Tobold's Blog
Sunday, October 05, 2014
How much does it cost to remove the suck?

Back in the 80's some of the games I played were shareware. You could often get the software for free, but then there were nag screens or the game was otherwise incomplete and crippled. By sending money to the author (often by stuffing a banknote in an envelope and sending it by mail, no internet yet) you could get the code to remove the suck and get the full game. So it was always interesting to know how good the crippled version of game still was, and how much it cost to remove the suck.

Three decades later and I'm applying the same thought process to Free2Play games. How good is the free version, knowing perfectly well that it is in some way crippled? And how much does it cost to remove the suck and get something that isn't crippled? There are very clearly some games where you can put an infinite amount of money in. But there are also games which work pretty much like the shareware of yesterday, you pay a reasonable amount of money once and you get a game which isn't crippled at all.

The same consideration is true for the increasing number of games that aren't free to start with, but still come with a shop. I'm currently playing Warhammer Quest on the iPad, which costs $5, and you need to spend some more money to unlock various content and buy a bit of gold to pay for character training. I think I paid $30 overall, but found the game worth that amount of money to me, and now there is no remaining restriction and it plays just as if I had paid $30 for a full-price game.

The different restrictions those crippled games can have affect different people in different ways. I am playing several Free2Play games without paying anything, because the restriction is that you can only play for so long before having to wait for some energy to restore. Somebody less patient might be tempted to pay for an immediate energy refill, but I'm fine with playing a bit and then doing something else while that energy restores itself for free.

Of course Sturgeon's law applies, 90 percent of everything is crap. 90 percent of Free2Play games aren't any good, regardless of how much money you put into them. But I have bought enough full-price games which then turned out to be crap to know that this isn't a specific failure of Free2Play games. And in this respect I actually prefer if I can try out the game for free, I can imagine whether it would still suck if I put this or that amount of money in, and then decide not to play it any further if I don't see how to make the game not suck.

Overall I'm spending less money on games now. As I said, some games I play for free. Other games are cheap to start with, you can get perfectly good full-price games on the iPad for $2. And if you insist on playing games with better graphics on the PC, you can always wait for the next Steam sale and get games at a hefty rebate. My main expenses for my gaming hobby is buying a gaming PC and iPad, and paying for the best available internet connection (another case where I decided to pay more to get the uncrippled version). The money I pay for actual game is relatively little compared to those related expenses. Gaming companies are the ones that make the least money of my gaming hobby. Somehow I don't think the games industry will be able to continue that way very long.

You know the old adage "Bad money drives out good". Well now, the situation seems to be that bad marketing models drive out good. The classic shareware model (in which you get a decent trial and in 99% of cases you know what you're getting when you buy the full thing) is getting squeezed out in terms of a whale-centric model with zero money up-front and everything focused on extracting from a tiny minority.

I don't say there aren't decent FTP games, or FTP games which replicate the classic shareware model with a single IAP or else a 'lite' and 'pro' version. There are even games in which FTP probably works better. But the overall effect of FTP has been pretty damaging, in my opinion.
(And, I should add, there's always likely to be an insidious pressure to increase revenue from a FTP game by tweaking the model in an undesirable direction. That doesn't happen so much with classic sharewarem not because the authors are saints, but because it's very hard to do.
there's always likely to be an insidious pressure to increase revenue from a FTP game

There is now an insidious pressure to increase revenue from $60 full price games. There are more and more of them where on top of the full price you are supposed to buy stuff. People found two full DLC on the release discs of Destiny, stuff that is already ready for release but inaccessible until you pay for it. And an increasing number of full price games have item shops. Ubisoft announced their next version of the Settlers would be "always on" and have an item shop, but you're still expected to pay full price for it.

I'd rather get my crippleware for free than for $60.
(And, I should add, there's always likely to be an insidious pressure to increase revenue from a FTP game by tweaking the model in an undesirable direction.

Undesirable direction? Why sugar coat it? Call it for what it is: Psychological Manipulation.

Games that sell for $60 have been doing so for a very long time. I think the industry has done well maintaining that price point for as long as it has, so I dont fault developers/publishers for adding in item shops to help bolster revenue - so long as the items do not create a game imbalance for the players who choose not to buy from the item shop.

Removing the "suck" from FTP games is next to impossible because of the lack of information a player has about how the "FTP" system will work, especially from one game to the next. There is just too much of an "unknown" space, because FTP developers arent really forthcoming about how the monitization scheme will work before release.

I'm still waiting for the FTP proponents to embrace the episodic or chapter concept revenue model. Instead of relying on physchological manipulation tactics to extract income from players, simply pour that time and energy into developing a great game with a great storyline, features and gameplay, and release it in bite-sized chunks like chapters, episodes or maybe even with level lockouts, and require a small payment for access. If I like the previous content, I'm way more likely to purchase access to the next section. IMHO, that is the only way to remove the suck - in that the player should always get to decide if the game is worthy of paying to proceed.
Having recently splurged on the Buy-to-play that is Guild Wars 2, I found that my tolerance for cash shop purchases has been massively eroded by making an upfront payment. I was expecting it to feel as though I had the full game and opportunities to spend cash for some advantages but it feels more like a game that is crippled to extort me into spending more.

It seems as though I am fine paying extra for additional content but get grumpy about paying for "convenience" items that make the game tolerable.
Look no further than TSW. The cash shop is a combination of purely vanity clothing and DLC chapters (some better than others).
> I'd rather get my crippleware for free than for $60.

I think that's an unfair comparison.

For an FTP game, I think it's fair if you reach a point where you cannot experience new content at a time of your chosing after 1-5 hours. So the crippling effect comes fairly fast, usually somewhere in the middle of the game. You are explicitly told "pay or be crippled".
In a $60 game, I would expect at least 20-30 hours of game play including a complete finished story arc, without shelling out more money. It's a full fledged game, which you can play at the pace you choose. In that sense, the game is not crippled.
If that is not enough for you, you can buy additional content. But if you don't, you still experienced a complete game.

Personally, I think both systems can be ok, if you pay for additional content. However, I really don't like the idea of paying to become more powerful. Power should be dependant upon how much I play the game and how good I am in that game, not how much money I pay for it. (But I know I have violated that principle for ME3 Multiplayer and will violate it most likely again for Dragon Age Inquisition Multiplayer)
The 'cost of removing the suck' is a great idea, thanks for that.

It very neatly parcels what was my problem with Neverwinter.

Compare with SWTOR: The F2P is basically a demo for the real game, which is subscription. But at least if you subscribe, (most of) the nagging and gouging goes away. The price to 'remove the suck' of annoying cash-shop prompts is $15 a month or so.

Neverwinter: You cannot remove the suck. It doesn't matter how much you spend, it will continue to nag you for more. There is no option you can buy to get the game's cash shop to 'fuck off and leave me alone'. It is endlessly hungry.

I'm not playing SWTOR anymore either, but I dropped Neverwinter a HELL of a lot faster due to the infinite cost to never 'remove the suck'.
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