Brad Wardell's views about technology, politics, religion, world affairs, and all sorts of politically incorrect topics.

As a business model, I very much like free to play.

Free to Play is a direct response to the digitization of PC gaming. It’s no coincidence that free to play is a PC-centric phenomenon.  If we still had a handful of major PC game publications and a major retail presence, there’d be no free to play.  The market adapts, the consumer benefits.

Let’s define free to play:

Free To Play is software that is fully functional and useful/fun in its free form. It’s not a trial. It’s not a “Crippled” version.  It is, ultimately, freeware.  The difference here is that users also have the option, typically within the program itself, to add more features or content to the program. These features and content are completely optional and the user could go just fine without ever spending a cent. Well made freeware makes its premium features “nice to have” but not critical to the program itself.

Migration

Free to Play may have started out as a gaming phenomenon but it just as applicable to non-game software. About a year ago, I outlined to our software unit that all our software was going to migrate to a free to play model. You can see this with Tiles. Tiles is freeware but users can add features to it for small amounts. The base program is compelling on its own. The extras (premium) are clearly “nice to have” but not core to the program (skinning, extra tile filters, etc.).

This week, we’re releasing WindowFX 5, a program we’ve been making for over a decade.  The 5th generation version is free to play. That is, there is no Pro/Plus/Enhanced version. There is only WindowFX.  Users who want premium features can add them in the app for a nominal cost but the application itself is designed to be compelling on its own.

Meanwhile, our PC games are still pretty traditional. The upcoming Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion is a $39.95 game. There will almost certainly be a demo version but it’ll be a traditional demo.  Digital does bring some benefits -- we can offer users of the original Sins of a Solar Empire series a $10 discount.  But we are very much looking at the F2P model when we are designing new titles.

Why is F2P taking over?

Simply put, the loss of a retail channel for selling software combined with the dilution of the software/gaming media has meant that publishers now have to rely, more than ever before, on word of mouth to generate revenue for their games.

Ten years ago, if I was publishing a PC game it went something like this:

Visit PC Gamer, Talk to Steve Bauman at Computer Games Magazine, Visit Computer Gaming World, Gamespot, IGN, GameSpy, a couple of others and you were pretty set on the marketing side.  Then you’d make sure your game was at EB, Best Buy, Gamestop, CompUSA, and a few others and you could expect great sales.

But today?

According to our surveys, most users are getting their information from various sources that boil down to word of mouth (Facebook friends, Twitter friends, Forums).  And retail? Good luck getting shelf space for your PC title. 

So what’s the best way to get word of mouth? Give it away. Give nearly all of it away.  Because it turns out that even if only 1% of the users contribute, you can make a killing as long as you have enough players – which is, ultimately, the challenge.  Because if you make it extremely well and give it away, people will talk about it. And that is what publishers are counting on.

So that’s why Free to Play works and will continue to become more and more dominant as time goes by.  In the meantime, I have to go buy a virtual hat and tweet a picture of my character with it…

//


Comments (Page 2)
on May 23, 2012

Alstein
I don't like having elements of games locked out on me period.  FTP games tend to cost hundreds to unlock the full game.

 If you had a dual-track model, where one could pay for the full game as a pre-order and get everything guaranteed up-front, but FTP otherwise, that would be more appealing.

 If you look at Tiles (a really nifty app) you can see that you can buy all the add-ons for a lower price:

 

Nice, eh?

on May 23, 2012

I'm actually less likely to try a game like this. 

I don't want to be nickeled and dimed for the FULL game, let me pay one price and be done with it.

I hate DLC also...so this is just that business model to the extreme.

on May 23, 2012

I'm also less likely to play a F2P title. Partially because every one that I've tried has been inferior, or built towards the old "Arcade" style of play. Another quarter to keep playing... or you can wait until tomorrow for your next 2-3 free minutes to play... The other side is making it so F2P players end up having to spend several times as much effort to attain the same status as other players, and I just don't have the time.

That said, if I were actually interested in a F2P title, the kind of thing that I would pay for would be time savers rather than extra time or extra characters/items. Neosteam (now dead) was free, with an optional monthly fee that could be paid to get between 50 and 300% extra experience from battles to make leveling a character much faster. If I were truly interested in a F2P game, which I still haven't been, I'd probably take them up on those offers just to get the thing done with and over so I could go back to one of my other games. I'm very, very time constrained.

If there was an option to pay $30-60 to get everything, then maybe I'd play it...

I'm generally a single player game player though, I avoid online games which is where the bulk of f2p games are situated.

on May 23, 2012

Kazriko
I'm generally a single player game player though, I avoid online games which is where the bulk of f2p games are situated.

Funny that, cause most of the F2P games I've played are MMOs, but working more toward cooperative play than competitive play. While I usually play with my brother or friends, people I know will stay around my level, this style allows me to group up with others for a fuller experience, but not one in which them having a bigger sword has any affect on my gaming. I've played Requiem (which was just as good as Guild Wars, but free) and Vindictus, both of which I found were plenty capable without paying for additional material. Honestly, there's very little that you can purchase that I see a point to. Purchases have no affect on level cap or mission availability.

So there are F2P games that give you plenty enough for nothing and don't involve competition that places paying customers in a genuinely superior position. And neither of the above have play limits or an 'arcade' feeling.

I think the bggest issue for an individual is finding something you like within a given genre, especially since there are so many games that it's hard to sift through the lot. My brother likes the browser RPGs of Facebook while I prefer the live action RPGs.

on May 23, 2012

Is this also why FE will be F2P for most of us with significant DLC?

on May 23, 2012

If done right FTP can be a really good thing. I think its great many others are trying the approach. But as with anything the desire to sell extras can conflict with the best gaming experience, though most of the time the players take it better as they are getting most of a cool game for free.

Modding and user created content is likely to be unsupported on this model however, so there will need to be some games like Sins, elemental and skyrim. Hopefully what happens is that the best in this field keep making standalone, very high quality, very moddable PC games while others do FTP to capitalize on a larger player base while offering more variety in base games.

on May 23, 2012

re: tiles - yeah - I think you have an excellent pricing structure there.  You get the software for free and can pay a few bucks here and there to get some extras that you want or need.  At least with tiles, I feel like SD struck a really good balance for what you get for free vs what you can pay for.  That and its pretty damn seamless to get the new paid functionality. 

on May 23, 2012



Nice, eh?
Reply #17
wbino

Member No.3,075,352
Join Date02/2008
Karma+18

 

That's doing it right.  You don't see it that often with games though.  F2P makes sense for some things/some game genres, not with others.

 

A game like GC2/FE would not work under a F2P model.

 

on May 23, 2012

I would pay money for Galactic Civilization III. Lots and lots of money...

on May 23, 2012

With games, for me it seems that F2P really only fits competitive or social games.  Where people will pay to avoid grind or to show off.  Just so long as the game avoids the "pay to win" mindset.  I particularly like when you can unlock the same items by playing as you can purchase - if you want to spend time not money.

But in PC gaming, there are so many games that don't transfer well to that multiplayer/ PvP setting to encourage people to buy stuff.  That's when F2P really falls flat.  If I'm doing something singleplayer, I want to feel like I'm getting a game that the developer made to be as fun as possible.  Not that I'm playing something designed to be less than the best, just to encourage me to pay up.  Destroys the immersion and fun, like commercials in the middle of a movie.

Even with DLC or preorder bonuses, most developers seem to have difficulty adding micro content that maintains the integrity of the game without being overpowered or ruining other normal content, or making it seem like you HAVE to get the DLC/item to make sense of things or progress without mindless tedium.  Having a lot of elements in a game be a la carte seems difficult to plan, and again seems to take the focus away from making the best possible game experience.

Beyond games, if I'm looking at productivity programs or apps, I'm less likely to be bothered.  I'm not trying to be "immersed" or concerned about my fun levels, I'm worried about doing what I need/want to, and how much it costs to be able to do those things.  I've gotten used to websites or apps giving me some level of functionality, then needing subscriptions to get a fuller experience.  Its better than programs that used to play, then nag for purchase with popups.  So at that point, F2P programs seem really appealing . . .just so long as I don't feel like I'm getting hosed and have to pay 3x more for the same functions I'd get under the old system.

 

 

on May 24, 2012

http://penny-arcade.com/comic/2011/06/10

I think inevitable everything can be made F2P

The formula is:
You build your game
You give your gamers 1 way to interact with the game for free, while offering more variations for money.

eg:
A "side" in a 4x game
A "character class" in a RPG
A "hero" in an arena game (like Skylanders or Rise of Immortals)
and so on

The trick will be to make novelty in the variations you offer. That is to say, everyone is playing the same game, but how they go about playing the game is unique enough to want to try out the other options for cash.

On the other hand...

This is the kind of stuff that makes me mad... this is not a good F2P model. (it actually makes me angry when I see what amounts to "take a short cut to power for $1")
http://penny-arcade.com/comic/2011/09/14

There is also a dark side to this model in bait apps aimed at kids and designed to wrack up credit card charges.

on May 24, 2012

F2P has some great products, but its really hard to get into more than one.  I play Battleforge myself and have spent more than my share on it, but other F2P games come along and you know, I'd rather keep playing Battleforge instead.

Even though I feel like I've spent more than enough time and money on it, I'd have a hard time investing in another game unless it was actually better.

Whereas I still buy tons of normal games.

So I don't doubt the F2P genre returns the investment, but it might not be quite as good as it sounds for games.

on May 24, 2012

I love F2P model if done properly as was described by Brad. Path of Exile is a great example of this, and I hope Neverwinter will be as well. 

 

D&D Online is kind of good example. Hellgate London (new one) was kind of bad, the game stopped you from playing on after doing 1/4 of the game and you needed to buy a ticket for 5$ to progress. Also all the shop items were Pay2Win ones and in end game were required to progress. 

 

Anyways, F2P model is a direct counter to pirates and it is a much better way then what others are doing (trying to hunt them down with police) or doing shitty models like Diablo III where you cannot play SP without lag and disconnects. 

on May 24, 2012

F2P has some great products, but its really hard to get into more than one.  I play Battleforge myself and have spent more than my share on it, but other F2P games come along and you know, I'd rather keep playing Battleforge instead.

Even though I feel like I've spent more than enough time and money on it, I'd have a hard time investing in another game unless it was actually better.

Whereas I still buy tons of normal games.

So I don't doubt the F2P genre returns the investment, but it might not be quite as good as it sounds for games.

But if most of the best games coming out were F2P you would not have a choice. You only do this because F2P model hasn't yet taken off properly

on May 24, 2012

TorinReborn

But if most of the best games coming out were F2P you would not have a choice. You only do this because F2P model hasn't yet taken off properly

If that ever happens I'll worry about it.

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