Some Insight on Free to Play

The September issue of Game Developer Magazine dropped into my mail box this past week.

This month there was a column by David Edery, CEO of Spry Fox (which created Triple Town and Realm of the Mad God) titled “Free-to-Play Pitfalls.”

Game Developer Magazine does not print their articles online and I am sure would object strenuously to my reprinting it wholesale, but I though just a repost of the paragraph headings would be instructive.  They were:

  • Don’t Assume Other Games are Profitable
  • Don’t Design Yourself Into a Corner
  • Don’t Expect Recognition for Your Restraint
  • Don’t Expect Miracles
  • The List Goes On…

While he was writing about Triple Town, which fits into the social gaming bucket, a lot of what he wrote clearly hits the mark even when looking at the MMO world.

I thought it was interesting that, in the last section, one of the mistakes he pointed at was emphasizing aesthetic (cosmetic) items rather than consumables.  That makes me think of EverQuest II and their apparent cosmetic mount based economy as well as League of Legends, which sells only cosmetic champions and grind reducing buffs.  People always point at the former, but I wonder how much of the money they make is really from the latter.

The end of the article points to a video of a presentation he did at GDC which gets down into the nitty gritty of money.  You can find the video here, and it has bookmarks so you can skip right to the “But does RotMG Make $$$” section if you like.

In the video he mentions his own blog, which I ran off to find.  Titled Game Tycoon, it has more insight into the free to play scene.

And while the focus is more on independent development, the basics certainly apply to the larger budget MMO sphere, especially given the impending demise of City of Heroes and SWTORs F2P plans, which they aren’t sure will even be viable.

Addendum: And the CEO of Wargaming.net just weighed in on free to play and how publishers do not understand it, which seems to fit with the theme here.

4 thoughts on “Some Insight on Free to Play

  1. saucelah

    I have a pattern with free to play games that I’m beginning to wonder if it’s common or just my stubbornness. The more that a free-to-play game’s restrictions inconvenience my game play, the more they try to force me into the cash shop, the less likely I am to give them any money.

    I’ve given about $35 to Riot to unlock champions and get a couple of skins in LoL. I’ve given over $100 to Tiny Speck in subscription fees and friends, via gift subscriptions, have given them nearly that much again on my behalf and one can argue there’s even less reason to give Tiny Speck money than there is to give Riot money.

    While I’ve played many other free to play games, the total money I’ve spent in them combined is less than $35.

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  2. bhagpuss

    I’d be very interested to read the section “Don’t Assume Other Games are Profitable”. Is he suggesting a significant number of games run at a loss for a prolonged period? The only one I can think of that I would put in that category would be Alganon, which Derek Smart has, I believe, stated is running at a loss and being kept up for other reasons.

    Other than that I’ve always assumed that if something’s running (as a commercial proposition) it’s at the very least breaking even. Are there a whole load of MMOs and online games being run at a loss as some kind of tax dodge?

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  3. HarbingerZero

    I don’t know about the game world bhagpuss, but my wife’s former company is now in its 9th straight year of losing money, and shows no signs of closing anytime soon. Given that many MMO’s haven’t even been around that long, I’d not be shocked if some of them have yet to post a profit.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss – The game in question from the article was Bejeweled Blitz, which shot up to be one of the top ranked Facebook games and seemed to be very popular.

    Apparently it had a horrible APRU (average revenue per user) and was only scraping by at all because it was so popular. But other people looked at the game and assumed it had a much better APRU than it did and used their assumptions as guidelines for their own projects.

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