More business model chatter ...

Gamasutra posted another part of the GDC interviews yesterday, which sparked an interesting comment thread there, and then over on Massively. I couldn't help but answer there as well as it's an interesting discussion, and one that the industry will continue to see evolve over the coming years. It turned into an elaboration of the original point, so I figure it's worth posting here as well.

Overall, I'm a pragmatist and there is no 'right' and 'wrong' in the business model discussion. You could make a good game using a variety of models, what you have to do is try to identify what model will most benefit your game, and whether it ties with the expectations of your customers. 

Those expectations are clearly changing in this genre when it comes to accessibility, I do believe that hybrid F2P offerings will eventually outweigh the old traditional definition of trials. Technically, if you look at it objectively, and try to avoid 'hot button' pressing, or 'knee jerk' reactions, to the seemingly emotive divide between F2P advocates and those against it, (at least in it's purest form, when perceived as 'Pay to Win') it is essentially serving the same design purpose as a trial. It is still serving to provide a potential new user with a means of accessing your game without an upfront commitment. For some games that previous upfront commitment may be paying for a (probably virtual) 'box sale' ala Guild Wars 2, or it might also require a subscription, as with The Secret World, or with EVE.

I do think that it is clear that this particular element of what people (perhaps too broadly) refer to as 'F2P' will remain an important element in the market place for the near future at least. People have far more choice than ever before, and thus that accessibility without commitment will be important. 

I am never partisan about this, and definitely not 'for' or 'against' any particular model 'just because'.

I'm simply of the opinion that business models are tools, and tools can be used well, or used badly, and everything in between. Sometimes part of your business model is sound while others aren't. Eventually you have seek a return on your investment, and find a way to facilitate enough players who want to pay, and they will do so when you offer them something they perceive as a good value proposition for their tastes. 

That's why many of the elements are the same, the hybrid models still offer subscriptions, we just present them in different ways. 'Founder' and 'Early Supporter' programs are essentially the same as traditional pre-order programs, they are just updated for modern sensibilities and platforms (social media, kickstarter etc etc), but when you pragmatically assess their purpose, they are the same - an advance payment for a product you are excited about in return for some form of early status / access / reward.

In this space I don't think many developers are actually out to 'nickel and dime' players into some kind of drone like submission, at a fundamental level we first and foremost want players to enjoy our games, become engaged with them, and thus see the value in whatever form the items / services / subscriptions / DLC we offer take. That's the key balance, trying to engage with players so they want to make a purchase, not have them constantly feeling like they have to. The latter can work with low percentage conversions and could even be a viable business model, but I think if you were to ask most modern western MMO designers, that kind of 'whale hunting' is a road they want to avoid in favor of a inclusive offering that allows players to play free when they want to, and then reward a good game with their money, and have the appropriate delineations between rewards for those who pay and those who don't so that your communities do not become separated. 

What is always true however is that times change, customer behavior adapts and evolves over time, and as developers holding firm on one stance or another (for whatever reason) may do yourself a disservice, so we prefer to look upon it as an evolving process that will change over time, and we have always been flexible with out approach there.

That's the real crux of the matter, all these things are tools, and can be used well, or can be used badly. 

There is no 'right' and 'wrong', and taking a partisan approach to discussing it rarely does anyone any favors.


Chioxin said…
This almost requires a blog post to respond to. The industry really does seem to be going F2P and while I agree developers don't want to nickel and dime you, marketing does. I haven't found an F2P game I like, almost every single one of them makes you think about your wallet while you play the game and this is the feeling I find awkward and painful. As a designer, it is this feeling I'd like to avoid in an F2P game. I think League of Legends probably did it right, even though I haven't played it. You basically purchase new characters I think, new play styles, mini additions to the game. I could be wrong there as well though.
Xoduz said…
For my part, I don't have a problem with F2P-models in themselves. What I struggle to come to terms with are the companies that drag both the F2P-concept (and game development as a whole) through the mud. These developers are at worst, virtual drug dealers - at best, casinos/gambling dens - artfully camouflaging their slot-machines as "casual games".

While I understand that games are created (or at least, funded) to make money, I still think there are lines which should not be crossed. Those lines might be a bit fuzzy, but it is really easy to spot those who have really crossed over it in their greedy pursuit of profit.