game development scene "This is how far you can go and there's still no backlash". It's showing complete disregard for the end user and putting a taint on an otherwise stellar studio.

And yet I am enthralled and inspired by what Gameloft are doing. They are pushing the F2P genre as hard as it will go. In a way they are pioneering the deep end of the microtransactionable pit and I respect them for that. It's the kind of move that could potentially sink their ship, lose their legions of fans and put them out of business. It's a stunt that only a supermassive game developer with backup cash out the wazoo can pull.

I'd like to see what would happen to the studio if they did the same thing on Steam. Presented with the choice of waiting 3 minutes between short bouts of insipid gameplay or PAYING for that insipid gameplay, I think most players would choose option C - uninstall. Unfortunately for us (but fortunately for Gameloft) the mobile consumer base will eat up F2P devilry and demand more. And when the mobile consumer base makes the logical step from mobile to PC then the marketing values from mobile will find a home on on our platform and quality games, unmarred by the sticky grip of money grabbing marketing majors, will become even harder to come by.

And I still don't know if that's a world I want to live in.

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