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Free To Play: fashion or future?

There is only one move left, hastily skimming the field and I discover that there is no way to victory on the board; painfully, then, with a singular slide across the screen, I take the final step toward the inescapable loss of my final life. As the entrance is completed, the newly lined up trio of brightly colored candies explodes exuberantly against the backdrop of defeat as the stage does not clear, immediately a window opens through my phone screen. Chirply full of itself, the box informs me for a small price that I can buy a few more lives and try again; alternatively, I can spend 20 minutes sadly depressed while I wait for them to recover. If you haven’t guessed yet, of course I’m referencing the free-to-play mobile phenomenon, inspired by Bejeweled, Candy Crush Saga.

Even just a few years ago, the idea of ​​downloading a game like Candy Crush completely for free was an almost unheard of practice. Today, a plethora of titles, notably massively multiplayer online games and those released on mobile platforms, are offered for free by choosing to sell optional extras to players later via micro transactions, a kind of extended demo, the so-called Freemium payment model. The growing use of Freemium is largely due to the rise in popularity of social media like Facebook and the smartphone platforms where they thrive. Even monolithic publishers like EA have started experimenting with free mechanics by applying them to home console releases; Recent titles like Dead Space 3 and Mass Effect 3 have included optional micro-transactions. Despite its success, the movement has been the victim of harsh criticism from traditional players, the group that is least partial to deviating from traditional one-time payment models.

To understand the success of free models and their current upward trajectory, you must first realize that gamers; Therefore, the market is mainly divided into two very different audiences: the so-called nucleus and the informal. The core is traditional gamers, who often opt for dedicated gaming hardware, such as PCs and consoles, as their preferred platforms; they rarely have more than a fleeting interest in MMOs or mobile devices. By regularly buying numerous games a year, from blockbusters to smaller indie titles, they are the market that publishers traditionally target. On the other hand, they are the casual ones, they are practically everyone else, the ones who don’t spend dozens of hours exploring Skyrim. They mainly play on devices that they own for other purposes, such as smartphones, tablets, or Facebook. This audience rarely buys dedicated gaming machines unless they can offer something unique, like the Wii motion control, the PS2 DVD player, or the Xbox360 Kinect. The two groups are polarized on almost every front – including free play.

The rise in prominence of Free to Play is easily attributed to the growing number of casual gamers – the relationship is different. Years ago there was no casual audience, games were something only the core enthusiast did: Nobody’s mother bought an NES (* ahem * other than mine). The arrival of the Internet and mobile phones changed that, games were suddenly accessible; anyone could reproduce them as a mere side effect of having another device. Even old Nokia phones, by today’s standards, predicted this eventuality, after all, who didn’t play snake? Later, Facebook began offering games, in unprecedented volumes, people who had never bought a console in their lives started playing Bejewed against their friends online. What did these games have in common? All were free as part of a device purchased for other reasons.

They were also free for an obvious reason, because they had to be. Think about it, imagine trying to sell the average person a £ 40 / $ 60 retail game in addition to a dedicated video game console – it’s hard to sell, but for mainstream gamers it’s fine. Now imagine that they have already bought a smartphone for another purpose, following the traditional model of selling them Candy Crush for £ 10 / $ 15 would still be very difficult. Perhaps you could get them to buy it if you use a Trojan horse, for example, like offering it for free. Trojan horse tactics are powerful tools, just look at Nintendo Wii. Initially, Nintendo targeted the kernel that showed off the system to their occasional family and friends, allowing them to test the Wii’s capabilities for free. Then if they wanted it, they could buy it, which they made in the millions. Nintendo did indeed make its way into casual life by selling you something you didn’t know you wanted until you played it. Sounds familiar? It should, free to play uses the same tactic, put it in your hands for free; they will pay later.

Sadly, the Wii was doomed to the life of a fad, despite its incredible hardware sales, software sales began to decline as disillusioned core gamers drifted away from the system and casuals were unable to move a significant amount of software around. its place. Another similar story, and more relevant to today’s free experiences, is that of the immensely popular Facebook game Farmville. Farmville, as you probably know, was a farming simulator. Players grew their crops and collected them on a real-time clock. The game was 100% free to play, but non-paying players would begin to find themselves at a disadvantage as their cash-putting friends expanded much faster, exemplifying the troubling “pay-to-win” problem in the tactically best results in the free players being treated as second-class citizens. Over the course of a year, large numbers of people paid for micro-transactions that generated billions for publisher Zynga, such as the Wii, though the craze died out as quickly as it went on and Farmville was largely forgotten.

Farmville pioneered the freemium model that is now widely used and, like all fads, made a phenomenal amount of money during its brief time in the limelight. Now that everyone has a smartphone, iPad, tablet, Android, or Facebook account, getting an audience to choose a free game is easier than ever, and therefore the chances of being lucrative are increasing. To say that free fashions only last a finite amount of time is something of a null argument anyway. Traditional retail complete sets also have a shorter shelf life, so on average about 80% of a set’s sales are made in the first week. Both free to play and traditional one-time payment methods can only be maintained for a specified time; each works best in an audience.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where people need to be paid; games are not made of goodness in the hearts of the developers. It is critical that they and their publishers recoup their investment and make a profit so that we can continue to produce the games we love. The decision to launch a title using a freemium model or including micro transactions is a business decision and when targeting a casual audience it is a good choice. If only one in ten players pays the bite-sized amounts for optional content, you’ll still make a profit thanks to the astronomical size of the market; in theory, that is very attractive. Everybody wins, right? Free games for players plus money for publishers. However, while it is entirely possible to complete a game like Candy Crush without spending a penny, it is incredibly difficult and time-consuming.

It is not a traditionally difficult mind, not rather free games tend to set up paywalls that players must pay to overcome. In the case of Candy Crush, it limits the number of lives players have, after a couple of failures, a relatively small period of time, they are presented with a choice: buy a few boosters or more lives for a small price or wait twenty minutes. for them to replenish themselves. To that end, the game sells time and convinces, but logically, to sell convenience, you must first accept that inconvenience is a fundamental pillar of gameplay design. How can the player be saved time without losing it first? Gambling seems to actively get in your way, forcing you to crash and spend money. It is also not uneven in free games, as it costs more to buy all the content than to buy a one-time, comparative retail version.

For casual gamers who would never pay for a full game, that’s fine. For the core, although this is a bit concerning, generally clever and notoriously difficult to cheat, they click quickly and realize that the game is simply trying to make more money in small installments than it could in a large amount for advanced. At best, that’s a deal breaker, as many major players in Plants Vs Zombies 2 feel, at worst, it’s an insult. For the most part, the core would simply prefer to buy the game in advance without ever hitting paywalls or paying as you go, core games are a form of escapism; Who wants to escape to a world where they have to think about real life money?

However, Free to play is a deceptively deceptive beast; Although it can be done terribly, it can also be done positively in a way that the core can withstand. Planetside 2 is a great example of a massively multiplayer PC FPS that doesn’t put players at a disadvantage by playing for free by choosing to sell customization options. Sure, there are other options available, but none feel like they’re trying to steal money from you, instead they sell permanent content at a fair price. Valve’s Team Fortress 2 is another example of free play done right, once a full retail game is now free to play and players pay for customization options, nothing more.

I started this article by asking if it is free to play a fad or the future. The truth is a combination of both. In the time editors have tampered with the model, it has become crystal clear that while it benefits the casual audience, it is less friendly to the smart core that is more than aware of its Trojan horse ways and actively opposes it. to the model. Regardless of core sentiments, free to play is a lucrative payment model that is inevitably part of the future; in fact, I bet it will become the main mechanism for making money on smartphones, tablets and social networks, home of the casual. in the very near future. Even with some good examples of free systems in the mainstream games, it seems like it will be a while before they become a force within the mainstream market, as long as it is necessary for the core to routinely get good deals. Ultimately, the core’s uncanny ability to avoid being scammed means that they shouldn’t feel threatened by the success of Free to Play in the casual market that affects them. So is the future free to play? Casually, definitely. For the core? Expect to see traditional and free titles coexist in the future, but not today.

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