There have been games and there have been great games. Most of these games require a huge amount of time and effort to create and maintain. Along with just the technical overheads, there is also the community management aspect of the game. In short, if a company or a publishing house is releasing a game, they have to make money. Otherwise it will not be sustainable, and the gaming community which is playing that game will have to rely on the developer to keep supporting that game. Having said that, there are still few games which are still played, are free and have a large team of developers supporting them.
To constantly update a game and offer technical support to the community, one requires some means via which the company can monetize the game.
Monetizing a Game
A HUGE set of these free games are Facebook apps. I am sure you would have heard of Farmville … or Mafia Wars. Apart from Apps on Facebook, there are Indie game developers who create their own platforms and installables which they hope to get listed on the different Gaming Platforms available.
Then there are games who launch as paid apps, but however give in to community pressure and declare themselves Free to Play. The moment that happens, the sheer number of users who start playing these games goes up. Why? Because it’s for free!! When you get to use something which has been so lovingly and so painstakingly created by so many talented people … for no cost at all, you begin to use it just because of that reason. If it is of any use to you, then it’s the perfect match!
So, in this case how is a Free to Play game to make any money?
The method of monetization is via micro transactions.
People spend time and money on these apps, as a means of recreation. When in any Massively Online game, some users want to beat the other users … it could be via skill or by using functionalities or items which not everyone have access to. For example you can use the Flying Steed in World of Warcraft to go 3x faster than you normally would. Or a super weapon in Neverwinter can only be bought if you have the Starter Pack … which is available in the Micro-Transaction store (an in-game store for players to purchase items).
Some games take the moral high road and only use these stores to make the characters LOOK DIFFERENT. While others take the trodden road of giving more power-ups to people who are willing to Pay.
Pay to Win
For any person starting out a game, it soon becomes apparent that there are two tracks. If you want to keeping winning, you need the premium items and power-ups. Else, you have to be so good at the game that you win by skill. Might as well sign-up for the pro events then and make a living off the pro-gaming league … a teen’s dream, but a fantasy for the 30 something average gamer!
I love grinding for gear as anybody else would … but to keep spending just so that you can stay competitive is a sad sight. Either you end up on top, or you quit the game.
If those are the only two scenarios, then how will the game’s community thrive? With sustenance often being the primary objective of a game studio, building a great game soon stops being a priority and increasing the monetization capabilities start taking over .. the oft sales vs product development paradigm.
This article from the NY Times talks about the expenses that the top player in the hit game Clash of Clans had to incur in order to retain his No. 1 spot. USD 3000 is a huge amount, and the pressure on time and having a
social life outside the game is huge.
Is there an alternative to this state of affairs?
There are stalwarts who are trying different methods,
Valve with DOTA2
Valve released Defence of the Ancients 2 around a year back. You have customization items and in-game trades of these items. However the items only change the look and not the functionality of the game. What that means is a newbie who has splurged on a good looking set of items for one character does not get any other benefit than looking better!! With DOTA2 they are also selling event tickets, thereby taking the game to the level of an e-sport. With these events, there is also a clear plough back to the professional gamers.
Path of Exile
In PoE you can purchase cosmetic effects to make your character look cool. The awesome part of the game is that there is no in-game currency!! Yes, no gold, no silver …you have to barter certain items for certain other items. The gaming community will obviously try to baseline items with some commodity, but that makes the experience of playing the game even more cool. I highly recommend this game to anyone, it’s the true successor to Diablo II … surpassing the company who owns its right and made Diablo III!
There will be others that follow … where the game is created to be an awesome product, is responsive to the community and manages to sustain itself at the same time keep the community engaged.
Games such as these show that Free to Play need not necessarily mean Pay to Win. Free to Play means the player can happily spend more time playing the game, without being fodder for the player who wants to pay.
PS – I have happily spent a small amount to support these games (and more importantly to pimp my avatar).