I don't think that free to play is necessarily the answer. And I say this as a developer of a free to play game.
The key, I think, is in two things.
The first is having more control over your ability to distribute the product in the long term, and cheaply. The retail model meant that old games didn't have any opportunity to continue to get sales. Digital distribution means that old games continue to be available, and they can continue to make quite a lot of money.
The ability to distribute titles yourself means that you don't need to do a big hit all-on-day-one launch to make a sustainable living.
The second thing is the ability for some players to pay more money than others. The free to play model is great at this, but it isn't the only way I think that this can happen.
We have the ability for someone to pay $1000 to become a "Diamond" supporter which gives someone the ability to design a unique item (with guidance from us for balance reasons). They do not get given a copy, it's an item that is now available for the entire player base and enriches the game by providing more content for the players.
This kind of piecemeal support for specific purposes is an interesting area that I think could grow in the future.
The overall message I guess is getting away from the need for a big launch then slump, and moving to something that grows and is sustainable for the long term.
Big spenders or "whales" are much ignored when considering how to make money with a game. There really are people out there that are willing to spend thousands a month on a social game. You could even think that all the other players merely exist in the game to entertain that small slice that really brings in the money.
In my own apps with virtual currency I could see this only in a small way as the incentive was low to spend a lot, so this is more based on the experiences I have heard from fellow devs.
I believe it has been widely recognized that Zynga, GREE, etc earn most of their revenues from "whales". And I think it's an ok practice. But in order to get the money from the whales, it often seems that the rest of the players (the 99%, if you wish), have their experience hampered by constant dangling of offers in front of you. As a player, I'd rather pay a small sum once to avoid the virtual currency - and find other ways to create whales (e.g., as suggested, more like content creation, sponsoring and some vanity items).
>> As a player, I'd rather pay a small sum once to avoid the virtual currency - and find other ways to create whales (e.g., as suggested, more like content creation, sponsoring and some vanity items).
Except that I bet you wouldn't. Most players when asked say they would prefer a "fair price, pay once" model. Yet in aggregate they act very differently. If that weren't true we wouldn't now have a market where:
1) Seemingly most people complain about F2P
2) F2P is increasingly the most successful model
I think the people annoyed by monetization efforts are a relatively tech savvy, vocal minority.
>> it often seems that the rest of the players (the 99%, if you wish), have their experience hampered by constant dangling of offers in front of you.
I don't think that's really the case. Again, vocal minority.
But let's say it is. Speaking as a game developer now, we don't have to present the same experience to every player. A "cheap" player may be nearly a lost cause for direct monetization but valuable for word of mouth. If they're not buying we can actually scale back on the amount of ads presented and instead gently persuade them to, say, post their high scores on Twitter. If you're the type of player that likes to brag, then a prompt with a pre-filled Twitter post won't annoy you at all. It's not hard to figure out which player is which and it's not hard to adapt in-game marketing efforts to suit that player.
I can happily say that I've given up on free to play games. The vast majority of free to play games out there are fundamentally flawed. At their core they weren't designed to be fun to play, they were designed to milk the player of money, or pester them until they give in and pay or give up and quit.
Sure, there might be a few free to play games out there that break this mold, but I'm at a point in my life where money is expendable but time isn't. I'd much rather spend money up front to play a game that has a good chance at being designed for fun than waste time trying to find a diamond in the free to play rough.
I believe there will always be a place for paid games, but if the market shift towards free to play continues I'll have no problem giving up video games entirely. Will the 'AAA' free to play games like Hawken, Mech Warrior Online, or Planetside 2 be fun to play? Perhaps, but I'll never find out.
Well you're pretty obviously on the extreme end of the spectrum.
Personally I don't play many F2P games and am much more 'core than the center of the market as well. Probably 95% of my gaming time goes to console games and I prefer the biggest budget, most polished titles available (just finished my second character in Borderlands 2). And yes I pay for them up front (and have them delivered by messenger to my home the day they launch, which absolutely makes my day every couple of months).
But as someone trying to build a profitable games company it seems suicidal at this point to not at least attempt to make some form of F2P work with my other design goals. Does that mean I'm going to make shitty games? I don't plan on it. I can say that designing a compelling in-game economy (that can be monetized) is without a doubt the most challenging part of design for me.
You can do what Zynga has done and build games from their monetization outward, but I don't think that's the only way to do it. I hope to do a lot better and I'm sure other companies have or will as well. Don't forget that the F2P model that is now so reviled (by people like you) is relatively new (freemium is not of course) so I think it's a little premature to say that all F2P titles will suck, forever and ever.
I don't. I suspect the 'whales' aren't the 1% that Occupy Everything talk about (the richest 1%), but rather a mix of people who may be able to afford the addiction, but many that are not.
It's probably akin to dealing addictive drugs or promoting irresponsible gambling. It might be legal, but I think it's slightly predatory and on the grey side of ethics/morals/karma or whatever you like to think of as 'do good things, not bad' to others.
Do you similarly oppose all luxury brands? There's no quality difference between a $5000 LV handbag and a good $100 one exception fashion, trends and branding. Once you get past about €100/bottle, quality of wine making process rarely increases, it's all just hype.
If someone can sell a $1000 handbag, why can't I spend $100 on my super-duper legendary Diablo 3 item? It's all artificial scarcity. People who spend money any kind of luxury consumer goods rarely get quality. My mechanical watch is worse at telling time than a quartz watch 1/1000th the price. I don't go to Zürich with a tent because of that.
> There's no quality difference between a $5000 LV handbag and a good $100 one exception fashion, trends and branding
While I understand and perhaps agree with your larger point, I have to disagree with this claim. LV stuff is expensive, yes, but the product is very good quality, and comes with what is essentially a lifetime warranty.
Yes, LV is several times the price it "should" be. Problem is that everything else is also several times the price it "should" be. In the larger context, I don't really think LV is particularly bad value, or that the sale price/actual cost multiplier is that much different.
And there is simply no such thing as a good handbag for $100, for pretty much any definition of "good" (substitute briefcase if you are male). To sell at $100, the manufacturing cost of a handbag would have to be maybe $10 or $20 max - whatever you think about LV you cannot possibly claim they cost only $10 to make.
I don't want to sound like an asshole but the brands you mention are all "deep budget" brands and have no design credibility whatsoever. The idea of a professional woman bringing a Jansport bag to the office is totally unthinkable. They are not even remotely comparable to an LV handbag.
The link you quote is to a tote, which is suitable for perhaps taking stuff to the beach. You will not find any professional women coming to the office with this bag, unless it's filled with gym gear or something.
So you pay 10x more for design credibility, rather than something that actually affects the quality or utility of the item?
The idea of a professional woman bringing a Jansport bag to the office is totally unthinkable.
Again, you are comparing the items on intangible benefits which are clearly little more than an emotional feeling telling you that brand A is inherently better than brand B (regardless of the actual item in question).
Promoting an item that is 10x more expensive than another based solely on intangible properties like it has design credibility or it's from an in-fasion brand and that using anything else is simply unthinkable is no better than having me pay 10x more on a game than the average player does.
I, for one, find telling me that I have to buy a certain brand or design that's currently in fashion because not doing so would be unthinkable or I would lack some kind of credibility or the items just don't compare (even though the items actual tangible properties are not even discussed) as exploitative when these items cost so much more than the tangibly-comparable items.
It's not about the disparity between the price and the functional value. The value is subjective, anyway. Expensive jewelry communicates commitment, expensive handbags signal status, and a wine you paid more for tastes better to you. I may think it's foolish anyway, but I think throwing your money away foolishly is a God-given right.
As long as you're in your right mind.
It's when I start to think you're not in your right mind, or when the seller knows things about game theoretic implications of the arrangement that you don't understand (Penny Bids), that I take a dimmer view of things. And when there's compulsion or addiction, especially if it's introduced or reinforced by the seller, and the buyer doesn't really understand it . . .
Then it may not be illegal, but it's a dishonorable way to make your fortune.
You make a very good point, and I guess the distinction I can see is that freemium apps are marketed as free, with the hidden cost to someone susceptible occuring after the initial 'taste'. It's easily arguable that luxury brands tap into the same 'desire center' but at least they're upfront about the costs and people can vicariously enjoy the thought of attaining them without the freemium sleight of hand.