F2P, or Free2Play, or Freemium if you wish, has a bad reputation. You can find many articles, blog posts and forum threads bashing this model.
However, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the model itself. In fact, few can argue that this model is what made games part of the mainstream world. It allows you to have a conversation about games with your mother, or grandfather, or whomever.
I want to stay on point so let me make clear what this article is NOT going to be about:
I’m not going to write about the childish argument that F2P “are not games”. I’m not going to write about how “hardcore” gamer are seeing this. I am not going to write about how F2P affected the industry of AAA games (it did, but I'm not going to delve into it here. I will write about in a later post).
What I am going to write about is why, philosophically, F2P games are a crucial element in the game industry. And I am going to write why “casual” gamers and “hardcore” gamers should both be happy it exists.
Let's start from the basics, so that we understand each other.
WHAT DO WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT F2P
Free to Play means FREE to play. We are giving the whole game, the whole experience, everything, for free. No limitations, no broken mechanics, but everything. That is the base assumption. People can launch the App Store on their device, download the game, and play it for free, forever. If that is not the game you are looking at, then you are not talking about Free2Play. Games that do one, or more, of the items in this list are a problems that I am not ignoring, but will get back to in a later article.
THE FACT THAT YOU DON’T PAY FOR IT DOEASN’T MEAN IT’S FREE
By making the game free, game creators allow anyone who has a device to download and try their game. However, its not really free is it? From this point on, even if they don’t pay us a cent, people are paying us with time. This is incredible to me. People are paying time units of their lives to us, game creators and many of us ignore this crucial currency. We shouldn’t because time is a critical currency for F2P.
Here us why:
If the game is good, and worth the time spent on it, at some point these people will pay us, the creators. It is as simple as that. Some games might be able to get players to spend sooner. Somw will get players to spend more. The truth is that if the experience is great, if the reason to pay is right, players will do so anyways. Why? Because people want to be entertained. Because we all need to break the routine and we need the distraction. We love seeing a story unfolds and we want to be part of an adventure. Remember - every model that offered an easy way to pay for content, proved that people are willing to pay rather than pirate it. Netflix, Apple Music, Steam and more.
Player will pay because they are enjoying the game. They will pay because they might feel they need to pay in order to do something quicker (we’ll get to that in the next paragraph). They will pay because they are not stupid, and they do understand that they should. They should because if no one pays for the game, then the creator cannot keep up the game. This means that the creators cannot create anything else and then there is no game, and there is no fun. This means players are losing as well as creators.
TIME AND MONEY
We already established that even when the game is free, players are paying with their time. This exchange remains the real currency for the entirety of the game’s life and the player’s experience in it.
With free to play player exchange money for time. That is the basis most simple exchange and the most fair.
Let us take two players as an example. One player is 15 he has 6 hours to play everyday after school. The other player is a 38 years old and she has a full time job and 1 hour to play.
In the gamw, she can exchange of money for time. She can cut on waiting time for example, or buy items like XP-boosters that will help her progress faster. Progression wise they will be on the same level.
However, there is one thing that no matter how much she (or other players pay for) they will never get - Skill. Paying to progress, unlock and increase progression doesn't give the player skill/knowledge. No money can compensate for that. But no one comes into this kind of an agreement and believes they should get it, and it’s really ok.
It’ ok because of matchmaking, the system that teams up players with one another. When done right, this system will almost never place these two players together, even if they are at the same level.
The matchmaking will placer her with players that are at the same level AND skill skill level. At the same time it will place the kid with higher skill level players. The matchmaking is keeping balance, no one gets hurt. Both players have fun and the creator is getting the money's needed to continue their work.
IT MAKES MORE SENSE EVEN FOR AAA TITLES
I will argue that at the end of the day, F2P is not different than any other game model. Think about expensive AAA games. The creators might not give it for free, but they payed millions to bring the game to life before anyone payed a dime. If players won't buy it when it's out, than that company cannot create more games.
The F2P is even harsher on the developers - they made the game. They are giving away the game, and only if players played and actually feel they want or need to, do they pay. So in reality, while some may argue that this is an unfair model to players, it is much more fair than anything else so far. The creators are risking more if anything.
But when you think about it, why shouldn’t it be the model for AAA games. The risk is there anyways. The games are getting tons of investment. Why not make the games free and allow a vast audience of players to grab the game. How many “hardcore” players are not paying the $60 just because they are not sure the game is worth the investment? What would happen if all those millions of players get access and play the game for a few hours? They would not have payed the creators anyways so what different does it make if they get the game for free? The outcomes are simple: either they don’t like the game and stop playing it. Or they like the game and start paying a few dollars on it - those are dollars that would have never come in. Not in today’s models. This brings me to the next point.
IT ALLOWS ALL KIND OF PEOPLE TO PAY DIFFERENTLY
I want to credit this to Nicholas Lovell from GameBrief. I hope I’m right.
Basically the reasoning is simple. When I as a creator ask you for $60 for my game I cut any person who wants to play but can only pay $1 and up to $59. At the same time I’m not letting any fans pay me $61-$100+. And many fans would want to pay me extra, for various reasons.
Bottom line, F2P is also more fair to the creators because it allows their fans to pay them as much as they can. This model was proven by Radiohead when they published “In Rainbows”. The band used the “Pay as you Like” (or pay as you wish) model. Many thought that this will cause people to pay a cent (the minimum allowed). In reality people payed the asking price or more. Fans felt the need to support their band.
Games could (and perhaps should) adopt this model. At any case, F2P is similar to this model only it allowes more freedom for the creators, and more “stuff” for the players to get for their money.
IT BRINGS NEW BLOOD IN
F2P is responsible for the huge amount of interest that the mainstream has given to games. Without F2P, and the mobile platform, games would remain a big industry, but would not enjoy the kind of numbers we have today. We would not have all these “mothers and fathers’ who are playing today but never did before. F2P makes it easy to say yes to a new experience.
Add to that the way many casual games are modeled, with short sessions as part of the whole game loop, and you get an even more appealing offer. Why? because the major currency of TIME is also reduced. Making the game FEEL FREE for real.
I have much more to say about the virtue of F2P games, and I will write more, but this is the foundation for the next series of articles I’m going to write.
There are always ways to manipulate and turn a good thing into a horrible thing, but it doesn’t make the thing itself evil. Knives can help cook a meal, but also kill, atomic power can send us to the stars but also kill us all, chemicals can improve our health and also cause addiction and harm. Like with everything else - the problem is not F2P but humanity. That is something I might try to fix in a different set of articles.
But now the stage is yours. How do you perceive F2P games? What do you think they do well, and what are they doing wrong? What is the greatest fear you have of the F2P models?