Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Please Stop Complaining About Free Mobile Games Now. PLEASE.

God. When did Indie game developers start acting so darn superior all the time?
Like many self-declared oh-so-serious gamers, I've long been irritated by casual mobile free to play games. I finally managed to get over that. I don't know what was wrong with me. Things now are just fine.

Ok, yeah, we know, we've all heard the arguments. Mobile games are too dumb. Too brightly colored. Too greedy. It's irritating to see ads, to be asked for money. They make too much of their money from compulsive "whales." We're nerds, and grannies are sneaking into our seekrit kewl gamer basement. Mobile game developers are too obsessed about money metrics and not enough about creativity. (As if the Indies are blameless on that score. "But my new tower defense game is really groundbreaking!" Please stop talking to me now.)

Mobile games are not what gamers and Indie developers want gaming to be. And this is the Internet, so, if anyone likes something different, THEY MUST BE DESTROYED.

Yes, you've had your say. You don't like mobile games. We got it.

So please give it a rest already?

So Jeff, What Got Up Your Butt?

Lots of things, but this tweet was kind of the final straw. In my butt. #mixedmetaphorpromode

Sure. I'll get right on saving mobile gaming, as soon I finish this Hearthstone match. Then I'll ... WHAT? RELEASE THE HOUNDS AGAIN? I HATE HUNTERS SO MUCH!!!
I feel a little bad picking on Notch here, because he's a decent guy and critiquing tweets is already a waste of time, but his tweet bugged me for two reasons.

First, "save mobile gaming?" From what? Being crushed under a giant avalanche of cash?

Second, this is a smug dismissal of a huge chunk of the game industry that keeps a lot of developers employed making games that a lot of people really like. It's also the most emotionally manipulative argument possible: OH, won't someone think of the CHILDREN!?!? ("Honey, are you letting little Billy playing Clash of Clans?" "Yes." "You MONSTER!")

By the way, in my observation, the younger generation isn't playing mobile F2P. The kids are spending all their time in Minecraft. Somehow, I think they'll be fine.

(Actually, if you want a better example of the Indie Developer sense of superiority, this recent article in Polygon is the gold standard. His attempts to use mathlogic to prove that these immensely popular games are actually hated are genuinely amusing.)

While we're all relieved that Indie gaming is ready to swoop in and save us from what we want, those of us who hate mobile games should take a moment to consider why we do. Speaking to gamers here: When you viscerally hate something that has never hurt you personally (or even affected you, really), it is possible that the true problem is really somewhere inside your own head.

So let's examine some of the reasons why we fear and hate our new Mobile F2P masters.

"Hearthstone doesn't count. I don't consider one of the bad free games." Yeah. Everyone says that about the one they like. 

One. "The People Who Make Them Are Soulless Business Drones. Not Cool Arteests Like Us."

Yeah, pretty much. I've been to casual/mobile game trade shows, and, man, that is so not a nerdy place. It's a bunch of NormalPeople and MBAs, with nice clothes and haircuts, tossing around weird business terms like ARPU and ARPDAU and AMPU and DILDONG. And sure, they all like Game of Thrones, but they don't like it in the correct way we do.

Sometimes I think that the gamer hate for mobile is not because it's unsuccessful (because it's massively profitable) or because they provide people with mind-boggling amounts of leisure fun (because they do), but because they remind us of the grade school bullies who laughed at us and took our lunch money. But this time they're doing it inside OUR industry.

People who write free games, from Candy Punch Saga to Hearthstone are doing what we do, but better. (And yes, Hearthstone has "Casual" appeal too, whatever that means. Ten million registered accounts says so.)

The people making those games may not being doing it our way, by our metrics, but they are passionate about giving lots of people something they like. Hell, they care about how many people play their games way more than I do. They'll lose a week's sleep over increasing their player base by 0.01%, because that might be the edge they need to stay employed.

The sheer scale of the entertainment they provide is mind-boggling, and they're doing it mostly for free, with, by the way, game systems that mere mortals can actually understand.

Why did free games take over the world? Well, you can pick up the entirely of Hearthstone in five minutes. Think you understand the rules to Magic: The Gathering? Nobody does. Look what it takes to understand that game.  It's madness.

Maybe accessibility is our problem. "Hey, man, I was wasting my life stressing about impenetrable rules systems before it was cool."

Two. "They Write Simple Cartoony Games For the Most Casual."

And they're rich. Aren't you just angry you didn't think of it first?

What people seem to ignore is that these games provide the most challenging hardcore experience available in games today. Want a rough time? It's simple: Don't spend money.

(A common logical error made when analyzing mobile games is seeing that only a small percentage of people spend cash and concluding this means people don’t like the games. This is a huge mistake. I’ve never paid a penny on free games, including several I love. This just means that I’m awesome.)

Free games, even the more casual ones, solve the great problem in game design. They thread the needle between Casual and Hardcore. Want a light, easy experience? Spend a little money. Want a punishing experience that takes lots of time and care? Play for free.

Yes, if you pay for free, they'll put a lot of time blocks in your way, both arbitrary waits and levels you'll lose a lot of time. But that's what serious gamers want, right? To do something hard and finally succeed? And this time it's even more fun, because you did it for FREE. It feels like you got away with something!

Hay Day, and enormously popular F2P game. I only put up this image because I think it'll annoy gamers.
An Aside. You Think You Know Hardcore? You Don't Know Hardcore!

People who ask for and play tough games are really full of themselves. We all know that. You won Dark Souls? That's nothing. I have a friend who beat Candy Crush Saga without spending a penny. Took months. You want strategy and grueling persistence? There it is.

And she's not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination. She's as casual and casual gets, and she's a more dedicated, obstacle-toppling gamer than you are. Even if her game involves hitting a spastic teddy bear with clumps of purple gumdrops, or whatever.

Three. "If You Don't Pay, You Have To Spend a Lot of Time Getting Power."

Sure. And this makes it different from non-free games how, exactly?

People have a problem with this now? Well, I don't remember gamers having a problem when we all burned up our youths in the twin furnaces of Everquest or World of Warcraft. Used to be, in Everquest, every fifth level was a "hell level," where they doubled the number of experience you needed to pass it for no reason. It was arbitrary, obnoxious, and ridiculous. I still have nightmares about level 45.

If you complained about it everyone jumped down your throat and called you dirty names. Players just spent the hours grinding. With great concentration, you could convince yourself that you were having fun.

Now, the worst thing that happens is the game, to advance, forces you to pay or get this to stop playing for an hour. You don't even need to spend that hour killing the same goblin over and over again. You can go do something else!

Seriously. Whatever ridiculous hoops free games make you jump through to advance? Hardcore gamers have gone through ten times worse. And we did it to ourselves. And we convinced ourselves it made us cool.

An Aside. Of Course, It Can Be Done Badly. Of Course.

It's not hard to make a F2P game that sucks. A recent instructive example of the Internet Anger/Entitlement Complex was EA's free Dungeon Keeper game.

Now, I never played it. And neither did 19 out of 20 of the people who complained about it. From what I heard, it committed the cardinal sin of making people wait too long to do anything and forcing them to spend money to see any of the game's cool stuff.

And they were punished for it. Even in the ancient shareware days, we knew that the free version had to be enough to addict your customers. Dungeon Keeper didn't do this, and it messed up in the harshest, most unforgiving of markets. Result? Don't bother to look for it in the top sales charts. It's not there.

But that has nothing to do with the bizarre level of screeching that accompanied its release. To hear gamers talk, it's like EA defiled some sacred institution of modern society.

Dudes, I was there when Dungeon Keeper came out. I bought it with real money. And ... It was fine. Halfway decent. And that's it. Look at it this way. If it was such a hot property, why was the license allowed to lie fallow for fifteen years?

(Bonus Young Developer Advice: Looking for a game idea? The apparent desire for a new version of Dungeon Keeper might be something you can profitably take advantage of.)

"I have two jobs, three kids, and four minutes to rest." Why don't you spend that time pretending to have a miserable, meaningless life? "Because I don't hate myself."
Four. "These Games Are Shallow and Don't Provide a Rich Artistic Experience."

Yes. Thank God.

I've lost count of the number of indie developers who cursed these games as being mere time-wasters and dopamine-generation buttons. Why wouldn't you instead play an iphone game that provides a varied, rich artistic experience, like ... like ... Yeah, I don't know either.

Look, don't listen to indie developers. We all may be, oh, I don't know, a tiny bit in love with ourselves? I missed it when the world elected us the High Princes And Arbiters Of Leisure Time.

Candy Crush Saga fans aren't sheep or Muggles. They are making highly rational choices about spending limited time and/or money for maximal rest. Papers, Please! is a great game, but it's also stressful and depressing. If you look down on someone who prefers Pet Rescue Saga, you may have lost the plot on this whole "game" thing.

Some may have forgotten that, most of the time, all people want is a painless way to escape stressful reality for five minutes while waiting for the bus.

Five. "Casual Games Monetization Isn't Ethical."

The best evidence is that a tiny fraction of mobile games players make up a huge chunk of the income. These super-players are called "whales." It's really interesting.

I used to be concerned about it. Not so much, now.

I was uncomfortable with a business model of coldly extracting most of your earnings from a tiny percentage of "whales" in your user base, but it could be WAY worse. There's a hundred casinos within an hour's drive of my house, and those icehearted bastards will take your house, smile, and sleep like a baby afterwards. Who is protesting them? At least nobody ever lost their kids' college money playing Candy Crush.

I hate to get all Robert Heinlein on you, but unless Zygna agents are sneaking into your house in the middle of the night to load Epic Bakery Candy Saga Pony Plus on your phone, the reason people play these games is because they like them. They picked them out of a market that provides a million places to hop to if their current game irritates them. I'm sorry if it angers you if someone chooses to play Flappy Bird or 2048 instead of your soul-enriching art piece, but that's the breaks.

(Of course, when these games have actual gambling, it'll be a moral apocalypse. Argument for another day.)

Fun Still Matters. Games, Remember?

My wife has a serious love/hate relationship with these games. When Candy Blast Mania hits her up for cash, her eyes glow incandescent with rage. And yet, she's burned through hundreds of levels, exterminating bosses with robotic efficiency. Not paying for it only makes it more fun.

I won't embarrass us by revealing how thoroughly Hearthstone has occupied our brains. Again, not costing a penny.

I'm always in awe of people's ability to take a cornucopia of wonder and upend it, pawing through the treasures within in the hope of finding a dried rat turd or something. We're getting an awesome deal here, people. Perhaps too awesome. There's probably a big business shakeout approaching this market in the next few years, but it's nothing compared to the apocalypse small Indie developers are about to face.

(Don't believe me? Go here and watch the first minute. This is the way the world ends.)

Daily earnings for the top ten mobile games. I think my favorite thing is that some people think the war isn't over.
The Peace of Letting Go

So you might as well be cool with it. Because, well, look at this sales chart. Those revenue figures are per DAY.

This isn’t competition. This is implacable domination. This is the Huns stampeding over the border, driving the survivors into the caves, and salting the earth. Except that the Huns, in this case, were us.

The people have spoken, the bastards. For Indie developers to say to gamers, “No, you poor, lost little lambs, this isn’t really what you want. Let us saaaave you,” is getting more than a little embarrassing.

Indie was, is, and always will be, niche. Add up all the earnings of every Indie game last year, Minecraft included, and it’s probably still less than Supercell’s monthly Snapple budget. All we can do, going forward, is find a way to deal with it.

In our house, dealing with it will include a lot of Hearthstone. And, of course, gathering colored candy into easily extracted clumps.

57 comments:

  1. Free-to-play is perfectly fine. Pay-to-win is the problem.

    Any game that allows players to gain an in-game advantage (no matter how slight) by spending real world dollars should be considered damaging to the game industry.

    Good:
    F2P games that allow gamers to spend $ on cosmetic upgrades (hats in TF2), new DLC content, or versions without ads.

    Bad:
    F2P games that allow gamers to spend $ to improve their in-game standing or character power.

    It's a bad precedent, and it has infected mobile gaming much more thoroughly than PC and console gaming. I'm wary of installing any free mobile game because I'm afraid it might be Pay-To-Win, and I won't realize it until after I've already invested some time in it.

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    1. Like everything else, pay to win is on a spectrum. Extra cash gives you a percentage advantage. What percentage is acceptable? I think a game that gave people who pay a guaranteed chance to win would not do well. But, say, a 5% edge? 2%? I think most people could live with that.

      Hearthstone is my go-to example here, because of its excellent design and massive popularity. People who spend a ton of money get a small edge, and everyone lives with it. For me, beating Johnny Suitcase (as people who spend tons of money on cards used to be called) is just that much sweeter when I did it for free.

      - Jeff Vogel

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    2. What's with the obsession with "winning"? Why is that so important. This isn't Starcraft II. If someone wants to spend $10 to save themselves a week of time in Candy Crush Saga, who cares?

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    3. And people paying money to save them from actually playing the game doesn't seem at all odd to you?

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    4. No. Because different people enjoy different things from a game. Some like collecting. Some like progression. Some like challenge. Some would *sometimes* be happy to shortcut something and *sometimes* be happy not to. Just like I would sometimes spend lots of time watching cheat videos on YouTube, and sometimes I'd rather do all the hard work myself.

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    5. The problem with pay to win is only a major issue when talking about multiplayer games where the playing field is tilted toward the people who pay money.

      I don't mind paying for a game. I just don't want to feel like the only reason I'm losing is because someone else paid more than me, or almost equally disheartening, when I feel I'm winning only because I paid more than the person I beat.

      This is why I prefer paying full price for a game, even if that price is $30-60, as long as I know that the playing field is about as even as it can get. Loses by those genuinely better than me and wins over people I'm genuinely better than. (Most of the time.)

      Now as for paying to win a single player game? I feel like this can be given a lot of leniency. The game should still be fun to play without dropping cash, but if you're enjoying a game... ffs pay a little bit of money toward it. Game developers need incentive to develop and keeping a roof over their head is a pretty damn good incentive if you ask me.

      I personally would much prefer paying a full price for a full game but I completely understand the appeal of hooking someone into a free game and asking for some money afterwards. Just be fair, not over the top manipulative.

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  2. I'm currently playing Clash of Clans and Dungeon Keeper. They're virtually identical except for their imagery, and they're virtual identical to many, many other mobile RTS's.
    The problem is the scheme: yes, it takes forever to do anything of value: 1-24 hours is standard for many upgrades. You can find a few gems here and there, and they speed the game up, but there's never enough to even buy a third worker so everything goes at a snail's pace unless you PAY real money to buy more crystals.
    And, I wouldn't have a problem with that, if it was a single player game. But it isn't. Both have forced PVP that you can't turn off, (CoC has a shield you can buy with again, real money, to halt attacks on your base for a limited time) and these attacks can happen at any time (and most often, when you're not playing.)
    Of course you're going to get utterly dominated by people who pay to play these games.
    I wouldn't have a problem with this if these games weren't marketed as "free to play with the option to pay." They eventually become unplayable without paying. For as much as I despise King games, at least they were honest: Candy Crush IS playable without paying, even if it does get ridiculously hard, because you don't have other players coming in while you're sleeping and stealing your resources.

    I also don't think it's fair to compare pay-to-win with subscription service games. Most MMOs with a fee have a flat fee; most pay-to-win games want you to spend as much as humanly possible. I can pay as much as I want to rent as many movies as I want; or I can pay a monthly fee for cable. These are not at all the same business model and it's a bad analogy to compare the two.

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    1. That presupposes that the only reason you would play a game is to win. That is very low on my list of motivations to play any game. And definitely not F2P ones.

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  3. Pretty sure Notch was being facetious in that tweet.

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    1. I'm pretty sure he wasn't. If he says, "Hey, doofus, I was joking," I'll add a note.

      But even if he was joking, the people who responded to the tweet were not, as neither was the guy who wrote the Polygon I linked to, and neither was pretty much every indie who writes on the topic. It doesn't affect 98% of my post.

      - Jeff Vogel

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  4. I'm a Gamer. I've been one since the Magnavox Odyssey. I play everything from MMOs to Rock Band on the Xbox to mobile games. I play MMOs when I have the time to sit down with (or without) friends to kill baddies for a few hours. I play Rock Band or other Xbox games with my family. I play mobile games on my phone when I'm standing in line at the grocery store and need to put the phone away when it's my turn to unload the cart and talk to the cashier (put the phone away when talking to the cashier, for God's sake). I enjoy the mobile games for what they are--little fun diversions that I can pick up for a little bit and then put down until later. It fills a different niche for me. I can't play mobile games for hours at a time like I can Rock Band, Guild Wars 2, TOR, VtMB, KOTOR, or ESO. I also can't play those in line at the Post Office like I can games on my phone.

    The only time I got mad at a f2p game was when Sims Freeplay brought out an update that essentially was a 'we're now going to add in a death mechanic to kill off Sims unless you pay to keep them alive'. Having gotten addicted to the game and paid for a few extra character slots, I was ticked off when I was asked to pay AGAIN to add a new Sim slot to replace the one that died. I walked away from the game. Maybe if they change that so I don't lose the character slot, I might go back, but I don't want to pay to keep them alive. I'd buy an aquarium and fish if I want a few more expensive pets.

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    1. Ah, but WHICH Magnavox Odyssey? The original that came out in 1972? (Which makes you a true pioneer.) Or the Odyssey^2, which came out in 1978? (Which only makes you a grumpy old fart like me.)

      - Jeff Vogel

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    2. Isn't Jeff's point that it isn't about you. I can happily play F2P games for hours at a time (Pocket Trains, Hay Day, Another Case Solved). I can happily play FTL and Minecraft for hours at a time.

      And so can tens of millions of other people.

      While I'm sure that mobile games are only a "casual diversion" for you, they are a deeply engaging pastime for lots of people who have never played Rock Band

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  5. The irony is that most of us grew up playing Pong, Galaga, and Breakout (or more recently Tetris) and we all turned out just fine (for the most part). The mobile games of today are more sophisticated in many ways than the games I used to play growing up on the GameBoy & NES. Or remakes of classics. In conclusion, I think the kids will be just fine.

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  6. Hear, hear.

    Hopefully, one day, the free-to-whatever method of monetisation will come to other entertainment mediums as well. I, personally, look forward to the day when, whenever I reach the end of each chapter in the book I downloaded for free, I will be faced with a choice:

    1. Pay to advance the story.
    2. Complete hours worth of menial tasks to advance the story.

    (Essentially, pay or face hard-labour).

    When practically every author implements this in their e-Books, everyone will like it, as the sales statistics will show much more money being made overall. This, of course, has nothing to do with the utter and complete domination of extortionate business practices and a lack of any real alternative other than giving up books entirely.

    A win for the author; a win for the consumer.

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    1. I think that ebooks will trend towards free. What I'm not clear about is exactly how authors will still be paid. (Although I did write a book about my theories in that area :-) )

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    2. Ah yes, the beautiful sound of an overly strained analogy.

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    3. They already have those, they are called serial novels. And they did really well.

      Comics work in a very similar fashion, and pay-per-episode of TV shows seems to be working pretty well for Amazon Prime.

      Oh, and did I mention iTunes? You can buy an entire CD one song at a time!!!

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    4. I suppose, but at least with those (and, admittedly, my tongue-in-cheek example above), you at least know what you're in for ahead of time. With these free-to-play games, you have no idea how much tedium you're going to face, or how much money you're going have to sink in ahead of time; you've just got to dive in and hope that your time or the money you've already invested isn't wasted. Additionally, at least there's an upper limit on how much you can spend on, say, an album of music to complete it. And the music/serial/comic isn't consumable; I can consume it again and again once I have it. If I buy gold in a game and restart (or, more frequently, the game resets on its own), I'll have to buy the gold all over again. At the moment, who the hell knows how much I'll have to pay or how many hours or boredom I'll have to put into Deer Hunter, and then, even if I do end up finishing the game, if I wish to play it again, I'll have to start slaving or paying all over again.

      Thank God games like Avernum, Avadon, Pokemon, and Skyrim have good replay value, because my guess is that I'll be limited to playing only them for a very, very long time.


      Bring back cheats.

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  7. I don't disagree that there's a lot of hyperbole, snobbery and double standards in the criticism of mobile and F2P games.

    What typically irks me about these games is their progression curve. In many case F2P are endless games, treadmills of unlocks that have little mechanical impact to gameplay.

    Because levels cannot guarantees a player will have item X, Y, Z the game designers cannot build levels around unique mechanics that only specific items provide. If these items are to be gated behind a paywall, a level cannot be built around a specific unit or item that provides a unique game mechanic. What results it that the items purchased provides numerical bonuses, and rarely opens up new game mechanics. If the items in Zelda were items in a F2P shop, most levels could not be played. So the level design in F2P is fairly flat as a result.

    MMOs and F2P have pretty similar models actually. Their business model requires that players play their games a LOT. The endless progression of quantitatively better items in old subscription MMOs attempts to keep its players base subscribed. The endless progression of quantitatively better items in F2P games attempt to keep its player base playing to increase the likelihood they will spend money.

    I played a handful of F2P games for many hours. I had to ask myself if I was playing because I was enjoying it or whether I was trying to get to the next unlock. I like a game that provides me with an end state. The reason I avoid F2P is not because I they are evil bad games made by horrible people, but because they don't provide me with closure and satisfaction.

    As long as you are having fun, keep playing. If you’re just playing for unlocks, then you should ask yourself some questions.

    What typically irks me about these games is their progression curve. In many case F2P are endless games, treadmills of unlocks that have little mechanical impact to gameplay. Because levels cannot assume a player will have item X, Y, Z the game designers cannot build levels around unique mechanics that only specific items provide; something we see in many RPGs, shooters, RTS, etc.

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  8. I'm one of those people who make F2P mobile games. And I personally hate them. I also dislike MMOs greatly, so no, I did not spent thousands of hours in Everquest grinding. I hate mindless grinding as a game mechanics and very much would like to eradicate it from the face of Earth. Of course, there is a thin line between mindless and, say, "mindful" grinding (which poses challenge and raises your skill), but I digress.

    Anyway, I hate mobile F2P not for its tropes, color schemes or monetization strategies (those are all awful, but whatever), but for its domination of the industry. Before mobile boom, there were a lot of different studios in Moscow. You could work on MMOs, quests, first person shooters, turn-based strategies even! All as a part of (usually, small or medium) company. Today? Mobile F2P or go indie. In the whole Russia, there is probably only a couple of notable non-mobile studios remaining (one released Warlock 2 recently, and the other I added because, really, there can't be ONLY one?).

    So for those of us who isn't willing to take a risk of abandoning a paying job and going all-out indie (you can't even start a Kickstarter campaign from Russia, unless you have friends in USA, dammit!), there is simply no choice.

    I must mention, though, that it did not start with mobile games. Years before, MMOs (mostly already F2P) were The Thing, and most of interesting studios closed in that era, because they could not find investors for non-MMO projects. Also, things are getting maybe a little better now, because there are some indies, and indies are growing slowly, so one day maybe you could again find a job that does not require you to work on games you dislike greatly. But not now.

    Of course, mobile F2P games domination is a rational things. I understand, more or less, why it happened, and why it cannot really be "stopped". Nobody wants to invest into single-player PC game when you can put your money into a half-year project with potential to bring you ten times the investment. But that does not stop me from hating this situation.

    So, there is my whole argument against F2P games. They are so successful, they're killing diversity. And many have a feeling (justified or not), that you CAN'T be SO successful without cheating - maybe exploiting some psychological tricks, loophole in laws or something. Also, casinos are banned in Russia outside of special Gambling Zones, which are situated far away from main cities (mostly, close to resorts) as to dissuade old ladies and students from spending all their money there. Which just leads to an occasional hidden gambling establishment bust and a lot of other ways to hide gambling or move it online, but still...

    As for myself... I'm afraid of going indie. I'm not sure I have a vision and persistence to make it. But I think I'll try anyway, because I'm tired of making Temple Run and Clash of Clans clones which I wouldn't play unless they put a gun to my head, and wouldn't pay for even if they did.

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    1. Thank you for this. Honestly, if I had a choice and God-powers, I wouldn't have had the current mobile generation take over the world like they did. I would truly have preferred to Universe to be more ruled by things I like. Their level of domination is scary, and it certainly hurts my own personal business. My ipad sales are in the dumper now.

      But I've gotten to the point where I really feel I have to make my peace with it and decide where to go from here. I can't argue with this level of dominance anymore, and I do admire anyone who makes games so many people play so passionately.

      In the end, my sympathy is always with people who are driven to make games, even if their path is so so different from mine.

      - Jeff Vogel

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    2. I'm from that studio, that made Warlock 2. Btw, we are guilty, we also did a small F2P arcade game, that was played by many millions of users on different platforms. Unfortunately Warlock 2 will never get 1/10 of its number of players, and it is now easier for me to say to new friends, that I did this small highly rated arcade for mobiles that they most probably played than to say that I did Warlock2 when they've never played any turn-based strategy on computer.

      In addition, we've are guilty in recent publishing a mobile F2P RPG called Gunspell (on android so far). Our take on this is the same as for our PC titles - we want to make those F2P games we would like to play ourselves.

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  9. one thing not mentioned in this article is that i think part of the reason a lot of people (including myself) dislike casual f2p games is simply that they aren't the kind of games we enjoy playing. there's nothing inherently wrong with those games, they just cater to non-gamer tastes.

    so i think a big factor in all the hate is that indie game developers don't like the idea that in order to make money, they have to make a game that they, personally, would not enjoy playing. i mean, it's hard to get excited about making a game that you yourself wouldn't enjoy. so the rise of casual f2p games is sort of like a trend towards 'you can choose between being successful, or making games you would enjoy playing'.

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    1. Thanks an interesting point. I think indie games will always be a reaction and alternative to what is most popular. They will write what the big guys aren't writing. The scary thing then is the big guys being so big they squeeze anything else out. But anger and sniping at the big guys won't help. After all, the people voted to make them big in the first place.

      - Jeff Vogel

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  10. This post will risk becoming preachy, but I'll attempt to balance it since I do fundamentally agree with you.

    You're right. Just about your entire post is a representation of how I see it as well. Who the hell are we to say what others are supposed to play and not play? I grew up with interactive text adventures and have felt generally snobby about the adventure game genre ever since. On the large part I believe the complexity and depth declined sharply with the introduction of graphics and with only a few exceptions (but there are -many- exceptions to this "rule") remains a hollowed out husk of its former glory days.

    Sierra and early lucasart games aren't the fathers of the genre, they're the grand-children of the genre. There's been a lot of talk about "cow clickers" lately and, while I did find the graphical interfaces beautiful (they were), that's how I came to see the graphical games after being sorely disappointed by them.

    Yet, who the heck am I to tell anyone what the height of adventure games was? If you enjoyed them then isn't that enough? Does anyone even care that I sit here dreaming of the days of "proper adventure games" when Broken Age is being released? This applies across the board, everyone has their own defacto standard that they compare everything else to. If your opinion differs from mine then you're obviously WRONG! And on the internet!

    Now then, herein lies my problem. I just don't like the vast majority of these casual games. Every time I finish a game on mobile devices I've got a real problem finding anything to replace it. The revival of gamebooks kept me occupied for quite some time, but now I've gone through all of them and they were "casual" to begin with compared to "proper" interactive fiction. But that is my problem, not a problem of those that fleetingly install whatever is currently trending and having a great time with them.

    I also, as much as it pains me to say it, think it's detrimental to the longterm viability of the industry. It conditions the target audience to go for instant gratification and nothing else. You want to see that level pop, you want to finish that hand of cards, then you want your reward and you want to continue. Winning, tiger blood style! That's fine. But the term "tl;dr" comes to mind.

    The conditioning of not just these casual games but also the websites, movies and tv-shows with constant quick cuts and minute long storylines encourage this mentality. Arguing about the value of reading above playing games (even though they're not mutually exclusive) goes beyond the scope of this post. But having people say "lol, tl;dr" to a book or game because it contains more than a couple of pages of text? Yeah, I don't see that as positive. At all. For anyone.

    We both know what the target audience of your games is, it isn't the candy crush youths of today who wouldn't even grace them with a glance. When an entire genre (or genres), developers and their work is dismissed by a "tl;dr" then it -is- negative. It has nothing to do with RPGs being superior to cowclickers, it's just that nobody should ever judge anything until they know what they're talking about. With knowledge and experience comes wisdom. But would they have been your target audience to begin with, whether candy crush existed or not? Chicken and the egg.

    Does this mean we're morally/ethically/whatevery obliged to do something about it? No, that isn't our right or responsibility. But with every person we condition other genres and game types are being relegated into the area of "nope". Is that a good thing or not? Zork was the candy crush saga of the 80s, but is one superior to the other? It's impossible for me to be the judge of that since I'm naturally biased. I'm just tired of seeing my favourite past-time vanish before me, game by game, year by year, and it's making me grumpy. Grumble grumble..

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    1. Try not to despair at the overall direction of the culture. You'll drive yourself crazy. Whether it's good or bad, it's way bigger than you.

      Plus, while the direction of the culture in many ways is displeasing to me, I can't be sure that it's bad. It might just be a sensible reaction to growing up in a world different to the one I grew up in. If you're going to be truly bothered by something, I suggest the melting of Antarctica instead. :-)

      OK, now I depressed myself. I'm going back to bed.

      - Jeff Vogel

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    2. Problematically there's always something worse, until the universe ends. To quietly resign oneself to the inevitable does save time however. Time that I should be spending clicking on cows. Grumble.

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  11. Jeff: I grew up playing Exile. Now I am a game developer. I only just recently discovered that you're still in the mix yourself. Fantastic fucking article. Standing and cheering at my desk.

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  12. I'm just a gamer and whatever the game is, if it's a f2p or not, I hate playing games that treat me like a retard. And trying to force me to pay advantages is like insulting my own person. Also, build a business model around some drug addicts is just vicious and immoral, you can't hide this behind the casino. It's the same thing : exploit mental fragility. The dominant bad side of the F2P philosophy tends to reproduce our cynical world where it shouldn't be (the playground). Regarding the multiplayer in F2P, I can't imagine and accept any traditional game, from football to chess, where you might shamelessly cheat by paying more tricks...
    VoilĂ ... You have an openminded point of view but you miss the deep and sad problems, IMO.
    It's not about tastes or jealousy, it's about world view.

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    1. Fab, that's all mightily over-the-top and a bit narrow-minded. You're stuck on a moral dissection of paying for advantage - just in general, as you indicate with the term "world view". Look at professional boxing and just focus on the measures that boxers with cash will commit to in order to make weight for fights. Some have had large amounts of blood drawn from their body to help meet designated fight weight at official weigh-ins, only to rehydrate and gain sometimes as much as 25 pounds come the day of the fight. That weight IS an advantage in the sport. The "world view" concerning paying for an advantage isn't going anywhere, no matter the volume of outraged comments from anywhere. There are also many ways to gain advantage. Is it more 'noble' to play a game with every hour of one's life to put oneself equally ahead? If you have children and are ignoring them, I'd think not. Consider this: if someone spends money to get ahead in a little game against others, that's their cash permanently gone for what amounts to nothing. There are surely people who shell out bloody chunks of their wages for this stuff. Let that go.

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  14. Also - there was a comment that used the term "cow clickers", which I've been so out of the cool gamer loop so as to have not even heard, prior. Anyway - my eyes kept telling me I was seeing "cow licker". Trying to brush up on my gamer lingo with an ill-informed Google search... ah, my eyes betrayed me.

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    1. "Cow clicker" the game was made out of derision by, as you put it, a "cool gamer". But after its release it garnered enough public awareness that it's now become a quick and easy way to refer to an entire grouping of games. I think the Zyngas of the industry still call them time management games, which isn't a genre, it's something you do in every game that isn't turn-based. If you spend the majority of time either clicking on a cow or waiting until you can click on a cow then it is a cow clicker.

      Paradoxically, the actual game called "Cow clicker" was sort of fun. If it's still around then give it a whirl.

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    2. When I see "time management" I think of games like those at GameHouse in which you manage (say) an ice cream parlour and make up different orders for customers. They tend to be fairly frantic. It's not a genre I like but they seem quite popular.

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  15. The core gamers love is the word called "FREEDOM" that drives sheer joy.

    In my part, I love playing games that are free. EA destroyed my interest when those so-called DLCs are popping up. And most games they release are prematurely done so. BUGS lots of 'em.

    I do hope there comes a time a great developer comes up and send all gamers to bliss. They should understand what core games love.

    P.S.
    Speaking of mobile/facebook games. I stumbled with this:
    http://launchv.com/?ref=playandwin
    Play and earn. For a change, perseverance is the key then sheer joy comes to those who wait.

    :)
    shads

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  16. Three. "If You Don't Pay, You Have To Spend a Lot of Time Getting Power."

    Your choice of WoW/EQ for this was a poor one. They are grindy MMOs. I consider the 8 years of playing Quake 3 every day for an hour at lunch a long time to earn the skills I have to be worth it. But that was *practice*, not waiting for pay-wall timers. Big difference, in my opinion.

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  17. Jeff, I was extremely disappointed that your response was "Sure, the f2p model might foster addiction and bilk people who get addicted to it out of thousands or tens of thousands of dollars ... but hey, that's not as bad as a casino!" Why aren't you concerned about it? Does something have to be as bad as the worst thing ever for you to say it's bad?

    I was then extremely disappointed that you said "I'm sorry if it angers you if someone chooses to play Flappy Bird or 2048 instead of your soul-enriching art piece, but that's the breaks."

    This is a straw man. The topic you were writing on was unethical monetization models. Neither Flappy Bird nor 2048 intends for you to spend thousands of dollars on microtransactions to refill an energy bar.

    Honestly, I think the reason your response to f2p monetization was so weak and dishonest is because you know the model is morally wrong. Why did you try to argue it wasn't, though? Surely you didn't think you were persuasive?

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    1. Even if I think that f2p monetization can be a little unethical (I go back and forth on this), I do address this when I point out the MULTITUDES of competing options. Many of which are less expensive/harsh.

      In other words, I have to be a smidge libertarian here. If someone chooses to spend a fortune on one particular game instead of the 1000000 others, at some point, I have to respect that person's freedom to make that choice, even if I think it's dumb.

      It's something we have to live with in a free society, much like we accept people gambling, drinking booze, and so on.

      (Of course, all this goes out of the window when kids are involved, and kid-safety features are a reasonable expectation. Though in this area nothing works better thana concerned parent who gets the credit card bill)

      - Jeff Vogel

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    2. The sheer pervasiveness of f2p monetization drives me batty, and the number of good games that are goint to f2p instead of pay once and enjoy.

      Take Plants vs Zombies. Awesome game, bought it, worked my way through it at my own pace, learning the game mechanics, and developing my own preffered playstyle.

      Then comes PvZ2, and it is all about the monitization. Plants are for sale, attacks are for sale, boosts and goodies are monetized. Even the Zen Garden is monetized.

      All the *fun* gets sucked out of a game when I know I'm struggling on a level because I haven't dropped extra money on some gadget.

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  18. I too used to hate on free2play. Now I pretty much don't care about it anymore. It took me a while to work out what exactly it was about free2play that I didn't like and it was this:

    I'm an indie game developer and every meetup or event that I would go too there where always people talking about free2play and how it was the future and how the top 10 grossing games where free 2 play etc... But I think that developing a f2p game as an indie is a *very* risky manoeuvre and cost way more to develop than anyone can imagine just on face value. I think it's just bad advice to give to small startup studios to enter a market against opposition that has vastly more revenue and resources than you could ever dream of?

    As much as I hate to admit it f2p is here to stay, but it's maturing, people won't play bad games, only those they enjoy and it will become dominated by maybe a couple dozen large players, with a small rotation.

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  19. I'm a long-time traditional gamer, and I only really got into light cashing for one F2P game (Wartune) for a little while, but I used to hear people crying a lot about the advantages of people who pay. Honestly the feeling I got was that a lot of the people complaining have never actually walked into a bar and bought a drink before. You're easily out 10 whole bucks for a few minutes of satisfaction, OMG, do you know how much you could buy in a game with that?

    To me that's probably what differentiates casual gamers - they have jobs and they're used to actually paying to be entertained. I mean dinner for two, a movie, a cover charge, and a couple of drinks and you're easily talking $100 for one night's relatively entry-level entertainment. It can easily be a lot more if you go to a concert, opera, etc. For that much you can save yourself a lot of time and trouble and lay the smack down on a bunch of broke adolescents for at least a couple of months in game. Once I made that connection spending a little money here and there made a lot of sense, and every night I spent at home I saved a ton of money compared to going out for traditional entertainment.

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  20. What about the ones that just plain suck? Am I allowed to say that, or is it "pretentious" now to point out that something sucky sucks?

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  21. The problem is that 99% of mobile games are steaming piles of crap. And please don't use anything made by Blizzard to show how good mobile games are. Just like WoW and MMOs, anything made by Blizzard is an outlier when it comes to quality and polish.

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  22. At the end of the day, there are good FTP games and bad FTP games, but the marketing model leads to toxic design decisions.

    Jeff, just as a thought experiment, redesign a FTP version of one of your games with in-game monetisation. Did the game get better or worse than the original?

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    1. I would definitely play a free Spiderweb game.

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  23. The last three posts have the phrases "just plain suck" "steaming piles of crap" "toxic design decisions". Guys, you're allowed to not like them. It's cool. And a huge chunk of them are bad, same as all other video games, books, movies, every human endeavor, really. #sturgeonslaw

    I just think that the categorical dismissal of the whole category is really weird, defensive, and counter-productive. I have received no response to my post that makes me otherwise, though some of them are so overwrought (I'm looking at you Gamasutra posters) that they make me worry for the people writing them.

    - Jeff Vogel

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    1. Some people just have a propensity to give totally polar and extreme responses to others' statements. There's no middle ground. It's like a ball rolling off a roof - barely tip it, then it's out of your control.

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  24. There are a few mobile games I like (Angry Birds, Kingdom Rush are both pretty good) but when you compare Apple's and Google's app store to something like Steam you see what I meant when I said 99% of mobile games are crap. There certainly are a lot of bad games on Steam (more so these days) but the ratio of good to bad games is MUCH better on Steam than the app stores. A lot of mobile games are tailored to kids, old people and soccer moms. Until the companies making mobile games (I'm looking at you Zynga and others) start making more GAMES instead of apps that has a primary goal of separating players from their money, they'll deserve every bit of scorn heaped on them.

    And again, stop mentioning Hearthstone in any sort of way in your arguments. Its Blizzard. Its Warcraft. Its an outlier.

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  26. Just a few questions really;
    Why are you calling casino operators "icehearted bastards" yet assuring us that F2P developers/designers are alright? Who, exactly, is forcing people to go into a casino and play those games?

    Games generate anger and frustration, right? Games also generate happiness and euphoria, right? This is a feedback loop, right? What would you call someone who is blatantly using this loop for monetary gains? Are they a good Samaritan? A swell and upstanding citizen?

    The old "you could just put the game down" argument. The entire purpose of games is immersion (and thus engagement). If the very core of a game is engagement how can we simply state, "well, just put it down", the whole premise of design involves a need to force engagement. This line of argument is clearly disingenuous.

    Ah, but there's no real life barrier put on by F2P games. They're just games!
    Are they? Games are a part of our lives, games want to be a part of our lives and at the moment games ARE a part of our lives (we're over-saturated by content and our children are growing up to drown in this shit). When we consume/play games at every opportunity then having artificial barriers forced into the mechanics has a very real effect on our very real physical brains.

    As far as your comment regarding bullying... Are you really suggesting that developers who recognize such behaviour (which I hope we can all agree is negative) simply ignore it? If no one raises a voice would the behaviour disappear?

    Anyway, I understand why people like Nicholas Lovell argue strongly for the "benefits" of F2P, his paycheck is dependent on the proliferation of the business model. But this article appears to have been written because you want to feel that it's alright to enjoy Hearthstone?

    And finally keep up the good work :D I love your games (own most of them. I rather play Avadon any day of the week over Hearthstone by the way) and I keep re-reading the comedy central hoping for new stuff!

    -Amir

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  27. I'm not sure I understand why the arguement is made that these free mobile games stifle diversity. For me, it feels like that video review for FTL about flying indie sausages hitting from every direction. You can't turn around without seeing a good $4.95 indie game to buy.

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  28. I'd rather use my money in online casino games, IMO. The money I spend on online casinos are most likely to return than spending it on mobile games.
    --
    12BET Online Casino Malaysia

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  29. The reason F2P Games are doing so well, especially mobile ones is because, everyone has a cell phone already and none of the big companies are doing anything epic anymore. Used to be the gaming industry was new, and everything about it was new. I remember when the game type: Moba came into existence. When it was born it was a small nitch, now that nitch has grown into a huge casual following. Take it, they are mostly PC gamers; however, that industry still grows and is one of the better indie groups, of course they follow the same F2P model that the mobile games are so successful with. However, still even though the older game types, that are mostly P2P, are losing business to the newer game types and F2P mobile apps; they still won't explore new Genres. I think it's lazy, it's not hard to come up with a new game type... I can come up with one in a few hours of brainstorming with just maybe 1 or 2 friends who also enjoy games. I went to college for game development and honestly I don't see much changing over the next 3-5 years. However, I predict a change in the winds; soon even the bigger companies will be forced to become more creative to stay in business.

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  30. I'm sorry about this. I made a post too long to be posted. I even tried making it small (only to 4000 chars) but this form can't validate it for some reason. It says it gets over 4096. Even trimmed down. So I uploaded it to somewhere else. I hope it is OK to copy/paste this address in order to read it.
    pastebin.com/raw.php?i=gKmqV7b6

    (I am almost 30 and I work programming for an ERP company. I still would like to make a living out of making games. Not necessarily be rich or even handle employees. Just get enough money to live comfortably as I do now. I'm just adding this because this is not a spam.)

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