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The future of free-to-play, according to CSR Racing's Boss Alien

Jason Avent of CSR Racing studio Boss Alien today outlined how he believes free-to-play should be, and where he sees the future of free-to-play heading in the coming years.

Mike Rose, Blogger

July 10, 2013

4 Min Read

Jason Avent of CSR Racing studio Boss Alien today outlined how he believes free-to-play should be, and where he sees the future of free-to-play heading in the coming years. Avent provided the audience at Develop Conference with his company's specific beliefs as to how free-to-play should be done on mobile. Any player should be able to finish a game for free, he says -- "end-to-end free" without forcing you to spend any cash at all. When it comes to paying money, this should be on stuff that makes your character look better, or improves your chances of winning a level, rather than allowing you to pass pay gates and directly paying to win. He noted that CSR Racing uses an energy system which stops players for continuing for a while unless they pay money -- however, he says that this rationing of play sessions means that potentially repetitive gameplay is better received. And he added that the "game as a service" angle is very important. 95 percent of players will never give you money, he notes, and that's perfectly fine, since they will still evangelize your game, and create a community around it.

What free-to-play is not

While Boss Alien has guidelines for what free-to-play should be, the studio also has its own strong grasp on what free-to-play should not be. Paymium games -- that is, games that charge upfront, and then also contain in-app purchases -- are not the way forward, says Avent. He said of the developers behind these games, "These people are scared - they're not willing to fully commit to the business model." All the proper freemium games have a long tail compared to these games, he added. He also added that there should never be an option to pay some money to unlock everything in the game: "That's not freemium, that's a premium game." Avent was also keen to point out that providing players with both a paid and a free version of your game is not a good idea if you're utilizing the free-to-play model, as it simply works to confuse your audience.

"The days of chasing whales is over"

Earlier this week, Gamasutra reported on the ethics of chasing "whales" in free-to-play games -- that is, attempting to bring in large amounts of money from a very small number of people. Avent believes that this sort of monetization strategy will not work for much longer. "I think the days of chasing whales is over," he said, "because it's too aggressive, and it doesn't stand you in good stead. Essentially, he believes that players will inevitably decide whether developers are being moral or not, and base their future purchases on that. "You reap what you sow," he added. In fact, focusing on the "freeloaders" can be rewarding. Many players enjoy attempting to work out a way to play through a free-to-play game without spending a single cent, he says, and if these people are enjoying this money-dodge, they may eventually give in and think about spending here and there because they are having fun.

Does free-to-play comprise design?

Avent brought up the question of free-to-play game design. Does building a game around a monetization strategy limit the design? "Every design process has constraints," he reasons -- however, he admits that the design of Boss Alien's earlier games probably were comprised, and that his studio has now learnt to be less aggressive. "The commercial realities have changed how games are made," he said. "In the same way people don't want to be too challenged, free-to-play is the same - it's all a constraint." And he also questioned whether free-to-play threatens video games as a hobby in general. Some more traditional players feel like free-to-play games are threatening their games. "It does threaten other models," he said, "but that's only a bad thing if you don't like challenge, or you're impatient."

The future of free-to-play

Avent then went on to describe where he and his company believes the future of free-to-play lies. In particular, he reasons that players of free-to-play games will soon hunger for more skill-based experiences. Right now, a good portion of the most popular free-to-play games out there, including CSR Racing, are more focused on low player commitment and low input intensity. However, Avent says that more skill requirements in free-to-play games will be critical, as this will eventually lead to better player investment. The likes of League of Legends and World of Tanks are already proving this, he says, and he adds that these sorts of games are more likely to be talked about and more likely to be loved, and therefore players are more likely to pay money into them, rather than simplier titles. Striving for this skill-based gameplay is going to be the key to free-to-play's future, he says. Elsewhere, Avents reasons that mobile games need to becomes more social -- "we're still behind Facebook" -- and monetization targetting can be much better. "There are more devious things we could do," he says, such as using past player patterns to determine when is the best moment to offer other players items for purchase, and how much they should be offered to target them correctly. He adds that we should be looking to make games smarter and more efficient at targetting -- "like Google Ads, but even more effective."

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