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All "insert business model" games suck!

With recent events in the Free to Play mobile games industry, I thought it would be nice to paint a truer picture of what it's like working in F2P. Turns out, it's not so evil.

Remi Lavoie

February 7, 2014

13 Min Read

[This is a repost from the PixelCrucible website]


I’m Rémi from Pixel Crucible, and we make Free to Play (F2P) games for mobile platforms.

Free to Play!!!!???

  • Clearly we are greedy bastards only out to get rich, right?

  • We wear suits and look at numbers all day, right?

  • We don’t care about our players; we only care about their money, right?

  • We aren’t “true” gamers; we don’t know games, right?

This is probably how you imagine we look

Well, if you look at the recent debates floating around on the Internet recently, you’d be inclined to think so. A lot of people, including some high profile people in the industry, have been painting a really horrible picture of F2P, and a lot of recent games have clearly not helped. Sadly, most of the games you will hear about, are those that are not doing it right. Some of them made by big companies with less than stellar regard towards their fan base, and they can afford to pay big bucks for marketing to help them reach the top of the charts. This has generated a lot of hate speech towards all F2P games, like this article, mostly based on one game (Dungeon Keeper). How quickly people have forgotten about another game published by EA, made by it’s PopCap studio, that was almost unanimously praised for its design and incredible use of the F2P model (at least in the West), Plants vs. Zombies 2.

Unfortunately, some of the most vocal people on the subject do not work in F2P games, and in all likelihood have not played every single F2P game ever made. Yet, they feel compelled to express generalized opinions like:

  • “All F2P games suck!” or

  • “I hate F2P!”

Well I’m here to shed some light on what it’s really like to work in F2P, the reasons why we did so, how we did it, how we treat our players, and how it has worked out for us.

The Why

We are a newly formed development team and MacGuffin Quest is our first title as Pixel Crucible. So as a new company, our biggest goal was getting people to play our game. With that in mind, we wanted to eliminate as many obstacles as possible that would prevent people from doing so. As is the case with mobile games, a price point (even as low as 99¢) will deter most people from ever trying it.
As pointed out by Nicholas Lovell in his book The Curve, as digital distribution costs get closer to zero, it drives the price point closer to zero as well. The App Store being what it is, it’s so hard getting the attention of users in a sea of apps that putting a price on your game significantly reduces the potential of your game being downloaded. Users expect a price point of “Free”, and anything different that does not have the advantage of great brandingawesome reputation or outstanding media attention has little chance of finding its way to that person’s phone.
Being a new company, we don’t have a well known name, we don’t have a well known brand or product, and we knew from that outset that we would likely not get much media attention, so going Free was the obvious choice to meet our objective of getting people playing our game.

Financially, it also made sense to adhere to a business model that allows a flowing revenue stream, instead of just spikes of revenue at certain points (release, featuring, etc). Spikes, which for mobile games without the previously mentioned advantages, are not that great anyway, and can potentially be more limiting than helpful. (Oh you greedy bastards, trying to keep your company alive, and you know, eat and stuff…)

The How

Contrary to popular belief, we are gamers. We grew up in the early days of consoles, and have been playing games ever since we were able to manipulate a joystick. We love games, we love playing them, we love making them, we respect them, and we respect the players.

Me playing the Spelunky Daily Challenge (which I try to do every day) during my lunch break, while Alex distracts me by taking pictures during final boss.

So in that sense, it was of critical importance to us that our game did not have hard pay walls. At no point in MacGuffin Quest is it impossible to keep on playing unless you spend money. This is not a random occurrence, this is by design because we wanted it that way.
We don’t like games that have hard pay walls, and we did not want to subject our players to them either. This is a decision that most likely cost us some potential revenue, but it’s something that we stand by. We don’t wear suits to work, we wear t-shirts and jeans (if wearing pants at all), and we are here to get to work and make games. The stats we look at the most are where people are dropping out of the game and where they are having trouble so we can adjust difficulty levels, drop rates and make sure the tutorial feels right.

All purchases in our game are there simply to accelerate your progression or allow you to get even further on your current playthrough. They are not required; they are there to help you out if you are enjoying yourself and want to see more.

We are not trying to squeeze out every penny from every player and we are not trying to “trick” players into spending. That is in fact not at all how F2P should work. Most people will not give you a dime… and that’s OK (again I refer you toThe Curve)!

People who spend money in our game are people who actually enjoy it and look forward to unlocking new in-game content. They spend on things that have value to them as fans of the game, or just want to help us out and show their support. If they get buyer’s remorse, then we didn’t do our job correctly, and this is something we are very attentive to.

In fact, when we got feedback that something in our game was even perceived as a pay wall, we quickly made adjustments to correct the situation, updated the tutorial flow and first-time user experience to make sure everything was clear for the player. At no point should they feel pressured to make a purchase. You know why? Because we care about our players, and we care about our game.

How it played out

  • Are we ridiculously rich and going to appear on the cover of Fortune Magazine? Heck no.

  • Are we on top of the list on every review website and media outlets? Probably not.

  • Did we gain a lot of new friends, and new fans? Heck yes!

  • Did we learn more than we ever did before? You bet!

We were fortunate enough to have been selected as part of Execution Labs, an indie incubator/accelerator in Montreal. As part of this program we were partially financed, and had the great benefit of meeting a lot of mentors who helped us out tremendously.
We are doing very modestly with our first game. In fact, as of now, we are not even covering our costs. We have learned a lot though, and have met some insanely awesome people along the way: from the incredible mentors that stopped by the labs, to the fans that enjoyed our game and supported us in our endeavor. It has been a wild crazy ride fueled by blood, sweat and tears, that has prepared us in the harshest of ways for our next projects, and our next moves. We are super grateful for Execution Labs’ support, and for believing in us enough to keep us on board as an internal team, so we can continue to make games and hone our skills.

  • So are people like us ruining the gaming industry?

  • Are we the scum of the earth for doing free to play?

  • Do we need to stop this F2P plague before it destroys consoles?

  • Are we evil?

I don’t think so, and I certainly hope you don’t think so either.
F2P has allowed us to get people playing our game, and get the fans that are reading this article right now.

  • Are we hurt when respected developers, industry veterans, or others make comments like “F2P games suck“?

Well, yes we are, we make F2P games that don’t suck (in my opinion, and those of the reviews we have gotten) that are friendly towards our players, and are not greedy. We don’t appreciate being lumped in the same group as people making bad F2P games just because we use the same business model. There are many ways of making F2P games, just as there are many ways to make Pay to Play games. Making broad generalizations, without actually playing the games you are talking about, doesn’t hurt the big greedy corporations Instead it hurts every other little guy doing it right and just trying to make a living and get people playing their game. This is the case for a lot of F2P developers, most of whom you never heard of, who are just making enough money to get by or getting a following for their next project. And they’re not evil at all. They are just like pretty much all other game developers who love games and just want to build games and have as many people as possible play them.

You can not like the F2P model, and not make F2P games, that’s totally fine and respectable. What works for you, works for you. But you can’t put all the F2P games in the same category, just like you can’t put all the P2P games in the same category.
So the next time you’re thinking of posting your opinion online, think about its goal, think about the real information you have, and think about who it’s going to hurt. There is no need to attack ALL free to play games, just because you played (or even just heard about) a bad one.

Judging games by their business model is like judging books by their covers… and we all know what they say about that.

Thank you so much for reading this.


Additional Reading:

Some examples of people/studios doing F2P right:

  • NimbleBit (Pocket Trains, Nimble Quest, Pocket Plains, Tiny Tower, Tiny Death Star, Pocket Frogs, etc)

  • Halfbrick (Jetpack Joyride, Fish Out of Water, Band Stars)

  • Roofdog Games (Extreme Road Trip 2, Pocket Mine)

  • Other Games: Plants vs Zombies 2, Subway Surfers, Mega Dead Pixel, Pixel People, Tiny Troopers 2, Puzzle Craft, etc.

  • Any many others that we sadly never hear about.


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