RE: Why free-to-play gaming needs to be reinventedBy: Zanpakutou posted at Jul 15, 2012 6:22 pm
The free to play model does need to be reinvited, but not in the way that he thinks it does. The system of analysis is that if the cost of game development rises, then the prices of games should rise accordingly. That is correct if you do not factor in looking for ways to reduce costs or to change the business model. Games are continuously made simply because they turn in a profit regardless of how little that profit is. The question that developers should be concerned about is the risk of taking each venture. If you could guarantee someone a profit every time, they would take it. As long as they can pay off everyone who worked on it and a little more, then that works for them. It is far better to have a game that costed almost nothing to develop and sold around 50,000 copies to turn a small profit than to work on a huge game for 2 years only for it to turn into an overall loss. Film companies work this way as well. Many publishing companies buy up developers and have them co-op on developing a new game. This is an expensive process that requires a lot of personnel (usually in the hundreds) and coordination. Games are being continuously pushed forward on a tight schedule resulting in a higher development cost.
As more and more games go online, consumers have to make a choice on which one they want. They cannot play all of them. They do not have the time or the money. Adding things like DLC to the game only makes it more expensive to play because you will need to buy the new features or risk being cut off from much of the game if that DLC includes new maps or weapons. This drives up the "true cost" of the game. Having free to play lowers the effect of money on their decision making. You can try out a game before you buy it. If people do not like it, then too bad. However, if someone finds the game and turns out to like it, then you just made another sale. Games like Call of Duty might sell huge numbers, but it is also a huge risk. The moment one of the games in the series fails, the company would lose huge amounts of money.
There are many people who actually want to play Nintendo games as Nintendo shows that they still have the most consoles sold in terms of overall numbers. The problem is that many third party developers are unable to develop software for the console as Nintendo has a tight control on that. Despite this policy, they are still ahead in sales and maintain a high standard of quality compared to other the other consoles. Nintendo does not appeal to just the casual gamers. People think Nintendo systems are for casual gamers. Nintendo has a policy on what games they want to allow and if other companies want to make games for it, they better check with Nintendo first. It is the policy of nearly all developers whether it be console or gaming to target the "casual gamer" base. However, what a casual gamer actually is remains uncertain as consoles are not considered to be a device on which casual gaming actually occurs in any way shape or form.
The cost of gaming has increased significantly (accounting for inflation) with the rise of DLC. It is harder to sell new games because of it. New games nowadays cost $60 when the previous generation ended with some games being sold for $40 while new. In that 5 year period or so, you had a huge inflation of game prices. Games are shorter in length now than before resulting in less overall value. On top of that, you are adding the cost of DLC and that frequently pushes the game towards $100+ zone in order to get everything. People might not be willing to buy games when they are released without everything already on the disc like before. New games have been seriously affected this generation for some reason with used game sales increasing though you could probably not tie it down to one reason. Some games are even being repackaged with all of their DLC included in an attempt to make more money off of an old game.
Zynga is only as successful as it is because it is a free to play system. If Zynga had operated on some sort of buy to play or pay to play model, I can guarantee you they will be doing far worse even if each app was only a $3 purchase. The few people who spend tons more money offsets the people that do not. You will always have more potential profit and stable profit if you switch to a pay to play system. The problem is how much of the player base you would lose compared to the stable income. The only reason free to play games work is because there is a fairly consistent player base at some point. Some gaming apps on portable tablets and smart phones have only sold such large numbers because they included a free trial for people to try. Remember that in order to play online on the 360, you have to buy a subscription so unless you are a heavy player, you probably would not pay for it.
Free to play games already make a lot of money off of advertising. They frequently have ads on their websites, on banners in the browser based games, or just find sponsors to help them with events to get some free media coverage. They have money to spend on at least a few ads as ad space on the internet tends to be cheaper than other places. Pay to play and partial pay to play games have declined over the years by comparison while free to play games grow. Think of free to play games as having the players who spend a lot of money be "sponsors" of the game. They keep it running and as long as they keep spending money, the others do not have to worry. Somehow, I free to play games might be more likely to do this than resort to creating some sort of pay to play mode. On the other hand, pay to play are competing for a very small player base that continues to shrink. Pay to play is essentially renting you a game and an account and is something that you have no ownership over.
The quality of customer service in MMOs has declined to the point where pay to play games have nothing superior to offer to players anymore. Pay to play games used to be able to at least offer that, but nowadays, their customer service is just as poor as any other game and the quality of free to play games have increased to the point where it is similar to the levels offered by pay to play. If pay to play games want to do something about it, they need to improve their game to the point where they can offer something that free to play games cannot.
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