Free-to-play (F2P) games, love them or loathe them – they seem to be here to stay. Many have come to the defence of this new model for gaming. Others have voiced the reasons for this particular model to be blasted into atoms – calling it a fad amongst other things. Yet many games seem to be profiting well from this model, sucking in new players to their game and getting them to part with their hard earned cash. So is it a viable model or fad? Let’s take a look at some of the facts and see what the future holds….

Kicking about

farmville-unicornsThe free-to-play model has been around for quite a while now, yet looking back it seemed to begin with the adoption of flash games. Games that are still being developed even today. Given us the chance to play something a little different that does not need the latest console or graphics card to be installed – a game that is pure fun and played in a basic web browser. I would imagine all of us have at one point have played a flash game and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Most flash games in general tend to be truly free to play, with no money parting hands. It was a model that publishers weren’t too fond of – at the time many of the big players weren’t even interested in developing flash games. No money, means no profit. I can see their point. Then a little known company came forward and unleashed a flash game on Facebook that took the free to play model to the next stage.

It was the bane of my life, when it first appeared with friends sending me invites, asking for this and that to complete a challenge. I grew to despise the game, without even playing it… step forward Farmville. Created by Zynga, it took the next step for the free-to -play model and proved that with out a doubt money could in fact be made from these games. Thanks mainly to a little thing called micro-transactions. Micro-transactions have become the norm especially in mobile gaming. If you want to progress further – then buy something to help from the game’s store. If you don’t want to then of course you can just replay levels and level up, or in the case of Facebook games: bombard people with invites to play the game, so that you can more stuff and levels. The latter however tends to just piss people off, unless they are already playing the game.


So why are developers suddenly jumping on the band wagon? In the past few years we have seen many titles, lord of the rings 2especially MMO’s (massively multiplayer online games) go F2P. Infinite Crisis a few week’s ago announced that it would be a F2P title. A couple of years ago Lord of the Rings Online announced it was going to change to a F2P title, and it seems to have become more profitable thanks to the shift. Seems incredible, yet the figures speak for themselves and the MMO has certainly gone from strength to strength.

For me its the simple fact you have the choice to download the game and try it out without spending a penny. You either like it or hate it with a vengeance. And you haven’t spent £30 -£50 on the game. You don’t feel like you’ve wasted your time. If you wish to progress further more quickly then you can pay, if you prefer the challenge then you can carry on without spending. It’s a fairly simple model and planned properly it can certainly pay dividends to publishers. (Though I remember that Paul B, Paul W and Emily didn’t review F2P MMO Ragnarok Online that favourably, citing many quality problems – which is another issue.)

There’s also the question of how publishers truly make their money with big game launches. They rely on the player paying one fee, yes games now have DLC and season passes to go with it, which to be fair is just another form of micro transaction. The problem I see is simply how much of that money goes to the publisher and developer – and how much of it is actual profit? Just because they sold x amount of copies does not necessarily mean that it’s pure profit. Just like any other business they have overheads, costs in manufacturing the end product an then maintaining support through patches and updates.

Here to stay

icprv-700x260Looking around examples discussed on the net, there have been some interesting figures regarding the sort of customer that makes a company profit. When you see these figures it becomes abundantly clear, why F2P is here to stay. Ten percent of a typical microctransaction laden game’s players account for 50% of a game’s profits. Or as was reported by Swrve in February:

“It is clear from the data that it is both the greater value of individual purchases AND the greater frequency of purchases that is the driver behind the large value derived from the top 10%.”

When I first saw this – it jumped out to me. This is why the developers are so interested in the model. It also points to the simple realization that the more people play the game, the more profit the company can make.

Bad rep

Of course there are reasons why F2P has become a marred model. In any model you’re bound to get some bad eggs. Games that clearly rip off other titles, problems with in app purchases not being controlled. We’ve all seen the poor parents who have been caught out with huge bills – as kids have gotten a little carried away and not realized just what they were doing, when pressing that golden purchase button. It’s that fine balance that publishers and app stores need to find, to make F2P all that more worth while.

I’ll be honest, last week I was speaking to the other hosts of Nerds Assemble about this same topic. At that point I was very much, oh dear god F2P…no it should be gone. Get these pesky games away from me. However, after doing some research into it, seeing the figures and finding games that actually work and are fun to play – I’ve come around to the idea. It’s here to stay and to be fair: if utilized properly it could really help take the gaming community to another level.

Curse or charm? I’ll let you all decide, but one things for sure it’s here to stay….