Monthly Archives: October 2014

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Find Out What it Means to Free (to Play)

Originally I was going to be giving this talk at Develop Live, in Edinburgh. I offered to pull my session in order to help the organisers out when there was some criticism over the perceived lack of diversity in the speakers. Since I had the notes done already, I thought I may as well put them up here. It’s like a Web Talk – a Walk. Hmmm, no that doesn’t work does it? Anyway, the notes were written to be cues and aids for speaking, not as a basis for slides, so they’re quite informal and kind of broken English. Enjoy!

(Oh, if you’re a conference organiser and you want this talk at your event, let me know. I don’t consider it dead, and if anything I believe the issue is only going to get worse.) 

 

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Find Out What it Means to Free (to Play)

  • Drinking game – if anyone’s got any alcohol with them, take a tiny sip any time I say the phrase “free to play”, and we’ll check back with you at the end of the talk and see how you’re doing.
  • Assumes everyone in the room wants f2p to survive long term as a business model.
  • At Develop in Brighton this year, Dr Richard Bartle said he thought there was a half-life for free to play, possibly around 10 years, but that it would happen that people would get tired of the tricks and mind games.
  • Put it to the room
    • Hands up for who agrees. Now who disagrees?
    • Well, you’re wrong.
    • Sorry, what I meant was I think you’re all wrong.
  • How the model is being used now, Richard’s right.
  • But I don’t think it’s inevitable.
  • If Free to Play was the movie Back to the Future 2, we’re at a point where we’ve just been given the Sports Almanac and hidden it in the sleeve of a copy of Oh La La.

 

  • If your players knew what you were doing and why, would they support you?
  • Terms:
    • Not “greedy / generous” – will talk about those terms later.
    • Not “ethical / unethical” – strongly emotive, people stop listening if you say they’re making “unethical f2p”.
    • Gentle / aggressive?
  • Undergoing a gold-rush mentality.
  • A lot of money coming in to f2p because the potential ROI is huge.
  • But looking for short term results, and cashing out – treating games like day trading.
  • Product managers tweak for retention & revenue in their current titles.
    • If you make a game, it becomes a habit for a player for a while (how long a while is largely up to the skill of you and your dev team), and then you use your knowledge to tweak variables and squeeze them for money.
    • When they do kick your game’s habit, will they regret playing it? Or will they seek out your other games?
    • Finding local peaks, but not considering long term effect.
  • As a quick example. Who here would be sad if you were earning the money of League of Legends?
  • At GDC Europe Teut Weidemann gave a talk where he claimed he could double its revenue.
  • Would be happy with losing 60% of the non-paying player base to squeeze payers more.
  • No concern for how that would have affected the game (or Riot’s) wider popularity.

 

  • If your players knew what you were doing and why, would they support you?
  • Games engineered to be habit-forming products, but the habits aren’t intended for the player’s benefit.
  • One dev deliberately won’t use “addictive” when talking about their games, they use “compelling”. But use it in the same way. Their thinking was literally “if we say compelling then we can get away with giving this to kids, but if we say it’s addictive we might end up with legal bother”.
  • Zynga used a lot of “dark patterns” – crops dying if you don’t come back, hassling social graph, obligation.
  • Used them instead of fun game core, didn’t work out long term, company now shifting.
  • King following same pattern? Having to do a lot of paid UA – dropping a lot of players, people aren’t transferring from one game to the next.
  • Suggests low brand loyalty, even for casual players – why?
  • Can also see brand damage on EA, greedy launch of Dungeon Keeper.
    • Affected company’s standing in the eyes of fans.
    • Affected future viability of classic IP f2p projects.
      • Alternate reality where DK had launched with gentle f2p.
        • People enjoy it, still spend (but over longer term).
        • EA announce f2p “Sim City BuildIt”, initial reaction is better past experience.
        • (Rather than the actual reaction, which is predictably negative)

 

  • If your players knew what you were doing and why, would they support you?
  • “We made this item more expensive deliberately because we want you not to buy it, but we know it tweaks a little bit in your brain that up sells a certain %age of you to spend more than you otherwise would.”
  • “We phrased this as you losing status, rather than boosting, because we know you’re more afraid of losing something.”
  • Bubble Witch 2 Saga.
    • Deliberately paced to have “blocker” levels you’ll struggle to beat, followed by nice levels to make it up to you.
    • Basically a game designed using the pattern of an abusive relationship.
  • Super monkey ball bounce
    • Pachinko / Peggle game
    • Levels that are effectively impossible without using boosts.

 

  • If your players knew what you were doing and why, would they support you?
  • Generosity in games – personal beef: term “Reciprocity” abused, if there’s no return action (reciprocation) then you’re just trying to sound clever.
  • Eventually people do get sick of it.
  • Tupperware did well with reciprocity, but…
  • Imagine if you had a friend who invited you over for a party. They gave you some free drink & food, you had a fun hour, then they started the hard sell. “Buy this stuff.”
  • Next time they invite you to a party, would you go?
  • How many times would you endure a hard sell before you stopped taking this friend’s calls?
  • These effects have diminishing returns.

 

  • If your players knew what you were doing and why, would they support you?
  • Because of the actions of some developers now seeing more serious bodies getting involved.
  • The European Commission’s f2p ruling …
  • Advertising Standards Authority’s ruling that Dungeon Keeper can’t be advertised as “free”.
  • These are serious non-gamer bodies turning their focus on us because of the actions of some developers going for the cash grab as hard as they can.
  • Don’t expect this is the end of the legal regulation we’ll see. i.e. very specific laws in the UK regulating the use of the word “sale”, that a lot of f2p games are violating. (Yay for having a parent who worked in trading standards for decades)
  • Saying used to be that it took 2 bad games to kill a franchise.
  • The 1st bad game doesn’t put people off completely, they’ll give a series 1 more chance.
  • Take that line of thinking in to f2p.
  • How many aggressive games to kill your business?

 

  • If your players knew what you were doing and why, would they support you?