What’s the problem with Free-2-Play? All of the free loaders!
If you’ve sat through any number of industry talks recently, it has probably become increasingly apparent that although the business case for Free-To-Play games is hard to dismiss, most developers don’t actually like it very much. Its a necessary evil, and a gamble that does not necessarily eqate to a return on investment. Only a tiny percentage pay, whilst the vast majority happily play for free, meerily jumping from game to game without any loyalty. It’s no wonder developers are agitated.
Alongside Facebook, the mobile sector has been champions of the freemium model, quicker to embrace it than its traditional videogames brothers. A declining console market helped and the previously protected £5 price point was thrown out of the window in the stampede to gain traction and make some money. It certainly shook things up, with the Smartphone charts dominated by exciting new companies and the final place in the holy trinity of mobile games was quickly secured by Rovio’s Angry Birds. (Snake and Tetris are the other two…just in case you had any doubt.)
Even in mobile it is often the ‘new’ developers that have embraced the Free-To-Play model, with infrastructure, sales forecasts and, most importantly, mindsets being more difficult to flex than mobile publishers realised.
We all got involved in the games industry to make great games. We are al familiar with the blood, sweat and tears that go into the creation of a project, and somehow the knee jerk reaction to F2P is that it feels wrong. It feels wrong that people are playing, using and engaging with our beautiful offspring for free.
But free doesn’t mean worthless.
And this is the mindset that needs to change. At the heart of the Free-To-Play commercial model lies considerable value exchange with the player, and this is where the opportunity lies.
Think of it this way.
Your customers are browsing the racks in their local retail store. One guy looks at the latest boxed release of Call of Duty. He has played earlier versions of the game before; he picks up the box, looks at the back, reads it carefully and looks at the price. Then puts it down again and leaves the store. A missed opportunity!
Wouldn’t it be great if you were there to tap him on the shoulder and say ‘Hey, let’s build you a personal experience within the game that you really feel is of value for money.’ This is essentially what the mobile sector is achieving with the Free-To-Play model.
In allowing players to experience your game for free, the player allows you to gather vital information on individual playing styles, attractiveness of features, and barriers to engagement. They are telling you how they want to experience the game. But are you listening?
As Monty Python says ‘We are all individuals!’, so why don’t we start treating players as such?
That’s the greater recognition mobile developers should aspire to: players choosing what they pay.
But for Free-To-Play games to truly reach their potential, the industry needs to gain a better understanding of the people that are playing their games. Freemium without analytics is just plain daft; using data to understand and respond to players and their motivations is the mindset leap that successful mobile developers and publishers will need to embrace.