Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
 
Liberty can be scary

In a comment on yesterday's post Chris asked me a question which I'd like to answer with a full post:
"Is this not a logical progression with the F2P model? I'd really like to know your thoughts on who would be a good governing body for these types of games. Should we leave it to review sites to warn players of the possible pitfalls with this revenue generation model, or do we throw all of our trust behind the Blog'O Sphere to keep us informed about such games and practices?

It just seems like developers are getting a free pass when it comes to how revenue is generated under the guise of F2P, and I'm finding it quite distasteful because F2P is still being presented as some kind of saviour for the MMO industry, with little regard to how it's being implemented."
I must say I am somewhat surprised by a gamer asking for a governing body for any sort of games. There are a lot of things possible in games that have the potential to offend or hurt somebody, for example violence, sexism, or cyber-bullying. You can end up in jail for making a sarcastic remark in bad taste in a dispute about a video game. Gamers have been known to let their baby starve, or kill each other over a virtual sword. And all the time we have strongly resisted any sort of oversight by a governing body for games. And now we are asking for one because we are scared of Free2Play games?

If your hobby would be a stamp collection or a model railway, you would have no upper limit on the amount of money you could spend on your hobby. A few scare stories of somebody spending all his money on virtual junk don't make Free2Play games all that dangerous, seeing how easily you could have ruined yourself financially with so many other purchases.

I believe that for Free2Play games the same principles should be applied than for any other game content: Within existing law every game company and designer should be free to offer anything he wants. And if something is "unacceptable", people won't accept it, and the market will make these games fail.

Anything else is basically protectionism. The previous business models of online games favored certain types of players, and now these players are crying out in order to keep their privileges. Free2Play games are not a "saviour", but they are a form of segmentation which can get more money out of a given demand curve. A fixed price results in a consumer surplus for those who would be willing to spend more on a game, but as the price of completely excluding those who would only be willing to spend less than the fixed price. No business system is inherently "more fair". If MMORPGs had started out as Free2Play and suddenly companies started to switch to a monthly subscription model, a lot of people would complain about the unfairness of it, because the monthly subscription model has the players who play the least subsidize those who play the most. If you would organize a protest in front of a restaurant in order to force them to switch to an all-you-can-eat buffet instead of the "unfair" system where people who eat more pay more, you would look rather ridiculous.

After centuries of capitalism most people don't need a governing body to protect them from the pitfalls of capitalism. Today you are far more likely to get screwed over your mobile phone plan than over what you pay for a game. But while anything new has pitfalls, consumers quickly wisen up. Reviews and blogs and forums can help accelerate that process, but ultimately learning how to spend money wisely is just a normal part of human lives. There is nothing inherently illegal or immoral about Free2Play games, and while you might well question the wisdom of spending money on a virtual sparkly pony, you could also question the wisdom of spending thousands or even millions on a handbag. That doesn't mean the handbag trade needs a governing body to protect people from these sellers. And neither does the Free2Play games market.

Comments:
There are very valid reasons for gambling laws, for example. Using psychology to exploit the young and the weak of mind (will? resolve?) is dangerous and subject to legislative regulation. F2p games increasingly employ very similar methods, so why should they be free of regulation?
 
Quite agree. There is nothing wrong with the uncapped power buying model I mentioned yesterday from a legal perspective.

I just wouldn't choose to pay it competitively. If enough consumers take my view the company will have to change their model or fail.

I have consistently accused the critics of certain f2p models of freeloading entitlement.

Either you can afford the game or you can't. Tough luck if you can't.

Not prepared to buy 60 euro of cash shop items to get the most out of the game? Tough. Can't afford to pay 60 euro for GTA5? Tough.

As a consumer it is up to me to decide whether I want to pay for it or not.

Unlike the mobile phone contract there is no requirement to ensure that it is clear and easy for the consumer to see the true nature of what they are signing up for as you are not committing to anything.

I calculated that I spent 700gbp on Wow. Wonder how people would react if that were sold using a traditional pay up front in full system?
 
The big thing for me is that the games are initially free. It's not like you pay some up front box price, only to find out about the "Pay2Win" model later. The worst this would mean is a waste of your time, and while this is not ideal, game companies certainly have no incentive to waste a bunch of your time if you never wind up paying.
 
Bait and Switch is a form of fraud for a reason.

Remember, companies can change their FTP models on a dime, AFTER customers have committed an initial investment.
 
Wouldn't the best example this year for Bait and Switch fraud be a game like Sim City? You are promised one thing, you pay for it, and you get something completely different. I can also name a couple of Kickstarter projects that went like that.

As Samus said, one of the principal advantages of Free2Play is that you get to play the game before actually having to spend anything. And then even the whales never spend all that money at once; you spend some money in the item shop, judge by yourself whether the purchase turned out to be worth it, and if yes maybe pay some more.

ALL online games suffer from the risk that they can shut down or be significantly modified by a patch, but that is independent of the business model.
 
There is nothing inherently illegal or immoral about Free2Play games

I think that the FTC, the OFT(UK) and a slew of class action suits against the F2P model would render such a statement null and void. Seeing as how they are actively investigating whether the potential full cost of these free-to-play games is made clear before they are downloaded and accessed...especially the ones targetted at children, I'd say that there is plenty of evidence to render a coherent consideration of illegal or unethical/immoral conduct.
 
It would not surprise me to see content advisers built into browsers in the next decade or so, that would give you warnings when viewing online content with a crowd-sourced sketchiness rating over some threshold. We don't need some slow moving governing body to help arbitrate, we can handle it ourselves.

And laws that restrict normal capacity adults from gambling however they please have absolutely no justification. An enjoyable non-coercive activity shouldn't be restricted merely because a small number of unidentifiable people might have a problem with it.

 
Calling for a governing body is a pretty hysterical overreaction. If things are getting too naggy or expensive, quit. The consumer has complete control over the purchases. As far as the gambling thing goes, F2P isn't gambling because gambling implies there is a chance of winning something. Since the entire MMO genre relies on using people's need for achievement and progress to induce addiction, having legislatures dictating business practices would be a can of worms the MMO industry probably doesn't want to open.
 
I agree with Tobold on regulation.

What if there were a government body regulating games? In an election year, would their approval of the GTAs get press?

Looking at some recent crowdsourcing review contretemps, I am increasingly less reliant on electronic popularity.


 
The headlines can read "Florida outlaws computers & smartphones"

http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/09/tech/gaming-gadgets/florida-slot-machine-law


----

I am against all but the most needed regulation. Can you imagine the gaming slowdown if you had regulation requiring approval?

I think what you would see is the disappearance of small indies. The EA & AB can afford to have the infrastructure to deal with governments. Someone who puts a new ap on the app store and hopes to turn a couple of months of efforts into $20,000 would find dozens of hours of effort and legal fees far more daunting. I was listening to the owner of Gamebreaker talking about all the legal advice he was getting for just having a completely benign giveaway. And the legality was changed whether you named it a giveaway or contest. And some things are illegal in Tennessee and everything is illegal in Quebec. If we can possibly avoid it, I hope we dodge more government regulation.

---

Re 4c: Online gambling, like casino gambling or prostitution, is legal in my state since April. A lot of investors are buying Zynga for its online gambling future. ( An EA alum who oversaw the XBone being CEO of Zynga - a perfect storm of forum froth. )


 
Gambling addiction is a real thing, and it was the reason my second marriage ended; my ex-wife was a prime candidate for gambler's anonymous, and when I divorced her we had to divvy up the wreckage of more than $50,000 in gambling debt, two tanked accounts and multiple credit cards. It's taken me seven years to recover from the devastation her psychological affliction caused, and she hasn't recovered yet if her facebook page is anything to suggest. I'd have been petrified at the thought of her with a ios/android tablet in her hands today, and access to all the microtransaction titles on it. F2P gaming for MMOs is moving in the same direction, unfortunately, and I realize now that in the future as my son gets old enough to play games, I will have to be a very dilligent parent to insure he isn't scammed by the con artists putting these games out. Gamasutra has a lot of good articles on the subject, including this recent one: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/195806/chasing_the_whale_examining_the_.php which are all worth reading.
 
And one more comment: gambling addiction is really more a component of compulsive addictive behavior; you have people who develop addiction to all sorts of behaviors. In many ways the current trend of microtransaction/F2P models are worse than gambling because, lacking regulation, they are under no obligation to provide any return at all to the player's investment, while building their models specifically to engage with and profit from those who are too young or suffer from addictive personality disorders. So I firmly come down on the side which says there is a deep ethical concern going forward...and while not every F2P model for MMOs is there yet, give it time. Lacking any regulation (either by the industry or on a state/federal level), it will become increasingly difficult for game publishers to ignore what they see as the consequence-free potential income from exploiting their base. Older, more balanced or sensible gamers meanwhile will find increasingly slim pickings for games that don't try to exploit us for all we're worth.
 
I see plenty of gambling addicts in sub based mmorpg's like WoW. They feel compelled to keep paying their monthly subs so they can get their fix and feel forced to attend raids each week in case the week they aren't there that amazing item drops.

Of course they will deny it.

However if you suggest the removal of rng rewards they will jump to its defence and claim that the game wouldn't be the same without the excitement and buzz you get when you win.

I can't help but laugh (not in a haha way) at their getting a buzz and pleasure out of winning something via a zero skill random number generator whilst at the same time they deny their susceptibility to gambling and random rewards or that such a thing is present in the game.

Anyway I think the gambling issue goes wider than f2p. I think addictions are possible in any situation where you have random rewards. They become compelled to keep rolling and therefore compelled to keep paying regardless of the particular business model in use.
 
@Tobold:
The previous business models of online games favored certain types of players, and now these players are crying out in order to keep their privileges.
[...]
A fixed price results in a consumer surplus for those who would be willing to spend more on a game, but as the price of completely excluding those who would only be willing to spend less than the fixed price.

The above is contradictory, is it not? Or are you equating someone's consumer surplus as "crying for privileges"?

I also find it extremely odd how you demonize the subscription model by suggesting that the people who play more are "subsidized" by the ones who play the least. Everyone pays the same amount; how can anything be more fair than that? Compare it to the F2P model where free players are literally subsidized by people who are paying.

The "unfairness to people below the demand curve" point is simply a roundabout defense of piracy.

In any case, the real problem with F2P is how it warps developer time and attention away from things that actually improve the playing experience. In the Buy-to-Play model, in order to get more money, the devs have to make the game more fun to play. In a subscription, they have to continue making enough fun things to do to keep all sorts of people occupied. In F2P, they... make more hats. At best! Alternatively, they ensure the payslope is especially grueling, they program in RMT shortcuts (and make sure the shortcuts are attractive by implementing long stretches of boring gameplay), and otherwise throw psychological marketing bullshit in your face during your few hours of escapism.
 
Azuriel, the sub model is not fair precisely because it is a flat fee.

Imagine if everyone had to pay the same fee for electricity. The guy who keeps his house at 50 degrees while running a server farm pays the same as a guy who uses 1/10 the electricity.

F2P spending generally tracks with time spent on the game. It's fair because it's like every other good; you pay more to consume more. You can pay less if you don't want as much.
 
@Azuriel: See the post above on fairness.

On the effect of Free2Play on how developers make games, I do not believe that you are right. If a player stops playing a game because it isn't fun any more, he isn't creating any more income for a Free2Play game. So it is just like a subscription game in that the devs need to design the game to be as fun as possible for as long as possible to keep people playing. Designing new hats is only a minor addition to that, and if people LIKE hats and it increases their fun of the game, then why would that be a waste of developers' time?

On the online gambling aspect, I don't see why that would need any additional legislation or oversight. We just need a ruling on when this applies to Free2Play games. There was a story where Cryptic was investigated in the Netherlands for illegal online gambling. But that would probably only apply to random lockboxes, which are just one part of a myriad of options in an item store. If you buy that hat or xp boost directly without it being a random item in a box, I don't see how that would constitute gambling.
 
Gamers come from all backgrounds these days.

Their was a capped thread recently on the wow forums where players where suggesting that blizzard use harsh censorship and be the most oppressive of police states all in the name of fairness and making sure little Johnny never got his feelings hurt even if his past actions had hurt others.
 
@tobold: So it is just like a subscription game in that the devs need to design the game to be as fun as possible for as long as possible to keep people playing.

Actually, if you read the design approach for the F2P model, the basic idea is NOT to keep people playing as much as possible, but to create many games with a low cost of production, squeeze as much money as possible and then deliberately create burnout to have the "whales" move to the next game.
 
F2P spending generally tracks with time spent on the game. It's fair because it's like every other good; you pay more to consume more. You can pay less if you don't want as much.

Any hard data on it? Because my experience with F2P "people" does not really show this. Actually, it tends to be the opposite due to the F2P design, where if you spend a massive time ingame, you can afford anything without buying from the cash shop. Designs like SWtoR and tradable unlocks and Cryptic's real money/dilithium exchanges go even more in this direction.
 
Having blogs in decline, only means that interest is fluctuating. It doesn't mean that even the folk who take more than a passing interest are disappearing.

I sometimes write about games in my blog, www.AssafKoss.com, and I feel that there's no better way to share these ideas, than this way.
 
"Actually, if you read the design approach for the F2P model"

The design approach as written in design documents, or the design approach as interpreted by critics of the model?
 
@4c22

First of all, MMO content is not a consumable resource like electricity, e.g. when I beat a raid, that content is not gone from everyone forever. The content is getting made regardless of how many people use it or for how long.

Trying to wrap "fairness" around removal of consumer surplus is simply anti-consumer and asinine besides. Are you suggesting it would be unfair for someone to really enjoy a given movie and "only" pay the same price as someone who hated it? And let's not even start on how much we are robbing our ISPs if we use the internet more than 74 minutes a day.

Second:

F2P spending generally tracks with time spent on the game.

...is this claim actually based on anything, or is it merely supposition?
 
Azuriel:

As anybody who has had to wait in line to get onto a server can tell you, it's not an infinite resource. In addition, it requires labor, electricity, and so on to run the server. The costs of which are being disproportionally paid by casual players in a sub model, allowing the heavy user much cheaper entertainment on a $ per hour basis.

The movie metaphor doesn't really make sense in this context. It's just not the same thing. I'm not advocating for variable box prices, which is what you are saying. I'm saying that someone who spends 40 hours a week watching movies at the theater should pay more than someone who sees one movie a week. Which is how movie theaters work, actually. About the only thing I can think of off hand that costs the same regardless of how much of the product you consume is cable TV, which is why I don't subscribe to it anymore.

The point I'm making with the fairness thing is that F2P removes YOUR surplus and gives it back to the people you took it from. And yes, spending on F2P games tracks with consumption. I guarantee you that my spending on WoT and my time spent playing WoT are virtually identical. You just need less xp boosters or hats or whatever if you don't play as much.


This hatred of F2P is entirely about a class of people who had it really sweet: supercheap access to as much gaming as they wanted getting upset because that model is collapsing because the hoi polloi who financed their fun times is bailing for games that work for them.
 
This hatred of F2P is entirely about a class of people who had it really sweet: supercheap access to as much gaming as they wanted getting upset because that model is collapsing because the hoi polloi who financed their fun times is bailing for games that work for them.

Maybe you should read about some of the things I mention in my only reply to this thread. There ARE companies taking advantage of the F2P model from purely unethical and immoral design concepts, and not fly by night companies either, we're talking about companies such as Apple, Capcom...ect.

People like myself are not saying that F2P is not a viable revenue model, Nor am I bemoaning it because I'm kneejerking to your notion that I'm somehow in a "class of people who had it sweet", I'm saying that for how my main MMO was designed, WoW in this case, the sub model fit my playstyle perfectly fine as it was DESIGNED, RELEASED and SOLD as a sub-model game. If someone who is time poor and money rich wants to play a game that allows them to use their surplus funds, then fine, let them find a game that was DESIGNED and RELEASED as such and then let them play it. I would never expect to have the right to go into their game and demand that it be changed into a subscription based game because I might be money poor, nor do I expect that someone who is money rich should come into WoW and demand that it be made F2P. Two seperate camps with two seperate goals? Yeah, and I bet that there is a lot of crossover from one camp to the next, but as recent history has shown, the details of how much a F2P model game will cost to play is still a large ball of fuzzy logic.
 
Not only are the costs a player causes to the game company correlated to the amount of time he spends in the game, but as you said yourself in another thread, game development is largely zero-sum. Look at it from that angle:

Subscription game: Everybody pays the same, but some people hog the majority of development time because they are the biggest consumers of content.

Free2Play game: You need to pay to consume certain types of content, and the biggest contest consumers who want to see all need to pay more than those who just want to see the basic version.

To me Free2Play sounds a lot more fair than subscription.
 
Tobold,

What about those who are willing to pay a higher monthly sub? How is this not the same as those people who are willing to spend as much money as they want in F2P games? And how is the grind element of sub-model games any different than the design elements used in F2P games to initiate revenue?

Blizzard has implemented a slew of changes in WoW to make things MUCH easier for the time poor player, who has access to the SAME exact content as everyone else, yet they have maintained the same exact sub pricing plan since WoW was released. Surely they should be lauded for this, right?
 
Why would that be laudable? Your "has access to the SAME exact content as everyone else" is an illusion. Just like it is an illusion that every American can become president or can become a billionaire. It is a theoretical possibility with an extremely low probability. It is exactly the same as justifying gambling by saying that everybody has the chance to win millions. But if I understand correctly, you are very much opposed to gambling lockboxes in Free2Play games.

The fundamental error in your argument is that you consider money a limited resource, but don't consider time a limited resource, when in fact both are. A subscription based game in which you can't effectively access all content because you don't have the time isn't any more or less fair than a Free2Play game in which you can't effectively access all content because you don't have the money.

Your "equality of opportunity" argument thus takes into consideration money constraints, but not time constraints, and thus fails. I am more of a fan to look at "equality of outcome", because there it is quite obvious how a certain population is profiting from the subscription model, and is effectively cross-subsidized by other players. Just like in the Free2Play model the "whales" subsidize the other players. Only that I would consider the whale model more fair, because people get a choice of whether they want to be a whale or not.
 
I think it is rather weird to claim that f2p spending correlates to time spent in the game (server resources) or content consumed (development resources). The number of games that still use content unlocks seems slim compared to those who offer the same game whether you are paying or not. In those games, paying makes the game more convenient (removing grind for both items and xp, making you travel faster etc.)

I've said before somewhere that I never thought I'd ever think this well of lotro's f2p model - but at least they are selling content. Most f2p games ask for payment for things unrelated to actual game consumption. You could even argue, that f2p players put a much larger strain on the servers with all their grinding than the players with little time who use their disposable income to make the most of that time.

As for the comparison of subscription raiding to gambling: even if the random drop factor is what keeps these people paying, this would be a highly regulated form of gambling. A low ceiling on spending is something a regulator might ask for and at the same time something no f2p company would be willing to implement without coercion.
 
The fundamental error in your argument is that you consider money a limited resource, but don't consider time a limited resource, when in fact both are.

In the past I have made comments that time is infinite, but I made such comments in the spirit that I play games in my leisure time for fun. I play games to relax and unwind, and the subscription model allows me to do that without any added mental overhead. In the past my leisure time consisted of whatever I wanted to dedicate of my available free time, but now, with added family responsiblities, I have even less time to dedicate to my favorite past time, so my ability to enjoy the benefits as you illustrated here: A subscription based game in which you can't effectively access all content because you don't have the time isn't any more or less fair than a Free2Play game in which you can't effectively access all content because you don't have the money.

has been reduced. However, if WoW doesnt serve a certain populace of gamers, then fine, let them go play a game that allows them to benefit from their abundance of money if time is an issue. Just dont continue to gloss over the fact that WoW was, as I said above, designed, released and sold as a sub based game which anyone can choose to play or not to play. It's really as simple as that.
 
There have been lots of companies who "designed, released and sold" a game under one business model, then realized that this was a mistake, and changed the business model. Are you saying that a company doesn't have the right to rectify mistakes? You would most certainly expect that same company to patch the game to fix bugs, and patches and expansions certainly changed the content of every MMORPG. Why shouldn't they be allowed to change the business model as well?
 
Scrusi, I guess it's theoretically possible for a person to pop on once a month, but everything they can, and then log off, but what are the odds of that?

The more you play, the more involved you are in the game, the more you spend. I think that is common sense that as a general rule the more you play the more you're spending. In the absence of

I guess I want to differentiate between the F2P model in general and these allegedly abusive gambling games. I'm talking about the years of people complaining about F2P because they don't like the concept, not some skanky IPad game.
 
The more you play, the more involved you are in the game, the more you spend.

Is not this kind of statement just rife with contradiction? If you dont think that the players of Zynga games spend an inordinate amount of -time- playing said games, then you're ignoring the facts to suit your own opinion. These arent "skanky ipad games" I'm talking about here either, but carefully constructed and purposefully coercive money grabs.

Have a read of this:

http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/RaminShokrizade/20130626/194933/The_Top_F2P_Monetization_Tricks.php

The mechanics of grind and other devices used to keep a subscription based gamer playing longer is coercive in nature as well, but I think the above referenced blog post shows very well how the game design process for F2P games can be much more dubious based on gametype.

In the end, this whole argument that money is the great equalizer where time poor players are concerned is bunk, and falls flat on its face. Studies are showing that the people who spend money in F2P games, are also spending the same amount of -time- playing said games as subscription based gamers.
 
It's a really simply statement that is not contradictory. Having actually played F2P games, actually dropping money on the game has always coincided with my maximum amount of interest in the game, whether in World of Tanks, Tribes, or LoL. It seems to make sense that in general, players spend less (if anything) on a game they play an hour a week, and are more likely to spend more on a game they play a lot. Unless I see some actual data that suggests less time playing means more money spent in the aggregate I'm going to hold to my position. While it is possible that some tighfisted person would rather grind for 40 hours rather than spend $5, that person is probably not a major factor in the F2P market.

I'm not saying that every single F2P is awesome. I'm sure some are dirty. If that's your point, fine. But that's a fairly limited point.
 
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