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The Hypocrisy of F2P Angst

The vocal Hard Core minority who are most prolific in gaming comments are clearly biased against Free2Play games. But the very same Capitalistic manipulation techniques being criticized have been used by all consumer-facing industries for 60+ years.
Plants vs. Zombies 2 sets the High Bar for F2P Games
It should come as no surprise to any Gamasutra reader that most of the more prolific commentators here are biased against F2P games. The majority of threads that even mention F2P quickly devovle into tedious debates about the evils of F2P where the detractors usually far outweigh the proponents. 
As a proponent of F2P, and an old veteran in Retail Action Game Development,  I am always amused at the High Horse so many people (most often Core gamers) take when talking smack about F2P games.

So let me get this straight: there are companies who mislead and manipulate their consumers into increased consumption and spending more money???
Hello!!! This behavior is the entire foundation of the modern Consumer based economy that the bulk of the Developed World has embraced for the past 60+ years; this is self-serving Capitalism and these practices are what ALL companies who sell consumer goods and services do!!! Why should it be different for gaming companies?

Public Relations was invented and popularized by Psychoanalysis and Propaganda experts who needed a more public-friendly term to refer to those manipulations. Sigmund Freud's own nephew Edward Bernays was a key architect of PR (and most famously changed social taboos to get women to start smoking by rebranding cigarettes into "Torches of Freedom").
The PR Architects like Bernays used Propaganda and Psychoanalysis techniques for their Corporate and Political clients to manipulate consumer or voter habits by appealing to their inner desires. The Corporations of today have heavily refined these techniques to better hook the consumer and most Consumers are eager to pay up, even when they are familiar with the tactics.

What does the Vocal F2P Detractor think about the invention and proliferation of Planned Obsolescence, where consumer goods are engineered to fail after a preset amount of time (most extremely for computer printers which stop working at an EXACT amount of prints and will not print one more sheet)? Does any negative opinion of this stop anyone from purchasing consumer goods?

What about modern Marketing, which is designed to misleadingly show all products in an almost angelic light that is rarely accurate? Has the reader ever seen a movie or played a game that sucked but the Trailer looked great? Did that realization make anyone stop seeing movies or buying retail games?

What about the modern Merchandising techniques that are used by major retailers like Wallmart, Target, Best Buy, Amazon, Safeway, CVS and Vons to get the customer to over-consume and buy more stuff (through Sales and Promotions like BOGO, 2-for-1, Limited Time, Bundles, Value Packs, and Exploding Offers)? F2P games that use these techniques are using something both familiar and widely accepted outside of gaming. 

All these misleading and manipulation techniques are the Capitalistic norm in every consumer facing industry. As consumers we all literally buy into these techniques and have therefore legitimized them. The history of these techniques are well chronicled in the documentaries The Light Bulb Conspiracy (video below), The Century of the Self (BBC) and in multiple other historic sources.

Why is it OK for Ford, Coke, Apple, Google, Samsung, Sony, Phizer, GM, Gap, Timex, and every other consumer-focused company, large and small, to use these techniques of misinformation and manipulation but it is NOT OK for gaming companies to do so??? Put another way: why is it OK for all those consumer goods companies to be self-serving, profit-seeking, business-minded Capitalists but it is NOT OK for F2P Game Companies to be so?

Why doesn't the manipulate practices of Apple, Nike, Nikon, Lego and others bother Gamer's enough to make them complain as loudly as they do for F2P Games? Why aren't there billions of comment flame wars complaining about the manipulation techniques of all the most beloved consumer Brands? This, my industry friends, is hypocricy at its finest. 

Even the major traditional Retail Game publishers like EA, Activision, 2K and Take Two use many of these techniques in their Marketing and PR plans and those are very much designed to manipulate all of us consumers into buying more of their products. We call it hype and even when we complain about it we often fall prey to it and end up buying. 

A major consumer goods corporation that utilized honest Marketing, PR, Pricing and builds products that last decades would likely not be in business long while competing with all those that do use manipulation and misinformation. So those developers that shy aways from F2P (which can easily obtain 50-100x installs) are placing themselves in similar competitive peril unless they have the deep pockets and solid backing of a Big Publisher that allows them to continue to make AAA Retail/Premium Games (and forces them to give up nearly all of their royalties/control). 

The day the F2P Nay Sayers stop buying retail branded consumer products which use pychoanalytical manipulation is the day their complaints about F2P manipulation will stop being hypocritical. Until then, they could at least change their argument against F2P to more closely match what it really is - Fear of Change. 

But not all is rosy in the land of F2P, even with the contested complsion tactics. While I *am* defending a consumer product and Capitalism-standard level of pychoanalitical manipulation, as both a consumer and developer I am not at all satisfied with where most of these games are at. 

My main complaints with many F2P game lie in shallow, weak gameplay and in high friction interfaces with poor usability. The good news is I see both areas evolving for the better on both the Social and Mobile platforms.

I expect an imminent console adoption of F2P to accelerate this gameplay and usability improvemnt trend further. It is now up to us as developers to make sure that great gameplay and usability become requirements in new F2P games and not just an optional nicety. 

I do believe most people are so entrenched in their opinions that I do not expect to sway their perception of the matter by shining a light on the multi-industry use of manipulative consumer practices and so I fully expect the F2P angst to continue in the comments below and elswere. 

But one thing is clear - like it or not, F2P has largely expanded the gaming market and player demographics and has led the Mobile gaming explosion. And because F2P is the best chance developers have at finding loyal players, achieving success and maintaining their ability to make more games, it is here to stay. 

My main point is that, just like Consumer Goods, Game Development is a business. If your team is successful you are allowed to make more games. If you are not successful you are often not able to continue.

As a Business, you have to take your best shot at being successful and as one who has made both types of games and been in the industry for 21 years I believe F2P is that Best Shot. 

For those who are successfully making Retail or Premium games I say, Bravo. For those who are still trying to be successful away from F2P I say Good Luck on your pure artist, non-capitalist tract; but do not expect your competition to be so idealistic and forgiving. 


Readers, you can help slow the adoption of F2P gaming... but it will cost you 2 Gems. ;)


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