Sometime ago, someone sent me this article, in which a Free-to-Play designer described how he is not a ‘cancer’ on the games industry. I read it, but I didn’t fully agree with it, but it took me a little while to figure out what’s wrong with it.
This is it:
You see, game development is a business and businesses in a capitalist society are ruled by market forces….But games like those published by Electronic Arts are paid for by the people who own stock in the company. At the end of the day, these investors do not care about artistic integrity, Metacritic score or DRM solutions, they only care about stock price and return on investment
Okay, a little preachy. But preachy isn’t what bugs me.
When a developer loses her job—when she’s got rent to make and bills to pay—she needs to find new work. More and more, jobs are coming in the form of games that do not cater to the core Gamer who reads Kotaku. Gaming as an industry has been expanding outward for a long time and increasingly, the “Gamer” is becoming a less relevant part of the overall gaming pie as more dollars are spent on free-to-play games for mobile/tablet, PC and now consoles too.
See it yet?
Most of the article talks about desperate developers who have to get a job to survive. Your average Kotaku reader does not care about the plights of poor developers. They care about their games changing in a way they can’t control.
Most other articles about Free 2 Play make a similar, unforced error. They are on game development sites like Gamasutra, and are eager to explain why Free 2 Play is wonderful – for DEVELOPERS AND PUBLISHERS. They throw around discussions of increased concurrency, ARPU, savings on inventory, etcetera, etcetera, and etcetera.
There is shockingly little on the Internet, it turns out, that talks about how Free to Play is good for the PLAYERS. How millions of players do get thousands of hours of gameplay for free, and the vast majority pay less than they would if they bought a $60 box. How MMOs that go free end up filling up their worlds and becoming interesting and lively social spaces. How game developers no longer can try to fool you into buying a $60 dollar box, or do unholy things to try to pressure you into never leaving and maximizing subscription revenue.
Free 2 Play can be very good for gamers, and we should be coaching it in these terms more. Right now, the hardcore gamers who dislike Free 2 Play dominate the conversation, and get nothing but echoes in return – despite the fact that they are rapidly becoming the minority. Skeptics are just too eager to ascribe the worst motives to game companies, and to assume that the worst practices of the worst games are how all games must monetize. More should be done to explain that Free is good, and not just because its free.
And if your Free 2 Play model isn’t good for gamers?
Well, then you’re not going to be around for very long anyway.