Oct 7, 2013
Freemium content has become a hugely popular model in the past few years. It is proving controversial, with core gamers hitting out at it, yet as a business model, is proving to be pretty lucrative, to say the least.
Did the concept begin with arcade games? Once upon a time you would pay a few pennies to play a game for fifteen minutes until you were beaten. Perhaps this is the granddaddy of the new free-to-play gaming concept. Low costs of entry have always been important in the gaming industry.
But what impact does this have upon the game itself, and the experience that goes with it? Candy Crush Saga reportedly manages $840,000 a day, which is ridiculous when you consider it’s a tried and tested puzzle game that we have played countless times before. This model offers different benefits and downsides to both consumer and developer, and I think both are worth exploring.
For developers, there are a number of benefits. The one crucial aspect, is money. Dosh, cash, bread, dough, moolah; whatever you want to call it, a freemium model is more than capable of providing you with riches. Gaming is a business after all, and if a particular model proves more lucrative than others, then why wouldn’t you take advantage of it?
Another big plus is that developers don’t have to expect a gamer to shell out £40 on a whim, and that instead, they can download your title, and enjoy it as and when they like. With MMO’s and the like, users can purchase items when they please, and the game can broaden its audience due to a free-to-play model. This could capture more casual markets, and spread the appeal even further.
At the end of the day, people will only spend big bucks on your game if they enjoy it. And if they do, that’s good! If people are willing to spend money in a free-to-play game, then let them do so. They aren’t being forced against their will, at the end of the day.
One of the huge drawbacks for developers, is that freemium content can often affect the quality of the game itself. And for those developers with a specific vision, freemium may not be the way forward. It’s a similar concept to plastering adverts over works of art; the vision of the dev can be ruined by an annoying model that can agitate gamers. After all, consumer experience is what gets studios known, and if their games do not receive good press then they are unlikely to succeed.
Also, to release truly freemium content (aside from Lite or Trial versions), a certain amount of revenue or publicity is needed to warrant giving a game away for free. I don’t think it is possible for an indie developer to offer a game for free if there is little certainly of players being happy to splash their cash on in-app items. It’s simply cannot be guaranteed unless you already have backing, which is why you see big franchises turn to microtransactions, such as Temple Run 2 implementing purchases for gems, allowing a ‘continue’ option. Despite this, making your game available for free will pique the interest of new audiences. App stores are becoming flooded with new games, so how do you get to the top of the ranks? The idea of a free game will attract more gamers than those who will pay for an unknown game, so there is that aspect to consider.
Ads. No-one likes ads. And if your content is free, how are you paying for it? It’s pretty likely that advertisements are necessary if you implement a F2P model.
Some free-to-play models allow you to skip levels for a certain fee. Now, the ideology seems ludicrous when you break it down. You are essentially paying to play less content. To me, it’s like paying to skip a boring part of a movie. It takes the challenge out of gaming, something that sued to be so intrinsic to being a gamer. Getting stuck and remaining persistent was part and parcel of gaming. Perhaps we just live in a more fickle society, who don’t have time to attempt the same level more than a few times. Pacing is something that has always been important in video games, as to when you’re introduced to certain abilities or characters. But in freemium titles, this isn’t the case, as everything it slowed down to the point where you are forcing the gamer to spend money to avoid being inanely bored. And all of this, compromises your end product. Not cool.
So, what is the good side of freemium games for consumers?
Well, for a start, if you can resist the elusive temptation of microtransactions, you get good quality games for free! I played a few months of The Simpsons: Tapped Out without spending a dime. But I did have to wait around a while whilst my Krusty Burgers sprang up around Springfield. And it ended up very dull. But I am proud to have not been coerced into spending money for the privilege of speeding up certain processes. GTA V recently implemented a model that Rockstar promised did not hinder players who did not want to pay, but for those that do, can provide easier access with cool features.
Aside from this stingy outlook on gaming, you gain the ability to try before you buy! This can always be a great move, with certain games like Where’s the Water? Making use of this. I find it’s a genuinely fun game, and it gives you the first few levels as a taster, and leaves you wanting more. So, at least you won’t make purchases you will later regret, as the ‘demo’ version is available.
However, let us not forget about the dark side of freemium content for all the gamers out there.
With the recent release of Plants Vs Zombies 2, many people game the mechanics which made the original so great, have been ruined by in-app monetization. There is a concept that has arisen recently, called ‘Pay2Win’, which as the name suggests, involves gamers paying to win games. And this raises the question as to why people play games. Is it to have fun and be challenged? Or is it some completionist need inside us to finish every game we come across? Well, it certainly seems people are willing to fork out money in order to beat the next level, without resorting to skill. On the developers part, it appears to be a shameless tactic to make you purchase items to complete the game, as the levels grow increasingly more difficult; to the point where you need to make use of microtransactions to hit the next level.
Microtransactions can take you out of the immersion of a game. If you want the best experience possible, then menus popping up in the middle of a game may not be the best bet. Also, they act as a reminder of the capitalist society in which we inhabit, and that everything fun involves extra expenditure. Which might be a bit of a mood killer.
Also, if it’s a continual game (such as The Sims: FreePlay), you could be looking at a continual future where you are never free from forking out money. You can never truly ‘beat’ the game, and you may be stuck maintaining your Sims every need with real-world cash for all eternity.
Many developers who implement a freemium content may not be too concerned with the overall quality of the game, and so in general (not naming names), the games tend to beof a lower quality. If the game developers behind the title are truly dedicated to producing the highest quality game possible, it is likely they will release it as a premium title, with an up front fee. This ensures the experience is truly riveting, and there is nothing to take you out of the immersive universe the creators have made.
It seems that gaming may have to evolve even further for this model to be truly accepted. I am certain something will arise soon, that manages to meld a quality gaming experience with accessibility and free content, that many others will adopt. But for now, there is a divide between games looking to cash-in on addictive gaming habits, and top-notch, premium games, which are created with a certain vision in mind, that developer’s are not willing to constrict.
Perhaps what is needed is for apps to be less pushy about microtransactions, and merely leave the decision up to a gamer. Personally, I would happily reward a developer with my hard-earned cash if I feel the free-game I’ve played deserves it. The industry is going through a learning curve, working out just how much gamers are willing to pay for their favourite gaming experiences, both within AAA titles and on mobile devices. Quality speaks for itself, and I’m sure there are many gamers out there who would reward this notion.