The F2P game


Aah, modern games. It appears there are a few categories of games these days:

Of these, I don't play AAA games, don't care about sport and I've lost my appetite for the F2P variant. Fortunately there's still the indies to rely on, whatever "indie" means these days - it seems to be "whoever decides that the indie label is good for marketing".

Anyway, this was supposed to be about F2P games, or rather the F2P game. In my opinion, all these F2P that pollute the app stores of today are in effect actually not even different games. How so, you say?

In the good ol' days, the goal of a game developer was to create a game that players would enjoy, and then sell that as best as they could. That eventually devolved into the sad category that is AAA games, since fancy games cost so much to make that those providing funding killed most diversity with their risk aversion. The good thing about the AAA titles was that they cost so much to make that they also cost a lot to buy: let's say $60 for a new game. That meant that it was possible to create less polished games and sell them for quite a bit less, but still enough to make a living. If the non-AAA games cost $20 or $30 that was still cheap, since the fancy games cost two to three times as much.

Things were like this for a while, but then Apple decided that they should make a phone, and then that people should be able to install apps on said phone. That's all good and well, but then someone came up with the not so brilliant idea to sell games very cheaply and make it up in volume - there are so many iPhone users all over the world that surely there are enough of them that even a $1 game will make back its development cost.

And it turned out that there actually were a lot of iPhone users willing to pay $1 for a silly game that was fun for a few minutes. Enter: gold rush. Everyone wanted to get a piece of the action, and started making games (and other apps...) for iOS. In the beginning, the higher quality games did cost a little bit more, maybe as much as $10. But with time, the average price of a game got lower and lower as more and more developers entered the market and tried to gain a bit of market share by underpricing the competition. By now it's almost rare to find games that cost money up front, even if there might be an upwards trend somewhere in the data.

So how do game developers make money, if they can't sell their games? They use a widely known tactic: "first one is free". They make a game, make the first few levels fairly easy and enticing enough to get the player hooked. Then, when the player has invested enough time in the game to now simply walk away from it, the real game begins. And this is why I loathe F2P games: from this point on, the sole goal of the developer is to extract as much money as possible from the player by making the game faster, easier, funnier the more money you throw at it. Want to build a new unit in that RTS? It'll take five minutes.... OR you can pay 100 "diamonds" or whatever they call the in-game currency. Want a extra powerful bomb to blast those pigs off the castle? Just 500 diamonds!

How to spot F2P

There's one easy trick (hah!) for spotting F2P games: they always have a bunch of in-app purchases along the lines of "Bag of gold", "Stack of diamonds", etc. So before downloading a game: check the IAP list.

This is what the game is really about now, a struggle between the player trying to get as much enjoyment out of the game without paying and the developer trying to make the game annoying enough to play without paying that the player will want to pay, but not annoying enough to make the player stop playing. And this game is the same, regardless of the name of the app you installed. The major difference between the "games" is just the backdrop behind which the game takes place: it might be birds being tossed, it might be clans clashing, but it's still the same game.

Playing the same game over and over again is what made me tire of the AAA category, and it's what might eventually make enough people tire of the F2P category to make better room in the market for other games, where the goal of the developer is to create enjoyment for the players, and not just milk them for as much cash as possible. Will it happen? Who knows. But I sure hope so, because we've been playing the F2P game for way too long already.