Games As A Disservice
The Gamble With Playing For Free
A friend recently likened his experience with free loot shooters as walking the floor of a casino. Everywhere he turned, there was an opportunity to spend real-life money to potentially have more fun. But he wasn’t having fun. He didn’t want to be in Vegas. He was just looking for a great multiplayer shooter experience devoid of superfluous distractions or blatant up-sell tactics.
I’ve definitely felt his pain. But while I don’t love being bombarded with ads for micro-transactions, I also accept that this sales-focused environment is par for the course when a game's core content is provided to players free-of-charge.
Technically speaking, the tactic is nothing new. Can you think of any form of media that hasn't utilized ads or an up-sell model at one point in their evolution?
Like it or not, entertainment is a business--and radio, television, web content, and interactive games are all platforms for monetizing clicks, listens, and views.
Whether the consumer is spending their attention or actual money, a transaction happens, and profits are made.
Understanding the Psychology
While some might debate the ethics behind these tactics, I abide by the "consumer beware" model. I feel it's up to us to educate ourselves and our families about products in order to make intelligent decisions. Although I believe better advertising standards need to be put in place for the Wild West of mobile game ads targeting children; as a gamer, I feel my family and I can steer clear of the perils of the free-to-play scene if we so choose... ...or participate in it with discipline.
I've enjoyed titles like Rocket League and Apex Legends for years at a time with little to no financial investment. Which, in all honesty, doesn't seem fair to the hard-working developers. For games that I love, I like to give back to the studios and vote with my wallet. Ironically, I'm not one for trinkets, so outside of purchasing a Season Pass, I find it extremely difficult to justify spending real-life money on any singular asset.
But one-off purchases are exactly what most publishers and developers are banking on each player doing at least once during their active engagement with the game. Their business model relies on players succumbing to the enticement of just the right shiny new asset or bundle or special offer.
As a player, you're constantly bombarded with these offers because they exist where you play. Because of the nature of game menus and digital inventories, it can be difficult to manage your self-control and refrain from making a spontaneous purchase, especially when most transactions are as easy as pressing a button.
Building Awareness in a "Sea of Free"
Beyond dealing with this phenomenon as a consumer, it's important to note the impact it can have on indie developers.
When a juggernaut funnels millions of dollars into development and marketing, and then offers that title for free, it has a major effect on the market as a whole. Consumers are now confronted with the conundrum of spending their time with a free AAA offering or spending money upfront to enjoy games built on the classic business model. As an indie, generating awareness for your title can be a daunting task--and that's just awareness, not actual sales.
Consider for a moment just how many hours are poured into titles like War Zone, Apex Legends, Warframe, and Lost Ark. That’s time NOT spent on purchasing and playing indie titles.
Any moderately competent free content can make paid content appear too expensive by direct comparison.
Different Strokes For Different Folks
For those consumers who aren't concerned about trends, or who put a premium on playing and supporting original games, the free-to-play scene may have little impact. And they’re the consumers we hope to target first.
At Inevitable Studios, we’re building games for savvy consumers who are seeking original content combining unorthodox stories with fresh gameplay in worlds worthy of their time and effort. It’s not that we purposefully buck trends or don’t respect that running a successful studio requires us to treat our enterprise as a business—but we didn’t arrive here chasing the mighty dollar. After many years of accumulating experience in this great industry, we now have the luxury of crafting the types of games that inspire us most.
Instead of building games as a service, we work in service of you. So our primary goal is to inspire you too!